There’s a certain irony in calling new products for role-playing games “supplements.” That’s because when one hears “a supplement for a role-playing game,” it’s easy to think that it’s something that’ll enhance the “role-playing” aspect of the game, when in fact it’s usually presenting new rules that have little to do with playing a role. In fact, most books are content to ignore that aspect of the game and happily present new mechanics with barely a nod towards actual role-playing. But every so often you find a sourcebook that actually tries to take thing in a new direction…that bends things back towards actually playing the role of your character. Such rare supplements present what can only be called ingenuity.
And from Little Red Goblin Games, we have the Tome of Ingenuity, for the Pathfinder RPG.
Sixteen pages long, the Tome of Ingenuity hits several of the high-water marks for a professional PDF product. It has full bookmarks, albeit fairly simple ones to major sections only. Copy-and-paste is fully enabled. The product’s layout is fairly well-done also; only rarely is space wasted on a page.
The book’s visual design was aesthetically pleasing; the pages are set against a tan-grayish background, and there were several pieces of full-color interior art that were quite stylistic (and certainly a welcome change from what seems like the same recycled packages of stock art that appear in a lot of third-party products these days). It’s worth noting that there’s no printer-friendly version of this book, nor one optimized for other formats (e.g. your e-reader, etc.), but those are forgivable oversights.
After the (helpfully hyperlinked) table of contents, the book opens with a brief introduction, wherein it rather boldly declares that the classes it presents revolve around the creativity of the player, “creating a meta-level of gameplay” for Pathfinder. It’s a rather audacious claim to make, so let’s take a look at what the book offers and see if it backs it up.
The first major portion of the book deals with a new base class, the noble. An opening notation discusses how this class is intended for players who really enjoy getting into character when they play, and that the GM is encouraged to assign bonuses or penalties to their Charisma-based skill checks depending on their role-playing.
The noble is a medium-BAB based class that is a decent combatant, but is a master of the non-combat situation. Their skills and skill points don’t quite live up to the rogue (especially on points), but it’s worth noting that the list could easily have been smaller – a certain subset of skills are highly important to this class, primarily Diplomacy, and the rest take a distant second.
The thematic power that the noble gains, right at first level, is their ability to inflict morale damage. I’ll go over the morale damage mechanic shortly, but here I’ll say that their primary method of inflicting morale damage seems a bit too powerful for me, dealing 1d4 points of morale damage per class level, plus Charisma modifier – it’s limited in that it’s a Diplomacy check versus an enemy’s DC, but pumping up a skill bonus is incredibly easy in Pathfinder. Add that this is a standard action (though it provokes) and can be used an unlimited number of times per day…that just seems too powerful. I’d have brought down the damage and/or limited its uses per day, had I been designing this class.
The majority of the noble’s remaining class powers tend to focus on expanded and improved skill checks, but there are some combat-centered ones, mostly based around further uses of morale damage, and (somewhat oddly) teamwork feats.
The use of morale damage itself is worth mentioning, because the Fourth Edition of a certain popular fantasy RPG has brought this issue front and center. Unlike that game, which has morale damage being simple hit point damage alongside physical damage (and, in doing so, changing the nature of what hit points represent), morale damage in the Tome of Ingenuity is tracked separately, and in most respects is basically the same as nonlethal damage.
I found this to be intriguing, because while it’s a small change it’s also one that just works. When an opponent’s morale damage exceeds their hit points, they’ve lost the will to fight, and basically surrender (though they can defend themselves). Beyond that, there’s a few notes about what creatures it can and can’t affect, but other than that it’s basically nonlethal damage; in fact, I’d have been tempted to just rule that morale damage is nonlethal damage, since the differences are so small, but separating them works just fine as well. As it stands, I’m rather surprised at just how well this innovation functions as its own rule…I just wish the book presented more options to bring it into wider play, but we’ll get to that.
The next new base class is called the skirmisher, and for some reason I had a sort of alternate rogue in mind when I saw this class’s name. In fact, I was wrong, since there’s no easy analogue for what this class offers. Oh, the class’s role is clearly stated to be the guy weaving in and out of combat, lightly armored and cutting a swath through his foes with finesse and guile. So it certainly sounds rather rogue-ish. But in practice, the class is anything but.
A quick glance at its class table shows it looking surprisingly sterile. Most of its class features are bonus feats and expanded ability to score crits. The major inspiration here, however, comes from its Creativity power. This power lets the skirmisher, on an attack roll, voluntarily lower their roll to an adjacent number on the d20 and, if that still hits, gain a special effect based on the new number…presuming they can evocatively describe how they score that special effect. It sounds complicated, but in practice it’s incredibly simple and easy to execute. It’s a power that quite literally demands that the player be able to role-play how his character fights, or the power becomes a liability.
Interestingly, while the skirmisher can use the Creativity power at will, there’s a notation that talks about how ex-skirmishers – which it seems to imply are multi-class skirmishers – take a limitation on how often they can use this power. It’s rather ambiguously worded (which is unfortunate) and seems out of place since Pathfinder did away with multiclassing restrictions. At least…that’s what I thought, until I realized why that particular caveat is there; without it, it’s simply too tempting to dip into one level of skirmisher just to gain Creativity, and then never advance any further in the class.
Following this is a new ten-level prestige class, the kotodama master. For those who don’t know, “kotodama” is a Japanese belief that words have power, regardless of who says them or hears them (at least, that’s my admittedly imperfect understanding). For this prestige class though, which is based around the power of spoken traditionalist values, who hears them is very important.
The kotodama master has a small suite of powers, but the major one is their faux pas ability. This allows them to speak aloud a traditional value, and those who don’t save a value are forced to follow it. Nine such values are given, with things such as “women don’t belong on the battlefield” meaning that female characters cannot directly attack or be attacked, or “men need no comfort” which keeps male characters from regaining hit points. It’s a fascinating concept, and sits well in that virtually any class can take levels in it (though it’s clearly skewed towards being for the Noble base class). My one complaint about the class is that it’s other ability should have been staggered – that is, placed on the even-numbered levels to offset how the faux pas powers are gained at odd levels – which would nicely have avoided this class having four “dead levels” where no powers are gained.
Roughly a dozen new feats follow, most of which serve to boost abilities of the classes presented here. There are some duds though, such as Vixen (giving you a +3 bonus to Diplomacy against male humanoids…why not just take Skill Focus (diplomacy) for more universal results?). This section missed out by not having ways to allow the existing classes in the Core Rules to access ways to deal even a little morale damage (the closest it comes it helping out multiclass nobles deal more), as that mechanic is the one with the widest potential appeal for all characters, regardless of class. It’s an opportunity that wasn’t recognized.
Overall, the Tome of Ingenuity lives up to its name. Oh, it’s an imperfect book to be sure – it has the odd typos and grammatical errors, some sections are slightly unclear in what they mean, neither base class lists their starting wealth, and I’d have retooled some aspects of the classes themselves, but these are all minor issues, and could probably be addressed in an update. What’s far more noteworthy is that these classes do a great job of tightly integrating their mechanics with actual role-playing. From the noble’s bonuses when using cutting words to the skirmisher’s descriptive Creativity, and even the kotodama master’s literal enforcement of conservative values, these are materials that make you get involved in who your character is and how he does things.
What could be more ingenious than that?
[4 of 5 Stars!]