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Psionics Augmented: Soulknives
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/01/2016 05:06:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Psionics Augmented-series clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1/2 page blank, leaving us with 13 1/2 pages of content, so let's take a look!


We begin this pdf with a selection of new blade skills for the soulknife to use: 34, to be precise - several of which, just fyi, are archetype-exclusives. In these cases, they sport the archetype's name in brackets, acting as an additional prerequisite to the ones pertaining other blade skills. To give you an example: Animal Senses nets you low-light vision and scent as well as +2 to Perception, but is only available for the Feral heart and requires the form claws class feature to take, basically adding the sensory aspect to the claw-theme. Blade Rush is pretty brutal - it allows for the swift action expenditure of the psionic focus to move up to the soulknife's speed as a swift action...which is strong. Where the blade skill does overshoot the target a bit is with the caveat that the soulknife provokes no attacks of opportunity with this movement. No "from adjacent targets" caveat - just flat-out no AoOs. At the same time, minimum 6th level does alleviate this a bit...but still, for less high-powered games, this is a very potent option and should probably be nerfed. Its follow-up allows the soulknife to move up to her movement speed as a full-round action (no AoOs!) and make a single melee attack at highest BAB -2 against each target she is adjacent to. The "adjacent" caveat is the only thing that keeps me from engaging in a full-blown diatribe here. Still, this is arguably MUCH better than any form of full-round attack you can usually perform, unless you're only fighting against one adversary (when action economy outclasses the foe against the average adventuring party anyways). The one balancing feature would be the psionic focus expenditure, which prevents you from spamming this move. The minimum level? 8th. Not any high-level trickery. 8th. This one completely outclasses similar one-use abilities granted at high levels, has only a resource determined by action economy and is rather overpowered for its minimum level.


That being said, as much as I consider this one problematic, the pdf also has some absolute gems that work for pretty much every game - Caltrop Spray, for example, where you break your own mind blade to create more potent psychic caltrops that can tell friend from foe for cool soft terrain control. Starting at 10th level, these guys can also expend their psionic focus to fold space as a standard action (move action at 16th level+), allowing for a level-wise great take on the phasing soulknife. And yes, there is actually a BALANCED low-level phasing trick for the soulknife as well - at 4th level, via Ghost Step, which has strict action economy/focus requirements and played rather neat in my games. Knife to the Soul enhancers, psionic focus-based dispels etc. can be found and combining the soulbolt's empowered strikes with unarmed attack/natural attacks is cool as well. As a minor nitpick "Deadly Fis" is missing its "t" in the end - but that's a typo. Similarly, empowering natural weapons. Manyshot mindbolts, better deadly shields and mind armaments. I am somewhat weary of improved psychokientic discharge, which lets the soulknife perform empowered strike full-attacks at range.


On the plus-side, a whip-shaped mindblade that can cause 1-round dazes on failed saves is cool, though the daze should probably specify that it's a pain-effect, at least judging from the fluff of the ability that justifies it via "intense levels of pain." Very cool for multi-limbed creatures: There is now a blade skill for more than 2 soulknives at once! Kudos for stitching that hole! Increasing power points, psychic grappling hooks (!!!)...pretty cool. Have I mentioned the platform they can now make? It can be slick, elastic...whatever the soulknife desires and has the concise rules to support it. Yeah - this is UTILITY beyond combat, ladies and gentlemen! Gaining psychic strike if it had been traded away, firing psychic strikes as blasts (or 10-foot splash bombs), gain mind armaments (see below) and there is a unique one: Speed of Thought + Mental Leap, with psychic strike's charge as an alternate means of paying for the expenditure required by the secondary abilities. Cool! Soulbolts can now also learn to form melee mind blades. I am not a fan of foregoing psychic strike charge to ignore all hardness or DR at 4th level - the lack of scaling regarding both render the blade skills problematic for some tables - I know I'll ban that one in my games or at least introduces a scaling mechanism that allows for the continuous progression of the ability instead of full-blown DR ignoring. Oh, and we have an infinite healing crap-ability. Deal only 1/2 psychic strike damage to heal this amount. Can someone hand me the bag of kittens and a HP-to-ally-transferring ability, please? Then we'll have infinite healing not only for the soulknife, but for the whole group. Blergh. A simple minimum-HD-caveat that scales with soulknife-levels would eliminate the issue, as almost all similar designs do by now. You may not consider it an issue, but I do - to me, such an exploit represents sloppy design and the low point of this supplement.


Okay, next up are the archetypes and one word of warning - they are COMPLEX. As in: They modify A LOT and certainly are not cookie cutters - we get really big ones here, with the Augmented Blade being the first. This archetype is basically THE option for all those rounds and games where the idea of a ghostly/energy-style soulknife didn't work with the feeling of the campaign: Instead of a mindblade, the augmented blade archetype gains a psicrystal, which is then attached to weapons to e.g. coat them in crystal or sport similar means of visual customization. Beyond that, the psicrystal can be attached to a variety of items, augmenting them in unique ways - and this works on a rather fluid basis, allowing for quick slotting and a lot of variables you can change on the fly - and yes, this renders the archetype rather fun to play, particularly considering the fact that the archetype learns to split the psicrystal AND has Metaforge/Aegis multiclass information. Absolutely GLORIOUS archetype that basically "unlocks" the soulknife for settings where it would not work, replacing basically the core class mechanics with new ones...and it thus plays differently, too! A prime example for a great archetype!


The second one would be the brutality blade, who uses Charisma as governing attribute for the soulknife class features and may manifest rage blades, which may not be thrown, must be single blades and they increase the enhancement bonus of the mind blade by +1, allowing the brutality blade (always hear Mortal Kombat's theme music when I write this, but that just as an aside), with 7th and 13th level increasing the bonus by a further +1. The rage blade can be maintained for 4 + Constitution modifier rounds per day, +2 per class level beyond 1st. Upon dismissing the blade, though, the brutality blade loses psionic focus and is fatigued for 1d4 +1 round, during which he may not regain psionic focus. Additionally, the brutality blade has a 10% chance to suffer psychic enervation when manifesting this godblade style mindblade on steroids, risking 2 times class level damage. So, as you see, the archetype basically functions as a barbarian-y soulknife on steroids with a sprinkling of wilder as for its base functionality. This becomes more apparent with 4th level, when the brutality blade gains the raging surge that adds +4 to Str while the blade's out, +2 to Con at 8th level, further +2 to both at 12th, Strength increases to +6 at 16th and both to +6 at 20th level. 5th level unlocks free action rage blade manifestation...but the archetype also gains unique wrath augments, basically specialized blade skills. For example, when using a rage blade, the brutality blade may, as a full-round action, expend psionic focus to jam the blade into the ground to duplicate Whirlwind Attack as soon as 4th level, balanced by the rage blade requirement. Growing in size as per expansion with claws of crude knives, expending psionic focus to reroll Fort- or Will-saves as immediate actions (again: Better balanced than mettle!), causing bleeding wounds and gaining a raging euphoria that can be shared with allies or a focus-based rend...the options are powerful, but well-placed regarding minimum-levels and feature glorious visuals. As a capstone, the archetype can maintain his blade even in null psionics fields sans issues and no longer suffers from a chance of psychic enervation. This archetype is superb - and its mechanical possibilities are not even close to being covered here - the enervation, rage blade and unique mechanics practically beg to be further expanded. The archetype plays like a completely different class and does so gloriously - it is one of the coolest godblade-style archetype/classes I've seen in quite a while and generally can be considered to be a cool, well-balanced addition to the game.


Thirdly, the psychic armory can be seen on the cover - with a panoply of blades circling her, she begins play with 1 + Wisdom modifier light and one-handed such blades, 2nd level unlocking an additional 1 + Wisdom modifier two-handed blades. These blades may not be used to attack in melee and are only quasi-real, until hurled psychokinetically at foes - and yes, they can be used to perform AoOs in melee range with proper rules-language covering all the bases. Expended blades replenish upon the armory's next turn. This panoply of weapons may not be used in conjunction with wielded weapons or off-hand/natural attacks, but the base damage-types employed may be changed for each weapon group used in the panoply of blades. Special abilities still require extensive meditation and may not be fluidly switched. I already mentioned psychokinetic throws, which basically translates to using Wisdom instead of Dexterity to determine ranged atk with the panoply and also adds Wisdom to damage, with regular light weapons duplicated having a range increment of 20 ft. and 1-handed ones a range-increment of 15 ft. 2nd level also unlocks throwing 2-handed weapons from her array with a range increment of 10 ft. Here's the unique thing, though: The armory may, as a standard action, direct the panoply to a place within medium range and have it explode in a 20-ft.-burst, using all her blades for the round in favor of 1d6 damage per class level + enhancement bonus, Ref-save halves, with the rules actually covering the blending of damage types and their substitution. 3rd level allows for the panoply to apply soulknife mind blade enhancements by weapon group and 5th level lets the armory call forth her panoply as a swift action. As a capstone, the archetype can maintain his blade even in null psionics fields sans issues.


Oh, and the archetype comes with more than one page of unique blade skills that allow for the panoply to gather into a temporary mind blade of a more traditional bent, increase the reach of the threatened area by +5 ft., increase the range, flurry with the panoply a limited amount of times per day at range (here, the pricing with minimum level 14th is appropriate) or use an opposed attack roll to counter another as an immediate action. While personally, I dislike the mechanic due to d20 vs. d20 being rather swingy, your mileage may vary here. Making the panoply lines, expand to becoming difficult terrain (and threatened area!) or form a barrier - the options are truly evocative. Oh, psychic armory...how torn am I regarding you. You see, this one is obviously in flair and style something more suitable for high-psionics/magic campaigns and for these it works OH SO WELL. My personal disdain for the d20 vs. d20 blade skill notwithstanding, the archetype is just so beautiful. Its three assortments of preconfigured mindblades are very powerful and, honestly, may be a tad bit too powerful. Similarly, unlimited 20 ft--burst long-range attacks that deal class level x 1d6 + enhancement bonus physical damage outclass A LOT of builds and classes out there. Alchemists can take their bombs and go home, sobbing, for example - at least until iterative attacks allow for outclassing of these blasts....but then again, the panoply's blast of blades is ALWAYS a standard action. You fire this burst...and then you're standing around with not even a weapon in your hands. You threaten nobody. If you get outmaneuvered using this ability, you're basically screwed very hard until your next turn, bereft of all the cool tricks you have. This makes the archetype play in a very unique manner - you need a bit of tactics here. The panoply also has another...potentially pretty nasty component - it can have multiple weapons in the panoply bearing psychic charges, which is a pretty big deal. Then again, can you see the class charging its blades and firing them? This is basically one of my favorite video game bosses of all times, the archetype (extra brownie points if you can guess which one I'm referring to!). The psychic armory can deal a lot of damage, is flexible, consolidates Dex and Str into Wis for her attacks...and honestly, I should be screaming OP by now. It...kinda is. For low-powered, conservative campaigns, this one should probably be reserved to powerful puzzle-bosses. In high-powered high fantasy/psionics-campaigns, though? OMG. While personally, I'll nerf this gal a bit, I absolutely ADORE this archetype. Sure, I wished it was a bit more conservative...but she plays just so beautifully!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level and impressively good on a rules-level - this book may have a some minor typo-level hiccups, but it engages in very complex rules-operations and manages to do so very well. Layout-wise, the pdf adheres to Dreamscarred Press' two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. The pdfs come fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdfs also sport nice, full-color artworks.


Chris Bennett has delivered a solid, massive piece of capital letters CRUNCH here. The pdf contains A LOT of material on its pages, with a very satisfying crunch-per-page ratio. Furthermore, the quality of the crunch, generally, is top-notch. You will not find any bland cookie-cutter designs herein and, while sufficiently mathfindery and combo-heavy to make the optimizers happy, this pdf excels in its concepts.


Yes, I consider the skirmishing blade skill to be underpriced. Yes, I consider the failed kitten-test to be simply unnecessarily sloppy in an otherwise extremely precise and evocative book. Yes, the psychic armory is not for every campaign. So, this is my warning: Conservative groups using psionics for less high-powered games should carefully run each component by the GM.


And this is as far as the grouchy, complaining part of my personality gets with this one. As you probably have gleaned from the above, my complaints rang this loud within the review because I absolutely adore more than 95% of this book. As in squee-level adoration. As a person, I couldn't care less that the psychic armory is too powerful for the default, non-high-powered campaign; I adore it. The brutality blade and the augmented blade are absolutely awesome for less high-powered tables and all three archetypes have in common that they damn well rock my world. They are basically what archetypes should be like. In fact, lesser designers would have probably sold them as full-blown friggin' base classes. Not only do they sport completely different visuals, they actually play radically differently, with the new array of blade skills filling holes in the rules that needed filling and providing cool, new options.


Yes, I may have complained about a few pieces herein...but the significant majority of content herein is just BEAUTIFUL. As in crunch-masterclass-level awesomeness. This is basically a book that put the middle-finger to all bland +1/+X abilities and modifications and cookie cutter archetypes. Its totality may not be for everyone; but I can guarantee that every single table out there that uses a soulknife will find something in this pdf they fall in love with. High-psionics campaigns NEED the armory in them. Low-powered games or those that dislike the laser-y flair need the augmented blade. Seriously. No exceptions for either. I'd also like to emphasize the sheer density of this volume - no broad borders, no filler - this pdf may look brief, but it really isn't, with very tightly formatted rules-text, you get a lot of bang for your buck here.


What I try to express with my inane rambling here is simple: I love this book. In spite of its flaws and hitting some serious pet-peeves of mine. I took about 5 minutes to modify (as in: Change min-level, add cool-down, the like.) a couple of pieces of crunch for my table and that's it - I have pretty much a truly superb book in my hands, one that is allowed in my main campaign, mind you. Even before these minor modifications, the book must be considered a must own addition for psionics-using tables; not one that should just be flat-out allowed for all, but definitely one that enriches all games it touches. And that, dear readers, is more important that nitpicking, my own pet-peeves or disagreements pertaining power-levels and pricing of a scant few abilities. While I don't consider this to be mechanically perfect, I thus will still rate this 5 stars + seal of approval - considering the complexity of the material, the amount of greatness and the unique playing experiences this offers, penalizing it for its minor flaws would be a disservice to the file. Yes, it's that evocative. Were it not for the minor hiccups, this would be a top ten candidate.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psionics Augmented: Soulknives
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Psionics Augmented: Focused Disciplines
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/28/2016 11:10:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Psionics Augmented-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, what are these? Focused disciplines, basically are advanced disciplines; ability-array that modify the discipline in question's non power-related abilities. As such, each has replacement abilities they replace with the new ones. Each discipline (minus athanatism) gains 4 such focused disciplines, so let's take a look!


Clairsentience begins with the aura sight ability at 8th level - as long as you maintain psionic focus, you can see the alignment of creatures, with the expenditure as a swift action allowing you to see the intensity of the aura, 14th level lets you smite evil at 1/2 class level 1/day (+1 every 4 levels thereafter), except it applies to any creature with an alignment different than yours. I'm...not a fan of this one, to say the least. I already dislike detect abilities that are at-will, but thankfully, players tend to forget these. This one's always on, which is extremely annoying from a GM and internal setting-logic perspective: When a significant array of people can see alignment sans even trying, hiding your alignment becomes even more annoying and may wreck quite a few of assumptions of modules. Not gonna get near my table.


Falsehood Allows you to expend your psionic focus, starting at 2nd level, to penalize the next two d20-rolls of a foe within 30 ft, with 8th level providing a 20 ft. AoE-bursty variant. Both allow for no save, but ultimately won't break the game. Reading provides, at 8th level, a retroactive bonus of +2 to an attack roll or saving throw 1/day, with every 2 levels increasing the bonus by +1 and adding 1/day use and 14th level allowing you to share the benefits with an ally. Also at 14th level, the discipline has another annoying metagame ability -1/day learn a creature's alignment, lowest and highest ability score and what classes it has levels in. If you also expend your psionic focus, you also learn the 3 highest skills and the creature's HD. Not a fan. Terror adds 2 rounds of shaken to creatures failing to save versus your clairsentience powers, with focus expenditure increasing that to frightened. Every 4 levels thereafter increase duration by +1 round. This one...is nasty. 14th level nets you an always-on-while-focused 10 ft. aura that works somewhat akin to a hex; on a successful save, the target's shaken and becomes immune for 24 hours, on a failed save, the target becomes panicked for 1d4 rounds. Personally, I think the immunity caveat should apply to the whole ability, not only to the successful save, but that may be me and is just a design-aesthetic preference.


Metacreativity sports the crystal discipline...and it has a problematic component: Crystal shot allows the psion to expend his psionic focus as a swift action to fire a 30 ft.-range, two range-increment piercing lance of crystal, with x3 crit mod. The lance can (but does not have to!) use Int-mod instead of Dex-mod to calculate atk. Base damage is 1d8, +1d8 at 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter. On its own, this is not problematic, but the increased damage output, particularly for multi-class'd characters, can be nasty. At 8th level, the base damage of the ability is added to attacks with all manufactured weapons while maintaining focus. Guiding provides bonuses to all attacks against foes within 25 ft, with 14th level allowing you to expend your psionic focus as an immediate action to double the bonus for a single attack made within 30 ft. of you. Plasmic lets you create a skill-enhancing ectoplasma tool and 14th level makes your tools really potent. Steel allows you to expend psionic focus to temporarily buff your AC versus an incoming attack and 14th level provides an always-on-while-focused +5 shield bonus to AC.


Psychokinetists may opt for Blaze, which nets fire resistance and the option to temporarily extend its benefits to allies while damaging nearby foes. 14th level allows you to reduce the fire resistance of foes versus your fire-based powers, with creatures sans resistance being treated as though they were vulnerable to fire. Additionally, resistance reduced to zero results in fire damage for nearby creatures...which is a bit odd: So, does this damage also apply if a creature has no fire resistance? The rules could be interpreted either way.


Boom adherents add 5-ft-radius minor sonic damage to single-target powers and 8th level adds deafened for 1 hour to sonic-based single-target powers. Somewhat wonky: "You may expend your psionic focus to affect all creatures within 5 feet of the creature instead." I assume this only applies to the deafened condition and that the target still is affected. Chill similarly reduces all movement speeds of creatures affected by your cold damage dealing powers, but including AoEs this time around...which is pretty OP regarding terrain control. Oh, and it has no duration or means to cure. Speaking of which: 14th level lets you expend psionic focus to stagger foes - even on a successful save, but only for 1 round! Still, considering the power level of the staggered condition, this is OP.Spark grants you bonuses for successfully caused electricity damage for short periods of time, with high levels allowing you to reduce the duration to extend the benefits to allies within 20 ft., but only a limited amount of times per day.


Psychometabolism specialists can opt for the adrenal discipline, which nets you scaling dodge bonuses to AC and Ref-saves when manifesting psychometabolism powers and allows you to add buffs to your personal-range psychometabolism powers. No complaints here. Animalia adds an augment option to all psychometabolism powers to enhance your physical attributes at 8th level and 14th level allows you to retaliate when successfully critically hit via AoOs with bonuses, but only a limited amount of times per day. Second Gear enhances your movement rates while focused and 14th level allows you to manifest two powers that require a standard action or less as a full-round action, with your manifester level being the cap regarding total power point cost and +1 use at 16th, 18th and 20th level. Significantly stronger than resilient body and metabolic healing...not a fan. Storage nets you basically a built-in bag of holding and 14th level allows you to empty this pocket in an explosive burst as a standard action, dealing 2d6 per cubic foot you filled. the bag starts with oen cubic foot and gains + 1 at 4th level and every two levels thereafter. oh, and no save to halve the damage.


Psychoportation specialists that specialize on bypass may teleport 20 ft as a move action when expending their psionic focus and the ability contradicts itself - it says once "at-will" and then goes on to state daily limits that increase...so, which is it? Starting at 14th level, you may "gain insight on a single Stealth check to hide equal to your class level" -that should probably be "insight bonus," since "insight" on its own is not a thing in PFRPG. Drive allows you to short-range teleport willing allies, with higher levels providing group-ports. Labyrinth allows you to bypass tremorsense and blindsense and at 14th level, you gain skill-bonuses to Survival and Knowledge (geography). Retrieval lets you call unattended objects nearby to your hand, with 8th level providing a free returning to thrown weapons.


Telepaths may elect to specialize on channel: This allows you to link minds with a single creature...and unwilling creatures get no save to resist. Can you see the gaslighting plot? 14th level allows you to send messages to targets you linked with in the last week - which is generally cool and allows for some cool tricks. Specialists of the closed discipline allows you to render a creature temporarily deaf and bereft of telepathy, with higher levels increasing the damage you and your allies cause against the target. Personally, as much as I dislike it, I'd have made this precision damage due to internal consistency of the system. Informants add 1/2 level to all Knowledge and Diplomacy checks while focused and, on a failed Stealth check, they may, at high levels, reroll with a bonus when they expend their focus - a cool ability, but at 14th level very late. Mystique adherents can break a LOT of plots: They can concentrate on a target...and the ability is wonky as all hell: "As a standard action while you're psionically focused, you make a Sense Motive check. One intelligent creature within 30 ft. of your choice must then make a Will save." Okay, against which DC? the usual 10 + 1/2 level + manifester mod? The Sense Motive result? No idea. On a failed save, you gain 5 hours (!!!) worth of the creature's memories, +1 hour for every point by which they fail the save. Not functional as written can wreck A LOT of modules. The 8th level memory implant is similarly problematic - "If they fail, you convince them that they experienced something that they didn't actually experience. They may use your Bluff modifier instead of their own when convincing people of this." The "may" here implies that they can choose, which they shouldn't be able to. Also: The implanted memories lack specifics: Can you implant memories that supersede others? Can you rewrite a whole life? No idea, since the ability fails to specify the extent of its powers.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting, on a formal level are top-notch. On a rules-level, it is less consistent in its internal terminology than I've come to expect from Dreamscarred Press - "expend your psionic focus" versus "expend psionic focus" and similar cosmetic hiccups can be found here, with some pieces of rules-language being simply not as clear as it should be. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and with a second, more printer-friendly version. Artwork-wise, the focus lies on fitting stock art.


Sasha Hall's expansion for psionics, let me reiterate that, isn't bad. Considering the tight wiggle-room that the concept offers, there are some seriously cool options here. If you don't share my loathing for metagame-y abilities, the pdf will gain a bit of appeal. At the same time, though, the overall pdf is uncharacteristically inconsistent for a Dreamscarred Press offering. The power-ratio of replaced abilities is off in quite a few places regarding the abilities replaced and comparable abilities offered in the very same book. That is one issue this has; the second would be that the book does have a couple of internal hiccups: The telepathy-lock-down, for example: Can it be used to sever the connection to a collective, as employed by the tactician, vitalist, etc.? The focused discipline hampers "all telepathic abilities" - which is NOT a defined term in the context of Ultimate Psionics. There are quite a few of these issues here and they accumulate. This may not be bad, but it does fall short of the standards established by Dreamscarred Press. In the end, this is a mixed bag and hence, my review will clock in at 3 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Psionics Augmented: Focused Disciplines
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Path of War Expanded
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/04/2016 09:33:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The massive expansion to Dreamscarred Press's Path of War-series clocks in at 181 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with a massive 176 pages of content, so let's take a look!


But wait, before we do, let me make one thing abundantly clear: I am aware that Path of War as a system is a divisive topic. I am very conflicted regarding the core book for it, a tendency I expressed in my review back then. I stand by ALL of these criticisms and have defended them, time and again, so let's get this out of the way first: If something fails the kitten-test, I consider that a needless flaw in the design; I consider infinite healing not to be a part of the core of the game, since only a few combos allow for it, often due to these combos being based on at least one badly designed piece of crunch. I will complain about that. Similarly, I will complain about Skills-for-attack-substitutions, since skills are MUCH easier to blast through the roof via spells, items, etc. I consider all of these problematic. You are entitled to have a different opinion. I don't tell you how to play, that a certain type of game-style is the "wrong" way or any such nonsense. I just depict what my subjective experience is regarding the material.


Before we dive into the analysis of this pdf, let me first make some things clear -I am not going to judge this pdf as per the power-level of the base game and instead take a look at it in the context of Path of War and its increased power-level -anything different would be rather ridiculous regarding an expansion to said system, after all. Conversely, this is not going to be a rehash of all my different takes on individual rules-decisions of Path of War that ultimately, to me, are unnecessary design-relics. If you're not familiar with the gripes I have with the base-system (and the opinions which diverged from mine on that, after all, I do not consider my reviews to be the only valid opinion!), you can read up on them in the extensive discussion on my site and certain boards. Hence, I will try to limit my complaining about these old gripes to a minimum, should I encounter them. Please, please read the above again, carefully - I'm not here to prescribe an opinion, I'm here to give my honest assessment.


All right, that out of the way, let's begin with the latest iteration of my favorite previously-released Path of War class, now revised...so what does the Harbinger do? Chassis-wise, the Harbinger, who gets d8, 4+Int skills, 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort- and will-saves and proficiency with simple and martial melee weapons, light armor and shields. The harbinger begins play with 5 maneuvers known, 3 of which can be readied and 1 stance, increasing this to 16 known, 10 readied and 7 stances at 20th level. Maneuvers may be chosen from Cursed Razor, Riven Hourglass, Scarlet Throne, Shattered Mirror and Veiled Moon. For my issues with the old disciplines, please check my reviews of those. I'll return to the new disciplines later. Harbingers can be considered the brooding anti-heroes, the dark bringers of woe and as such, contemplating10 minutes of negativity allows the harbinger to ready other maneuvers. In order to regain spent maneuvers in combat, Dark Claim is used - as a swift action, the harbinger can claim a creature in close range she can see - this lasts for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 her class level and a number of creatures equal to class level can be claimed at a given time. Whenever a creature claimed is reduced to 0 hit points, the harbinger recovers initiation modifier expended maneuvers, and when he claims a target, he also gets 1 expended maneuver back. It should be noted that a harbinger is aware of the precise location of a creature claimed, though not being able to see the creature still nets total concealment.


Now if you've been expecting an anti-kitten-test rant here, I have to disappoint you - maneuvers are not a limited resource and as such I'm perfectly fine with the option of a harbinger carrying around bags of kittens to claim and kill...why? Well, because they can also regain a maneuver as a standard action, which renders the whole shenanigans moot. If played smartly, a harbinger will not want for maneuvers, though they can run out of them, requiring the expenditure of actions.


First level harbingers add 1/2 their Int-mod to attack rolls, 10th level harbingers also add full Int-mod to damage rolls, offsetting their 3/4 BAB. I am NOT a fan of dual stats to any roll, but that is documented by now, alongside the obvious means to min-max the s*** out of such a set up, right? They also get +10 ft. competence bonus to movement rate, increasing this by a further +10 ft at 10th level and this bonus is applied before any other modifications due to load et al.


At 2nd level, the class gets Dark Focus - a kind of specialization on one discipline, which nets a +1 competence bonus to atk and damage, increasing these bonuses by a further +1 at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter. The focus'd discipline's save DCs are also increased by +1, though this bonus does no longer increase, eliminating one of my two main complaints about the first iteration of the class.


6th level nets wither Advanced Study or Discipline Focus as a bonus feat; 10th level nets a second discipline and 14th level provides the option to spontaneously expend a maneuver readied to spontaneously perform a maneuver known from the Dark Focus'd discipline, though it has to have a level equal to or lower than the expended maneuver. Finally, 20th level makes all maneuvers known of the chosen disciplines count as readied in addition to the ones readied regularly.


At 3rd level, harbingers may 1/encounter (thankfully now defined in in-game time in Path of War, so no more complaints regarding that!) move up to her speed as a swift action, increasing this by +1/encounter at 9th and 15th level; however, at these very same levels, harbingers can also opt for fly speed, swim speed plus immunity to inhaled toxins, climb speed with bonuses to disarm and grapple OR the ability to teleport up to her speed as a move action - while the latter sounds like it is the most powerful of these, that would be a flawed assumption - the action economy versatility does somewhat balance these out, though teleport and flight remain clearly the stronger options. On a nitpicky side, though, I do believe that this short-range teleport ability does need to specify that it is a conjuration [teleport]-effect. Why? To maintain balance with existing mechanics that block teleportation-effects. Still, not a grievous oversight here.


At 4th level, the harbinger may initiate a readied strike as an immediate action once per encounter whenever she reduces a foe to 0 Hp or below, with the strike being required to have an initiation action of one standard action, +1/encounter use at 10th and 16th level. IT should also be noted that the target needs to be adjacent, which is an important restriction in my book. The limit helps to keep this in line and makes it a good resort when a harbinger needs an extra oomph. Now granted, this ability, while not looking like much on paper, is actually very powerful - seeing how, in many games, the GMs are not as adept at drawing out combats, these abilities may be considered very painful for a continuous micro-novaing through "small" encounters.


5th level provides a +2 bonus to AC and Ref when moving more than 10 ft. in a given round, rewarding alacrity - as does the 11th level ability, which allows for the movement of 1/2 movement as an immediate action 1/encounter. I like this ability per se, but does it have the capacity to waste e.g. attacks or spells executed against the harbinger? I assume no. This messing with the movement economy is not bad, but some clarification would be nice.


7th level nets magic aura at will, though, in a minor complaint, the SP's not italicized. At 8th level, creatures flanked by the harbinger and his allies take a -2 penalty to saves and skill-checks. 12th level adds no-save shaken to a creature claimed and 13th level provides something pretty cool as well: The harbinger provokes no more AoOs for movement from claimed foes. 17th level allows a harbinger, as a full-round action, to move up to his speed and initiate a strike at any given point of the movement, while 18th level lets them initiate strikes as an AoO (OUCH! - and yes, has a restriction regarding activation action of the strike!). 19th level...is imho OP. All maneuvers initiated by a harbinger ignore ALL immunities possessed by the targets. Still...notice something? The thematically unfitting ability that let you stand around as opposed to skirmish is gone!


I consider the harbinger to be the best Path of War-class and I really like it; minor gripes aside, it is a great base line even if you dislike Path of War to create your own skirmishing class.


Archetype-wise, the harbinger gets 3 options, the first of which would be the crimson countess. The Crimson Countess deals damage to creatures claimed - 1d4 at first, then 2d4 at 6th level, +1d4 every 4 levels thereafter. The ability per se is rather cool, though I have an issue with the damage being untyped - the lack of a means to negate the damage renders the character extremely potent against any threat that is short on HP and great on alternate damage-negation. This, theoretically, allows for very easy high-DR construct-slaying, for example. Applying a proper damage type would help here. At 2nd level, the crimson countess receives a pool of vitae points equal o the number of claimed targets, with a max storage capacity equal to the class level of the countess. The pool drops to 0 after 1 minute out of combat and the countess receives +1/2 vitae points as morale bonus to atk and damage rolls made via maneuvers, +2 when executed against claimed creatures. The ability also scales with levels, providing additional means of utilizing vitae, with further untyped damage equal to her class level to all claimed creatures as a move action, additionally potentially providing 1d6 hp per creature claimed - the healing may be none too much, but it still makes me think that my countesses would carry bags of kittens around for handy claim-kills and infinite personal healing. sigh


On the plus-side, the ability does provide an expansion of the recovery options (4 vitae for one counter or boost) available, with higher levels netting 8 vitae points forced teleportation (which should specify that the effect is a conjuration [teleport]-effect for the purpose of interaction with base rules) and a 6 vitae option to shove off half damage (or ability damage) to a target claimed creature - the latter can be extremely powerful, though the archetype actually prevents the worst of the ability's potential for OP abuse. The capstone provides a lethal 10 vitae save or die; make it and take damage ability.


On the awesome side, the class receives the powerful ability to turn into a big pool of blood and reform at 9th level, getting a bunch of unique benefits while in said form. This archetype, in a nutshell, replaces agility with reliable damage-output - though swift action movement is still here. I love the fluff of this glorious beast. The Crimson Countess actually will see some use in my game (ONLY as an NPC-class) with very minor tweaks and imho, this archetype plays radically different, with the minimum of vitae points putting player agenda and planning higher on the agenda than I would have expected. This is not a cookie-cutter archetype and it is fun - some minor tweaks can make it work even within my conservative preferred power frame, though the infinite healing and untyped damage represent two needless glitches in this one's frame.


The second archetype, the Ravenlord, receives a bird-exclusive animal companion with the harbinger's Int that shares in several class abilities; slaying it deals Constitution-damage to the harbinger and it acts upon his initiative and does not gain bonus tricks or share spells, but it does share dark focus, but not the benefits of the bonus feat granted at 6th level. Now the unique thing is that the ravenlord may have the companion execute maneuvers: At 3rd level, the raven can initiate strikes and counters, though only one of the pair may initiate a strike in a given round. The interesting component here would be that they also generate a small area of debuffing gloom whenever the OTHER executes a strike, allowing for a fluid (and EXCEEDINGLY fun) switching between roles and benefits. Also: They actually can be defended against by being designated in proper rules-terms - good, since the penalties are massive. At 13th level, the gloom lasts longer and eliminates insight and morale bonuses. I really like this archetype!


The third archetype for the harby would be the previously unreleased omen rider, who gains Medium Armor Proficiency as well as mounted Combat at 1st level and may replace a discipline with Piercing Thunder. Also at first level, he gains a spectral steed that can be called to his side 3 +initiation modifier times per day, dismiss it as a move action. The steed has 1/2 the rider's HP, the same AC and shares miss chances, immunities and resistances with the omen rider. What's a bit overkill in my book: "The spectral steed is not affected by effects that target an area, nor is it vulnerable to effects that do not deal hit point damage." - So no fireballing them? Meh. I get the design rationale behind the idea, as the steed is pretty fragile, but still. The steed has a 40 feet land speed, +10 ft every 2 levels to a maximum of 100 feet and can bear the rider's weight + 50 lbs. +10 lbs per omen rider level. It also learns to traverse swampy, sandy etc. terrain unimpeded at 3rd level, at 6th level it can walk on liquids as though they were firm ground; 9th level nets fly speed equal to land speed (and initiator level bonus on Fly checks) and 12th level lets the rider call his steed and have it arrive with him already mounted as an immediate action. The steed can make the movement for the omen rider for maneuvers requiring it and benefits gained are extended to both. At 5th level, the steed nets +2 to AC and Ref to itself and the rider, 20% miss chance when it has moved at least 20 feet and 10th level provides infinite running, with prolonged sprints ignoring fatigue..."Denn es reiten die Toten so schnell..." 8th level nets the omen rider or his steed the option to gain 2x HD temporary hit points when he reduces a claimed creature to 0 HP instead of recovering maneuvers. All in all, an interesting, unique mounted harby with great visuals.


The second class herein would be the mystic, who receives chassis-wise d8, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light armors and shields, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Will-saves and begins play with 7 maneuvers known (which scale up to 21) as well as one stance, scaling up to 7. Mystics can have 5 maneuvers readied at 1st level and increase that to up to 12...however, here, things become interesting: Much like To9S's Crusader, the Mystic does not have 100% reliable access to her maneuvers: The Mystic, before her first turn, determines 2 maneuvers, which are immediately accessible to her; thereafter, at the end of each of her turns, she gains one randomly determined maneuver from those of her readied maneuvers, unlocking this one for the remainder of the combat. If using the Lightning Recovery or Victorious Recovery feats, the mystic can immediately unlock such maneuvers, providing an option for players that are not 100% fine with the random nature of this mechanic. If, during a combat, the mystic would have no withheld maneuver to unlock left, she instead receives all readied maneuvers back and may choose 2 new ones to be immediately unlocked. The number of maneuvers granted at the beginning of combat increases by +1 at 3rd level, 6th, 9th, 12th, 15th and 18th level by one maneuver, but unlike the base chosen two, these are randomly determined as well. Discipline-wise, the mystic can get Elemental Flux, Mithral Current, Riven Hourglass, Shattered Mirror, Solar Wind and Veiled Moon.


The Mystic key-ability is btw. Wis and the class also receives a so-called animus - this means that mystics count as class level arcane spellcaster levels for the purpose of prerequisites and stacks mystic levels with caster levels for the purpose of item creation etc. At the start of her first turn, the mystic receives 1 + Wis-mod animus pool; this pool increases by +1 every subsequent round and lasts for 1 minute out of combat. Whenever the mystic initiates a maneuver, she adds an additional +1 animus to her pool. Animus may be spent as part of a maneuver initiation action for e.g. a cumulative +2 insight bonus to d20 rolls (atk, CMB, skills) associated with that maneuver, up to a maximum of 3 animus spent for a +6 bonus, increase the DC by +1 per point of animus spent. 4th level unlocks 2 animus spent per maneuver for +1/2 class level damage. Alternatively, animus can be used to ignore 10 points energy resistance or 5 points of damage reduction. The latter is a bit problematic: DR is not a unified concept: DR/adamantine or DR/epic is significantly more powerful than DR/magic - a finer and more precise scaling here via animus spent would have made the ability significantly fairer and more streamlined.


At 9th level, mystics can target foes up to her base speed with a melee maneuver or move up to movement rate as a teleportation-effect as part of the initiation - nice to see the acknowledgement of it being a teleportation and the line of sight caveat. Also for 2 animus points, mystics may target creatures within 30 feet with melee strikes. 13th level and 19th level unlock up to 4 and 5 animus spent per maneuver, but do not unlock additional options.


Animus is important in other ways, though: Mystics are attuned to the elements and when they ready maneuvers, they select an active element and associated energy type. Whenever the mystic initiates a maneuver that deals damage, the mystic may spend one animus to change the damage type to the respective active element. As a standard action (or as a free action upon assuming a new stance) she can change the active element. If the character is psionic, her active element and active energy type are the same and if the mystic has the Elemental Flux discipline, she treats the active element as the active element for Elemental flux.


It should be noted that the class also has a reset for readied maneuvers, namely blade meditation: As a full-round action, a mystic can spend 1 animus to immediately receive and EXPEND (NOT initiate!) the maneuvers readied, the mystic receives a new set of maneuvers as per the default rules of the mystic's ready-mechanic. Being slightly more vulnerable during this period, foes attacking the mystic still have to contend with the raging elemental maelstrom unleashed: Until the start of the next round, foes attacking the mystic receive 1d6 points of active element damage, +1d6 per point remaining in the mystic's animus pool. The class also receives bonus feats at 2nd, 12th and 17th level, being able to choose from Item Creation and Combat feats. The mystic also receives solid chances of emulating unknown spells when crafting at 4th level.


2nd level provides a +1 insight bonus to AC versus psionics and spells (and psi-like and spell-like abilities), increasing by +1 at 6th level, 11th, 16th and 20th level by +1. At 3rd level, mystics may, as a move action, spend 1 animus to affect up to Wis-mod allies within line of sight with her elemental glyph, lasting 1 + Wis-mod rounds and new glyphs supersede glyphs already affecting a target. Glyphs are supernatural abilities and add new effects at 3rd, 8th, 13th and 19th level. Beyond the elements, metal, darkness and illumination provide associated buffing options - air e.g. is about movement, darkness concealment etc. At 5th level, the class gets an interesting ability: When targeted by spells/psionic powers or spell/psi-like effects that have a Fort or Ref-save partial, she may substitute a Will-save AND is unaffected on a successful save. If she fails, she receives 1 point of animus, but this ability only works while unencumbered and in light armor. The ability is very powerful, yes, but its limitations mean that it works actually pretty well in the Path of War-context.


At 6th level, the mystic may 1/day as a free action swap a readied maneuver with another one the mystic knows, +1/day at every 4 levels thereafter. At 9th level, the mystic may, as a standard action, utilize animus to suppress identified magical/psionic effects for Wis-mod rounds. Somewhat odd: The ability seems to contradict itself "In order to use this ability, the mystic must have identified an ongoing spell or power through a Spellcraft check or other method." and "This ability can only be used on effects within 30 feet, although the mystic does not need to identify the effect while it is within that range..." seem contradictory...I think this means to say that the requirement for identification is void while within 30 feet....which is somewhat odd, regarding the range...as written, you can't suppress effects farther away...


15th level allows for the expenditure of a move action to gain 1d6+Wis-mod animus points...which can be used outside of combat and lasts 1 minute. As a capstone, the mystic may create a glyph with the effects of two glyphs at the same time - brutal.


Archetype-wise, we get 3 for the mystic as well, with the knight-chandler being the first: The Knight Chandler on the other hand is a pretty detailed, complex archetype: The archetype needs to be non-evil and, at 1st level, receives a soul candle, a fist-sized mote of light that sheds illumination in a radius depending on the knight chandler's illumination pool. Once per round, the knight-chandler may will, as a free action, to move the candle up to her speed, ignoring difficult terrain, but being unable to pass through solid objects. If the candle is within the knight-chandler's space, she can have the candle move with her. Additionally, as a swift action, the knight-chandler may summon the soul candle to her square. Allies within 15 ft. of the candle gain resistance to the active element, equal to the number of illumination points in the knight-chandler's pool and the candle is only weakened in magic-dead zones, not suppressed.


Outside of combat, the knight-chandler has 1 point of illumination in her pool; upon entering combat, she adds +1 illumination point per round. She may also use a swift action to gain 2 illumination points and receives one whenever she initiates a boost. She also gains Tap Animus, which means that she does have animus in addition to her illumination pool. It should also be noted that levels stack with arcane spellcasting levels for spells known and purposes of feat-prereqs. Their attacks may add faerie fire and inflict bonus damage equal to initiator level at 4th level. At 9th level, 1/round, the knight-chandler may, as part of a strike, end an outlining effect via aforementioned faerie fire to heal 1/2 damage inflicted...which, once again, is infinite healing, can be kitten'd...you know the spiel by now. Not a fan. At 17th level, the candle can act as the chandler's position for line of sight and may teleport to the candle...which is honestly pretty cool and it has the teleportation effect caveat.


Starting at 3rd level, knight chandlers can utilize candle magic, beginning with votive effects and unlocking lantern effects at 8th level and bonfire effects at 15th level. The effects projected may be changed as a swift action and the ability has been refined - only one effect of a given type may be active at any time. The relatively close limitation of the soul candle's light is what makes these work, for the effects are rather brutal: More five-foot-steps, teleport, as a lantern effect flat-out immunity to death effects...and then, there would be the bonfire effects, which provide AoE fast healing for infinite healing for the whole group and even ability score damage healing for initiators and a life 3-style option to reduce the pool to 1, but also receive immediate healing for 1/2 maximum hit point total plus an end to just about all negative conditions. I consider the latter to be pretty problematic, since it basically flat-out prevents death negating any damage that would bring the character below 0 Hp when used. Then again, this one is draining and can only be used 1/encounter, which now prevents the total abuse of the ability.


Also, seeing the ridiculous amounts of damage initiators can dish out, abilities like this may be actually needed in the long run. This does not change the fact that the archetype once more provides basically infinite healing, meaning the archetype will limited in its usefulness for some tables - as much as I like the archetype's mechanical frame, it won't get anywhere near my table. At higher levels, knight-chandlers may share boosts or counters readied with allies and as a capstone, the archetype gets an apotheosis alongside an increased illumination pool minimum.


Another archetype would be the Aurora Soul, which gets a modified list of proficiencies and disciplines: These fellows get Broken Blade, Elemental Flux, Riven Hourglass, Steel Serpent, Thrashing Dragon and Veiled Moon as well as Heal as a class skill. Instead of the usual bonus feats, the archetype receives the monk-y bonus feats like Improved Unarmed Strike at 1st level and its Greater brother at 3rd level. 7th level adds initiation modifier to unarmed strike-damage and treats them as magic; 12th adds the modifier to CMB and CMD and 17th to unarmed confirmation rolls. At 2nd level, they get a defensive aura that is active whenever they have at least one animus, adding initiation modifier to AC, even to Touch or flat-footed AC, but not against attacks that hit her before her first turn.


The third archetype would be the gunsmoke mystic, who gains access to Elemental Flux, Rivn Hourglass, Shattered Moon, Solar Wind, Tempest gale and Veiled Moon as well as Sleight of Hand as a class skill. Additionally, they obviously are proficient with firearms and gains Gunsmithing at first level, with the option to upgrade the battered starting gun to masterwork quality for the usual costs. The issue of costly bullets is reduced by the option to make animus-based bullets, which also reduce the misfire value, not unlike the etherbullet mechanic I used in my own etherslinger. The archetype also has the option to use animus to clear the gun and may gun-fu firearms in melee. At 3rd level, they may spend animus to add initiation modifier to damage rolls with firearms and at 7th level, the archetype may spend a move action to increase a gun's range. 12th level provides a ricochet shot-combo with ranged strikes and 17th level nets free animus reload when initiating maneuvers. 1st level also nets Rapid Reload and higher levels quicker reloads for bigger guns. All in all, a solid take on the gun-wielding initiator that addresses many of the issues of the base firearm rules.


The book also sports a previously unreleased base class, the zealot, who gets d10, 4+Int skills per day, full BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-saves. The class begins play with 5 maneuvers known (scaling up to 16), 3 readied (scaling up to 10), 1 stance (scaling up to 7) and 1 power point per day, scaling up to 70 at 20th level. The zealot has proficiency in simple and martial weapons as well as with all armors and shields, but not tower shields and receives access to teh Eternal Guardian, Golden Lion, Piercing Thunder, Sleeping Goddess and Solar Wind disciplines. The initiation modifier of the zealot is based on Charisma. Zealots begin combat with all maneuvers readied and may recover maneuvers via their zeal ability, which nets a +1 bonus and increases by a further +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. This bonus is applied to him and all allies within his collective when he hits a foe with a strike maneuver and also when he uses the aid another action.. When using aid another this way, it is a move action and lets him recover initiation modifier, minimum 2, maneuvers. However, this does not allow the zealot to recover maneuvers expended in the round the aid another attempt was activated and alternate uses of aid another do not allow for the cheesing of this restriction.


I already mentioned the collective and the presence of power points makes abundantly clear that this class has some psionic tricks: As a standard action, the zealot can generate a collective, with a maximum range of medium (limitless at 15th level, plane-border-transcending at 19th level), consisting of initiation modifier or 1/2 class level individuals, whichever is higher. Members who have their Wisdom score lowered to 1 are automatically removed. A zealot can initiate maneuvers with one of more willing targets (or harmless effects ) and a range greater than personal on a member of the collective. This extends to powers and spells as well, which imho overshoots the target, though, oddly, powers seem to require the [Network] descriptor. A zealot may also aid himself and at 2nd level, uses Cha instead of Wis for the purpose of psionic feat prerequisites.


Additionally, 2nd level nets the zealot a conviction (+1 every 4 levels thereafter), which lets him gain bonus feats, the option to spend power points to expend the duration of zeal, extend his zeal benefits to mindless creatures, get a Cha-based version of Combat Reflexes as well as 1/round move action granting...which can be exceedingly powerful. Additionally, fortification-like boosts, Psicrystal Affinity and similar options can be found here. Also at 2nd level, the class gets martyrdom, which allows the zealot to redirect 5 points of damage per zealot level from his collective's members to himself - but, rather cool, it does not contain a means to cheese this via resistances or immunities. The cool idea here is, btw., that zealots may spend power points to negate damage incurred thus on a 3:1-ratio (5:1 at 12th, 10: 1 at 17th) and, at 7th level, he may also affect ability damage thus, with power point expenditure as a means to offsetting the effect. This is actually a very cool ability, particularly in the very damage-happy Path of War-framework.


3rd level unlocks aid another at range through the collective as well as telepathic communication within it. Starting at 4th level, he may transfer maneuvers of a level lower than his highest with power point expenditure equal to the maneuver's level to allies in the collective. At 11th level, he may lend an additional one...and before you ask: When he recovers the maneuver, the ally loses it, so not collective death strikes. At 4th level, the zealot chooses one of three missions, basically means of using power points for effects, coupled with passive benefits; if applicable; the more powerful, active effects are learned at 8th level. He can spend a maximum of 1 power point + 1 for every 4 levels per round to power these. Creation provides the option to still save a creature killed via hit point damage in the round after and the zealot can spend power points to heal within the collective. Additionally, he may spend power points to generate walls of ectoplasm or suppress negative conditions. Destruction as a mission would be more offensive, ignoring up to 2 x zeal's bonus of hardness or DR (once again, does not distinguish between power levels of different DRs...), add bonus damage to strikes or extend maneuvers to affect 15-foot cone or 20-foot lines. Finally, Protection increases reach...and has a pretty OP, but perhaps in Path of War, required ability: At the expenditure of the psionic focus (which btw. is the determining factor for the passive benefits of missions), the zealot can halve the damage of an ally. Compared to that, the DR these guys can grant and power point based free counters, while powerful, feel less brutal.


5th level nets Diehard and more staying power, 9th level automatically lets him save versus the negative repercussions of the death of a follower of the collective, 13th level nets stalwart and at 16th level, the souls of his collective's departed are kept within it, allowing for easier resurrection. At 10t level, his collective may transcend death, allowing him to continue to operate in a limited capability while his physical form is destroyed.


Archetype-wise, the zealot receives two archetypes, the first of which would be the Discordant Crusader, who may use both good and evil desciptor'd maneuvers, regardless of his own alignment - he loses Piercing thunder, but gains Silver Crane and Black Seraph. He may switch profane and sacred damage via the expenditure of his psionic focus - which is only useful in a rather limited manner, considering that both damage types have been introduced by Path of War and that there are no creatures resilient to either...which remains, just fyi, a huge gripe I have with both disciplines. The theme of moral ambiguity is continued regarding weapons at 5th level and the inability to detect his alignment. Duality of Discipline Focus and different augments gained via mission, instead pertaining the two disciplines, as well as a dual-stance activation as a swift action complement this one.


The second archetype would be the void prophet, who replaces Golden Lion and Solar Wind with Cursed Razor and Riven Hourglass. Pretty cool: He has an alternate means of recovery, as he can add unwilling targets to his collective and debuff creatures affected thus. Beyond this, higher levels allow this fellow to reduce insight and morale bonuses and power-point-based, relegate countered attacks to collective members, with higher levels allowing the unwilling addition to the collective via strikes. Very interesting twist on the base frame!


Beyond the archetypes for the new classes, this also offers material for the classes introduced in Path of War: Brutal Slayer stalkers replace Thrashing Dragon with Black Serapth and Primal Fury. When this guy uses a full-round action, he recovers initiation modifier (minimum 2) maneuvers and gains 2 x level temporary hit points as well as DR equal to his initiation modifier, while also adding his initiation modifier as bleed damage to the next strike. The benefits last 1 round and temporary hit points stack with already existing ones. Whenever a brutal slayer crits, he increases his Strength for initiation modifier rounds instead of gaining deadly strikes ( first +4; +6 at 8th level, +8 at 16th). 4 new stralker arts are provided: Using ki to get brutal strike benefits versus targets, applying them to flat-footed targets, increased Str-bonus and the option to reduce damage to sicken the foe can be found. Instead of a dodge bonus, they gain a scaling natural armor and they add 1/2 Str-mod to AC and Ref instead of Dex, with 6th level providing full bonus instead - and yes, maximum Dex-mod of armors still caps that.


The second stalker archetype, somewhat unfortunately named vigilante, replaces Solar Wind and Veiled Moon with Primal Fury, Scarlet Throne and Tempest Gale and uses Int instead of Wis as initiation modifier. To recover maneuvers, he expends afull-round action for +4 to AC as well as the regaining of initiation modifier maneuvers, minimum 2. He can also move up to his speed and the next attack adds sneak attack damage. Alternatively, he can recover one maneuver as a standard action. The vigilante has an inspiration pool equal to 1/2 class level + initiation modifier, allowing for the expenditure of such points to add a +1d6 surge to the respective skill or ability check, with Knowledge, perception and Sense Motive requiring no such expenditure. For two points, this can be applied to atk and saves and applying it to saves is an immediate action. These guys also get trapfinding and full sneak attack progression instead of deadly strikes. They may select investigator talents instead of stalker arts and the capstone allows for free +1d6 to all attack rolls as well as the option to enhance DCs with the inspiration mechanic. It may sound odd, but this may actually be the first time I liked something as a private person about the crit-fishing stalker class...I pretty much enjoy this one on a personal level.


The Warder may elect to choose the fiendbound marauder archetype, which replaces Golden lion and Iron Tortoise with Black Seraph, Cursed Razor and Eternal Guardian. These guys manifest a fiend's grip - a spectral claw that has the reach and grapple properties and is based on the gauntlet the archetype wears and attacks with it are treated as though they have grab. They add the cursed condition to those marked and generally can be pictured as pretty adapt grappling specialists. The ordained defender gets either Eternal Guardian, Black Seraph or Silver Crane, depending on alignment and uses Wisdom as initiation modifier. They have an aura and gain limited access to inquisitions or war-priest blessings at level -2, with minor powers unlocked at 3rd, major powers at 13th level. Warlords may elect to become Desperados, who, bingo, would be gunslinging warlords: With Tempest Gale added and a gun as starting equipment, 2nd, 5th and 9th level for quicker reloads as well as access to grit and deeds and, at 5th level, scaling bonus damage when using guns with Solar Wind or Tempest Gale. Okay take on the subject matter, though personally, I consider the mystic archetype to be a bit more interesting.


There are also a lot of archetypes for non Path of War-classes. These begin play with 3 maneuvers known, 3 readied and 1 stance, scaling up to 15 known, 7 readied and 5 stances and unlocking up to 6th level maneuvers. From aegis customizations for maneuver access to barbarian primal disciples (yes, skills for maneuvers can be used in rage) to rubato bards that utilize a tempo pool to nightmare dreads, deadlier marksmen and myrmidon fighters (that have a very wide array of disciplines available!) as well as grit and deeds and finally offer a discipline-based fighter...) to monks of the silver fist, knight errant paladins, ambush hunter rangers and hidden blade rogues, this chapter is pretty impressive and useful. Why? Because it offers means to make the non-Path of War classes still valid in a game that utilizes the increased potency of the Path of War-system. Two thumbs up for this!


Beyond the massive selection of archetypes, the pdf also offers so-called class templates - these would basically be archetypes that can be applied to multiple classes, much like the general archetypes pioneered back in the day by Rogue Genius Games, with individual replacements for the eligible classes. Here, the Bushi, who regains maneuvers when sheathing a weapon, the mounted hussar, the alchemist/investigator polymath or the privateer can be found Inquisitors and Warpriests may elect to become warpath followers.


The pdf also sports three prestige classes, the first of which would be the 5-level animus adept, who needs to have animus healing as well as at least 5th level. Basically, these guys can be considered to be the PrC-based mystic-light-version, with basic, advanced and master glyphs allowing the character to partake in a variant of the mystic's glyph-system. The 10-level Landsknecht PrC, at full BAB-progression and medium Fort-and Ref-saves and is absically the mithral current/scarlet throne specialist reach-fighter, including a unique strike and stance that may either be counted as scarlet throne or mithral current. The third prestige class herein would be the phoenix champion, whose chassis is similar to that of the landsknecht, but, as you may have guessed, these guys would be the ranged combat specialists. The book also contains pages upon pages of feats and going into the details for each would bloat this review even further. Animus-based healing per encounter, 1/encounter combining a riven hourglass stance with a free counter from the discipline, blending of psionics and martial arts, extra x-feats, adding penalties to those claimed - there is a metric ton of crunch here and while I'm not a fan of all components, going into each and every one...well...this is already at the 12-page marker right now.


Pretty cool: We get favored class options for the path of War classes as well as new options for old classes -from new stalker arts to new gambits; some archetyes and previously released material also has now expanded options.


OKAY, so next up would be the disciplines. Now you are, of course, interested in the two new disciplines herein, right? Well, the first would be Cursed Razor. This discipline is associated with heavy and light blades and spears, with Spellcraft being the key skill. Spreading curses inside your aura, using brands to disrupt abilities - the discipline as such provides an intriguing array of options. The maneuvers also allow for paralysis - which is problematic since the maneuver in question ignores immunity to the save-or-suck effect. That being said, long-range teleporting foes into adjacent non-difficult terrain, attack with bonus damage? Cool! Plus: It gets the descriptor-thingy right! High-level stealing of abilities is also evil and fun. This is, no hyperbole, my favorite discipline so far -strategic, bereft of legacy-rules and logic bugs and focused on nasty debuffs and unique tricks, it is powerful - at low levels, perhaps a bit too much. But still - over all, the most PFRPG-feeling discipline I've read so far.


Elemental Flux, associated with Spellcraft and available for monk, thrown weapons and light blades. Elemental Flux requires elemental damage of some maneuvers to be determined in advance, but may choose this as a standard action. Furthermore, quite a few of the maneuvers in the discipline can be augmented via the expenditure of animus points. It should come as no surprise to the reader, then, that we're dealing with highly flexible offense/defense options here - unlike other disciplines, the significant flexibility of elemental flux is pretty hard to counter when combined by the resource-management of the mystic. For future-proofing purposes, this bears mention. As provided, though, the discipline is also highly interesting, with more than one maneuver offering wildly diverging in effects beyond just switching the respective energy damage types - and ultimately, I found myself enjoying this component most about elemental flux: While thematically, I did not consider the discipline too captivating, its flexibility is what ultimately makes me enjoy it. It should also be noted that the respective elemental benefits are pretty well-balanced among themselves. So yes, I was positively surprised here!


Eternal Guardian, a previously unreleased discipline in this book, is associated with Intimidate and represents the total conviction to an oath or task; favored by bodyguards around the world, its weapon groups are hammers, heavy blades and polearms. Cursing targets that strike you to save or become unable to move, allowing allies to not provoke AoOs while moving in your threatened spaces...concept-wise, I found myself enjoying this one. Similarly, intimidating an opponent to fail with an attack as a fear-based counter does make sense in a way. Teleporting between strikes, retributive tricks...all in all, I found myself enjoying this discipline as one of the better ones in the overall balancing.


Mithral Current, associated with Perform (dance) and the weapon-groups light blades, heavy blades and polearms, is up next. The discipline also has a unique flair and mechanical component: Being pretty much about Iaijutsu-style quick drawing, the discipline codifies a type of requirement for certain maneuvers that requires the wielder to properly draw a weapon immediately prior to utilizing the respective maneuver. The concise definition here is pretty much glorious and it should be noted that it does make basically for an optional component that can add additional effects to the respective maneuvers. It should also be noted that some maneuvers and stances here do allow for free sheathing of weapons as part of their usual effects. The discipline also does sport numerous rather interesting defensive tricks - alas, unlike some other more recent Path of War-installments, we once again have a more pronounced emphasis on skill-checks as substitutes for more valuable numeric options like AC etc., adding in the swinging effect more than in e.g. the harbinger's designs and making the content presented here feel less streamlined...and, again, more prone to being gamed. On the plus-side, the actual gaming flow of calm turning to brutal counter-assault and visuals of mithral current are fun.


The Piercing Thunder discipline, based on Acrobatics and with polearms and spears as weapon groups, is all about charging and defending against such assaults as well as reach-trickery. It should be noted that the Twin Thunder Stance lets you dual-wield weapons that would otherwise not be eligible. The strikes, counters and boosts also obviously had some dragoon-inspiration, with repositioning leaps and the capstone allowing for a massive, devastating line-AoE-charge.


The third discipline covered herein would be the Riven Hourglass, with the associated skill being Autohypnosis and the weapons being light blades, flails and hammers. It is this discipline I dreaded most...you may recall my indignation at some of these strikes right? Well guess what: E.g. the previously broken strike the hourglass level 1 strike now has a save to negate and a cleaned up wording. KUDOS!!!


That being said, granting an ally your move, standard or full-round action, to be taken immediately as though they had readied it, is still horribly broken in my book. It allows you to break any semblance of action economy and is chock-full with abuse the system to smithereens combos. While at least swift and immediate actions are precluded from this due to the boost's activation, the combo potential with other classes is vast. Riven Hourglass should be, as a discipline, carefully analyzed by a GM before allowing it - it may be the, group-dynamics wise, strongest discipline in all of Path of War...and that's saying something.


Shattered Mirror, the second discipline, focuses on heavy and light blades and close weapons and uses Craft (glassmaking, painting, sculpture or sketching. Shattered Mirror offers stances to curse temporarily foes hit by you and strikes that add nasty spell failure chances (also to divine casters!) - nice! There also would be a pretty interesting counter, one where I actually drum roll LIKE the fact that it's powered by a skill-roll. Why? Because it's a magical counter and it requires the target to be cursed - this requires set-up and provides a grounding of the odd mechanics within the context of the gameworld. Oh, and it helps that the effect is not one that vastly benefits from maxing the hell out of the skill. The Shattered Mirror lets you do something interesting - utilize, for example, the atk of the last attack of the foe, dealing nasty damage to the target. Know another thing? The Skill/attack-material here is intriguing - using a skill IN ADDITION to attack rolls to add benefits to strikes? Now that a) makes sense to me and b) is elegant and avoids the easy stacking of bonuses on skills - kudos! A very powerful maneuver would be Equivocate - choose a target: When said target is subject to a power, psi-like ability, spell or spell-like ability, you also receive the benefits - and vice versa. While VERY powerful, this also allows for a vast array of exciting tactics. I'm not a fan of using a craft-check in lieu of a save, but that one will not break the game. Doubling strikes and setting the range at close is powerful - as is a strike that curses a target to receive damage equal to what it inflicts - thankfully of the same type. Still - nasty and also open for abuse, though to a lesser extent. Imho, such a maneuver should have a caveat that precludes AoE-damage from being reflected multiple times. The capstone covers a save-or-suck strike that imprisons the target's soul - yeah, ouch. Cool imagery, though. Shattered Mirror is an odd discipline in that it imposes, much like Blue Mage/Mimic-style-classes, a task on the GM - namely one that should be very aware of the potential of NPC/Monster abilities being hijacked. This does not need to be an issue, but it could be one since that type of foresight usually is not required - and yes, I can see a GM walk face first into a brick wall here.


Sleeping Goddess associated skill is Autohypnosis, the weapon groups being flails, heavy flails, monk and spears as well as any mind blades or similar abilities. Sleeping Goddess adepts gain power points equal to the highest level maneuver they know, +1 per additional maneuver known, including stances. You also gain the psionic subtype. In a unique twist, several of the maneuvers of this discipline have a means of being augmented by the expenditure of power points, with a maximum of 1 power point + 1 per 4 initiator levels as the cap. The way in which these are used in pretty unique and also interacts with psionic focus - more often than not, the augmentation options offer varying, scaling means of increasing the potency, also using psionic focus as one of the resources you can use: A basic strike that debuffs, for example, can be divested of its save by psionic focus expenditure. While, in many cases, these seem to be justified, a strike that locks Sus, SPs, spells and powers is nasty when divested of the save...and there I am, getting ready to write a rambling diatribe...and there we have it: Duration reduced to 1 round. While this is still, nasty...I kinda like it, actually. At least in the ridiculously high-powered Path fo War context, it certainly makes sense! Blending false sensory input with strikes is also cool. I'm not a fan of the overpowering optimism boost - as a swift action, it instantly recovers your psionic focus AND, for 3 rounds, you pay no power points to augment...which, basically wrecks the whole limited-resource-aspect of them once you get this 6th level maneuver.


Tempest Gale would be the final discipline covered herein, with Sleight of Hand as the associated skill and weapon groups bows, crossbows, firearms and thrown weapons as associated weapon groups. This discipline also features a unique option, namely the fact that you may execute ranged combat maneuvers, which are treated much like melee combat maneuvers, with the exception that they do not provoke attacks of opportunity and that they apply range penalties, if applicable. From the classic disarming shot to negating cover to using Sleight of Hand as a ranged Disarm-attempt to negate attacks, the discipline feels very much like the classic wild-west-trick shooting option. In other rules-contexts, I'd probably complain rather hard about the power of ranged combat maneuvers, but within Path of War, it feels pretty much grounded when compared to the options some other disciplines offer. In fact, the rules utilized in this one may rank as some of the more easily scavenging materials for games that do not utilize Path of War. As a whole, I enjoyed this discipline and its flavor.


...Come on, can a guy get some applause, I have almost not complained about skill-rolls as substitutions for harder to buff rolls in teh whole discipline section! ;P


Kidding aside, we have one more section to go: Martial Traditions. No less than 14 fully depicted martial traditions await the reader, from the Acolytes of the Arrow to the Cirque de la Fumée, I really enjoyed this fluffy sendoff after the ridiculous amount of crunch this book smashed in my face, though the allegiance with such organizations does provide tangible benefits. An oath is required (and depicted!) for the respective traditions and common tasks and available services further help integrate the disciplines within the context of a world. If anything, I really wished this chapter was a bit longer - the write-ups were evocative, the read-aloud oaths nice...and it makes Path of War's options feel...well, less focused on crunch, more like something you can easily and organically introduce into a setting. The traditions also, obviously, help justifying why certain folks have access to these powerful maneuvers, while others don't.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - while I noticed minor hiccups like missing italicizations or bolding instead of italicization, for the most part, this book excels in these disciplines. Layout adheres to a nice, two-column full-color standard and the artwork within is a mixture of unique, new artworks and stock art. The book comes with a second, more printer-friendly version and the pdfs are fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.


Chris Bennett, Jade Ripley, Sabrina Bennett, Anthony S. Altovilla, Andreas Rönnqvist, Luke Williams - these would be the folks wrote this colossus of a crunch book. The question burning on your lips may well be: Should I get this?


Well, that kinda depends. If you didn't like Path of War and shared my trepidations regarding many of its design decisions, then, surprise, you won't like this either. What you may find, though, is more material to scavenge that in the first book: There are quite a few bits of content herein, more so than in the first Path of War, that make for great scavenging material.


That being said, this still represents a higher powerlevel than I usually use for my base-line of comparisons and, much like the first book, this is not for everyone. At the same time, this book does A LOT of things better than book I: The integration of now Path of War classes via a rich array of archetypes that sport the power-level of the system help making the content feel less like an intrusion. Similarly, the new classes are unanimously better than those in the base book. The harbinger is inspired and my favorite Path of War class - a great skirmisher, that, with some nerfs of the disciplines, may even work in less powerful games. The fact that the designers have listened and further improved this fellow is simply great, making this the star of the book, at least for me.


The zealot may well be the class that Path of War needed - with the massive defensive/damage reassigning/mitigation effects it has, it allows a group (and foes) to withstand the tremendous amounts of punishment the system allows you to dish out. As such, I consider it to be pretty much the most crucial class a Path of War group can have on its side.


I'm still not a fan of the mystic, though - I consider it to be the weakest of the new classes in terms of focus: It feels like a crusader-like chaotic maneuver-specialists that constantly apologizes to its player via options to exert control, when the unique selling point, to a degree, is the lack thereof. That being said, the animus-system here and the knight-chandler archetype in particular do unique, fun things with their complex rules - and, in direct comparison to the classes in Path of War 1, I still consider this one to be more interesting.


To cut a long ramble short: This is, as a book, better in every way than the first one. The classes are more creative, the adaptation of non-martial classes to the system goes a long way; heck, I consider the disciplines herein unanimously more interesting than those featured in the first book. And yes, I still grit my teeth whenever I read skill-checks versus X...but, and this may well be a subjective impression, I do have the impression that, via descriptors and counter-options, the totality in that regard is a bit more sound. Then again, with Veiled Moon already being the prime example of skill-abuse, there simply were not many possibilities to exceed that. On a more positive side, the fluffy traditions in the back, while perhaps the least flashy of the bits of content herein, definitely rank among my favorites - they ground these rules in the reality of a given world.


Before I ramble on even longer: If you play with path of War and like the system, then this will blow your mind. Seriously. It pretty much is as big a step forward as the APG was over the PFRPG Core rules. If you like Path of War, then you absolutely need to get this book. Right now. If your trepidations regarding the system sprang from a lack of support for regular classes, then this book also remedies that.


There are two specific warnings I'd wish to utter to fans of Path of War and GMs in particular: GMs, take a careful look at both Shattered Mirror and Riven Hourglass. Both disciplines can be extremely powerful. Similarly, this book pretty much plays loose with action economy, providing multiple means of trading actions among characters and getting more - which, as a comparison base-line, is usually capstone-levels of power. So that definitely warrants some careful probing for some games using the rules.


How to rate this, then? Well, I rated the original book according to my standard balance-base-line. I stand by that. Compared to most crunch, its power-level is off the charts. Same here...but this is the expansion. It's the book that builds upon the implicit playstyle enforced by Path of War and as such I can't well complain about that or have it influence the final verdict. if you have an issue with immunity ignoring, a ton of damage and the like...then this may not be for you. If you want to play a superhero level anime-like game with plenty of unique attacks and defenses, then this is just what the doctor ordered.


Damn, this is hard...you see, as a person, I love a lot in this book in style, flavor and execution. Similarly, as a person, I absolutely loathe a bunch of the design-decisions, needlessly failed kitten-tests, infinite healing as a base feature and similar gripes...but. And here comes the big BUT: As a reviewer, these already were present in the base book. They are established components of the exceedingly high power-level of the Path of War system. Thus, as a reviewer, I can't complain about that here. I can advise caution regarding the action-economy-switcheroos, but in the frame of the system, particularly with its already significant powerlevel, they are less jarring and broken then they would be in vanilla pathfinder.


How to rate this?


Well, for fans of Path of War, this will be the 5 stars+ seal-level of awesomeness best book of the year, simple as that.


Similarly, if you hated book 1, you'll hate this as well, perhaps even more so.


For those skeptical of the system, well...it's better than its predecessor in every way...but it's still containing all those gripes I (and plenty of other people) had against the previous book. If you were torn on the previous book and considered it, like I did, a 3-star-book, then this should be considered between 0.5 and 1 stars higher for you, depending on how badly cheesable skill-rolls versus x, kitten-tests, infinite healing etc. annoy you.


As a reviewer, my official verdict, ultimately, will be smack in the middle - at 4.5 stars. While personally, I'll round down regarding my own tastes...but as a reviewer, it frankly wouldn't be fair to rate this based on such a decision. I also have a policy of in dubio pro reo. Which means my official verdict rounds up to 5.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War Expanded
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April Augmented
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/12/2016 03:10:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This Pay What You Want April's Fool-release clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The first new archetype herein would be for the currently-in-playtest discipline-using class, Medi...and it's called Ambu-Lancer. These guys get Ride as a class skill and a mount with light armor proficiency at first level. When riding said mount, the ambu-lancer takes no armor check penalty to Ride skills and killed mounts can be replaced sans cost after just 1 week, analogue to the cavalier. Medic's expertise is replaced with Mounted Combat and in an interesting twist, maneuvers that have a movement component may be used with the mount's movement instead of the ambu-lancer's - basically, it replaces the animal companion's usual share spells with discipline-related movement sharing. Similarly, the triage ability may be used in conjunction with the mount's movement.


Absolutely hilarious: At 4th level, instead of +1 triage use, the archetype gets a Stealth-WRECKING minus 30 Stealth when activated siren that grants Improved Overrun when attempting to move somewhere to use triage - MEDIC!!! XD Instead of 5th level's medic's expertise, the archetype may drag allies healed atop the mount! Pretty cool archetype...and hilarious.


The Edge Lord harbinger had me laugh so hard, I had to stop and go outside for a second - the archetype gets proficiency with simple and martial weapons and the katana, but not with any armor or shield. Discipline-wise, they replace Riven hourglass and Scarlet Throne with Unquiet Grave and Mithral Current. At 1st level, the archetype gets Quick Draw and dons a leather coat of black or red leather that provides Int-bonus to AC (+1 dodge bonus at 3rd level and every 5 levels thereafter) - this ability replaces accursed will and is called..."Become So Numb." Starting at 4th level, the edge-lord may teleport a limited amount of times per encounter before or after initiating a strike. This is called "One Step Closer." Come on, now you've got it, right? It's friggin' Linkin Park-the-class. XD Instead of elusive shadow, the archetype gets immunity to emotion effects and replaces sorcerous deception with Mixed Combat and Weapon Focus - X-Ecutioner Style. If you didn't grow up with these, you may not consider this as funny as I do...but boy...I could throw myself away right now...Increased crit range via Papercuts and the option to teleport crited foes unwillingly complement this very well - basically, if you ever wanted to play Dante or Vergil from Devil may Cry...yeah, that's a pretty good way to do that. Two thumbs up!


The Madman monk may not use class features with monk weapons, only with unarmed strikes. This archetype...is basically an exercise in how M-A-D you can make an archetype - all saves are governed by two attributes: Str and Con for Fort, Dex and Int for Ref, Wis and Cha for Will. For the lulz, his unarmed strike attacks use Int and Str to atk, but Con and Cha to damage rolls. And no, this cannot be changed. They deal bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage at once via unarmed attacks. Dex-based skills are enhanced by Str. Cha-based skills are enhanced by Wis. The MADman may substitute psychoses for attacks in his flurry, with save DC being equal to 10 + 1/2 class level + highest attribute modifier + lowest attribute modifier. In case you haven't got that yet - no, you can't choose anywhere and yes, negative modifier decrease the efficiency. So what's a psychoses? Well, it's basically the talent array of these fellows. They get one new psychosis at each odd level, with later levels unlocking new ones. Now here's the mechanically interesting component: The more successful psychoses (success/failure-conditions provided individually), attack and maneuvers the madman has performed before in a given flurry, the more potent becomes the specific effect. And yes, these include reality-bending stunts like flying (for as long as the flurry persists...). Also interesting - high level psychoses have powerful effects - when executed AFTER 5 successful prior attacks...otherwise, they have no effects. And yes, the archetype does have multiple capstones to choose from. This whole archetype is basically a meta-joke on the monk...and it still kinda works. While perhaps the least serious-feeling component herein, the archetype sports several impressive and cool ideas. with the psychoses and flurry-combo-idea in particular being worthy of closer examination.


Next up would be the Daring Hero 10-level PrC, which sports Elan's (The OotS-character, not the race) Razor Wit as a prerequisite bonus feat. The PrC grants d10 HD, 6+Int skills per level, 1/2 Ref- and Will-save progression and full BAB-progression. Every even level, the PrC provides +1 maneuver known, chosen from Mithral Current, Scarlet Throne and two previously available disciplines, chosen upon taking the PrC. PrC-levels count as full initiator levels and 3rd level and every 3 thereafter add +1 readied maneuver. 4th, 6th and 10th level provide +1 stance. The PrC allows the character to substitute Charisma as initiation modifier for all mental attribute modifiers for all class features and maneuvers - which is pretty OP. Additionally, this enhances Razor Wit and provides benefits for soulknives. Dramatic Entries, better starting reputation...okay. Using counters sans expending immediate actions 1/encounter at 3rd level, +1/encounter every 3 levels thereafter, is pretty powerful. At higher levels, the plot armor stance can be used and these guys get gold for the fanfiction written about the. As a capstone, the hero can't die anymore...unless it's fittingly climactic.


Next up would be the Drowmedary-race,a combination of drow and gamla - these folks get a full age, height and weight-table (with a minor grey-line-formatting glitch) and are humanoids with the elf and akashic subtypes. They have normal speed, +2 Con and Cha, -2 Dex, get +1 bonus essence and get poison spit that scales with the levels - usable 1/minute, range 10 ft. The spit can stagger foes and even knock them unconscious and essence can be invested in it as though the ability were a veil - essence invested increases reach and DC. Personally, I think the DC-increase is a bit excessive here - in my game, I'd rather increase the reach-increase from 5 ft. per essence invested to +10 ft. Also, since the alternate, difficult-terrain-causing class feature that spits webs instead is rather outclassed by this one. Drowmedary also get a teamwork bonus feat they can share for Cha-mod rounds with all allied drowmedaries within 60 ft.. See, this is one of the abilities that looks fine in a general adventuring group - but when all players play the race, it gets ridiculous fast. I'd strongly advise in favor of a daily limit or similar factor to prevent this getting out of hand. Instead of this, they can also get climb speed via spidery legs.


The pdf has one more thing to offer, namely the gelatinous cube monster class - HD d8, -4 Dex, +4 Con; Ooze type, speed 15 ft., acid immunity. The cube is considered intelligent, blind, has blindsight, can't be tripped and gets 2+Int skills per level. They get a slam attack and transparency at 1st level. Their class spans 4 levels, has all bad saves, 3/4 BAB-prgression and nets +4 Con on every level but the 1st, but also -2 Dex per level. Paralysis potency increases every level, 3rd provides +1d6 acid damage and 4th level nets size-increase to large as well as engulf. The write-up also sports two racial feats - one that nets you a pseudopod and a second feats allows the cube to assume humanoid form. If you really want to go cubey, I'd also suggest checking out Rite Publishing's "In the Company of Gelatinous Cubes", their April-product last year.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, very good on a rules level - the wordings are generally tight, though some minor glitches can be seen here and there. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' full-color two-column standard and the pdf has no artworks. It does, however, have bookmarks and it comes with a second, more printer-friendly version.


Anthony S. Altovilla, Forrest Heck, Jacob Karpel, Jade Ripley, Jeffrey Swank and Kevin Ryan provide some hilarious options here - with a wink, sure...but functional nonetheless! While I am not sold on each and every design decision, I do love a lot of the components herein - the Edge Lord made me laugh so hard and the drowmedary are similarly fun. (2 cents if you play one dual-wielding scimitars...) Yeah, yeah, endy has to complain about blabla... but guess what? I don't want to. This is a pay what you want product that offers significantly more great ideas than many commercial releases. Sure, I don't consider all perfect - but you can literally take a look and then tip the authors...and seriously, you should. The material is worth it, particularly for Path of War-fans, for whom the majority of content herein is intended. This may not be perfect in formal criteria or balance-wise, but it's fun and there is no component herein that will truly break anyone's game. Taking that and the PWYW-aspect into account, I arrive at a final verdict of 5 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
April Augmented
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Path of War
by Elexious C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/06/2016 16:51:41

This is one of those products that has already been discussed to death so I'll focus on my general impressions instead of a deep analysis.


I was not originally sold on the idea of Path of War. Looking at it's predecessor, the Book of 9 Swords, the whole idea seemed too much like Vancian Martials which turned me off from the concept of a system of spells/maneuvers for mundane classes. I was even more put off by the idea of new, more powerful, classes eating up the niche of mundane martial classes.


So what sold me? Nothing actually. I have little experience with GMing these characters and classes so I'm still waiting for options that aren't just a feats for paizo martials to really get in on the action. What sold me on actually purchasing was that the classes are actually pretty fun to play, (I purchased the Stalker separately before buying the whole thing) and there are expansions on the horizon.


There are three classes. The Stalker which while annoyingly gets a ki pool at first level while the monk gets his at 4th is a fun class. Its kind of a ninja with maneuvers. There is the Warder who's most interesting class feature is a built in Combat Patrol effect giving it an aura of tanking. Then there's the Warlord, the most smack happy of the trio who probably has the most proactive means of regaining maneuvers. They are sweet classes although I'm not too in favor of the Stalker getting a Ki pool and maneuvers but it has about the same accuracy of a Rogue so I guess that knocks him down a peg.


We also get some new feats. Some of the feats are pretty game changing, like the generic dex to damage feat. People will take it even if they don't touch the classes or maneuvers in the book.


The maneuver system itself is less cumbersome than I imagined. Sure I was upset that maneuvers are per encounter abilities at their default but the Inquisitor class forced me to define what the beginning and end of combat was so it didn't hurt that much. There are some weird ones that lock you into some skills if you want to dedicate yourself to using it effectively but the maneuvers functioned well enough and didn't feel completely like spells of another name. Also combined with the new classes they aren't all that powerful, especially if you already strive to buff your martials with other third party things, and really especially since they can't really rely on anything that martials use for power. In the end they do more stuff and less damage, or at least that's how I've been building them. Don't hinge on ALL the maneuvers to make logical sense though. You can explain them away in the same way you can explain how a guy can practice martial arts so hard he shoots lasers from his hands so some points aren't for everyone but it's not an awkwardness that can't be overcome with rule of cool.


The prestige classes are, I didn't read them.


There are a series of feats for other martials to have up to six levels of maneuvers at the cost of up to six feats. Fair but I don't feel like this exactly helps other martials come up to par in versatility and just converts them to a state that's still less valuable than either not taking maneuvers at all or just taking a maneuver class. That said taking one or two of the feats is worth it for the stances.


I forgot, the Maneuvers are divided into different schools of fighting which is my favorite part of them. Each style is distinct and interesting giving a lot of flavor for what kind of maneuvers you're doing.


Overall I'll give this five stars. I felt awkward about it at the start and I refused to leave normal martials in the dust but I liked my play experiences and it flows pretty well.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War
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April Augmented
by Lucus P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/01/2016 07:52:20

There's a lot of great things in this book --- but keep in mind, it's pretty clearly an April Fool's Day release.


That said, there are some truly fun things going on, and without having a chance to properly playtest them, they actually still look very playable and usable...


The Daring Hero prestige class by Forrest Heck, in particular, got my attention. Its a classic trope of the kinds of genres you might play an RPG for, and as such, I'd see either playing or letting a player play as one at my table. If you ever wondered "how did they survive that" -- this prestige class offers mechanical reasons for it (like Plot Armor!).


The Gelatinous Cube monster class, by Jeffrey Swank, is a great addition too. Its a kind of parody of his Monster Class line for Dreamscarred, but also works as a great introduction. What I REALLY want is to find a GM willing to let me have one as a "pet" either as an animal companion-type character or a cohort. I've got an old derro character obsessed with oozes and the like and this would be a joy to have along as his companion (or if needed, to make the derro the cube's companion.


Well done everyone, there's much more than this, but the these two things really jumped out at me!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
April Augmented
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Psionics Augmented: Soulknives
by Derfael O. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/19/2016 13:25:46

This is actually only the first half of Psionics Augmented: Soulknives. As the title and suggestion suggests the pdf contains new archetypes and bladeskills for soulknives.


The Archetypes:


Augmented Blade: Uses a psicrystal to augment existing blades. Thematic, and it has its uses.


Brutality Blade: The easiest way to describe it is a soulknife with a little barbarian rage in its life.


Psychic Armory: This archetype allows the soulknife to manifest several blades that float and orbit around her. She can then launch them at her enemies at a whim.


The Blade Skills:


There are far too many soulknife blade skills for me to go into depth about. However, a large number of the bladeskills allow for the soulknife to acquire mindshaped items that were once archetype specific. Thus, for example, a regular soulknife may acquire a mind bolt or mind armor as if they had the soulbolt or armored blade archetypes. In addition there are new blade skills that expand the mobility and versatility of the soulknife. In short, there is a blade skill here for any soulknife.


What the PDF does not Contain:



  • Feats

  • Prestige Classes

  • Equipment

  • Gifted Blade Powers


In Summary:


Even if you are not interested in giving your soulknife a psicrystal, having it rage out, or surround itself with numerous mind blades, this book contains blade skills that will benefit any soulknife regardless of archetype. If you are instead looking for new feats, equipment or psionic powers for your soulknife, I would recommend waiting for the second half of this document.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psionics Augmented: Soulknives
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Path of War Expanded: Mystic
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/13/2016 02:29:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Path of War Expanded-series clocks in at 55 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with a massive 51 pages of content, so let's take a look!


As always with Path of War-reviews, note that I am NOT judging this book in accordance to the power-levels assumed in vanilla Pathfinder, but rather according to the level of power Path of War assumes. If you're not familiar with my stance on Path of War, its strengths and weaknesses, I urge you to take a look at my review of the book - also, since this is an expansion to the system and e.g. the fact that per-encounter abilities have a precise time-frame as well may not be known...but will the mystic attain the level of coolness of the harbinger?


Mechanics-wise, the Mystic receives d8, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light armors and shields, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Will-saves and begins play with 7 maneuvers known (which scale up to 21) as well as one stance, scaling up to 7. Mystics can have 5 maneuvers readied at 1st level and increase that to up to 12...however, here, things become interesting: Much like To9S's Crusader, the Mystic does not have 100% reliable access to her maneuvers: The Mystic, before her first turn, determines 2 maneuvers, which are immediately accessible to her; thereafter, each round grants her one randomly determined maneuver from those of her readied maneuvers, unlocking this one for the remainder of the combat. If using the Lightning Recovery or Victorious Recovery feats, the mystic can immediately unlock such maneuvers, providing an option for players that are not 100% fine with the random nature of this mechanic. If, during a combat, the mystic would have not withheld maneuver to unlock left, she instead gets all readied maneuvers back and may choose 2 new ones to be immediately unlocked. The number of maneuvers granted at the beginning of combat increases by +1 at 3rd level, 6th, 9th and 18th level by one maneuver, but unlike the base chosen two, these are randomly determined as well.


The Mystic key-ability is btw. Wis and the class also receives a so-called animus - this means that mystics count as class level arcane spellcaster levels for the purpose of prerequisites and stacks mystic levels with caster levels for the purpose of item creation etc. Upon entering combat, the mystic receives 1 + Wis-mod animus pool; this pool increases by +1 every subsequent round and lasts for 1 minute out of combat and whenever the mystic initiates a maneuver, she adds an additional +1 animus to her pool. Animus may be spent as part of a maneuver initiation action for e.g. a cumulative +2 insight bonus to d20 rolls (atk, CMB, skills) associated with that maneuver, up to a maximum of 3 animus spent for a +6 bonus, increase the DC by +1 per point of animus spent. 4th level unlocks 2 animus spent per maneuver for +1/2 class level damage. Alternatively, animus can be used to ignore 10 points energy resistance or 5 points of damage reduction. The latter is a bit problematic: DR is not a unified concept: DR/adamantine or DR/epic is significantly more powerful than DR/magic - a finer and more precise scaling here via animus spent would have made the ability significantly fairer and more streamlined. At 9th level, mystics can target foes up to 30 ft. away with a melee maneuver or move up to movement rate as a teleportation-effect as part of the initiation - nice to see the acknowledgment of it being a teleportation and the line of sight caveat. 13th level and 19th level unlock up to 4 and 5 animus spent per maneuver, but do not unlock additional options.


Animus is important in other ways, though: Mystics are attuned to the elements and when they ready maneuvers, they select an active element and associated energy type. Whenever the mystic initiates a maneuver that deals damage, the mystic may spend one animus to change the damage type to the respective active element. As a standard action (or as a free action upon assuming a new stance) she can change the active element. If the character is psionic, her active element and active energy type are the same and if the mystic has the Elemental Flux discipline, she treats the active element as the active element for Elemental flux.


It should be noted that the class also has a reset for readied maneuvers, namely blade meditation: As a full-round action, a mystic can spend 1 animus to immediately receive and EXPEND (NOT initiate!) the maneuvers readied, the mystic receives a new set of maneuvers as per the default rules of the mystic's ready-mechanic. Being slightly more vulnerable during this period, foes attacking the mystic still have to contend with the raging elemental maelstrom unleashed: Until the start of the next round, foes attacking the mystic receive 1d6 points of active element damage, +1d6 per point remaining in the mystic's animus pool. The class also receives bonus feats at 2nd, 12th and 17th level, being able to choose from Item Creation and Combat feats. 2nd level provides a +1 insight bonus to AC versus psionics and spells (and psi-like and spell-like abilities), increasing by +1 at 6th level, 11th, 16th and 20th level by +1.


3rd level Mystics may, as a move action 1 animus to affect up to Wis-mod allies within line of sight with her elemental glyph, lasting 1 + Wis-mod rounds and new glyphs supersede glyphs already affecting a target. Glyphs are supernatural abilities and add new effects at 3rd, 8th, 13th and 19th level. Beyond the elements, metal, darkness and illumination provide buffing options - air e.g. is about movement, darkness concealment etc. The mystic also receives solid chances of emulating unknown spells. At 5th level, the class gets an interesting ability: When targeted by spells/psionic powers or spell/psi-like effects that have a Fort or Ref-save partial, she may substitute a Will-save AND is unaffected on a successful save. If she fails, she receives 1 point of animus, but this ability only works while unencumbered and in light armor. The ability is very powerful, yes, but its limitations mean that it works actually pretty well in the Path of War-context. At 6th level, the mystic may 1/day as a free action swap a readied maneuver with another one the mystic knows, +1/day at every 4 levels thereafter. At 9th level, the mystic may utilize animus to suppress magical/psionic effects for Wis-mod rounds. 15th level allows for the expenditure of a move action to gain 1d6+Wis-mod animus points...which can be used outside of combat and, as a capstone, the mystic may create a glyph with the effects of two glyphs at the same time - brutal.


So what kind of supplemental material do we get here? First, one should mention feats: Using Animus for healing would be one - while the healing granted is low and has a 1/encounter cap, the feat can be abused to result in infinite healing by picking/ending fights with either kittens or friendly PCs. Note: I do not, as a reviewer, consider the feat per se broken, but if you're like me and do not want any kind of infinite healing anywhere near your table, then I'd suggest banning this one. The other feats allow for an increased energy resistance ignoring with a chosen element, more animus, more maneuvers and better action economy for the reset ability. An interesting feat allows you to not only increased damage die of katanas by one step and treat them as light weapons...which is per se relatively brutal...I mean, come on...katanas are not a weak weapon - why them of all weapons? There is also a feat for other classes to gain animus. The pdf also sports two archetypes for the class, namely the aurora soul and knight chandler. The aurora soul modifies skills and proficiencies and basically is an unarmed variant of the mystic with modified disciplines available, bonus feats to make unarmed combat viable and a defensive bonus to AC. A solid, function-driven archetype.


The Knight Chandler on the other hand is a pretty detailed, complex archetype: The knight-chandler needs to be non-evil and, at 1st level, receives a soul candle, a fist-sized mote of light that sheds illumination in a radius depending on the knight chandler's illumination pool. Once per round, the knight-chandler may will, as a free action, to move the candle up to her speed, ignoring difficult terrain, but being unable to pass through solid objects. If the candle is within the knight-chandler's space, she can have the candle move with her. Additionally, as a swift action, the knight-chandler may summon the soul candle to her square. Allies within 15 ft. of the candle gain resistance to the active element, equal to the number of illumination points in the knight-chandler's pool and the candle is only weakened in magic-dead zones, not suppressed.


Outside of combat, the knight-chandler has 1 point of illumination in her pool; upon entering combat, she adds +1 illumination point per round. She may also use a swift action to gain 2 illumination points and receives one whenever she initiates a boost. She also gains Tap Animus, which means that she does have animus in addition to her illumination pool. Starting at 3rd level, knight chandlers can utilize candle magic, beginning with votive effects and unlocking lantern effects at 8th level and bonfire effects at 15th level. The effects projected may be changed as a swift action. While it is relatively clear that only one effect from the respective lists can be in effect at a given time, I think explicitly stating this would be a wise choice to prevent ambiguity. The relatively close limitation of the soul candle's light is what makes these work, for the effects are rather brutal: More five-foot-steps, teleport, flat-out immunity to death effects...and then, there would be the bonfire effects, which provide AoE fast healing for infinite healing for the whole group and even ability score damage healing for initiators and a life 3-style option to reduce the pool to 1, but also receive immediate healing for 1/2 maximum hit point total plus an end to just about all negative conditions. I consider the latter to be pretty problematic, since it basically flat-out prevents death negating any damage that would bring the character below 0 Hp when used. Then again, seeing the ridiculous amounts of damage initiators can dish out, abilities like this may be actually needed in the long run. This does not change the fact that this is basically infinite healing once again, meaning the archetype will limited in its usefulness for some tables - as much as I like the archetype's mechanical frame, it won't get anywhere near my table. At higher levels, knight-chandlers may share boosts or counters readied with allies and as a capstone, the archetype gets an apotheosis alongside an increased illumination pool minimum.


Now the book obviously also features disciplines, some of which I've already mentioned. Since I have already covered shattered mirror in my review of the harbinger, I will not be going into details there. The book does sport 3 new disciplines, though, the first of which would be Elemental Flux, associated with Spellcraft and available for monk, thrown weapons and light blades. Elemental Flux requires elemental damage of some maneuvers to be determined in advance, but may choose this as a standard action. Furthermore, quite a few of the maneuvers in the discipline can be augmented via the expenditure of animus points. It should come as no surprise to the reader, then, that we're dealing with highly flexible offense/defense options here - unlike other disciplines, the significant flexibility of elemental flux is pretty hard to counter when combined by the resource-management of the mystic. For future-proofing purposes, this bears mention. As provided, though, the discipline is also highly interesting, with more than one maneuver offering wildly diverging in effects beyond just switching the respective energy damage types - and ultimately, I found myself enjoying this component most about elemental flux: While thematically, I did not consider the discipline too captivating, its flexibility is what ultimately makes me enjoy it. It should also be noted that the respective elemental benefits are pretty well-balanced among themselves. So yes, I was positively surprised here!


The second discipline herein would be Mithral Current, associated with Perform (dance) and the weapon-groups light blades, heavy blades and polearms. The discipline also has a unique flair and mechanical component: Being pretty much about Iaijutsu-style quick drawing, the discipline codifies a type of requirement for certain maneuvers that requires the wielder to properly draw a weapon immediately prior to utilizing the respective maneuver. The concise definition here is pretty much glorious and it should be noted that it does make basically for an optional component that can add additional effects to the respective maneuvers. It should also be noted that some maneuvers and stances here do allow for free sheathing of weapons as part of their usual effects. The discipline also does sport numerous rather interesting defensive tricks - alas, unlike some other more recent Path of War-installments, we once again have a more pronounced emphasis on skill-checks as substitutes for more valuable numeric options like AC etc., adding in the swinging effect more than in e.g. the harbinger's designs and making the content presented here feel less streamlined...and, again, more prone to being gamed. On the plus-side, the actual gaming flow of calm turning to brutal counter-assault and visuals of mithral current are fun.


The third discipline covered herein would be the Riven Hourglass, with the associated skill being Autohypnosis and the weapons being light blades, flails and hammers. Here, things get highly problematic in my book - no-save negative conditions and a 1st level strike that kills action economy for the target: Strike the Hourglass has this nice effect: "If it hits, it deals weapon damage as normal, and the target can only take a single move action or standard action during its next turn." Okay, so this 1st level strike prohibits the use of free or swift or immediate actions on the target's subsequent turn and cuts his actions in half, SANS SAVE. 1st level maneuver. This is, even in Path of War's context, broken. What about a boost you can initiate only at the start of your action that lets you grant a touched target your standard, move or full-round action? 4th level. Riven Hourglass is HORRIBLY BROKEN. It allows you to break any semblance of action economy and is chock-full with abuse-the-system-to-smithereens-combos. I'm at this point used to Path of War playing fast and loose with balance, even in the increased power-context of the series, but you don't have to be a rocket scientist to come up with a plethora of ridiculous ways to break...everything with this discipline. Urgh.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - the complex rules-language employed tends to be precise and well-crafted, though there are some discrepancies regarding the consistency of what abilities need saves and what don't. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports numerous gorgeous full-color artworks. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version as well - kudos!


Chris Bennett and Jade Ripley's Mystic is an interesting class: The heir apparent to the Crusader, the Mystic has a flow in its maneuver availability I very much enjoyed on paper and, from experience, classes with a flow require playtesting. The Mystic, and this is interesting, is not the first Path of War class with a flow: All classes can freely and easily regain maneuvers and as such, there always was the flowing motion inherent in the system. The Mystic takes this up to 11...or at least, makes you think it does: Basically, the class feels like it's afraid of its own self-imposed limitations. We get a class that says: No reliable maneuver-access...unlike the default "you do x, y or z". Which is not bad per se, but it does mean that the class plays less unique than you'd expect from the set-up. A similar process can be observed in my mechanically favorite component of the mystic: The way in which animus increases over the rounds hearkens back to an escalation die-like 13th Age-style mechanic coupled with resource-management. It pretends to require serious resource-management...when it really doesn't.


Animus is a cool mechanic that has the potential to be extremely entertaining...but in practice, the system awards blasting away: If an enemy's still standing after you run out of animus, that slightly limits your options...but not in a manner that is strictly stifling for even a short duration or render it problematic: Basically, I love the ability's frame-work...but it's not really required for the class. Most combats can be defeated sans tapping into the animus-mechanic. Basically, I feel like this class is afraid of requiring the use of its resources and playstyle: It introduces these cool mechanics, these unique tricks, has the mechanical means to provide a flow and then tells you: "You don't need these, but if you do use them, you're even more awesome."


On the design-side, the high flexibility of Elemental Flux and Mithral Current's draw-component are truly astounding and render play with them exciting, though they do hint at another discrepancy. I also absolutely adored the Knight-Chandler's soul candle mechanic, if not all components of the particular execution here.


My intense dislike for skill-check substitutions is back in full swing here; after the Harbinger's maneuvers clothed such mechanics in effects that sported less potential problems, we have them here again...though, again, in a way that does show growth over the original Path of War, with an emphasis on defense and, since it represents more of a personal preference, is not a key component of my verdict. The book does sport some discrepancies with no-save nerfs and the like.


I think, if you're reading this far, you may be one of my readers using the original Path of War or at least being interested in the system. I've rambled on about a narrow implicit playstyle that does not take table-variation into account in one particular context: Unlimited healing. This installment once again does provide such options, which eliminate this pdf for a significant amount of tables, mine included. And then there would be Riven Hourglass. The harbinger's Shattered Mirror could be broken in some campaigns and brilliant in others. Riven Hourglass is just friggin' broken, regardless of context or powerlevel. It begs to be abused to kingdom come and you don't even want to know what an evil GM can do with this...or what a halfway decent adventurer group can make with this beast. This discipline needs a serious nerf and some significant limitations to make its utterly broken action-shifting more restrictive. "That's just EZG rambling, he doesn't get Path of War." Wrong. Path of War's emphasis on getting more power, more versatility out of your actions, if anything, exacerbates the problem this discipline poses.


In the end, the mystic does sport some conceptually brilliant mechanic innovations, but is too afraid to truly capitalize on them and make them the focus of the class - to me, this felt like the class, time and again, tries to apologize for its own mechanics, stating: "See, it's not so bad, you still get all your crucial tools when you want them." - and that undermines the unique framework the mystic offers. The harbinger's only issues were one out of place ability and the escalating DCs far beyond any you'd otherwise see. However, its accomplishment boils down to being a fun skirmisher that requires the player to treat it as such. The Mystic, in contrast, has these great flowing set-up mechanics...but doesn't strictly require them. It does feel like the class was revised time and again to cater to the taste of people that did not like the class's random maneuver-mechanics - which, to me, is a shame, because it undermines the unique and compelling identity the class actually sports. Worse, the increased flexibility the maneuvers of the new disciplines offer do look like they were balanced to work with regards to a more limited availability, like there was once the intent to offset the lack of control with more powerful options - something the class no longer requires. And yes, this extends to the animus-mechanics.


While I do consider some options here to be brutal power-creep and yes, broken, there is still a whole lot to like and truly interesting material to be found herein. Still, to me, this falls a long way short of the harbinger. It should also be noted that, while Mithral Current and Elemental Flux on their own are powerful (and Elemental Flux surpasses ANY elemental-themed option in power and flexibility, including Solar Wind), Riven Hourglass is pretty much the equivalent of throwing any sense of balance to the wind - it imho hurts this pdf...and it hurts Path of War as a whole. Even in my most high-fantasy of campaigns, I will not allow this anywhere near my table, which is a first for the series - I can conceive of campaigns where infinite healing is no issue and while I won't run one, I don't judge. Riven Hourglass, on the other hand, begs to be broken in any context.


It should be considered a testament to the quality of the other content herein and the pdf's mechanical innovation that this one does not sink the pdf. Ultimately, the Mystic is an exercise in brilliant highlights and darkest shadows - and hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars. Even fans of Path of War should take careful stock before allowing this pdf, though.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War Expanded: Mystic
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Psionics Augmented: Seventh Path
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/17/2015 04:16:01

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the psionics augmented-series clocks in at 59 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 56 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, what does this pdf cover? Well, on a basic level, we are introduced to a seventh psionic discipline, Athanatsim - which is something I've been wanting for a long time. Let me reiterate: Back in 2nd edition, Ravenloft's psionics liches ranked arguably among the nastiest foes you could face; the by now classic 3.0 module by Malhavoc Press, "If Thoughts Could Kill" featured an epic storyline that may see the end of one psionic discipline in favor of a psionic necromancy in case a foe triumphed...and ever since these two, I've been wanting a psionic version of animating the dead. At the same time, this provided a kind of thematic disjoint - here represented as a tapping into spiritual energies for a fluff-wise representation of how psionics can affect the dead.


Athanatism's specialists are known as conduits and receive Bluff, Sense Motive and Perception as class skills and at 2nd level, the class gets Negative Energy Affinity as a bonus feat as well as the option to 1/day replace a known athanatism power for another athanatism power of an equal level - yes, this means that the discipline nets a free wild-card, which is pretty powerful. Starting at 8th level, the conduit receives a 30 ft.-aura that can be activated for class level rounds per day. Foes in this area treat it as difficult terrain, can't make AoOs and their attacks are penalized by 1/2 conduit's Int-mod, min 1. And we have a big issue - no save, free action-based AoE AoO-negation? That kills all kinds of builds. Overpowered and dire need of a nerf. You may also expend your psionic focus as a swift action to make a for staggered at Fort DC 13+ Int-mod to negate. Finally, at 14th level, 1/day, you can make a melee touch attack, being treated as incorporeal...instantly killing the foe.


Wait...what? Well, wait a second - you see, you rip the soul out of the target, gaining a shadow-minion for the duration; thereafter, the soul returns to the target's body, which rests at a stable -1 hp. The capstone, on the other side, is pretty weak, an always on ghost touch and allows for the psion to become incorporeal and, on a nitpicky side, fails to specify that it's gained at 20th level. In case you do not have the base discipline's benefits: Yes, Athanatism's discipline abilities are damn cool in their imagery...but they're also power creep when compared to the other disciplines: The aura is strong and can neuter whole builds sans save; A similar issue pertains the death touch: While killed, a downed foe is considered RAW to be an unattended object and as such, is an easy target for instant destruction. Worse, the lack of a save or HD cap makes this a guaranteed one-punch-dragon-killer. Not gonna get anywhere near my group. The save DC for the aura also deviates from the formula-standard as established in e.g. the Last Respite ability, which established 10 + 1/2 level + key-ability modifier as a standard, introducing a kind of internal rules inconsistency to the fray. Over all, I am pretty disappointed by the discipline's basic rules array - cool and visually stunning, sure...but also one that represents an unnecessary power-creep and some rules-aesthetic discrepancies to the fray.


Now a new path obviously does also require new class features for the respective psionic classes. Ancestral psychic warriors add a conduit power to their powers known at 1st level and every 6 levels thereafter, but the Ancestral does not receive heavy armor proficiency. 9th level allows for 1/day the tapping into ancestral powers versus a category of foes; +1/day at 11th level. Additionally, we get the ancestral path, which allows for better AC versus the incorporeal as well as Will-save re-rolls - the psychic warrior options here are concise and cool - two thumbs up! The Animist Aegis can only shape his suit into an astral mantle that is treated as hide armor for mechanical purposes, with 2nd level providing free energy resistance customization and 10th level nets the improved armor customization. Additionally, the class receives a gris-gris-based bonus to AC versus incorporeal attacks with variable benefits to add to the fray via a short ritual. The Blood Talisman ability of the archetype is somewhat opaque, though: "If the animist has hit that enemy with a charge attack and dealt damage this turn, he may instead gather blood as a free action." Does this mean "instead of damage? Instead of what? On the plus-side, the customization options provided are intriguing and thematically fitting - from reduced miss chances to rage-like effects, the options are neat.


The Bokron marksman gets a so-called conjure at 1st level, 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter.v Conjures can be activated as a swift action for as long as psionic focus is maintained, with saves equal to 10 +1/2 class level + Wis-mod to negate - and they are interesting: From fear to attracting the ranged attacks, there are some nice options here, with expenditure of the focus for increased benefits as higher level options. Nice one. Bottler Dreads are truly unique - they receive scared bottles, which contain haunts they can unleash upon foes, utilizing a unique mechanic that scales with the levels - I love this one, though its truly interesting component would be the concise and actually working rules to properly bottle haunts encountered or hijacking them - this archetype is absolutely unique and awesome.


Channeler Wilders with a unique surge that offers three different surge-effects based on tapping into the motions of the deceased - including less enervation-chances and minor buffs and a debuff surge effect to target foes - again, a solid and neatly-crafted one. The Ghostblade Soulknife is very interesting in that it allows the soulknife to heal foes with the blade - thankfully, in a limited way that actually prevents abuse - kudos! The archetype also features a series of exclusive blade skills utilizing the duality of life and death, light and darkness, including inflicting crit-based temporary vulnerability to positive or negative energy effects.


The Harnesser Vitalist is powered by his guardian spirit and additionally, keeps members of the collective alive for longer and also helps fortify the members against death effects. The truly interesting component of this one, though, is the ability to possess the members of the collective - which allows for truly unique tactical options in combat - intriguing indeed! The Hounforge psions replaces the discipline and all associated benefits with the option to create a spirit doll that then serves as an anchor for a scaling, deadly eidolon - interesting indeed! Kalfore cryptics have a thoroughly interesting ability that allows them to forgo disrupt pattern damage in favor of spirit's marks, which can be used to force rerolls upon targets, disrupting the patterns of fate, also sporting an interesting synergy with hexes etc.


Soul Conductor Tacticians conjure forth spirits of the deceased to provide easier, ranged aid another. The free flanking assistance these spirits can provide also renders a number of builds extremely deadly - so, while not broken per se, this aspect might need GM oversight, depending on the potency of foes at your table, with higher levels allowing for the limited negation of negative effects as well as the expenditure of these aiding spirits at higher levels. Finally, the shackler psychic warrior, who also gets additional conduit powers as well as the option to bind the spirits of the slain to his body, with the shackler path, which sports spectral shackles and immunity ignoring demoralizes for a kyton-ish one.


The pdf obviously also features new feats, as hinted before - these are interesting indeed, allowing psioncs to shelter their souls in their psicrystals to negate otherwise immediately deadly effects - or there would be one feat that allows you to bind a spirit and pay it via dreams etc. for the limited Psi-like abilities this provided; though there is a lack of italicization for the feat's invisibility-effect. There would also be a strange one that allows for a three-personality psiycrystal. Controlling or deceiving spirits and healing via ability burn is also interesting -and it covers a caveat that prevents abuse!


Also rather intriguing would be two prestige class archetypes that modify the Body Snatcher and Psion Uncarnate to become the Gravebound and Phatom, both of which are rather interesting - the Gravebound bending the spirits of the dead instead of the living, while the phantom instead transforms into a spirit, with appropriately lethal touch attacks. I did like these options for them.


The pdf then goes on, obviously, to prevent a diverse and massive array of powers; on a nice side, these do feature quite an array of augmentation options (often allowing you to add whole new effects or change just about every parameter of a power), some of which are even tied to negative levels gained. The array of powers provided here is pretty much an intriguing one that further emphasizes the themes of spirits, possessions etc. alongside options that temporarily make you count as undead for energy and spell/power-interactions. Utilizing powers to create haunts in a given place. Powers to generate ghosts and similar undead as well as killed foes/echoes of the dead-style investigation-centric abilities can be found here...and yes, there is a Gnadentöter-style mercy-killing power here. And yes, some powers are essentially brilliant story-devices: Orphic Descent sans you to the underworld at night, allowing you to return with a deceased person, returning them to life. There would btw. also a psionic harm-effect and an option to exchange ability drain/damage or hijack haunts. Oh, and a bigger amnesia-effect can also be found here - hearkening to Lethe's legendary waters...


This is not where the book stops, though - the supplement features several monsters: From the dread husk-creating Egophiles that generate soul-deprived husks and clothe themselves in strange cloaks of FACES. Yes, this is disturbing and pretty cool. Cocoon-based mindborn are intriguing and there would be the mirror-inhabiting mirror shade as well as the mirror-bound prisoners. The in-nightmare-deceased Nattmara and the evil whisper outsiders complement this one for an overall great little collection of monsters.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed not much to complain about. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' 2-column full-color standard and the pdf sports numerous full-color artworks and the pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Andreas Rönnqvist, Jeremy Smith and Doug Haworth deliver a pdf with which I honestly got off on the wrong foot. When I started reading this one, I was thoroughly disenchanted by the discipline's OP options that also require slightly more precise wordings...and feared this book would be an exercise in such problematic pieces.


Well, turns out, it's not. Instead, this installment of Psionics Augmented is by far the most refined in the whole series and manages to provide a thoroughly compelling array of options that resonate well with me: We have a full array of thoroughly unique blend of smart options that juggle highly complex concepts in mathematically viable and cool ways, with neat rules-language to boot.


While not as streamlined as e.g. Ultimate Psionics, there are a lot of interesting options that resonate with iconic concepts and indeed, after the initial issue of the discipline in dire need of nerfing, the vast majority of concepts here had me grin from ear to ear. This massive supplement, while not perfect, is certainly an excellent little book; granted, you may need to slightly tinker with some minor components herein...but overall, this supplement is downright inspired and does not shirk away from highly complex topics. Now, obviously, I should bash on the discipline's power a bit more; it is water on the mills of anyone who ever complained about psionics...but that would be unfair to an otherwise rather refined book. In the end, the minor imperfections of this book are outclassed by the glorious components herein, most of which, with the glaring exception of the discipline of all things, are expertly balanced. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psionics Augmented: Seventh Path
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Psionics Augmented: Focused Disciplines
by Derfael O. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/11/2015 12:31:43

I cannot help but say that I was disappointed when I flipped through the book for the first time and found not only were there no additional powers, but there was absolutely no support for any of the other psionic classes. Now while I understood that this was a supplement to the psion class, I had hoped that there would be feats or archetypes that would provide other classes discipline powers or abilities.


Unfortunately there were none.


However, the book does what it is meant to, it is entirely focused on the disciplines that a Psion has and it does so in a very elegant fashion. Each discipline has new ways for specialization allowing the player to build his character as he wants. So, while I was initially disappointed, that was more of me expecting what wasn't advertised. And with that I will give it a four star review.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Psionics Augmented: Focused Disciplines
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Psionic Bestiary
by Ismael A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/06/2015 17:37:11

I was thoroughly impressed with this bestiary. With a handful of exceptions, the quality of it was on par with anything that I would expect from Paizo themselves. While I was not crazy about all of the creatures, nor with all of the art, I generally tend to feel that way about Paizo produced bestiaries as well, which I feel is a pretty good benchmark.


Perhaps the thing I found least appealing was certain pieces of art, though some of that stemmed from my dislike of anything resembling HR Geiger, and there was one monster in particular (and not the Cerebrilith) that was very xenomorph inspired, and not well done at that.


That having been said, I loved virtually all of the remaining art, as it was suitably creepy and amazing as needed, and often both those qualities at once.


Though I could not speak with authority on the balance of the creatures, they seemed to be well balanced for psionic parties, giving a lot more credence to the breadth of psionics in general. I loved the creatures that were updated for psionics as well, such as the Intellect Devourer, as those creatures fit perfectly well, but lack the support that make them fit in more properly in a psionics driven campaign.


One other minor quibble was the propensity for creatures to negate psionics entirely. For being a psionic bestiary, it makes sense that some creatures might be angled towards simply being a scourge, given that traditional campaigns are rife with terrible enemies that have spell resistance. However, there were numerous monsters that completely negate psionics, sometimes as an area effect. I suppose this is more of a matter of taste.


However, I did find that the book dripped with plenty of creepiness and weirdness, which I found wholly appropriate given the nature of the bestiary. I also was impressed with the range of creature types and subtypes that were present in the book, given that most psionic type creatures tend heavily towards aberrant creatures.


Overall, I was very happy with the product, and am suitably inspired to use it for reference many number of future games. Well done!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psionic Bestiary
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Akashic Mysteries: Vizier
by Ismael A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/06/2015 17:28:18

First, I have to disclose that I received this product as a review copy.


Now to start off, I like this class a lot. There are many good details and interesting concepts here, and everything is presented with relative crispness and clearness.


Though reading the book is a must towards understanding the variant magical system, but in a nutshell the vizier can bind magical effects to various magical item slots on his body, such as hands and wrist slots. You then use points to create and maintain various effects around your body. For those of you wondering, these veils do not interfere with or replace normal magical items; both can be used simultaneously.


I did run into a few places where there was some strange wording on certain abilities, such as the Path of the Ruler Aura of Subjugation. It's a minor quibble, but it did take a few read throughs to understand what the ability did.


That having been said, I did thoroughly enjoy the variations of the vizier through paths, similar to archetypes in Pathfinder. As another nitpick, I wondered about the Path of Seer movement ability, and if it would apply past the range. Again, it seems somewhat unclear.


However, I am very keen on the Path of the Seer and its sharing of teamwork feats. I am always in favor of a class feature that uses teamwork feats without much fuss, as the teamwork feat concept is great, but had a poor initial implementation. The path of the Seer seems like a strange bard type.


I love the feats, and they mostly seemed well balanced, though ones like Essence of the Immortal seemed overpowered, providing far more hit points than the Toughness feat to which it compares itself.


Many of the feats lend the flavor of the Akashic to base classes, give generalized bonuses, or bolster the vizier further. Despite this, they work just as well for non-akashics by providing 1 point of essence per feat. There were a number of feats such as "Access Low Chakra Slot" that allowed for chakra binding (or in other words, higher powers bound to that slot) depending on the character level and not the vizier level. I instantly saw that as a hearty encouragement to multiclass, which is generally not seen in other class builds.


Somewhere between the feats and veils, I started to note that the term allies was thrown around a lot, and it seemed somewhat loose, but I might need to bone up on my pathfinder terminology to see how sturdy the term holds up to scrutiny.


Veils are well thought out, and very interesting. I do worry that the effects, while potent and interesting, have save DC's that are too low, due to the spellcasting nature of the viziers. An average vizier at level 10 might have a save DC of 16 for any of his effects, while a wizard of that level is likely to have a save DC of 19 for at least his most potent effects. This isn't generally a worry, but might become exacerbated at higher levels.


The veils themselves are interesting and varied, giving a wide range of effects while leaving room for other more interesting veils to be provided in the future. The binding feature that escalates the power of each veil was well thought out, and gives an interesting gradient of power that blends well with the class.


With that all having been said, I thoroughly enjoyed the vizier class, and am interested to see more. As I understand, this class may soon receive further updates, and I am looking forward to that product. Until then, I am giving this book 4 stars in anticipation for what I am sure is a 5 star product in progress.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Akashic Mysteries: Vizier
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Akashic Mysteries: Daevic
by Ismael A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/06/2015 17:18:37

*note: this review has been edited due to some extenuating information. Also, I received a review copy of this product.


Akashic Mysteries: Daevic is an interesting and very distinct offering into the trio of akashic classes, offering something that to me felt very distinct amidst the other two classes, while infusing enough akashic feel to make this class shine.


I am a bit curious, though, in regards to the Daevic passions and the implications of the class feature as it hashes out in play. Passions are both a filter for your class abilities and the thematic choice for your expressive fighting style. I've not played this class so I don't know what effect, if any, it would have on role playing. Perhaps none, as there is no imperative to play the class in any specific way, but I would presume that the class lends itself to characters that are more passionate than most.


I am also curious to see whether more passions might some day be available for Daevas, since that could at least make
the class seem more robust for the purposes of character concepts. But let's take the focus off of thematic and turn to the actual mechanics of the class.


Daevas are enough of a departure from Gurus and Viziers that I am glad that I came to them after reviewing the other three. It's harder to relate Daevas to the other two classes, as their mechanics really seem distinct, and perhaps understandably so, as their magic must be scaled down significantly in comparison to their less directly combat oriented akashic cousins. I like how different they are, and this could be considered "akashic light" for anyone not quite ready to dive into the new magic class. I find that this is a strength for the class, and a strength for the akashic concept overall, but it makes me then sad to see how they are less versatile as a concept than the other classes.


In respect to the passions as a class ability, they seem to really open up new choices for players to explore by way of various builds and concepts. The non-wrath passions seem less combat oriented, and it would be nice to see the more of a combat focus expressed through class options. I decidedly like the way that passions work as a feature, and can only wish to see more expressed to make the class feel more full.


Feats seem to be standard for the akashic classes, with no real overlap, and no new entries, though that isn't a bad thing. The feats seem to be more geared towards helping to multi-class, and that really appeals to my inner class tinkerer.


But the strongest point of the Daevas so far is the selection of chakras. Here is where the class comes into its own, and I almost wish that I could divorce the thematic passion choices from the class (or otherwise mitigate them) so that I could feel more free to build a kick ass Daeva that could really shine in combat. I'm pleased to see that chakras feel useful and direct for combative characters, really exhibiting the strength and versatility of the new magic system. I'm curious to see if this class received more development, as it is poised to replace Magus as my favorite combat class.


This book complements the other akashic offerings in a very interesting way, giving us a full rounded set of akashic classes. In effect, my biggest complaint is perhaps a lack of options, and some sort of "Akashic Unleashed" or perhaps updates to the class might even remove this complaint entirely. I give it 4 stars!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Akashic Mysteries: Daevic
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Akashic Mysteries: Guru
by Ismael A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/06/2015 17:14:46

Once again, for full disclosure, I have received a review copy.


I am very impressed with the Akashic Guru. There seems to have been a special love poured into the design of this class, as it does everything that it sets out to do in spades.


The writing is good, and I didn't notice any errors.


But to dig into the meat of this class... I have to say that I was a little skeptical at first. The basic premise that you would have a class that uses non-lethal damage as a core assumption is tricky. It also relies a lot on status effects that may not affect every creature. My fears were readily assuaged.


And that's the most impressive part of this class; it is not a one trick pony. For a martial class (and an unconventional one, at that), it does a great job of giving enough tricks to make them stand out. When they are able to leverage their specialty, they can significantly impair their opponents without killing them, which I think is damned cool. The only problem I see with this approach is that the nonlethal aspect of the class might be overshadowed by overzealous party members, but it's not a problem that detracts from the class being effecacious and awesome.


I do like that the Guru can eventually damage constructs, though I would have liked a similar exception for undead, even if it would have been at an even higher level.


The Guru does a lot of interesting things, and they get even more varied and interesting as you pay attention to the philosophies. Their ability to invest into the Gentle Touch ability makes them potent status inflicting bad asses, and the abilities that tie in with Stunning Fist almost overshadows Stunning Fist itself, which is actually a good thing.


The ability to bind chakras is similar to the Vizier class, which I reviewed previously, so I won't go into much detail, but the plethora of tricks available there adds a vast quantity of potential to someone worried that they will simply charge and swing a weapon.


While I wonder whether the Guru ability to dispel magic continuously (including other veils) MIGHT be slightly overpowered, it does introduce a kind of dichotomy of power in which a Guru could fit into an ecosystem as an anti-mage, which the fighter can sort of fit into, but not as effectively as they should.


The various philosophies are great, filled with flavor and potency, and almost make the Guru feel like three classes (which may or may not be a good thing, I think it is good). The Akasin leans more towards Paladin, but is distinct enough to sound like a compelling class to take if you want to be a magical healing warrior monk.


The Sineater seemed like an odd choice at first, but is both thematically sound, and mechanically interesting. Here the Guru really becomes an interesting game of resource management in a way that does not turn into a number crunching slog. You hope to suck sin away so that you can use some expensive but awesome abilities. Maelstrom of Sin is an especially fun ability that I would spend whole minutes describing during a battle scene, were I a player using the Guru.


Vayists are even more interesting still, being a true protector in a way that few martial classes can match. I love their thematic, and I love the ways that they can really play up defense and protection, but I just wish that there was a better way to regain essence, as the Sineater philosophy does. They do regain essence from attacks that target and miss them, and I might be underestimating the tendency for that to happen, but I have spent too much time in Pathfinder to know that classes that wear light armor can't rely on not being hit.


Feats again are similar to the Vizier's, so I won't review them. They still rock for multi-classing, and I am even more excited about the prospect of a Guru multi-class. I don't even know what I'd do with a Vizier/Guru, but I'm sure that it'd be awesome.


The veils are again similar to the Vizier, though there are a number of Guru only veils that are equally impressive. I say again that the toolbox that this class has may seem truncated at first compared to a wizard, but the veils really do a good job of presenting an intricate but intuitive system for magic that complements the Guru perfectly without feeling overpowered.


Aerial Nimbus is awesome, and I get the reference. I'll admit, it's cool.


Overall, the veils are a wonderful toolbox of interesting effects that make the Guru (and all Akashic disciplines) an interesting.


The Guru steps outside of the purely martial, being a true warrior of mercy that can impact the battlefield without being lethal, and that makes me happy as a player, a GM, and a freelance designer.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Akashic Mysteries: Guru
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Lords of the Night
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/06/2015 07:29:29

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive book clocks in at 82 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 78 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Before I dive into this massive book, let me ramble for a second: As quite a few of you know, most people looking for a convenient label for me, would describe me as either a nerd, a metal-head or as a goth - most of the time, any combination of the above is utilized. It should hence come as no surprise that I'm into vampires - like, a lot. Okay, one may speak of an almost unhealthy obsession with the mythologies - from strange real-world myths to literature, I have read more on the feasters of blood than on any other fantastic creature. I also have probably spent too much time properly analyzing Dracula and similar early vampire fiction like Varney, constructing different interpretations and weighing the pros and cons of academia's diverse readings.


Indeed, vampirism, from the very earliest childhood on, has always exerted its allure in a disproportionate fashion on me. The imagery of Snow-White, the longing for immortality and the blending of Eros and Thanatos, the imagery of blood - it resonates deeply with me. Where many of my friends enjoyed the tales of Raistlin and his fellows or enjoyed the adventures of Elminster, my true (anti-) hero of old, my favorite old-school character, bar none, will always remain Strahd Von Zarovich. No, not the horribly butchered one from 3.5's Ravenloft-rerelease by WotC, but the classic one that Arthaus kept alive (in a figurative sense) in theme and tone before their license was revoked. And yes, if you have to know - for me, the end of the superb 3pp-Ravenloft-line was a crippling blow of significantly higher proportions than the soon-to-follow sundering of the realms via the spellplague. (If you didn't care about either and considered the other takes superior- I don't judge, mind you.)


I have hence played Ravenloft for over 10 years of my life and expanded the mythology of the setting in a huge amount of forms, not the least of which would be a vast array of vampire-strains - beginning with conversions of just about all VtM-bloodlines, I worked my way through mythology to create the super-powerful, highly lethal foes I wanted. Yes, I am opinionated regarding vampires. I, for example, believe that PFRPG nerfed them too much. I furthermore believe that playing vampires is awesome, but also an issue, since it poses an essentially unsolvable conundrum when used in any vanilla d20-based game.


The conundrum I'm talking about, is the Buffy-issue. Vampires are awesome because of the cool things they can do - their speed, supernatural powers, etc. - essentially, they constitute an eroticized power-fantasy that resonates with the ID. The issue begins, when, like in the serialization of Buffy, the vampire becomes a common adversary or an anti-hero. We have an issue of narrative cohesion - while playing a troubled character or anti-hero allows us to delve into the notions that exert the fascination of vampires in the first place, ultimately, it necessarily undermines a foundation of the shared experience that is inherent in roleplaying when such a transformation is singular and not a phenomenon provided without distinction to all players. In more direct terms - if only one player gets the cool toys and power, the others will be fed up. If the vampire is hamstrung by being balanced in a traditional notion against the mortal races, the experience will necessarily feel like a bland caricature of what we truly want out of playing a vampire. It is due to this conundrum, that VtM, for example, assumes all-vampire groups as a default...and it is this endeavor of enabling the full-blown vamp-experience that makes mastering for a mixed-clan coterie, with all disparate passions and allegiances exacerbated by vampirism's tropes such a colossal pain in the rectum. Yes. I've been there. Good ole' WoD - R.I.P.


So this is the general issue that is the base underlying problem faced by this book. A second issue would be, akin to VtM, the necessity of establishing the psychology and social structure of the vampiric society - essentially, here, the book takes a good look at Vampire and translates the crucial enablers for vampiric roleplaying, for establishing a believable society, into PFRPG: From the taboo of one's lair to the importance of the masquerade, here called "occultation" to matters of respect, the vampiric mindset and the rules governing the society of the night are covered -as is the process of siring new vampires (which, as per this book, costs XP) and the impact of vampires in the lightless depths of the underdark.


How does this book, then, depict vampires? Well, first of all, it treats vampirism as an acquired template - the only imho feasible way to handle the transformation - at least from my experience as I've used this particular set-up in my game, offsetting the benefits of the template versus other story-based rewards I handed out to the non-vampires in the group. Vampires as depicted herein gain darkvision 60 ft or extend it by 30 ft., get primary natural vampire fangs and, when used to damage foes that contain blood, provide 1/2 the damage-value as temporary hit points that stack with themselves, up to 1/2 of the maximum of the vampires hit points, lasting for 1 hour. Yes, this essentially provides a means to add 1/2 your hit points temporarily. Vampires also receive channel resistance +4 and may choose from several SPs - disguise self, charm animal and person (later also monster), an animal companion at class level - 3 or two claws - which, I assume, are primary weapons as per the claw standard - still, would have been nice to note, since there are different claw/claw/bite-combo-precedence cases. These claws can also enhance the temporary hit points, which renders them extremely strong when compared to the SPs with their limited daily caps. I encourage GMs using this book to eliminate the temporary hit point gain via claws for PCs to maintain balance. Vampires as depicted here cast no shadow or reflection and suffer from the Thirst - this can only be slaked via blood ingested via the bite, with a paltry 10 hit points per night being enough to slake the thirst for another night - nasty at low levels, but pretty soon inconsequential. Vampires exposed to sunlight do not perish as per these rules, instead being exhausted and taking a -4 penalty to all level-based variables. Furthermore, vampires have to choose one of several weaknesses - vulnerability to holy symbols, a weakened physiology, +15% fire damage (odd - PFRPG usually does not use +1/4 regarding damage factors...)...or Arithmomania, in a homage of our Sesame Street's good ole' count. Vampires get Str, Int, Wis or Cha +2 as well as Bluff and Diplomacy +2 and clock in at a total CR +1. It should be noted that, thankfully, optional restrictions to sapient life have been included as rules-alternatives.


Yes, the vampire is strong as presented here - but the pdf acknowledges this and suggests a whole-vampire campaign as the default modus operandi - and concisely presented modifications regarding playing characters sans Con-score are provided.


Death's Kiss, the mark of transformation, also is properly represented. Obviously, sooner or later, one will be tempted to streamline the process of feeding in such a campaign - this is handled with a skill-check of Bluff, Stealth or Survival-check versus DC 15 + the Alert level. (Though personally, I would disallow e.g. Survival in a Metropolis and Bluff in a wasteland...) Success provides 5 hp worth of feeding, + 5 per point the DC was exceeded. Failure increases a settlement's Alert Level by +2. The alert-system, one of the coolest mechanics introduced here, ranges from 0 to 10, with 0 representing peace and 10 meaning full-blown manhunt. Alert Level is increased when provocations are witnessed - these would be sightings, strange occurrences, etc. - a total of Alert Level occurrences raise the level by +1 - an Alert level of 4 is raised to 5 after 4 provocations. Now the intriguing thing here is that settlements with e.g. dark secrets, superstitious places etc. react differently and that this system actually interacts with the settlement statblock rules utilized in PFRPG - and yes, alert levels and infractions of vampiric occultation are all covered, including concise definitions of the alert level-groups with proper rules-ramifications -if you're a vampire, you better learn your spycraft and cover-ups... Settlement size also features into this general notion - so yeah, this system should be considered a prime addition to this book and from what I have gleaned, the modifications of the respective levels are sufficient enough to make vampires want to avoid mobs...


Further observations for vampire campaigns go into a level of detail I did not expect, including "coming out" as a vampire - and yes, I used this analogue consciously as a note towards the homoeroticism that is just as much part of the vampiric subtext as that of hetero-normative erotica.


At this point, let me comment on a peculiar tidbit - I actually have seen the pre-alpha of this book, the very first iteration of it and thus have a in-depth insight into what has changed. A couple of times so far, I have mentioned explicitly "in PFRPG" or "changed" - this was no lapse on my part. Indeed, this book began as the PFRPG-conversion of Green Ronin's nice 3.X-resource "Fang & Fury" - though, quite frankly, this book does not have much in common with it any more. Where the pre-alpha I provided basic feedback (essentially: "Get this back to the drawing board.") pretty much was defined by a point-by-point-conversion that missed the more subtle changes in design philosophy (and average quality), the authors have since then gone and utterly changed this whole beast - this has just about nothing to do with its predecessor and the book is infinitely better off for it!


For once, would you like to play a vampire's equivalent of a paladin? The Nightguard archetype would be just what you're looking for - essentially, this is a great representation of the fallen knight that clings to a rigid code of conduct, yet still sees his abilities changed, with more and more nemeses replacing mercies. The Frenzied Slayer Barbarian archetype is interesting in that the frenzy they exhibit is Dex-based.


The pdf also provides PrCs and I'm not talking about updates of the exceedingly lame ones from Fang and Fury - greater vampires get d8, 4+Int skills, 2 levels of class feature progression 3/4 BAB-progression and good Fort- and Will-saves - the 5-level PrC is essentially a vampiric paragon class that allows for more vampiric powers, attribute upgrades, mist form - what you'd expect. I like it! The Lethe Adept, at 4+Int skills, d8, !1/2 BAB, Fort- and Will-progression and 7/10th manifesting progression, would be the psionic PrC contained herein. Lethe Adepts may feed via the causing of mental ability-scores and are superb puppeteers and mind-control specialists - at high levels, they may literally will their "hollow puppets" to die as a capstone. No save, just a HD-cap. Ouch. Awesome!


Sussuratori would be, flavor-wise, the secret-keepers and police of the vampires - essentially the enforcers and information control guys and gals - at full BAB-progression, 1/2 Fort- and Will-save progression, 5 maneuvers known and 3 maneuvers-readied as progression - yes, this would be a Path of War-PrC. At d8 and 4+Int skills per level, Sussuratori are masters of bringing their prey in alive and striking silently. Rather annoyingly, the alignment-based bonuses "axiomatic" as a lawful version of "holy" can be found here - considered them clunky and superfluous in Path of War, still consider them bad design here. But that is just me being cranky. This general level of crankiness is quite frankly offset by some of the coolest abilities ever - like preparing a special coffin, into which your subdued prey is then teleported. Awesome for extractions! Just as the increased nonlethal damage output that may silence its victims. At the same time, I can nitpick this ability- it is not codified to act as a conjuration [teleportation]-ability, which hence makes it RAW impossible to counter or prevent. Oh well, the capstone allows them to pronounce encounters anathema - accounts shrivel, people can't talk about it - talk about a conspiracy of silence. Obviously, the power-level here is geared towards Path of War, so the usual disclaimer applies due to the system - theme-wise, the PrC is just ridiculously awesome - to the point where I'm going to scavenge the friggin' hell out of it for my home-campaign...


The 5-level Black Templar has 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-save progression, d8, 2+Int skills per level and full veilweaving progression - yes, this also has new fodder for the extremely promising akashic mystery-system. The class allows for a touch attack of 1d8 per class level +Con-modifier. Yes, Con, for they are per default assumed to be the living who steal essence from their foes alongside the temporary hit points gained. The class may expend these hit points to generate debuff zones and transform foes defeated via essence burn into zombies under his control.


This ability is as problematic as you'd expect it to be - for one, this fails the kitten-test HARD. Secondly, the stolen temporary essence allows for the continuous maintenance of an unlimited essence-burning option of up to twice the character's level - level, mind you, not class level. Granted, they only last for class level + Con-mod minutes, but the ability still pretty much allows any PC with a bag o' kittens a massive advantage. Yes, this PrC is evil-only, but in the hands of an evil PC...ouch. Take a look at the essence available, the ONE limiting factor of Akashic classes.


EDIT: I'm only human and I firmly believe in OPENLY standing up for my mistakes, so there you go: My original review got one thing wrong - the Black Templar's temporary essence caps at 2 times the class level, which renders my original statement of escalation hyperbole. So let me state this loud and clear - I made a mistake and profusely apologize for this. Thankfully, my players did not make this mistake when we played -they never drained more than two kittens in the sample adventure I ran this in. Once again: Mea Maxima Culpa!


No, you do not only get essence for touching akashic creatures or characters. One touch, at fifth level, nets you 5 essence, which means that 2 kittens net you the 10 temporary essence you require. That would be 12 seconds for this charging, which, provided a halfway decent Con-score, leaves enough room to annihilate your foe. So, the only other class features and options that provides temporary essence would be Bloody Shroud's body-bind and the guru's capstone ability Immortal Essence - but that one's temporary essence only lasts for Wis-mod rounds and requires the expenditure of stunning fist via the sever the flow-ability, making it limited. So, where's the issue? Essentially, the set-up for akashic classes is one of resource-management: They are balanced by making the player's choice matter - essence burn is nasty and is a choice that decreases the otherwise pretty flexible and awesome resources of the system: Essentially, you can go with passive benefits or get the more awesome, burn-powered effects - but for that, your resources for the day slightly decrease, meaning you can't perform it all the time. Even a one-level dip into this class allows a Black Templar to bypass this via a readily available array of essence to be expended sans repercussions. Michael Sayre has pointed out that the PrC does not gain essence per se and this is indeed a limiting factor, though it's one that merits specific mentioning once the Akashic supplemental material hits sites, since e.g. psioncis and spellcasting treat this kind of interaction with a PrC differently. I maintain, though, that this is less of a problem that one should assume - since burn can be completely relegated to the temporary essence and since temporary essence can easily, quickly and more reliably regained in combat than with the guru's capstone and lasts longer to boot, this PrC still gets rid of this limiting factor, making it possible to maintain the existing veils more persistently.


These guys may also infuse devastating poisonous essence into their adversaries and finally, make their undead permanent. A nasty PrC indeed and one I'm a bit weary off - the touch attack's significant damage, when combined with e.g. the guru's damage-output, can result in levels of damage that are rather nasty. In short - I consider this PrC pretty broken in a variety of ways and won't allow this for mortal PCs unless in a vampire campaign to even the odds and I hereby warn GMs of the combo-potential of this one - it's not bad or broken in every context, mind you, but it can pretty easily be made VERY, very nasty and highly problematic.


The pdf also provides a significant array of feats to customize your vampire - from closer semblance to the living to enablers - i.e. influencing undead with bardic performances, adding bites to initiated strikes, ignore the mind-affecting immunity of undead - the feats generally provide nice ways of evening the playing field for the undead. Essentially, the feats here are enablers, i.e. feats that render abilities valid in a context where they otherwise wouldn't be. I like that.


However, personally, I am not a fan of the "ignore immunity"-type of design; it also brings me back to my first campaign, where multiple ignore/don't ignore-effects stacked and stockpiled - a solution that utilizes scaling via HD, e.g. HD+4, would have rendered these imho better balanced and made them feasible for regular campaigns -as written, the content herein fits within the framework of Lords of the Night, but beyond it, I'd be weary of quite a few of them, for example From faking death to undead companions - the concepts are solid, so please do not get the wrong impression here.


Next up would be a new martial disciplines for the Path of War-system practiced by the organization Scales of Mourning - the Unquiet Grave. The Scales of Mourning is interesting in that it actually provides an oath of initiation - you trade one of your disciplines for Unquiet Grave as a consequence of initiation into the order. Oh, and you become immortal (ceasing to age etc.) when joining this order...but only for as long as you maintain your oath. And this one is intriguing - essentially, they perceive the duality of life and death, positive and negative energy, as a necessity and thus try to keep the two forces in balance, which may pit them versus necromancers...or use them to counter the balance of rampant growth via positive energy. Harbingers, mystics, stalkers and warlords may learn this discipline and the associated weapon groups would be axes, natural, polearms and scythes, with the relevant skill being Knowledge (religion). I love this fluffy introduction and the themes evoked here.


The discipline is different in a selection of unique ways. For one, strikes are supernatural abilities and may be expended to utilize negative energy to heal the undead for 1d8 points per expended strike. Quite a few maneuvers have second effects that are only executed if the initiator is undead - these would be marked with "Grace Call," though the initiator has control on whether or not to have this additional effect work. Several of the maneuvers grant temporary hit points that stack with themselves (urgh) and other maneuvers, up to a total of +1/2 the initiator's maximum hit points, for up to one hour. Stacking with itself is a pretty straight and imho unnecessary deviation from how default sources of temporary hit points work, so yeah, not sold here. It should also be noted that the expenditure of strikes, with them being an unlimited resource, allows for the infinite healing of the undead - which is NOT something I'd allow - even in a high-powered vampire-campaign.


Let me go on a slight tangent here - one of the crucial flaws of Path of War and, to me, the most jarring one, worse even than failed kitten-tests, was never the damage-output. Yes, the system offers a low optimization threshold,. Yes, the damage is massive. But for certain campaigns, this system, as mentioned in my reviews of its files time and again, is just what the doctor ordered. And its basic system is FUN. While I'm no fan of the utterly easily exploitable skill-roll versus X-mechanics, this is still something that may not feature as problematic in certain campaigns, while in others, it can wreck all kinds of havoc. However, more so than the design sin that failed kitten-tests will ALWAYS remain, the infinite healing exploits are just horrible, and I will fight anyone on that. Healing is a limited resource in PFRPG - and in every game I participated in, for that matter. Killing the limitation on it radically changes the game and invalidates the assumptions regarding encounters per day, adventure structure, etc. In regular Path of War, the exploits at least require some levels and skill to pull off - not much, granted, but still. Here, it's the basic feature of the discipline. first level infinite healing. For groups, if you're playing all vampire/undead.


Interestingly, the discipline actually works pretty well in non-vampire games that does not sport characters healed via negative energy - in the hands of a non-dhampir etc., this discipline's broken infinite healing can mainly be used to stitch the minions of your necromancer buddy together - which is okay. The problem is, however, that both the vampires to which this is devoted and a certain number of races do not suffer from this restriction.


Here, we have a discipline that allows a first level vampire initiator infinite healing - as well as ALL non-undead characters in the group. If you combine this with any option (and there are quite a few) that allows you to transfer HP to allies, and you have infinite healing for the whole group, even mortal PCs. You are welcome to differ in your opinion, of course, but as far as I'm concerned, infinite healing is BROKEN in ANY campaign, even in (most) superhero-power-level-style ones. Even for a single character, much less talking about a whole party.


Yes, combat-utility is limited, but this still means you go fresh and fully rested into just about every battle. So, a GM in a less extreme campaign is left with either a gentleman's agreement or a mechanic that negates some very basic balance-assumptions of the game. Sure, if you're all about waltzing over your foes, this is fun - but I can wager that, for many groups, this utterly breaks the game, the challenge and thus also, the fun.


"The following section presents a new martial tradition and martial discipline, both of which are suitable for any campaign." is the intro of the maneuver section - and this is, quite frankly, horribly wrong. Infinite healing is not something "suitable for any campaign." And seriously, this breaks my heart, because I actually like Unquiet Grave. Yes, didn't see that coming now, did you?


Okay, so how do the maneuvers of the discipline fare? Extremely well. No, seriously. The imagery is glorious. Temporary hit points via attacks may be nice - but what about the gravekeeper's hood-boost that temporarily makes you immune to blindness? Yeah, damn cool visuals - though, on a nitpicky side, channel resistance increased as offered by its Grave Call usually have a "+" before the increase - but minor hiccups like this do not impede the functionality of the boost or my final rating.


I also enjoy negative energy resistance (or positive energy resistance for the undead!) - or what about a counter that temporarily shrivels your anatomy, revealing the skeleton beneath, while also granting you DR 5/bludgeoning? I'm a bit weary of a 3rd level strike temporarily preventing ANY healing on a failed save, though. A stance that prevents you from being slowed too much by mimicking the unshakeable determination of revenants would also be awesome. While I love the imagery, the Headsmen's Descending Strike can be considered problematic - if your foe is below 1/4 maximum hit points, this one means save-less insta-death. Yes, in a fight versus e.g. a dragon, this strike can be terribly anti-climactic. 6th level imho is too soon for this power - I would have expected it at 8th level, the soonest. Still, there is a LOT to like -for one, no skill versus AC attacks. Additionally, the imagery resonates with me and is awesome in many cases. Indeed, were it not for the infinite healing exploit, I'd consider this the best, most balanced and interesting discipline created so far - the additional effects and tactical dimensions offered by the Grave Call are absolutely awesome. So yes, I will use this...and ignore the hell out of the infinite-healing-option.


The book also sports an array of different spells and powers the undead will indeed cherish - positive energy resistance (or healing inhibition), belching forth clouds of negative energy, emitting blazes of sunlight - some pretty nice options. Making it hard to communicate the contents of a text? Now that is interesting, as is temporarily making the undead come to life again - but with their undead personality intact... What about dissipating into a swarm of bats to move stealthily around, Castlevania Lords of Shadows II-style, interestingly, as a transmutation spell? Now the letter is awesome, but it does have some minor issues - as written, the spell allows for the caster to teleport via the bats, when obviously, line of effect would be required - essentially, the spell would allow, RAW, to get past walls of force, when from the fluff, the ability to move to the area should be required as a caveat. Vascular Snare is interesting - as a 3rd level spell, it reduces a creature's movement to 0 on a failed save, as veins tie it into place. Ripping the target free is possible, but deals 1d6 untyped damage per CL, cap 10d6. The reduced AoE and means to not rip free keep this a balanced and interesting option, though the spell would have benefited from a proper definition whether it can be cast on flying or swimming targets not in contact with the ground - a slightly more precise target-line would have made this perfect, though, admittedly, this would be a nitpick.


The new powers contained herein are similarly themed around the theme of acidic blood and delightfully gory visuals - the 5th level power Kyria's Vascular Disruption, for example, lets the target erupt in a spray of blood, which then congeals into a disgusting, entangling web. I love this power, though the entangling effects of the blood should allow for a Ref-save to negate for the creatures in the AoE. What about a power that allows you to essentially create a contingency stored power to reflexively strike back at your foe? Yeah, pretty damn neat! Of course, an occultation-enhancing power would also be here. The best thing about this section remains something different: Jade Ripley's Wilder-supplement went one step too far regarding the power-level of some powers contained within, but was truly distinguished in several design-decisions: First of all, the powers had numerous, interesting augments and the wilder-exclusive surge-augments constituted a design-element that actually made me enjoy a class I considered somewhat weak and bland. Now this book's powers have inherited the augment-option diversity and great concept of surge augments, but their balance actually feels right for the respective levels - strong, yes, but not OP. This section made me a very happy man, for I seriously hate bashing on awesome concepts due to balance-screws being off - this is not the case here. Kudos and two thumbs up!!


Now obviously, the undead have their own need for magic items - sun-negating parasols for the discerning bloodsucking lady, for example. Or what about a blood vault, which allows for the storage of temporary hit points for a later use...but at a certain risk? What about an artifact that can be attuned to a servant - and, upon being slain, the servant dies and turns into...well, you. Nasty and great for recurring villains! GMs will also appreciate this pdf sporting an array of NPC statblocks for the guardsmen - based on heroic classes and WBL - and that is GOOD. Seriously, putting NPC-classes versus vampire PCs will not yield good results, so personally, I very much welcome this decision. And yes, the builds are pretty solid - nice mini-codex.


The pdf goes beyond that, though - the final chapter herein is devoted to an intriguing array of builds of unique NPCs, as it depicts the Leatherworker's Guild, a sample society of the undead with its own rules and power-structures - much like a miniature vampire-subculture in VtM, we are introduced to multiple, well-crafted and pretty interesting factions that vie for control within the guild, all sporting different ideologies ranging from predatory, but somewhat benevolent to indifferent and downright vicious supremacism. The society depicted utilizes the Dreamscarred Press subsystems from Psionics to Path of War and Akashic Mysteries and generally delivers some pretty solid builds for the sample characters featured (ignoring my rules-concerns above since these guys and gals are subject to the GM's control)- but the true star here would be, once again, the fluff: From the mysterious, cloaked reaper that eliminates vampires (or mortals) that compromise the guild to the child-vampire "The Waif" that guards children and brutally destroys any undead daring to touch them, the characters are intriguing. The locations sketched also fall into this category - from the neutral-ground vampire-pub to the friendly mummy-granny, the panorama drawn here can be considered pretty awesome. In fact, if this section managed to make me want to see some modules in this setting. Kudos!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good on both formal and rules-levels - while there are minor oversight snd types here and there (e.g. a missing word or a blank space too much), generally, the formal criteria of the book are nice. Layout adheres to a blood-spattered variant of Dreamscarred Press' two-column full-color standard and the pdf sport quite a nice array of solid b/w-artwork - though you should not expect the level of awesome of the gorgeous cover. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience with nested bookmarks.


When I first read this final version, I was thoroughly surprised - to get that right out of the way: Even if you have "Fang & Fury", this is worth getting - it has next to nothing in common with its "inspiration" - in fact, it is essentially a whole new book. The only things I really missed from Green Ronin's book were some of the delightfully twisted vampire deities, but apart from that, the fluff and content provided herein mops the floor with the direct predecessor.


This book also provides one massive issue for me as a reviewer: How should I rate this?


Okay, let's start with the ugly: We have failed kitten-tests here, beyond the option to only draw sustenance from intelligent beings. With a bag of kittens drained by the vampire, quite a few of the options herein can horribly cheesed. In the spirit of civil debate and since, by now I have ranted long and extensively about this topic, I'd like to draw your attention to Jade Ripley's blog - there, the author provides a well-reasoned justification for ignoring kitten-able abilities. Check it out! This is not intended as an attack, but rather as a rebuttal: It is, of course, a valid interjection to assume that GMs who have an issue with cheesing of abilities like this can easily resolve the issue. My point is, though, that there should not be a need for gentlemen's agreements like this in good design. I'm not sure whether I am a singular case, but I wager I'm not: I want my PCs to succeed, but I also want to challenge them. Now as soon as a player has an ability that can be cheesed via the kitten-test, the temptation of doing just that will always be there - and if it does show up, both the player AND the GM will be inclined to potentially allow it to e.g. prevent a TPK. This psychological pressure put on a group's social dynamic can create lingering resentment by the player, who might feel that the GM has "unfairly" limited his or her options and puts a strain on the GM - who wants his players to have fun. Good design does not generate situations like this and hence, I consider kitten-failures as rather serious design-issues. Your mileage may vary, of course.


This pdf, while having the Path of War-discipline I like best, the one with the most smooth and streamlined and arguably, balanced options, also offers the most bafflingly broken infinite healing exploit I've seen in quite a while. I am quite honestly baffled at the design-decision to mar an otherwise flavorful discipline this way - it imposes a very singular vision of playstyle on a discipline that otherwise would allow for a significantly broader application - essentially, Unquiet Grave unceremoniously shoots itself in the proverbial foot, when it's an excellent sprinter. Finally, the veilweaving PrC...well, I've ranted about this one in the above. There are minor hiccups here and there, but those would be the big issues I see - and they ultimately make this pdf, if one is to read it as a "allow everything" player-supplement, problematic - to the point I'd at the very highest, could go for something along the lines of 3.5 stars - for there are A LOT of downright awesome (and well-balanced!) options herein that make the unnecessary and to me, incomprehensible, issues stand out even more.
So that's how I'd rate this as a player-supplement.


The problem is - this is and is not a player-supplement. It can be read as such, sure.


But it could also be read as a campaign overlay or template as suggested in the beginning. And the book excels in this category in a triumphant fashion - first of all, the balance-concerns vanish since the GM can simply make them NPC-only. Problem solved. Secondly, this book not only is a valuable resource for vampire games: The alert-system provided is simple, easy to grasp, can be modified by any halfway decent GM and could just as well be used for lycanthrope-games or any gothic horror/dark fantasy campaign. The visuals of the new spells and powers and their effects allow you to create a grittier setting when used properly and the book continues to provide solid adversary-watchmen and an inspired vampire society. The fluff of this book is surprisingly captivating and compelling. While personally, I'll make the required 10 hp per day versus the thirst multiplied by the character's level to represent an increasing requirement of food for older vampires, that is just my personal taste and the fact that the system supports this is nice. Personally, I think summoned creatures, the easiest way to cheese the thirst, should be exempt from being valid options to slake one's thirst, but that is pretty much the only gripe I have against the basic system here. Conversely, one can take a page from Vampire and have certain vampires require noble blood, etc. - all these options are supported by a solid rules-frame.


So how did Jade Ripley and Alex Clatworthy respond to the Buffy-conundrum? Well, by making this a campaign-overlay. The vampires here are VAMPIRES. They are not nerfed losers, they are badass, strong and deadly - and hence, the basic assumption is that of a corresponding campaign. Now mind, you, I playtested this book quite extensively, with the subsystems and my complaints regarding infinite healing and the above issues remained valid in that context. However, at the same time, the alert-system and rest of the content - it's, in one word, superb. As a GM's toolbox, this book constitutes the by far best "Play a vampire"-book for any d20-based system I know. In fact, I like this book so much that I really would love a proper vampiric AP utilizing these rules.


If you modify this book's content and file off the few, but jarringly problematic pieces of content, you will quite frankly receive an absolutely awesome source-book to play the lords of the night. In fact, as a person and someone with his own fair share of design-experience, I will simply modify the problematic pieces - a task of ~10 minutes and what I get is an absolutely stellar, inspired resource. For me as a private person, there's no way around it - this resource blew me away. I really am inspired by it. As a private person, I can definitely recommend this...with one caveat:


For one, the veilweaving rules are still in the process of being tweaked. While promising to be perhaps one of the most awesome resources ever, this pdf's PrC, at least as written, provides some utterly nasty options that break the system's limiting factors. I am convinced infinite essence burning provides significant issues with a system that otherwise is on a great way to becoming an awesome, balanced option -essentially, it makes essence burning infinite (Go ahead, look at easily regained temporary essence in Akashic Mysteries - note something?), something that directly contradicts the very notion of the decision to use essence burning in the first place - indeed, this provides more easily regainable essence than a class capstone. In the end, this PrC makes an akashic class behave like a path of war class, sans the system-inherent inhibitors and with the greatly escalated power-level that is NOT inherent in AM. Akashic Mysteries designer Michael Sayre has commented on the Black Templar on my home page, among other things pointing out a crucial glitch in my review, so thanks for that! I still maintain that the PrC undermines the system itself and is pretty problematic, though.


Secondly, as mentioned above, I strongly urge MOST GMs to tweak Unquiet Grave if they include it in their campaign, even within the paradigm of Path of War - unless they don't mind vampire initiators with infinite healing...and groups with infinite healing. I don't judge, if that's how you roll - but quite a few GMs out there will not like this. The discipline's easy access to significant temporary hit points on its own already is strong enough -I playtested it sans the infinite healing and it played just fine with the other Path of War material.


Both components have one thing in common: They may fit a certain style of campaign. But put them into the hands of any halfway decent min-maxer and you'll suffer. Again, this may very well be within the paradigm of your campaign. If your players smash through most published modules anyway, you'll want to keep a close eye on this book and make sure these components stay far out of the reach of your players. If, of course, your campaign is pretty high-powered anyways and you have no issues with one-shot BBEG-kills and the like, then this obviously won't hurt your playing experience. In short, I do not get, at all, why these options restrict themselves by being more specific than they quite frankly deserve to be. I see a book of great content that could have been the ultimate vampire book for any d20-based game and am a bit frustrated.


But wait...in a way, it still is by far the best take on the subject matter. Necromancers of the Northwest's free vampire rules are okay, but they depict essentially a vampire that is more balanced against the core-races and manage vampirism via racial classes and thus loses some of the badassery of being a vampire. Fire Mountain Games' feat-based vampire-apotheosis may be functional, but personally, I always hated it. I also am not convinced that, even with the modifications mentioned in "Way of the Wicked #7", transition to a vampire-themed campaign properly works there. So in view of these two...yes Lords of the Night is by FAR the best, most compelling, most awesome option available for the subject matter- to the point, where, let me reiterate that, I really would love to see some vampire modules or even a whole AP using these rules. And, once again, a halfway decent GM can customize this book to suit his or her table's unique predispositions. I just wish that was not required, that I could unanimously celebrate and praise this.


Indeed, if this book's few rough edges had been polished off, this would be a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015 - it's that compelling, that well-written, that awesome in its visuals. It gets vampires right. At the same time, as a reviewer, I can't for the life of me, rate this as a perfect book, as something for every table - an inexperienced GM with this book can potentially have a rather rude awakening. I sincerely hope that you, my readers, could draw enough information from this review to make up your own mind about this book and, furthermore, I sincerely hope that you either take my criticism, shrug it off and leave it or appreciate it and avoid an unnecessary pitfall in an otherwise great resource.


Finally, if you're looking for a way to make vampire adversaries as awesome as they should be, if you read this as a monster-ecology for the GM, then you'd once again have one damn lethal, awesome 5 star+ seal book.


So, what will be my final verdict as a reviewer, you ask? Well, on a formal level, I can't rate this as perfect, as much as I'd like to. However, what I can do is to add the sign of my personal appreciation to the book - and add my seal of approval. After careful deliberation, I will average the 3 possible ways and respective ratings for different readings and usages of this book.


So, we have:


-3.5, rounded down if read as an allow-all player supplement.


-5 stars + seal if read as a GM's toolkit/campaign overlay


-5 stars + seal if read as a massive vampire ecology


My final "official" verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars + seal of approval - though I have to round down. Please bear in mind, that in the hands of a capable GM and with oversight, this still can be pretty much THE definite vampire resource as both a campaign toolkit and as an ecology.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lords of the Night
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