Introducing new special materials into the Pathfinder RPG – special materials being the materials you make your weapons and armor from, such as adamantine or mithral – is something of a tricky process. The primary purpose of special materials is usually to overcome a corresponding damage reduction. Beyond that, their uses quickly become niche, though they can still be interesting. It’s with this last thought in mind that Wild Hunt Games brings us Archives of Maere: Forces of Nature.
A 13-page PDF, Forces of Nature portrays itself simply but not inelegantly. It has both a hyperlinked table of contents and bookmarks, which is going the extra mile. I thought it slightly odd that the back cover immediately followed the front cover, but that’s a stylistic choice I’ve seen elsewhere, so I didn’t fault it.
The book’s artwork is totally focused on the new magic item it presents. All except the last item have a single photograph (not illustration; an actual picture) of the item presented below it. I found that interesting, since the pictures ostensibly of something else that the author found; still, it’s impressive to see a picture of an aetherite crow figurine of wondrous power, for example.
The book gives us two new special materials: aetherite and draconium. The former acts as a sort of undead alarm, presenting a bluish mist that drifts towards undead who come near deposits of aetherite. The latter material is highly volatile, and explodes under pressure.
Initially, I looked askance at these materials. Having an auto-undead detector seemed like too much, for instance, until I realized that this wasn’t really presenting anything that a 1st-level detect undead spell didn’t already do (and, in fact, does with better range anyway). Similarly, draconium seems like it could be unbalancing if the player’s start carrying it around as bombs, but they don’t deal enough damage in small doses, and larger ones are impractical to use like that anyway.
Following this are a dozen new magic items (the last of which is a minor artifact) all of which use one of these two new special materials. This lends a nice thematic element to the product that really tied it together. Of the magic items themselves, they were fairly useful, having things like a reusable sunrod that can also heat metal, two new figurines of wondrous power, and a bashing shield that lashes out with fire when used. There are also some pop-culture nods in here, which will either make you grin or roll your eyes (e.g. one of the magic items is called dead lights, for you Stephen King fans). It’s worth noting, however, that the devil’s bombard could probably use some tweaking now that Ultimate Combat is out.
The appendix reprints one spell from the previous Archives of Maere book that the minor artifact uses, and also presents a new cavalier order (see the Advanced Player’s Guide), one dedicated to fighting the undead, which is slightly surprising in that it’s the first time I’ve seen such an order. However, I frowned at their 15th-level ability, which chiefly lets them critical hit undead creatures…despite how, in Pathfinder, undead are subject to critical hits normally. A few points off for that.
Overall though, this installation in the Archives of Maere does fairly well for what it presents. The new materials are in-and-of themselves minor additions to the game, but the use of them in a dozen new items helps to boost their presence; it’s a smart move, and an interesting one as well. I’d personally make these very rare materials that are specific to a certain region of the game world, and I think they’d be a lot of fun that way.