RPGAggression - Lou Agresta
Blogging on design, gamer life and shamelessly plugging stuff.
Updated: 2 weeks 1 day ago
After the superb "Ultimate Rulership", this would be the second one of Legendary Games‘ offerings to expand the rules of „Ultimate Campaign“. Page-count-wise, this pdf is 38 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
So, what do we get here? Essentially, an expansion of the mass combat rules used in Ultimate Campaign. We begin with a short summary of four zones: Camp zone, which is the “base” of the army, command zone, from where the battle is dictated, melee zone and ranged zone – said zones are abstract and not geographically distinct entities. Now first, we get a fixing of strategy – 5 types of strategy may be changed in lesser degrees without morale checks, in greater degrees with a morale check penalized by a number equal to the steps a strategy is changed. Each strategy has positive and negative influence on OM and DV (Offense Modifiers and Defensive Value) and also includes a casualty-modifier that applies to damage dealt to you and your enemies – best of all, this system fixes the doubling effect in the default standard rules for a more concise and strategic flux of battle. Two thumbs up!
Now the battle is grouped in phases – a tactical phase in which commanders issue strategy and special tactics followed by the ranged phase, the melee phase and finally, the rout phase, where morale may see units routed and broken. In the tactical phase, commanders compare their Profession (Soldier)-skill-checks: The winner reveals his strategy after the loser, allowing the commander to better adjust on the fly to an opponent’s gambits. Furthermore, by exceeding an enemy commander’s check by 5 or more, the commander can force the hostile army to reveal one of the tactics available to the army. In the ranged phase, armies may attack (via ranged weapons), advance or hold their position. Rather awesome – concise, easy to use information is given on how to handle difficult terrain like trenches, cities etc., with the DV of the structures determining the challenge. We also, thankfully, get rules for friendly fire with ranged weapons – nice catch here!
The rules for the melee phase have been changed as well – unlike in the standard rules, melee is not a constant whacking, but instead sees both armies checking for routs after attacking each, with the next round approaching. THANK YOU. The default made no sense and resulted in bland exchanging of whack-a-mole-rolls until one army falls – I much prefer this solution! Now on to the rout phase: At the end of a melee phase, the bashing is not repeated: Instead, armies check for morale – those that fail have their morale score reduced. Upon reaching zero morale, a loyalty-check may reset the score to 1, but sees the army fleeing, whereas a failed loyalty check sees the army disband – and yes, said loyalty-checks come with heavy cumulative penalties. Now being routed is bad – as any Warhammer-player knows, and while in these rules, the fleeing army has a chance to regroup to the camp zone, said escape is anything but guaranteed. Sounding a general retreat is also possible, but also carries a morale penalty with it – still, fighting another day is preferable to annihilation… Also neat: Mercenary armies and their lack of penalties for the kingdom upon being routed also get a sort mentioning. This chapter fixes just about all of the rough edges the system in Ultimate Campaign had in favor of a more dynamic and versatile combat – AWESOME!
Now, as you probably know, historic armies almost never fought until total annihilation – hence, we are introduced to the army conditions: Bloodied, Defeated, Destroyed and Disbanded. Bloodied armies can only be “cured” by reforming it and the condition is applied every time an army drops below half its hit points, reducing the ACR by 1 for all intents and purposes – and yes, this penalty is cumulative. Defeated armies have 10% dead, 1d4x10% severely wounded members and can be taken prisoner – these armies had their hp reduced to 0. Destroyed armies result from defeated armies – upon being attacked by the enemy (at -2 to their DV, ouch!) and if the enemy is at least half its size, the battered, defeated army is destroyed for all intents and purposes – 1d6x10% dead, 1d4x10% severely wounded and the rest deserted. To add insult to injury, the kingdom incurs a penalty of 1 to fame and the city from which it was recruited may demand a monument for the fallen. Now disbanded armies (failed morale and loyalty checks) have a devastating effect on morale of allied armies and also result in population-loss for the kingdom – 50% leave for safer, greener pastures. The kingdom also loses stability, fame and loyalty and the recruitment city incurs a penalty of -2 to law. OUCH!
Now fatigue in battle is covered as well as the topic of healing after battle- all tied neatly together with available buildings (herbalists and alchemists help just as cathedrals etc. do – neat!) and disease as one of the great agents of the reaper also becomes a factor: The factor of plagues is detailed as well herein and results in even more death – and strategy, of course! Holding that hospital suddenly seems like a very worthwhile endeavor! Have I mentioned the concise and cool rules for Parley (and breaking the temporary truce?) – nice indeed!
Now we also get tactics – quite a few of them, actually: Want to execute a cavalry sweep, for example? It allows you to have your army attack two hostile armies in one battle phase, but at OM – 4 and DV -2 and only half the damage – still, at times surely an option that proves to be useful. Covering Fire, an onslaught that is particularly reckless (and casualty-prone/bad for DV, but also superb for offense), pursuing foes, initiating pincer-maneuvers, creating "Landsknechtshaufen", i.e. pike hedgehogs, strafing skirmishers – the tactics available should more than positively influence engagements, allowing for a much more varied and cool combat between individual armies and also offer cool additional incentives to keep well-trained veteran units around.
Now sooner or later the die has been literally cast and the battle won or lost – so in the aftermath of victory, further options abound: From the historically accurate paying of ransom money to the execution of enemy leaders, the attrition of manpower and the option to pillage and plunder the countryside, intern soldiers or recruit forced labor – a lot of different options allow an army to follow distinct lines in their conduct with others, potentially shaping the reputation of the kingdom they adhere to. And yes, for the more morally, let’s say…flexible commanders, committing massacres is also a distinct possibility, though one that should be well contemplated.
Now another issue of mass combat as displayed in the standard-rules would be that it breaks apart as soon as an army e.g. consists of few, but powerful adversaries – be they dragons or stone giants. Thankfully, the pdf actually offers an incredibly easy and yet concise, sensible solution to the issue by allowing for even armies of one and similar small-sized armies – complete with equipment, camouflage and ACR-modification. This is not only brilliant; it is all but REQUIRED. Thank you so very much!
The effect of a general of other great leaders present on the field of battle and a kingdom’s overall disposition also now feature in the complex equation of mass-combat, with the superb rules from Ultimate Rulership thankfully also being addressed – this is synergy of the type I love and expect. How is the influence of great commanders displayed? Via the leadership bonus, which depends on the skill ranks in Profession (soldier) and e.g. the leadership score, but less so on magical improvements – headbands of intellect and similar ways of metagaming the skill up only are half as effective.
Now the easiest way to expand these rules may be the addition of new boons since they are based on the capabilities of characters and soldiers – and hence we also get an array of boons. And oh boy, are they oozing flavor – Take "Death before Dishonor" or the offense specialists that benefit from an "Implacable Advance", AoE/channel negative energy adding the option for magical barrages or allowing units to heal themselves: These boons are awesome, even more so since they can be made permanent for a vast array of different tricks, specializations and distinct elite-units.
Now armies don’t grow on trees as you might know and while Ultimate Rulership has delivered vastly superior recruitment rules (both standard and UR are covered here), this book adds another facet: Recruits are not yet soldiers – they cost a kingdom and need to be equipped, trained etc. And yes, equipping chariots, howdahs, mounts, magical armors, siege weaponry, weapons of different quality – all that and so much more becomes possible with these rules – all while remaining sensible with building-requirements, fitting all together like a concise, well-oiled rules-machinery. This is not all, though – reserve armies by building and yes, even a vast array of special abilities, from spawn creation to breath weapons await your command, resulting in even more varied armies that should bring the wonder and distinct differences between forces to the front.
Now whether it’s for a "Chain of Dogs"-like scenario or simply for a situation akin to Sabaton’s "The Price of a Mile" – marching armies and pushing them forwards is no easy task and this supplement also covers rules for marching armies: Camouflage, ambushes, supply trans, living off the land – all covered! The same holds true for difficult terrains, rules for visibility and even weather and high altitudes! The pdf concludes with an index of the pdf’s tables.Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to Legendary Games unobtrusive two-column standard and we get beautiful full-color one-page spreads of three artworks by Tim Kings-Lynne and Mike Lowe alongside depictions of various banners and crests. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, with the second one being more printer-friendly.
Jason Nelson, as one of the masterminds behind Ultimate Campaign’s rules and head-honcho of Legendary Games dives head-first into a supplement that had me skeptical at best on first sight: The page-count is simply not that impressive. Add to that the fact that the rules in Ultimate Campaign, by virtue of the limited space available and the variety of topics covered fell short of their potential and we have a supplement that had anything but an easy standing with me. I’ve long been into mass combat, coming to pen and paper roleplaying via the route of Warhammer, but so far, neither Adamant Entertainment’s mass combat rules, nor 3.X’s Cry Havoc did it for me and Ultimate Campaign, while better, also fell short of my expectations in that regard.
Until now. This pdf is PLATINUM. Not gold, platinum. It irons out many of the issues of the basic system. It provides superior synergy with both standard rules and Ultimate Rulership. It expands the tactical options exponentially. It covers all the topics, from marches to commanders to special qualities and manages to end the rather trite attrition-rolling of mass combat melee in favor of a much more rewarding and tactical solution. This, ladies and gentlemen, is not only required. Anyone using mass combat without this book should really contemplate to stop now and shell out the bucks. I have almost never in my career as a reviewer witnessed a pdf so densely-packed with crucial coolness - concisely-written, Jason Nelson delivers mass combat as it ought to be: Abstract, but challenging and strategic – with this supplement, true strategic showdowns, complex military operations and desperate gambits all become possible. This pdf allows you to create brilliant battles of wits between enemy commanders and the PCs on a level that was, with the basic system, unthinkable. What we have here is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2013, a required purchase and a book that should be part of any PFRPG-DM’s library if s/he is only remotely interested in either Kingmaker or any other form of mass combat – final verdict? Unsurprising 5 stars + seal of approval, given without even the remotest hesitation. Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!
You can get this superb supplement here on OBS
and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop! Endzeitgeist out.
It's time to take a look at one massive tome of a book, Zombie Sky Press' weird take on interstellar weirdness in PFRPG:It Came From the Stars Campaign Guide
Full disclosure: I was a patron of this kickstarter, but I did not contribute anything to this book. When this review refers to the dead tree version, I mean by that the limited edition full color hard-cover. It should also be mentioned that this kickstarter massively over-delivered, providing MUCH more content than was promised.
The pdf of this massive book is 135 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a whopping 131 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?
We kick this pdf off with player-races that set an appropriately weird theme for the whole book, first of which would be Amoebians. Yes. Humanoid one-cell protoplasm amoebians. As a player race. Awesome! Mechanically, they get +2 to Str and Con, -2 to Dex and Wis, slow speed, low-light vision, have a reach of 10 feet due to their elastic membranes, can squeeze through very small spaces, +2 to grapple-CMB and escape artist checks and DR 1/-. They do pay these powerful basic abilities with a vulnerability versus slashing damage, though, which deals an additional +50% damage - OUCH! Overall these should make for weird, yet balanced options - kudos!
The second new race would be the enlightened - essentially the book's take on the Grey. They get +2 to Dex and Int, -2 to Con and Cha, normal speed, low-light vision, +2 to a knowledge-skill of their choice, are mute (and thus cast spells as if modified by the silent spell feat sans level increase), telepathy of 5ft. per level and may 1/day enter a state of hyper-evolution, turning into incorporeal pure thought for int-mod rounds. While in this state, they get +2 to Int and may 1/round cast levitate
and mage hand
at CL equal to class level, adding fly
to this arsenal at 10th level.
The Star-touched are the descendants of one of the conquests of the aggressive interstellar magnetar-race (more on that one later) and have since developed a highly militaristic society under the auspice of their creators/masters. They get +2 to Cha, -2 to Int and Wis, darkvision 60 ft. +2 to Craft (armor) or Profession (soldier), a magnetic deflection-shield of +2 to AC versus metal weaponry, resistance 5 against either fire, cold or electricity and may 1/day unleash a 30 ft-ranged-touch plasma bolt dealing 1d6+1 for every 2 character levels damage which consists half of fire and half of electricity. Generally, plasma always deals half electricity and half fire damage, should you be not familiar with this convention - hence, while the book always specifies this, I won't - when this review from here on refers to "plasma", you'll know what I mean.
The final "regular" (as if this term could be applied to any race herein) new race would be the Tachoid: These beings are alien self-replicating robots that have travelled back through time to escape the heat-death of the universe, hence experiencing time in a nonlinear fashion, making for truly interesting challenges for dedicated roleplayers out there. Tachoids get +2 to Int and Wis, - 2 Cha and Str, darkvision 60 ft., can't be flanked, get +2 to Knowledge (history), +2 to initiative and Tachoids of Wis 11 or higher, they also may use augury
1/day as a spell-like ability. They also get resistance 5 and whenever you take cold damage, you get +2 to Int and Dex for 1d3 rounds, but take +50% damage from electricity attacks. Again - balanced race with interesting mechanics to back them up - but speaking of interesting mechanics. Next up would be the most complex options.
Coalescent characters get no modifications to any of their attributes in humanoid form - and then there's the second form: The swarm. Yes, this race allows you to play a sentient, hive-mind-swarm of diminutive creatures. In swarm-form, str is decreased by -12 to a minimum of 3. Coalescent characters have slow speed, are aberrations and, since swarms are rather unique and powerful, also get a 10-level racial paragon class to properly develop their abilities. At 1st level, this class is mandatory, offering basic swarm abilities like distraction (with the dazzled condition) and learn to switch into your humanoid form, netting you 30 ft. speed and at least the option to pass off as something akin to a humanoid. Coalescing requires a check of d20+character level+ con-mod versus DC 10, with each consecutive minute requiring a DC 10+1 per number of previous checks coalesce-check to maintain the illusion of (relative) normalcy - while this may seem beneficial at first or like a minor thing, it actually makes for a very powerful limiting factor to the coalescent character's power. The racial paragon-class get 3/4 BAB-progression, good will-saves, d8, 4+Int skills per level, no proficiency in armor and shields (which you may only use in humanoid form) and only proficiency with simple weapons. They get 1d6 swarm damage at 1st level and increase said damage by +1d6 on every odd level. Conversely, on every even level, starting with the second, they get +2 to Dex. Also on every odd level, the distraction ability increases in power, increasing the negative condition imparted of up to "stunned" at 9th level. Now unlike regular diminutive swarms, coalescent characters are not immune to weapon damage, instead gaining DR equal to level, up to DR 10/- instead when in swarm form. Now over the levels, the coalescent swarm may learn new modes of movement, learn to exclude allies from your swarm damage or similar defensive tricks and increase your swarm damage via energy damage, make your attacks count as magical and even heal via your attacks. And yes, learning to cast while in swarm-form is also one of the options the coalescent may learn. Highly complex and yet balanced, this race is perhaps my favorite among the cool new ones, offering for a thoroughly unique playing experience indeed - how can this one be balanced, you ask? Well, as a swarm, the coalescent is never treated as one creature as a target - this excludes them from receiving most forms of magical healing and buff-spells, requiring wholly new tactics - a unique drawback and one that will provide a complex change of pace.
Next up would be the new classes, starting off with the Moon Child. The Moon Child gets d6, 2+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, 1/2 BAB-progression, good will-saves and full prepared int-based spellcasting of up to 9th level. Unlike wizards, though, spellcasting for moon children is less flexible and not determined by spellbooks, but instead by so-called houses. These net access to a list of spells that become available to the moon child upon choosing it. At 4th level and every 4 levels after that, moon children get an additional house. Each house also allows moon children to learn sorc/wiz-spells of certain descriptors. 5 sample houses are provided, with the final two one being in the extra-pdf - something to be aware of. Each house also nets access to a so-called sign, which offers a passive bonus that scales up over the levels. Each house also nets access to 4 different so-called aspects - an aspect is chosen at 2nd level and at every even level after that from among the houses available to the moon child. At 10th level, these lists are expanded by 4 advanced aspects per house and finally, at 20th level, each house offers one exalted aspect as a kind of capstone to choose from. Bestowing false bravado (the target thinks it receives only half damage) to adding cold damage to your spells or creating singularity shield (which may increase encumbrance of targets - cool mechanic!), the respective aspects are rather cool - and yes, there is the house of the Starry Eye, which allows you to impart random insanities on foes or strike foes with a mutating curse that changes each day... The moon child also gets a so-called hungry shadow as a familiar and an additional such shadow at 9th and 17th level - essentially, your shadows are weaker familiars, but you get more of them. All in all, a more than solid base-class with some delightfully lovecraftian/weird options. It should also be noted that a sidebox in one of the adventures mentions that aspects can be influenced via feats as if they were hexes.
The second new class provided herein would be the Starseed, who gets d10, 6+Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, good fort and will-saves, proficiency with simple and martial weapons and small and medium armor and 4 levels of prepared spellcasting via Int at 4th level. Now the central mechanics would be Psychic Tendril - this is treated as a melee weapon with a range of 60 ft (!!!) that deals 1d6+cha-mod, crit-range 20/x2. Psychic Tendrils may be used versus adjacent foes and are treated as ranged weapons when determining cover and it requires somatic components to be wielded and is treated as a light weapon. When using these tendrils, starseeds use cha instead of str to determine atk and damage and may even undertake str-checks via cha instead. Manifesting one or two of the tendrils takes a standard action - if two are manifested, two-weapon fighting rules apply and tendrils can be wielded as either primary or secondary weapons in addition to regular ones. They also utilize cha to calculate CMB when attacking, but (and that is important!) NOT CMD. Furthermore, the tendrils do have a weakness - sundering. With only 5 hp and a 20% miss chance, but no hardness and a reform duration of 1 minute, one well-versed in sundering can easily take them down. What's a bit of a pity is that the ability does not specify whether tendrils can eb disarmed, though logically I assume they can't be. Now where things get even more interesting regarding this very unique class feature would be at 2nd level - starting then, they qualify for both being treated as ranged and melee weapons for the purpose of feats, but not as a specific weapon - which would preclude you from taking e.g. Weapon Focus, Rapid Reload or any form of unarmed attack with them. Now it is here I expected the rules-language to stumble and it didn't - you either can make them benefit from feats based on melee weapons OR from feats based on ranged weapons, but not both - interesting indeed, since it allows for very distinct, different fighting styles. Deadly Dance also offers bonus feats throughout the levels, but only as long as you wear light or medium armor or none.
Starseeds also get a Void Pool (and no, it's not the 3.X L5R Void Pool) at 3rd level equal to 1/2 class level + cha-mod. These points can be used to make your tendrils invisible for a round, enhance will-saves, negate temporarily being flanked and also provide passive benefits as long as you at least have one left. (There also is an instance of two blank spaces missing between words in the text, but the glitch shouldn't deter from understanding the rules.) Void Pools stack, if multiple pools are available (e.g. via the extra pdf's Untouchable), though having no points left should be avoided (haha) - the repercussion would be a negative level that can only be removed via rest. Now where my OP-radar first went off with a loud bang would be at 4th level - starting this level, tendrils can be used to execute combat maneuvers. Ranged combat maneuvers. Now usually I'd be breaking off on a tangent how broken they are - but here, that doesn't really apply. Why? Because the balancing factor of maneuvers would be AoOs - and since most maneuvers require melee attacks, tendrils are treated as melee weapons for maneuvers - I.e. they still provoke AoOs and the tendrils are fragile - making for an interesting balancing factor in addition to the limited 60 ft. range. At 5th levelAt 7th level and every two levels after that, starseeds may choose from 12 different talents (called Void Insights here), which allow you to either use void points to negate fire or cold damage or increase e.g. tendril damage to 1d12 damage. Also interesting mechanics-wise - there is a talent that allows you to rerolls of mind-affecting effects when your void pool is empty. Another talent allows you to utilize disable device and sleight of hand via your tendrils - sans cost. There is quite some variability here and the respective talents are rather cool - though pressure wave is a bit overpowered - for 1 void point, it can prevent all foes within tendril range. from closing any distance toward you - no save, no CMD-check, no scaling, flat-out, no save. That particular insight requires a hard hitting with the nerfbat. Worse, for 3 points, you can execute a combat maneuver versus all foes within range - and that makes for an even more broken and jarring ability in an otherwise more than solid execution of a complex, cool and highly imaginative class.
We also get new archetypes, first of which would be the Manyskins Dancer for the Druid (or any other wildshaping class): These druids gain 5 times the allotment of wild shapes, but the wildshape lasts only 10 min/level. As a further balancing feature of the archetype, failure to spend time in your base form may result in the temporary loss of proficiencies, languages and penalized skills - a cool archetype that can be easily used to supplement other archetypes for a more fluid shapechanging experience with a cool balancing factor. The second archetype would be the Symbiote-Synthesist for the summoner. The name is already a hint - this archetype endeavors to refine and modify the Synthesist-summoner - which introduces some balancing factors to the otherwise OP archetype that introduces a separate alignment (of the player's choosing) to the eidolon and makes the fused amalgam of both count as both outsider and aberration - a subtle, not crippling weakness and increased roleplaying potential make this take on the archetype superior, if not 100% fixed, then vastly improved version of the archetype.
Now almost all crunch-books add new feats to the fray - It came from the Stars also has new feats, but goes a very interesting way by introducing [Symbiote]-feats. Symbiote feats are broken down in 3 categories, minor, medium and major symbiote feats. An unlimited amount of minor symbiote feats can be taken without any adverse effects and they are required to gain access to the more powerful medium and major symbiote feats. Taking medium symbiote-feats might result in temporary blackouts and major symbiote feats offer the most significant benefits, but also the most pronounced effects regarding the symbiote's power. Now, I've mentioned blackouts: Each Symbiote-feat comes with a symbiote point score. Once per month, a character need to make a will-save versus 10+ number of symbiote points acquired to prevent a blackout that lasts for 1d8 hours - somewhat akin to experiencing lycanthropy. Those that take major symbiote feats instead need to make such a save once per week. Due to the VERY limited amount of time lost and the storytelling potential, these symbiotes work not only mechanically well, but also fluff-wise. Whether for NPCs or players who enjoy a slew of the bizarre - poisonous sprays, tentacles, clusters of eyeballs on the major side and subtle bonuses (or e.g. green photosynthetic skin!) on the minor side - symbiotes work for everyone and )I hope we'll get more symbiote-feats in future installments/pdfs. We also get 6 new spells, some of which use gravity and temporary increases of encumbrance to their benefits. We also get a void suit as a "vehicle", which can be used to navigate the airless, soundless void and upgraded with gravity boots and similar enhancements - and if you need some ideas on what to do with suits like this, take a look at the Dead Space-series...
We also are introduced to 9 so-called void-tech items - thankfully in line with magic item creation allow you to bend space to threat spaces, improve your psychic tendrils or utilize gloves for gravitation manipulation, negate some falling distance or reposition foes with gravitational whips, store void points or unleash plasma bursts.Thus end the Player's section of the book - hence, with the gamemaster-section following now, the SPOILERS reign. potential players should definitely skip to the conclusion.
All right, still here?We kick off this chapter with the one resource that, at least in my opinion, trumps any other component in roleplaying games and fiction-writing per se: Ideas. To be more precise: Prospective DMs are introduced to a veritable treasure-trove of ideas for planets that could have come from science-fiction literature (with silicate-based lifeforms, for example!) up to those simply WEIRD: What about a planet with sentient clouds following you around, for example? Narrow habitable zones due to multiple suns/slow rotation (Hello, Twinsun! Anyone played that one?) go hand in hand with morgueworlds and from aficionados of hard scifi to those just embracing the concept-wise weird, we get more ideas in a scarce few pages than one usually encounters in whole campaign settings. Yes, that enriching. For me, this small section proved to be more inspiring than just about every other book I've read this year so far. What about e.g. monochromatic planets that feature a caste or predators that prey on colors? There are WHOLE CAMPAIGNS worth of ideas contained within these pages - even before we are introduced to hazards like crystal storms, semi-sentient and deadly solar flare birds and yes...time warps. Let's do the time warp again -and go!
Now as some of you may know, the disaster-book "When the Sky Falls" is probably my favorite 3.X-book - and thankfully, we get full-blown disasters here as well, all of which could spark whole campaigns or books: From varied Auroras to Lunar Changes, Space Debris, Radiation (yes, including gamma radiation sickness) to solar changes and solar flares (which may greatly influence how magic works via a large table), the disasters here are GLORIOUS. My only gripe is that they all demand to be used, nay, expanded into massive books of their own- This section, once again, had me glued to each and every page.
Of course, we also get a bestiary of new creatures, each of which comes with a glorious full color artwork - from the organized, warlike stellar fey, the Astreid to Space Remoras and 6 variants of elder ooze (which can absorb creatures and grow, becoming much more deadly - best take on the space-blob I've seen so far since it comes with a significant amount of absorbed special abilities depending on its prey...) to the Magnetars, which probably are one of the true signature enemies of this book: Magnetars are militaristic, intelligent elementals that get their own subcategory and armor training as well as the option to add plasma damage to their attacks and manipulate gravity. Magnetars are extremely dense fragments of stars that clad themselves in armored shells of various forms, allowing for maximum customizability in their aesthetic depiction. The Magnetars offered range from CR 1 to 9 and come with two statblocks each, one for the armored and one for the unarmored version - and all are awesome and on par with classic, iconic monsters like beholders or illithids. Yes, I consider them that cool. But even the other monsters rock - take the memory-consuming mnemovores, clad in illusions, which make for deadly kidnappers that keep their prey alive while draining their very personalities away. Or the mockings - intelligent interstellar mushrooms that can create duplicates of the creature sin contact with their spores, generating deadly mockeries of what they consumed, all obsessed with spreading their brand of life - until they encompass all. And then there are the Star Beasts - interstellar dragons (like the one you can see on the cover) bred on dead stars and accompanying supernovas and the like, each of them has unique properties and personalities, though all are frightening indeed - from the CR 12 Betelgeuse to the CR 20 Wormwood, all have different unique qualities and ideas for 7 others are given. I love their concept, though personally, I'll upgrade them - as written, their crunch doesn't live up in deadliness to their awe-inspiring background. Still - one glorious bestiary!
And then we're off to new adventures, first of which would be Colin McComb's "Hearts and Minds". Yes. the Colin McComb. And you'll see FAST upon reading this adventure why he is gushed about. Now the basic premise has been seen in CoC, for example: A particularly fertile area (lavishly mapped with and without keys in gorgeous full color in Paizo-level quality) has recently seen archeological activity and cattle disappearances. And that is about all the PCs need to know to kick off - they are depicted in STAGGERING detail, not regarding statblocks, but regarding personalities, developments and characters. As a true investigative sandbox, structure-wise, the whole area goes through escalating stages of weirdness that can be implemented by the DM as s/he sees fit: The archeologists have become thrall to a world-devouring crystalline entity seeking to expand its consciousness into the world by drinking the lifeblood of sentient beings via an immobile crystalline array. With each sacrifice, the strange influence and mind-control the entity exerts grows through the vale, with more and more falling under the being's control. The local sect of weirdoes make for a thankful red herring and in the end, player characters may even succeed in this module without killing a single being - as they should. Slaying enslaved innocents is not a heroic thing to do. This module is, in one word Extraordinary. Detailed, legendary, awesome and not only fun in PFRPG, but also awesome in just about every other rule-set, this intelligent investigation is simply glorious both to read and run - and sets the bar extremely high, proving that intelligent horror works just as well in Pathfinder as in other rules-systems.
Well, let's just say that master of the macabre Richard Pett takes up the gauntlet and delivers with his very own blend of horror: Journeying to an island, the PCs are confronted with a mocking enclave seeking to utilize the PCs to spread beyond the confines of their island and exterminate an insane mutant of their kind. The mocking have completely subjugated and replaced - with the exception of a loner hermit and a faithful dog. Defeating the dread mutant only kicks off the inevitable, l0ooming and subtle build-up towards a wickerman (the classic one)-like struggle for survival on an island that is strange and disquieting in more than a couple of ways - disturbing, creepy and thoroughly estranging, this module is more action-packed than the first, but also oh so glorious - even among Richard Pett's oeuvre, this one stands out as one of his best. Yes. That good.
John Pingo's offering, the third herein, thus has some insane standards to follow - can it live up to them? Well, let's just say that it's a different breed - contacted by one Zephyr Star-caller, an oracle, the PCs are introduced to an order of secretive beings, the Empyrean Bulwark. The founder of these beings has stumbled across a crashed prison-ship that held terrible entities and created the order as a safe-guard versus the otherwise unopposed threats from beyond the stars, trying to safe-guard the wounded algae-like intelligence that suffuses the ship. As soon as the PCs settle in the monastery, things start getting ugly - fast. Alerts are sounded and the PCs will have to contend with sabotaged teleporting platforms and alien prisoners (both of the malign and deadly and of the desperate, but talkative), hopefully not botching: Not stopping escaped fugitives from releasing magnetar might e.g. result in the initiation of the ship's self-destruct sequence. Navigating Zero-G-areas, featuring void suits and finally culminating in the PCs trying to keep a dread creature from the Dark tapestry contained, this module is essentially a weird, fast-paced dungeon-crawl that is a free-for all and introduces A LOT of content from this book, all for the DM to cherry-pick for staying in the setting and including content from the extra-pdf. Different and more conventional than the first two modules, but full of style nevertheless.
Even on the SRD-page, we get some adventure hooks and aforementioned beautiful maps for all 3 modules are included in both a version with letters and a key-less one to be handed out to players.Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect. While significant glitches are absent from this book, small ones like a "#" for a CR, missing blank spaces etc. can be found here and there - not many, mind you, but they stick out due to the overall quality of this book. Layout adheres to a two-column portrait standard in the print-version and to a 3-column landscape-standard in the pdf-version, both of which come in GORGEOUS full-color, or at least my hardcover (no 21 of 100, btw.) does. The pdf comes excessively bookmarked and the hardcover comes with thick, high-quality paper and good binding. Layout adheres to a glorious full-color standard and the book is FULL of original pieces of full color artwork - more so than in almost any comparable book I've seen and while I admit to at first needing to get accustomed to the unique graphic vision here, it grew from "jarring" to "wouldn't want it any other way" over my lecture of the book. More impressively than the distinct and courageous graphic vision, "It came from the Stars" massively over-delivered regarding page-count and actually...well. Delivers.
The player's section manages to astound me with unique races that actually offer intriguing balancing-mechanisms for their distinct and lien abilities that set them apart beyond fluff and mirror their alien powers in their crunch. The two new classes follow this lead: Whereas the Moon Child is relatively conservative, the Starseed is ambitious in the extreme and while it does have its own minor issues and rough edges, it is an iconic concept that in my playtest proved to be rather exciting, yet not overpowered to play - thanks to the distinct Achilles heel integrated into the design. The symbiote-feats are glorious and the archetypes offered provide great roleplaying experiences.
Indeed, that's what this book is all about - wonder, excitement, roleplaying. This is about flirting with the Other, with the Uncanny, the Alien. It came from the Stars" could have taken ideas from other more out there supplements and e.g. expand meteorite impact-rules, as updated by Rite publishing or take ideas from Louis Porter Jr. Design's NeoExodus-setting (LPJr joined this book by the way...) - instead, the creative team around Zombie Sky/Broken Eye mastermind Scott Gable went one step further - when I was done with the Player's section, my mind was abask with possibilities, to quote Garth Marenghi (kudos if you get the reference), reeling with ideas to integrate this content into my campaign.
And then the DM-section hit - the ideas herein are mind-boggling, versatile and quite simply superb. The bestiary offers various signature abilities and features not a single filler beastie. The hazards and planet-ideas contain literally years of campaign-ideas and the 3 modules...are stellar, one and all, excellent offerings, each in their own distinct way. I feel like I've been launched into outer space. And yes, there are minor glitches here and there -but you know what? I don't care. I have almost NEVER, in my whole career, not only as a reviewer, but as a roleplayer, read a book that blew me away like this one did. Roleplaying is a game of ideas supplemented by math and a codified language to me and this book is so rich in ideas it boggles the mind. This book (get it in hardcover if you can!) may be a small step forward for the designers, but for the cosmos of a reader's ideas, it's a huge step forward. If I could, I'd immediately rate this 6 stars, but since I can't, I'll instead settle on a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.
One final note, if I may: Get the extra-pdf
as well - the Moon Child practically requires it, which is a slightly unfortunate caveat.
You can get this superb campaign book here on OBS
and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!It Came From the Stars Extras
The Extra-pdf for "It Came From the Stars" is 34 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with exactly 30 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?
We kick this off with a new base-class, the Untouchable
, who gets d8, 4+Int skills per level, no armor or weapon proficiency,3/4 BAB-progression, up to +5 AC, CMB and CMD while unarmored and unencumbered and have all good saves. Being touched by the weirdness, the Untouchable is surrounded by a nimbus that provides torch-like illumination and negates your need to eat, but also makes it impossible to trigger, ingest or gain any benefit from a magical item that you must hold or wear and can't make direct attacks versus foes, including AoOs - no spellcasting with attacks rolls, no unarmed strikes, but you do count as having Improved Unarmed Strikes for feat prerequisites. With the class being prohibited from making any attacks, the class needs another feature - the extraordinary ability Revanche. Revanche uses Dex instead of Str, but otherwise is handled like regular attacks, including rules for iterative attacks etc. If you have revanche attacks remaining, you may 1/round as an immediate action attempt to parry an attack versus you or an adjacent target - if your attack surpasses that of the incoming attack, you manage to deflect it. At 11th level, you may even thus parry spells and spell-like abilities requiring attack rolls. Furthermore, you may attempt to deflect an attack thus parried to the originator or another adjacent source via your revanche attack -this follows the formula of immediate actions without explicitly being one - a concept that might take a bit to wrap your mind around. Alternatively, you may also execute a combat maneuver in lieu of your regular revanche attack. Executing more than one revanche attack per round counts as a full-round action.
In order to make proper use of this ability, the Untouchable learns to execute an additional move action per round, which would make this class grossly unbalanced when multiclassing - thanks to the compulsory nimbus, this pitfall is averted, though. At 2nd level, the Untouchable learn to provoke AoOs on a failed save, also imposing increasing penalties on the target. At 3rd level, instead of regular revanche-attacks, you may CMB your adversaries with meteor swarms as a result of being attacked, resulting in a devastating throw that deals damage that scales up to 10d6 on 19th level and you also learn to execute a 5-foot step in lieu of a revanche attack or swap places with an ally as a move action. At 4th level, the Untouchable also gets a void pool similar to the starseed, though one that is more defensively inclined, offering a 50% mischance [sic!] for one round or temporarily increase AC and skills. Like the starseed, expending the final point results in a negative level. Also at 4th level, class level instead of BAB is used for CMB and CMD. At 6th level, redirecting ranged attacks becomes possible (with scaling ranges throughout the levels). You can also clad yourself in an either cold or fire damage-based aura by expending void points or grant yourself scaling DR. At higher levels, you may turn invisible or suppress sound and at 16th level, you may even extend your evasion to your allies - or make foes more susceptible to failed saves - a kind of anti-evasion, if you will. Have I mentioned the level 18 ability to create a singularity to pull foes towards the Untouchable?
After this extremely uncommon class, we are introduced to 2 new Moon Child houses
, the House of the Flaring Sun and the House of the Hidden Moon - Sculpting frozen light and using holograms/illusions or creating a limited clone of yourself (e.g. for spying purposes) and similar stealth-associated abilities - now added to the arsenal of the Moon Child.
We also get new archetypes, with the summoner now being able to become the "Mouth of Mad Ruin
" - tapping into the cancerous ruin of a vanquished, desolate reality beyond our perception, these summoners may 3+Cha-mod times per day tap into this broken reality to enhance their eidolon - at a risk that potentially even may kill the summoner, but also offer vastly powerful benefits -a risky gambit for fans of chaos magic, if one that could have used more entries than the 15 on a d20-table provided. Druids may now opt to become Doorways to the Howling Other
- and oh boy, I love them - suffused by an elder star's seed and nature, these druids can no longer be healed by regular means other than their own healing and, when utilizing their abilities to heal the wounded, these beings are tainted temporarily by mutations, More importantly, summoned creatures are further enhanced by new abilities from a selection of unnatural adaption effects that reflect the creature's otherworldly alienness. Full of story-telling potential...
We also get a new trait with "Erupting Flesh Mastery" for the Symbiote-Synthesist-summoner: The trait allows the compound creature to be treated as a variety of creatures in addition to counting as outsider and aberration, whereas the second option may force you to summon your eidolon - as a benefit for either of these drawbacks, the summoner may call his eidolon +1/day as a move action.
Next up would be 3 new feats, one that unlocks a slot for untouchables to use either one type of wondrous item or potions. The second feat allows the new Druids that act as doorways to alien vistas to add an additional unnatural adaption-benefit to their summons and one that nets +2 to Craft (void Tech) - since the skill has never been introduced and only acts as a substitute for Crafting-feat-prerequisites, this one is filler at best and not up to the coolness prevalent in the rest of the pdf. 3 new major symbiote feats are included as well, allowing for a detachable symbiote familiar, wings or an extra head with an additional bite attack, should you already have one.
5 new spells allow rangers to strike down foes with added gravity added upon impact and others to conjure forth zones of frigid vacuum or summon alien parasites. Net Throwers, Rock Shooters, the new materials (frozen light and void metal), 4 new magical weapon qualities as well as 4 new void tech items furthermore await your perusal.
Gamemasters also get more tools - from ideas for Battleworlds, domed planets, worlds where flight is common, we get even more glorious ideas to develop adventures around than the basic book offered. Beyond that, we also get 4 different alien flora and fauna hazards - constricting mold, living ice, insects that consume your brain and take over with hiveminds or hallucinogenic pollen releasing plants make for neat hazards to add to your array. The bestiary also offers some interesting new critters with the CR 4 asteroid-eater swarm that survives the void with asteroids to the 5 types of falling star fey (spanning CR 2 to 15), fey bonded to a star and glistening in their star's fire. Finally, we get the CR 19 Deadstar Golem, crafted from the superdense core of a white dwarf - an engine of destruction that will put adamantine golems to shame and is surrounded by a gravity well.Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect - I noticed some minor glitches, though none that kept me from properly appreciating this pdf. Layout adheres to the glorious 3-column landscape standard in full color used in the main book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and, as a first for any "web-enhancement"-style pdf, this one is full of awesome original pieces of full color artwork - among others, original pieces for the new class, some items and one for every new creature - kudos! On the down-side regarding layout would be the tendency to leave 2/3 of a page empty at the end of a chapter.
I'm not a big fan of the fact that the 2 houses of the Moon Child had to be delegated to this pdf, but seeing their quality, I won't complain here. The archetypes are cool, as are the other tidbits herein. Now the Untouchable...is perhaps the strangest class I've reviewed so far -complex, strange and VERY specific, it is definitely not for everyone with its weird restrictions and uncommon mechanics. that being said, I really, really like the execution - but there is one major issue I see with its design -it's terribly linear, more so than even the starseed and I wish it had codified its abilities in a way that allows for more active decisions of the player. That being said, it still is a thoroughly innovative class that dares to offer something rather radical and that is something I can get behind - while not for everyone, it will be exceedingly fun to play for mechanically versed players.
The creatures and ideas herein are cool one and all - and in any other context, I'd probably be gushing about this pdf. When taken back to back to "It came from the Stars", this pdf feels like the B-side: Good, if a bit experimental, it enhances its base product, but doesn't reach the abject level of awesomeness of the base book. That out of the way, it should be noted, though, that this raises the bar regarding expansion-books of bigger/patronage projects, offering great artwork and production values. This pdf should be considered the mandatory expansion of the main book - you want to have this as well and it in the end, offers a lot of bang for your bucks. My final verdict hence will clock in at 4.5 stars + seal of approval, rounded down to 4 - Note, though: It should be used in conjunction with the main book, as an extension and really, as part of it - If you do get both, just take this as the expansion that further improves your overall experience - may there be more "Weird Cycle"-books soon!
You can get this pdf here on OBS!Thanks for reading my ramblings, Endzeitgeist out.
Courts of the Shadow Fey
This mega-module is 130 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 123 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This mega-module Kobold-in-Chief Wolfgang Baur was originally released for D&D 4th edition, but I can't comment on that once since I don't have it - I only have the PFRPG-conversion done by ennie-award winning designer Ben McFarland. That being said - I'll break my usual format for adventure-reviews - to pieces. I'm not going to go through this step-by-step - the review would become redundant fast and extremely long to boot. Instead I'll just say one thing:
GET THIS NOW. Seriously. Buy it. Give it as a gift to your DM. If you're a DM, get this NOW. If you, for whatever reason, want to buy only one Kobold Press-adventure - BUY THIS ONE.......You're still here, aren't you? Ok, I guess I have to do better. First of all, let me address that this book features skill-challenges, i.e. obstacles your combined group can surpass by combinations of skill checks, with each player contributing (hopefully) something to the fray - they are designed in a way where even fighters will have something reasonable to do. Furthermore, above and beyond and a great help for DMs a bit weak on the fluffy roleplaying side, suggestions for the respective argumentations on why the skill in question works/doesn't work are given. Beyond these even, class abilities, spells and feats feature into the respective checks and get covered in a level of detail I've never ever seen in any publication - without bloating the book. And if you don't like skill-checks, you could still use these pieces of information as simple roleplaying guidelines. The same holds btw. true for incantations, which, while a part of the module, do not occupy a crucial role and can be abstracted rather easily. Ben McFarland has done an astounding job of translating the module into the context of Pathfinder-rules. It should also be noted that the module is relatively light on Midgard-specific fluff, i.e. it can be transported to Golarion or any other world you choose with minimum hassle - you just have to switch out cosmetic terms like "Zobeck" for another big city name and there you go.And that's about it regarding the formal qualities of the crunch - next up follows a VERY BRIEF synopsis of what you can expect - and thus from here on out reign the SPOILERS. Players, do yourself a favor and jump to the conclusion. You don't want this one spoiled, believe me. I'd actually love to play this, but having read it, that is out of the question.
All right, we kick off when Zobeck (or another big city of your choosing) experiences a swift occupation: One day, everyone wakes up and finds that the shadow fey now run the town - and who violates their capricious decrees has to contend with their harsh, humiliating repressing punishments. Turns out after some research and diplomacy with the envoy of the scáthesidhe (shadow fey) and some reading between the lines, that an obscure deal between the former ruling family and the shadow fey has expired and that they now consider the city their domain - with an almost unstoppable Statthalter on the way.
In order to reclaim mortal sovereignty over the city, the PCs have to research a ritual to send them off on the perilous journey towards the home of the shadow fey - and should they survive this journey into the very heart of shadow, they'll be surprised: The Scáthesidhe have made elitism a form of art and at first, the courts seem empty - those of too low status actually can't even perceive the upper ones of the layered, fey-glamour-clad echelons of the courts and in order to gain an audience with the queen of the fey, they'll have to first rise in status. From lowly goblin servants, lantern dragonettes and fey rakes to the higher echelons of court, the PCs will require all their wits and capabilities to survive the perils of the dueling season and slowly work their way up through a court enamored with the theft of memories, illusions and deception. Courtly intrigue and harmless and not so harmless pranks abound even before the PCs become aware of the existence of the Demon Lord of Roaches as a fixture in the court, of the various deadly factions (which include a celestial and old weaving crones that are more than they seem) or of the alluring courtesans and courtiers that can play a pivotal role in the rising through the ranks of the courts - if the PCs can manage to win (and keep) their favor. And yes, the affections of the shadow fey may very well turn out to be something rather problem-laden, as some of the numerous NPCs, both mortal and immortal that frequent the courts can attest to.
Even before the Black Prince's favorite quickling swordmaster challenges the PCs, even before the factions start actively recruiting PCs, we actually get a codified, complex and thoroughly rewarding rules-framework for the depiction of rising through the ranks of a court, a system, which when reskinned towards mortal courts, could be used for Song of Ice and Fire-like machinations. And I have only scarcely touched upon what there is to come - what about e.g. a hunting trip with the hostile and antagonistic Black Prince and a chase for the immortal firebird, represented via a cool, mapped mini-game? The very best banquet-scene I've ever seen in an adventure - easy to run, complex and thoroughly weird? A roach-like, loyal warrior who just wants to find a nice place to lay eggs - which have to unfortunately hatch from a body? The lists upon lists of events, intrigues etc.? The glorious maps?
What about the fact that the finale, when the PCs may finally get their audience with the Queen, requires them to find the insane Moonlight King in a maze of light and unique dangers and either kill him (in a fight that challenges brains and brawns) or convince him to abstain from the claim to Zobeck? Have I mentioned the potential to transcend the bounds of mortality in the aftermath of this module? Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are the one weakness of this module - while not bad by any measure, I did notice a couple of editing glitches that could have been caught and here and there a small conversion relic in places where their presence is not crucial in any way. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column b/w-standard and the provided handouts and maps should water the mouths of any aficionado. The artworks are original b/w-pieces that fit thematically well within the context of the book, creating a seamless, unified impression. The pdf is extensively bookmarked for your convenience, though I'd still recommend getting dead-tree for this one.
Wolfgang Baur and Ben McFarland are immensely talented designers and authors - that's no secret. But even as a fan of many of Wolfgang's pieces, I can't recall any one that blew me away like this one did. Not one. This is the 123 page refutation of the claim that social interaction in Pathfinder is boring, the triumphant sneer in the face of all who claimed that d20-based systems with their combat-focus don't lend themselves to social interaction, court intrigue or any scenario, really, that requires subtlety. "Courts of the Shadow Fey" is a legend, one I slowly digested over multiple months, because every single page herein had some idea, some spark that made me cackle with glee, a pervading sense of jamais-vu pervading the pages - more of it than in the whole catalogues of some companies. I have no doubt that this module will become one of the must-have-played pieces of Pathfinder with its complex sandboxy structure, its attention to details. Its inventiveness and its elegant, at times beautiful, at times creepy blending of themes serve to more perfectly evoke what being "fey" is all about, it redefines evil in the context of fey as a form of elitism that may very well be justified.
Even if I tried, I could have never conveyed the sheer scope and awesomeness of this module, cover all the ideas herein, short of copying about 90% of the module. This is the gold-standard of what an ambitious module should be like and while perhaps not recommended for novice DMs, this is incredibly good - almost painfully so. And much like its unconventional ending that resounds so well with the theme of returning from the lands of the fey, turning the last page of this book left me with a sense of loss that it had ended, that there were not another 100 pages of shadow fey waiting for me. If I could, I'd rate this 6 stars. I got this book this year, so it will feature on my top 10 of 2013-list. It's one of my favorite Open Design/Kobold Press-books released. It's one of the best adventure-resources out there, either as module or setting and in scope, quality and detail on par with Coliseum Morpheuon. I'll repeat it again: GET THIS. Even if you run Golarion, not Midgard. Want a break from Kingmaker? Get this. Run another setting? Get this. Don't have a group and want a good read that is inspiring? Get this. Need ideas for fey tricks, hazards etc.? Get this. This is my unanimous recommendation towards anyone who even remotely is interested in the topic of fey: WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? GET THIS! Final verdict? 5 stars +seal of approval - this might be the best things Wolfgang Baur has written so far - I know I consider it the best one, and Ben McFarland has gone above and beyond to make this work in PFRPG. When do we get the courtly intrigue handbook for mortal courts?
You can get this superb mega-module here on OBS! Endzeitgeist out.
Necropunk Campaign Setting
This campaign setting is a whopping 196 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of links to the galleries of the contributing artists, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 190 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Full disclosure: I have read the Beta of this book and provided feedback on it and some minor editing help - I was not compensated in any way and don't consider my verdict in any way compromised.
That being said, let's jump into Necropunk: The first chapter introduces us to the basic tenets of Necropunk: The "Necro" in Necropunk made me anticipate a grim, gory setting - which it essentially isn't - at least not necessarily.
Mankind has left earth and evolved, developing species-wide psychic powers, spurned by a genetic trigger left in our DNA by some progenitor (god? aliens? something sinister? -for what ends?) to activate upon achieving a certain distance from our solar system - the means of conducting these powers being uncommon and smart - human bones.
Taking a rather realistic approach to how societies handle things, the results of this discovery were catastrophic to say the least - a bone-rush began and since bones not only contained power, but also were a means of attaining wealth, forever changing how society works. Via these bones and the psychic augments at the beck and call of humanity, a renaissance of melee weapons and extreme powers that hearken to fantasy without copying genre conventions was the result.The races of Necropunk have developed from humanity and no elves, dwarves etc. will show up - why? Since races, especially in roleplaying games, lend themselves to overly simplistic stereotyping, they would rather hamper what the setting sets out to do - in spite of appearances, the setting's goal is not a dystopian nightmare of body horror (though you could easily make it one), but rather a setting of political intrigue, social combat and horror - the subtle type of horror that speaks to our psychological discomfort - uncanny valley-style horror. Psychological horror and tackling philosophical questions relevant to life and death and what constitutes a human are core themes of the Necropunk setting. The respective human races are quite different from one another and should still offer something diversity-wise -also thanks to rather extensive and interesting pieces of information on the respective cultures that developed. - but more on those later.
As you could probably glean from the description so far, body horror is a central theme of the setting - though not the gory, alien-type body horror, but rather the one you're familiar with from moving mannequins, androids etc. - again, uncanny valley and subtlety are the defining themes here, not all out conflict. In a setting defined by such uncommon basic premises, why is anyone still standing and why hasn't everything devolved into a bloody orgy of violence that consumed all mankind? Well - MAD. Mutually assured destruction. Social interaction, diplomacy etc. - these are not simple names here, but a basis for the very foundation of the logic of the setting alongside the "necro" component - essentially, what steam is for steampunk, what (magic and mundane) electricity is for Storm Bunny Studios' stormpunk setting Rhûne, that is necromancy (or rather necrotheurgy)for Necropunk.
Which is VITAL, but different in a way you probably wouldn't have expected, but which becomes evident in the section on classes: No magic. None. Not even the standard cop-out of scifi settings, where magic is rationalized with the sentiment of being super-science indistinguishable from technology. Instead, the setting flat-out bans casting classes - though basic advice if you DO want to introduce them is provided.
But before I get to the classes, let's take a look at the races - i.e. the human ethnicities. Let's start with the Ewgee (a bastardization of U.G. - united governments) , the people coming from the Coreworlds of the human expansion. Ewgee are essentially the default humans - +2 to one attribute, + 1 bonus feat, +1 skill rank. Exiles grew up on the Exile Shards, where the influence of the Ewgee grows thin and the loyalties become divided - exiles get +2 to Con and Wis as well as a bonus feat, but suffer from a tech level -1 (more on tech levels later). From deep space explorers called Welshen (after their chief theorist) now, a strict militaristic, nomadic empire has spawned - a tradition of conservative values like family, honor etc. and rigid clan structures, including a unique martial tradition called Qu'em. Their attribute bonuses are governed by clan membership and Welshen also get access to proficiency with Welshen weapons. The clans offer the following suites of attributes: +2 Int and Cha, -2 to Str;+2 Str and Wis, -2 Cha; +2 Dex and Int, -2 Wis; +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Cha; These clans also come with additional benefits and rather extensive write ups. And I know what you think - how do the Welshen stand against a massive confederacy of planets? Warriors one and all, the Ewgee have a more "normal" demographic and thus, their numbers don't count as much.
And then, there's the Prime Bloodline - think religious fanaticism crossed with a penchant for eugenics under the command of an emperor called Godson. Yeah. Creepy. There are various ideologies within the bloodline described as well and rules-wise, members of the Prime Bloodline get +2 Wis and Con, -2 Int, +2 to will saves, +2 to Knowledge (Psionics) and +2 to saves versus poison. Oh, and their strange combination of matriarchal structures paired with a requirement for breeding of the chosen makes the prime bloodline's society structure indeed unique and intimidating - for members of both sexes, subverting traditional gender roles and dichotomies - dichotomies only work on a very superficial level here and collapse in on themselves as soon as you dig deeper. In a hobby, where black and white are so clearly defined as in PFRPG, this is worth something - at least for me. As a subrace, you may also play so-called firstborn, which get +2 to an ability score of their choosing, +2 PPI (more on that later), +2 to saves versus poison and on Knowledge (Psionics)-checks. Now the latter sound powerful - but you should be aware that the Prime Bloodline is in total opposition to the world-spanning Necromancer's Guild that is a powerful entity indeed and its members abhor Nerotech, thus serving as a balance of their slightly superior racial traits.
After this section, we are introduced to languages - and they actually go above and beyond what I've seen for languages, coming with alphabets, extensive notes of the respective languages (and yes, we get a number-based language as well) and beyond even that, the languages come with information on dialects that can be used/are spoken to obscure meanings and which increase the difficulty of communication - I really would have enjoyed this approach to be used in standard Pathfinder - as anyone who has e.g. ventured to rural Germany or respective areas can attest, dialects can be hardcore and make for an identity-constructing element. Alignments are less important in Necropunk - factions are more important, but before I get into handling such options, let's get back to the PPI - the Psychic Potential Index. Average humans have a PPI of 3-5 and the value per se is determined by your starting class. Gear is made ideally from human bone, since that gear conducts human thought the best - other gear (or some particular pieces of equipment) come with a PRI - Psychic Resistance Index. A piece of necrotech usually requires one PPI to equip and qu'em styles, psychic powers etc. tap into the same resource. Thought-transmissive weapons and armor can be charged with said psychic energy as well: This excess charging has a cost of 1PPI+the item's PRI - after being charged, the power remains as long as contact is not interrupted. And the rules are elegant: For each point of energy you invest in weapons, you deal an additional point of damage. For each point invested into an armor, you can get a DR of 1/- or + 1 AC. The cap of the max amount of energy to be invested for an item's bonus being determined by the character. Simple and elegant - and there's quite some potential here. Yeah, I know, I'll put the 2 bucks in the bad pun jar.
And yes, obviously this changes the dynamics of combat - but not nearly as much as the central incision into standard Pathfinder combat - so-called combat phases. In a setting where acting at the speed of thought is possible, the combat can also be something completely different - but what are phases? Essentially, they net you extra actions. Depending on equipment/power, you can act in different phases: Wearers of e.g. golem armors can act in Phase 3, which means they receive one standard action in Phase, 1 standard action in Phase 2 and the regular full turn in Phase 1 that we know from standard combat. And believe me, that can DRASTICALLY alter the way how battles pan out - having experimented with similar systems in my own campaigns, I can attest to the efficiency of such action economy-benefitting powers. The system is concisely explained, as is the system of tech levels, which are not only dependent on your starting race and class, but which can also be raised via numerous ways.
That's not the only innovation in Necropunk, though: We are introduced to one crucial change - Bluff, Diplomacy, Sense Motive and Intimidate are no more in Necropunk. Instead, the campaign setting introduces a mechanic for social combat - and it's simple and elegant: Essentially, it takes the basic mechanics of how combat works and provides social analogues: The equivalent of HP would be confidence - a character gets wis mod times HD confidence - which regenerate faster than HP, with each round seeing the regeneration of wis-mod confidence, at least one. Attacks in social combat work via the social bonus (equal to the BAB) + cha-mod+ position modifiers - said formula is called SMB. Position modifiers are the result of your standing and may add a penalty or bonus of up to +8 to your check. In order to hit the opponent, the attack has to surpass the SMD of the target - which is 10 + social bonus + cha-mod+int-mod+position modifier. A total of 12 concisely presented social maneuvers are included - and can be used to make bartering, teaching etc. actually exciting and not something to be glanced over. If this section managed one thing, then it was to make me stoked about seeing implementations and further expansions of what is promising indeed - not only for Necropunk. Midgard, for example, with its Status-rules imho screams to have this one implemented/modified as well.
The setting also provides easy to use variants of underwater combat for zero-g combat and ship combat and provides quite some advice on converting classes to and from Necropunk.
The Necropunk-setting hence also has a massive array of different new classes - with the respective write ups featuring social modifiers integrated into the respective classes. In order to keep this review from becoming longer than 10 pages, I'll just give you a general impression, all right? In a setting where MAD and social interaction are themes, we need a specialist - enter the diplomat, the social razor's edges and sledgehamemrs to rhetorically dismantle your foes. This class, like the others, is a beast in social combat (but not so much in physical combat) and comes with several racial-specific archetypes - another peculiarity of Necropunk I welcome: You for example can't play a bureaucrat of the Necromancer's Guild when coming from the Prime Bloodline/Firstborn or a Welshen - leaning some sense of cohesive identity to the respective organizations.
Engineers on the other hand are masters of tech and may create extremely deadly, modifiable and heavily customizable special weapons - these fellows are based on alchemists and include archetypes to play the dreaded necromancers and choose different corporations to sponsor their escapades. Magpies are perhaps one of the weirdest classes out there and honestly, would probably fit just as well into just about any other setting. Know the trope of the traumatized/insane person who may perceive some peculiarity on our existence and can glean information from it? Well, in Necropunk, when a weird person asks you whether you'd like to swallow a weird fish-like being, you may wish to think twice, for your life will be changed forever - those that do, become magpies. Eccentric one and all, these beings may perceive what is known as D'jek - essentially the flow of destiny itself. The class may cause its practitioners to develop compulsive ticks, but it also allows them to create unlikely accumulations of accidents that may prove fatal - a glorious variant loosely based on rogues and yet a completely different class that should make this setting very interesting for those not interested in the setting per se.
Medics are the non-magical healer-class from the War Journal II-supplement reskinned for Necropunk - and my criticism remains - it's a great class, but oh so linear. I would have loved some additional choices. However, seeing that in Necropunk it replaces all the other divine healers, I think it makes for a more compelling option here - also thanks to the thematically flavored archetypes, which add quite a few intriguing options to the medic's arsenal - and it should be noted that these guys can stand their ground in melee. Psychics are also interesting - they can not only high-jack so-called ghouls (i.e. the perished ones), disable necrotech (via the so-called Legion Lock) or hack necrotech. 12 psychic powers are provided - and make for a great starting point, but also for one that has me clamoring for more - I hope to see more psychic powers in future Necropunk supplements to further expand the class. Oh, have I mentioned the Magdaline (one of the Welshen clans) Tu'Line, who focus on telekinetic attacks and may attack foes at range? Yes - actually a telekinetic monk-like style that works without being broken - for they lose the crucial ability to use psychic hack, which allows them to get the benefits of legion locked tech. And yes, while the latter is optional, it still is probably one of those must-take psychic powers, so you'll hear no complaints on my end.
Next up are the Qu'em - the Welshen martial artists, whose class is inspired by the monk - but wholly different at the same time: Like the monk, they eschew martial tools, armor, necrotech etc., get an AC-bonus and faster movement - but they are much more than a monk: First of all, they get bonus PPI instead of ki, using essentially the basic rules that apply to all classes in a more streamlined fashion. Furthermore, they are FAST - and I'm not talking about movement here - Qu'em act in phase two - even at first level. And that makes them lethal with a capital "l". Also interesting design decision - they do average damage, making them extremely reliable in melee - especially since they also get their wis-bonus to atk and damage up to a maximum of their level - again, neatly balanced. Have I mentioned that these guys can also opt to take a magpie/qu'em-style archetype for an interesting evolution of traditional drunken masters?
Where the Qu'em represent the martial traditions of the Welshen, the Ewgee also get a base-class of martially inclined soldiers - the sentinels: Members of the best of the best elite units -and as such they not only get access to special elite armors, they may also requisition military gear 1/week (and exchange said gear), gaining access to superior tools. Selling is not an option, though - unless you plan on being expelled as well as hunted down for selling military gear. Since Welshen and sentinels don't mix, advice on handling Qu'em and Sentinel in one group is provided as well. Of course, renegade mercenaries might also be an option. Stalkers are based on rogues - but are an altogether different beast: Stalkers are stone-cold killers and may mark targets somewhat akin to SGG's Shadow Assassin-class, making them very deadly versus their chosen targets. And fitting well in with the MAD-concept of Necropunk - at 11th level access to Death Attack (and later, talents to make this possible sans studying!). further enhance this impression.
The next class we are introduced would be the Wild Card - the class that more appropriately can be considered fortune-seekers, jack-of-all-trades that are all about variety, gaining multiple abilities to enhance their skills, gain feats and e.g. an eidetic memory. Another class that might be considered appropriate for settings beyond Necropunk as well. It should also be noted that each class comes with some roleplaying advice on character-inherent conflicts and tough questions - if you're a psychic or a wunderkind, are you perhaps a supremacist? What if other people fear you for what you are? What if your professional code clashes with your own ethics?
Of course, we also get a massive array of feats - to enhance your tech level or enter overwatch-mode. And honestly - in the context of Necropunk, I think the overwatch some of you may know from the PFRPG-Strider class works MUCH better than in regular PFRPG, fitting well with the theme of stand offs, social combat mixing with physical combat etc. - why negotiate? Well, when both your ally and the enemy is in overwatch, talking it over seems so much more enticing -especially since combat in Necropunk, with its phases and advanced weaponry can turn lethal damn fast. (Plus, the requirement for automatic weapons makes in game much more sense to me than the same with bows...). Of course various feats enhancing PPI-based abilities, social combat and equipment are also provided. We also get multiple new style-feat mini-trees, with Jak Pan deserving special mentioning - available to members of the Prime Bloodline, the combat medics will love this one, as it merges surgical prowess with martial arts, allowing you to impose negative conditions on hit foes with successful heal-checks. Also rather interesting - the Sentinel's Synchro-style, which blends teamwork feats and styles, making for a good representation of twin/synchronized fighting. Two thumbs up for that one! We also get a style for using ranged weapons in melee and one based on fencing - all in all, rather cool selection of unique options.
We also get 15 new traits to customize your character within the setting before we dive into equipment. Of course, in Necropunk GP-values would make no sense, and hence we're introduced to the resource-system -as well as a section-by-section breakdown of the value f human bones: Hands, e.g., would be worth 5% of the 3K a full skeleton's worth. Special materials (and their PRI) are covered - but much like e.g. Cyberpunk-settings, shopping is rather rewarding: Beyond materials, properties applied to weapons also make for massive differences - magnetic rail gun-properties, bone material (allowing for usage in higher phase orders), slag weapons, those that require a spin-up - rather cool array of options. Also interesting is the fact that specific weapons can fire different types of ammunition - from chaos rounds to slag strikes, weapons of course can also be upgraded to fire for example the deadly tombstone-rounds. Of course, grenades and a large selection of armor-types are also at your perusal - as is a rather cool idea: Applying bonuses to social maneuvers etc. depending on the outfits you wear. Yes. Clothes actually MATTER.
Another interesting component of Necropunk's society is the existence of ghouls - part tech, part chemical concoctions, all shambling corpse-based serving class, they are the remains of the dead, reanimated to get persons posthumously out of debt. Modifying ghouls is covered as well via a rather list of modifications. Speaking of modifications:
Body modifications - they are awesome - from advanced circulatory system to the option to emit deadly sonic-damage dealing screams or graft extra arms to your body - if one wants, one can get full-blown FREAK and really push the limits of whether one can still be considered human - a great toolbox of Frankensteinish modifications indeed. Drugs with different stages of addictions and a massive array of craft-DCs for modifications are also provided in here.
And then we are introduced to the setting per se - via organizations, ships, how religions have developed (not shying away from how Christianity, Judaism etc. have developed without being condescending to any of these religions) and the new ones that have risen since we left the solar system to regions of the galaxy. Advice for DMs and players, an example location and space travel and a massive glossary of specific terms and a timeline of the setting.Conclusion:
Editing and formatting aren't superb - there are some minor glitches here and there - but the emphasis is on "minor" - when compared to anything I've read by LRGG, this is not one but two steps in the right direction, providing a massive book that can be considered well, if not perfectly edited. Layout adheres to a unique, relatively printer-friendly full color standard with appropriately-themed, easy to read fonts and grey/black themes as well as several pieces of at times page-spanning full color artworks that have in common that they range from mind-boggling to good and are actually original pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience adn comes with greyscale and color char-sheets, though both lack a SMD and CMD.
Let me for a second state in what I believe in: I believe in the fact that gamers are looking to expand their horizons - even the most conservative of our kind have taken up this hobby not only because it's fun, but because it consciously or subconsciously expands our horizon. How many 5th graders know the difference between thaumaturgy and necromancy, know some terms from the knightly courts of old and have a conception of what a jarl is? I know I did. Gaming has not only broadened my vocabulary at an early age and prompted me to master foreign languages and invest myself into different cultures, it has guided my approach to a wide array of challenges I have faced throughout my life, maybe even provided a type of moral compass on what I consider right and what wrong. The one way to get me riled up is to demand simplification not for the sake of understanding, but for the sake of laziness - if I see terms that intrigue me, concepts I find thought-provoking, I try to look them up. And gaming is a great way to get a tiny inkling of knowledge about topics that may incite you to want to know more about them. Whether its cultures, literature, history, languages, myths - there's a lot of lore to be discovered via gaming.
Once in a while, recent editions have made me a bit disillusioned - while Paizo has avoided the obvious books mostly ("Hey, let's make an oriental, a psionics-book, a class-book for class z etc."), still, once in a while, I like to have my brain teased, to get some new impulses: If you want to know what I'm talking about, think back in the days, when Planescape first brought the WEIRD, when Ravenloft started blurring the line between players and characters to evoke true fear. Gaming can touch us on a basic level and actually refine our character and there are many books that play it safe by catering to a target demographic and I won't judge them for that - as long as they're good, that is. But still, you once in a while want something DIFFERENT. Something that hasn't been done before. A sense of Jamais-vu.
There you have it. Ambitious beyond anything they've done so far, the crew of authors and designers from Little Red Goblin Games have created a setting that dares to be different: You won't find the standard plasma and laser guns here, no alien zoo of weird player-races that will ultimately just make gaming ridiculous. There's no weirdly sexless b/w-mythology à la Star Wars (which NEVER made sense to me, not even as a child -and before all the SW-fans come out of the woodworks - more power to you, the franchise is just not made for me) in here - this setting is HUMAN. Decidedly, dauntingly so - from the basic premise over the absence of direct alien interventions to the bone-foundation of the tech to the price of bones, this setting explores a dystopian future that actually is not that dystopian when you think about it: All in all, no massive evil empire looms, no extraterrestrial mechanic squids seek to annihilate everything - Necropunk is about human conflicts and ultimately, what it means to be human - it's a narrative of conflicting ideologies that are all partially right or partially wrong, a narrative of diverse traditions and mindsets and of complex questions. And of buying cool augmentations to turn yourself into a deadly engine of destruction with multiple devastating mag-rifles, of fusing your spine with a suit grown from a dead corpse into a bone-golem-like monstrosity and modifying your weapons via x add-ons and custom modifications to wade through legions of foes. Of saving the galaxy by deciphering a deadly conspiracy according to the stain of your spilled coffee and the urgings of the fish-like parasite you imbibed on a whim that can perceive the flow of fate, destiny or whatever you'd wish to call it. Necropunk is weird, yes, but not necessarily dark - nor light. It feels human - just like our own world can be defined in no absolute terms, so are there no straight answers for questions of transhumanism, morality and ethnicity. All these questions are tackled, supplemented by solid rules that almost exclusively whet one's palate for future expansions.
This is not a rip-off of an established genre - neither of Shadowrun-like Cyberpunk, nor of Warhammer 40K's grim vision of the future - this is something jaded guys like yours truly only see rarely: Something DIFFERENT. Something original. And for that alone, it deserves to be applauded - much more so for decisions like the social combat or the item-modifications or the fact that the PPI-mechanics serve as a unifying mechanic that offsets the perceived differences between classes and ethnicities, with the latter serving as a subconscious reminder that most of us, even in the future of Necropunk, still bleed red.
Is this book perfect? No, it does have its editing and formatting glitches here and there. But does it deserve your attention, deserve your bucks? The answer to that question, I'll answer with a resounding "yes". In an age where we already have covered so much ground in RPGs, dealing with serious topics in a thoroughly original context without forcing an ideology or easy answer down your throat means that this can be considered a great first step into a setting I am sure to follow - I want to know where this setting goes, what new tools, places and modules will be released in the days to come. Necropunk has come completely out of left field and if LRGG can keep this quality and perhaps even further improve it, then we're looking at one damn fine cult-setting in the making. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.
You can get this great supplement here on OBS! Endzeitgeist out.