There’s just something about evil outsiders that makes them perfect for an individual spotlight. As the strongest among them have not only a unique form and powers, but also influence on the mortal world, makes them easy to customize in terms of what they can do and what influence they have on your campaign. Hence, it’s no surprise that Super Genius Games has started a new series of products based around them: the Annals of the Archfiends.
The opening product in this line gives us Phosonith the Cruel Charmer, a devil prince.
A relatively short product at just under ten pages, the book opens with a quick overview of Phosonith’s personality – beneficent in public and wrathful in private – before delving into his history. This was somewhat more expansive than I’d expected, as it took two pages to describe Phosonith’s genesis and rise to power to rule the Stygian city of Ess, along with his current sketch. I suspect I’m in the minority in thinking that what was here was a bit much; while I appreciate back-story as much as anyone, this felt somewhat excessive in how much of Phosonith’s history we’re given. This is particularly true as there were other sections I wish were expanded.
Speaking of which, the next section covers some of the influence that Phosonith has. This opens with a section regarding Phosonith in the real world, which cogently notes that he has no real-world equivalent, but rather was inspired by several duplicitous men in real life (though I confess I was rather irked by its noting of Machiavelli’s The Prince as a source – apparently the author, like most people, didn’t realize that that entire work was sarcastic on Machiavelli’s part, and not meant to be taken quite so literally).
Ahem. The book then covers Phosonith’s cult, including the new Duplicity domain, and is a good example of where the book doesn’t nearly go far enough in what it offers. Let’s leave aside the fact that at no point are we told what other domains (or holy symbol, favored weapon, etc.) you receive for worshipping Phosonith, the information on his cult is quite sparse. We’re given a quick overview of the sorts of people who make up his cult, and paragraph of what they do and don’t do, and that’s it. There’s nothing about their tactics, their current plots, not even an abbreviated stat block for a single example cultist that your PCs can interact with. There’s just very little here, and it’s disappointing.
A page is given to how to portray Phosonith personally, and it does a good job in outlining his appearance and methodology, except in combat. True, a character that focuses on a benign façade shouldn’t get into combat very much, but throw the PCs into the mix and it’s likely to happen, so it would have been nice if the author had talked about how to run Phosonith in the event of a fight. As it is, his stat block is fairly impressive (though his SR should be a few points higher), but I was disappointed that the deception-based powers of the Duplicity domain, which help you negate truth- and alignment-based effects, weren’t mirrored in his stat block. It’s hard to believe the flavor text about how Phosonith goes to great lengths to hide that he’s evil when he can’t even defeat a simple detect evil spell.
The book closes out with an overview of the city of Ess, describing twelve locations within its locale. The locations are fairly interesting, but that they’re numbered is a reminder of the fact that there’s no map of the city itself, which is a shame. I can see the practical reason for this, as a custom map costs money, but it’s still a shame. Equally so is the lack of a city stat block (a la the Pathfinder GameMastery Guide) which would be very helpful here as Ess is supposed to be a planar trade town where all sorts of creatures of all alignments are welcome in Hell. There really should be some city stats here, and the lack of them is a weakness in the product.
Overall, the first book in the Annals of the Archfiends line makes some stumbles out of the gate. Having too much material in some areas and not enough in others, this first book shows that it has potential but needs to realign its focus somewhat. There’s some good material here, which makes it easy to see how it could have been great with a bit more tweaking in some areas. Phosonith the Cruel Charmer presents a nice façade, but an ultimately imperfect one.
[4 sur 5 Etoiles!]