Expanded Shaman marks the second book in Open Designs' New Paths series. Anyone paying attention is well aware of how well received the first installment (The Spell Less Ranger) was, and what type of pressure that places upon this book right off the bat. Question here then is, did Marc Radle have another bullet in the chamber? So let us take a look.
Weighing in at 16 pages, with 10 pages of new material, 2 sheets for tracking wildshape and a spirit guide, cover, OGL, credit and ad (which would not fully load in my version of this PDF). Artwork is handled by the talented Rick Hershey, as those familiar with his style can easily recognize from the cover. Formatting follows the dual column, portrait layout with very few editing issues (an occasional extra space, nothing severe), with embedded artwork and tables. My only complaint in regard to layout is that one particular table finds itself with a full page between it and the descriptive text meant to help one read it. Now, granted by now anyone who games should have no issues using the table, but the addition on the breakdown shows an acknowledgement that those new to the game might still need some help (and I applaud that thinking, as at one point we all needed some guidance), and it being so far after the table makes it almost counter-productive.
For those loyal readers of Kobold Quarterly yes, this is that shaman, expanded upon and re-introduced...for the rest of you, it's all here, so you are not missing anything (although I still recommend you start picking up KQ).
At first glance it is far to easy to dismiss this class as another variant druid, when it is far more. There are a few familiar concepts and abilities, but there is more than enough defining concepts as well. Take for instance the Totem Secrets. Essentially working the same as talents, with the PC gaining them at 1st, 3rd and every 4 levels after, we are given 12 to work with at this point. Of these 12, I would truly have a hard time as a PC deciding on what to pick as there are some really interesting abilities here that I would love to play around with...Invisibility, Protective Spirits, automatic stabilization from 0hp if on home plane, see the incorporeal, ethereal etc., Unleash a furious attack 1/day of spirits upon a target dealing force damage, lull into a trance to commune with the spirits and gain a 20 to one Int check...or my personal favorite out of them all, intestinal divination/sign reading – flight paths of birds, sand particles in the wind...a balanced game mechanic to do what we all imagine the shaman does. Very, very cool, with a nice array of bonuses depending upon what form of “reading” is done with this particular talent.
But fear not, there are more class abilities beyond the Totem Secrets, we have the Animal Spirit Guide, Wild Empathy, Woodland Step, Wild Shape, just to name a few before we get to the more class specific...Shaman's Touch – essentially the cure spells starting at light and working its way up progressively as you increase in level, Spirit Dance allows the shaman to call to the spirits to augment their magic via dance (pretty cool story driven concept actually), Spirit Step – shaman can go ethereal as if using ethereal jaunt, and Vision Quest where upon a shaman can release their spirit from their body for a time.
The Animal Spirit Guide, whereas is pretty class specific, felt a great deal to me like the druid's animal companion, and was one of the reasons I think I kept looking at the shaman looking for the similarities, and differences. 16 base statblocks are presented covering 24 different potential animals that the shaman can pick through, with choices ranging from predatorial birds to manta rays. The list felt more designed for the min/maxer to me, as almost every animal on the list is one with an attack, one would not see as a waste on a character sheet. When I think of shamans, and their guides, I think of the turtle, the rat, the mantis. Animals who, traditionally have been presented throughout fantasy as having something to teach. Not that I am entirely knocking the animals that are here, as they are decent choices, I just would have liked to have seen a few less “combat friendly” choices is all. The spirit animals of course come with their own list of cool abilities, being the very reason one wants them in the first place, lol. Everything from delivering your touch spells to acting as an intermediary to the spirit realm, going incorporeal and granting bonus spells. The options for the spirit guide in regards to abilities is pretty decent and gives plenty of options to handle a variety of builds.
We are given three archetypes, the Elemental, Primal and Medicine Doctor. The elemental, you guessed it, is more attuned to the elemental forces, and swaps out the animal spirit guide for an elemental one, as well bonus spells and their wild shape being one of an elemental. The primal gives up some spell-casting with a smaller quantity of spells daily in exchange for an enhanced wild shape (that comes with a built in healing that is freaking awesome), as well as primal dance – altering the spirit dance to augment the wild shape ability instead of spell-casting. The witch doctor goes the other route, diminishing their wild shape in favor of more spells and a closer relation to the spirits. The witch doctor and primal both have separate tables showing spell progression.
New spells come in the form of Elemental Blast – exactly what it says, Rain of Fangs – yeah, again exactly what it says, very cool visually speaking, and River of Moonlight – transfix opponents with a line of moonlight shaped by you as you choose, hanging before their eyes in the air.
We end with four new feats, Extra Wild Shape, Improved Shaman's Touch, Practiced Spirit Dance and Prolong Spirit Dance. The first two are pretty self explanatory, the practice feat allows you to pull off the 3 full round spirit dance in 3 move actions and requires you to take prolong, which extends the spirit dance an additional 2 rounds. I am assuming this wording means that the prolong spirit dance feat adds 2 rounds to the duration of the spirit dance's benefit, not the amount of rounds required to do a spirit dance in the first place.
The addition of the two additional sheets to add to a character sheet for the tracking of information for wild shape and the spirit guide are a flat out genius move, and a great way to help sell the idea of trying out the class to someone. Clear, concise and well organized, they would be an easy addition to any character portfolio, regardless of what sheets they are currently using.
So, final thoughts and tally...I liked the class, a great deal. And I owe Mr. Radle an apology, I stated early in this review that Rick Hershey handled the art, failing to mention the Radle piece from the interior. Editorial, it is close enough to perfect to not even merit nitpicking (lol), and the presentation is beautiful. I see from End's review that bookmarks were added, so I re-downloaded my copy to check, and I still have no bookmarks. Material wise, the class abilities have some nice surprises and new favorites for me, but I did think the spirit guides were missing something, more in their variety and the theme of them than anything else. I would have liked to have seen some more specific spells for the shaman class, as well as more feats, but I'm sure someone out there cough Owen cough will do something cough Bullet Point cough about that soon...sorry, had something caught in my throat there.
OK, so balancing my issues with the animal choices for spirit guide against the new options for abilities and over all flavor of the class, as well as the lack of bookmarks, I'm going to settle on a 4 star rating.
edit- I see in the comment threads that the Paizo version has the bookmarks, so I am willing to bet this has been addressed, and am raising my rating a full .5 star, settling at a 4.5 rating.