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Mobile Suits
by Jeff C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/11/2020 05:49:38

Would have rated this higher, but I can't in good conscience let this go by. For starters, it refuses to open properly in Adobe Acrobat Reader. Luckily I managed to get it to work with another app, but I shouldn't have to.

Second is the price. $4.99 for 20 pages. I bought another Mecha supplement for a different game that cost a whopping $1.99 for double the page count, better story background, better flavor text, and actually loaded properly. What am I getting for $4.99? Yes, shame on me for not reading the page count. Yes, the artwork is nice. But is it really worth the price?

Last, I have some issues with the game mechanics. To me, it just seems like a re-hash of the Starfinder Mecha rules, which are okay-ish to begin with. There are some neat ideas here, like the different fantasy races takes on mecha. Okay. Cool. The pilot archetype is cool. Overall, the are some gems here. There just needs to be more, in my opinion, for the price.

How to fix? If it were up to me, I'd say cut the price to about a third. Ease up on the graphics or make a printer-friendly version. Add roughly triple the content. What makes a "Mobile Suit" more special? What makes an Elven pilot any different than a Vesk or an AI? We have frame options, but I think there needs to be a massively expanded weapons table, more armor options, more shielding options, movement options... All that cool crunchy stuff that fans love!

Also, there was mention of a different sector. What is the history of mecha in that sector? How is that different from Paizo's canon sector? I think this product is a good start of a supplement, but it needs to be fleshed out considerably.

[2 of 5 Stars!]
Mobile Suits
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The Nagual Roleplaying Game
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/24/2019 08:20:15

An review

The Nagual RPG clocks in at 125 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, ¾ of a page blank, leaving us with 121 ¼ pages, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue because I’ve been waiting for the game for a pretty long time.

All right, after a brief introduction, we begin with the setting information – and this is actually smart, because Nagual’s rules are strongly-founded within the context of the world, which is called “Cali” – meaning “home.” The premise is pretty awesome and not something I’ve seen done before – in Cali, the Mesoamerican cultures succeeded in becoming the dominant cultural hegemony due to their spiritual practices; as such, counting is done in base 20, vertically, with dots on lines. This is reflected in the calendar as well, which knows BC and AC – Before and After Contact, which marks the point where spirits were contacted by mortals. Spirits exist on a higher place and interact with us somewhat akin to how we’d perceive beings in Flatland. Experiencing our world may be desirable to spirits, as there are plenty that seem to enjoy being part of a relic, most commonly, a mask.

These masks are housed in the so-called Nagual (pronounced na’wal), which is also the term applied to the pilots of Nagual – and, as you could glean from the cover, those would be mechas! The mask that houses the spirit reads the pilot’s nerve impulses to control the well-armed suits. This, obviously, radically changes a lot – and it is further complicated by the relatively recent arrival of the Centzon Huitznahua. These are aliens that once exploited spirits and thus have lost the ability to invite them – they attempted to enslave the spirits. These aliens range between 20 – 30 feet and forcibly mutate spirits into themselves. If this sounds like a great set-up to you, then you’d be right. With resonance of Gundam, NGE, Code Geass etc., this had my ole’ otaku heart rejoice.

The book then proceeds to explain the major and minor powers that are present in the world of Cali, and much to my pleasant surprise, all of the notions and movements do receive their own flags! Values, pronunciation, government styles, affluence, landmass and taglines are presented for these nations, which include the Xibalban State, the Toltec Autonomous Region, to the anti-nagual El Mirador, there are plenty of interesting nations here – in fact, I found myself wanting to learn more about all of them.

The world out of the way, we are introduced to a series of cultural leitmotifs – a pilot’s synchronization to the relic is known as harmonizing, and losing harmony below a critical threshold will have it shut down – once again, providing a better in-game justification for the like than most mecha-anime feature. There is, similarly, a brief time where the “eyes are open” and performance goes off the chart, again providing a classic trope of the genre in this context. Another crucial difference is that, in the absence of dominant Christianity or Abrahamic religions, another ethic has developed; one not as likely to think in matters of absolutes or black and whites; however, this also means that sacrifices are considered to be a part of daily life. Human sacrifices, while taboo, are favorites of some spirits, so they do happen – and if your players start balking at some forms of sacrifice, remind them that, in a way, every religion and cultural order features the like.

Relics can be created or found – clever here: Since spirits are from the Nth dimension, artificially created masks are called “syNthetic” – it’s a small thing, but it’s clever and pretty damn cool! Of course, these realities create mask hunters, specialized gladiator games, military altercations – and then, there are the Huitzilopochtli, the global defense against the Centzon threat after ace pilots Hunahpu and Xbalanque defeated the Centzon in the first Centzon War in the planet of Popol Vuh. If you even remotely are familiar with mythology, then this got a beaming smile out of you. It’s small touches like this that suffuse, constantly, this massive tome. Of course, there are bound to be collaborators, and most sub-chapters presented here tend to mention legendary individuals.

It may just be around 25 pages, but Nagual’s basic premise and world-building is absolutely amazing and novel.

But what kind of GAME are we looking at? Well, let us check out the mechanics. We begin with a golden rule – “Whenever rules come into conflict with ‘what is fun’, ‘what is fair’, or ‘what makes sense’ (in that order), the rules should always be regarded as subservient and may be disregarded or altered (either temporarily or permanently). That is to say that the spirit of the rules and the story being told always triumphs over any rules.”

Every player has a deck of playing cards – 52 standard playing cards. When you take an action, you place a card on the table, and anyone affected by the action can attempt to put a card with a higher value atop it – this is called a “response”; lower values or no values mean that the target is affected. Cards used to attack or defend are put in the discard pile. If the deck is empty, you shuffle the discard pile back into the deck, but don’t draw new cards – new cards are drawn at the start of the turn. All characters also have statistics – if the card value played is less than the relevant statistic, you raise the card’s number to that statistic. Essentially, your statistics provide a minimum cap for your cards for specific tasks. If you don’t have a card on your hand, but still want to respond, you’re overwhelmed and draw from the deck, but don’t benefit from this minimum cap.

Cards are ranked from King in a descending order – king beats queen, queen beats jack, etc. – however, ace, while otherwise behaving as a “1”, actually does beat King! In the case of a tie, suit values are compared. Spades are worth most, followed by Heart, then clubs, and finally, diamonds. Very cool for Europeans like yours truly – we get suit-equivalents for German, Swiss-German, French and Italian/Spanish decks! Kudos for going the extra mile here!

The game knows three different statistics – Physical, Drama and Wit. The latter is used for the classic Intelligence-related things, where Drama deals with emotional or logical change. All characters start with 2 in their statistics, and they cap at a maximum of 10. During character creation or advancement, statistics may be improved. Bonuses denote temporary change in a statistic, and they stack with each other. You can always choose to play a card as a lower value than what your card denotes, allowing you to change any card into an ace – however, a non-ace card changed into an ace does NOT trump a king!

Standard hand-size is 5, and you redraw up to this maximum each turn. An ante can be used by a character with great skill in something – it is an extra card you play face down, taken from the top of the deck. After EVERYONE plays their cards, you flip all antes to see if your cards beat the current conundrum. This may sound simple, but it can generate serious tension. Antes gained in abilities stack with one another. The main source of antes btw. are “kudos” if some one does something cool, a player can grant the player a kudos, which means that the receiving player gets an ante. If both cards played are the same, a “push” happens – both players put a card face down, and the card with the lower result (no antes!) loses. NPcs draw from the NPC deck, and there are rules for mooks to mow them down quickly.

The assumes a GM, but can potentially be run without a GM – this requires a specific group to do properly, and personally, I love being the GM, so that’s not a route I’d take, but I figured it’d be worth mentioning. The game has a focus on cooperative storytelling, and as such suggests relegating some of the administrative duties to players – 4 roles are assumed, the fist of which would be the Mind – this person generates the game’s story, establishes the world, etc. – basically, the most classic GM. The Mouth roleplays non-essential NPCs and provides on the spot descriptions; the Heart is the managerial leader allocating spoils of war, settling disagreements, etc., and the Hand controls NPCs in combat – as noted, I can see this work well. Personally, I prefer being the GM and having executive control. 3 additional roles for larger groups are provided as well, but yeah, let’s move on.

The characters are defined by so-called “Ties that Bind” or TTBs – 4 of them; these represent things important for you; once you lose one, you replace it with a ToV – a “tie of vengeance”; if you have no TTBs left, you become “consumed by vengeance” – once more, look no further than e.g. Lelouch Vi Britannia or a plethora of other traumatized pilots from the mecha-genre to check out what happens. Initiative is determined by drawing cards. The game does similarly have rules for redemption-arcs, in case you were wondering.

Distances are grouped in 4 categories – close, nearby, far and out of range; terrain is grouped in zones, and moving from zone to zone requires the discarding of a fixed number of cards, with some qualities influencing this – moving makes you thus more vulnerable, as you have less cards left to attack, and more importantly, defend. Sky, space, etc. are zones, and getting out of a zone that you’re stuck in (like space) costs cards if unimpeded – so yeah, you can end up in dangerous zones. Actions, cover and interaction with the environment are all pretty simple and easy to grasp. Opposed and unopposed actions are simple – in contests, you could, for example, oppose a Wit-based disassembly of your world-view with Drama. Actions do NOT have fixed statistics assigned to them – while defined and featuring a suggested statistic, there may be contexts where social actions work via Physical instead of the Drama standard. It should also be noted that you can discard a card to help an ally during the ally’s turn, meaning that there actually is a combo-engine here!

How does damage work? When you’re hit and take damage, you reduce your hand size by 1. Very few weapons deal more than this 1 damage to your hand. Some things can grant you resistance, which acts as a kind of damage reduction – this is only applied once per point, though. Say you have an awesome armor, 6 resistance points. The armor will negate the first 6 points of damage you’d take – after that, it’s destroyed and must be replenished. You, of course, still have your defense tricks as alternatives.

The game presents a wide array of different weapons, with AoE-damage, suppressed, semi-automatic, penetration and similar properties adding a surprising depth to the loot aspect, one that does not solely extend to the weaponry, with active camouflage, being seaworthy etc. all covered.

I mentioned harmony before, and it actually is roleplaying based – you have a 20% base harmony, and roleplaying in accordance with the nagual’s spirit, you increase harmony by +5% - at 100%, you get the “eyes wide open”-overdrive, which provides vast boosts, but consumes your harmony until you drop to 75%. Additionally, once per scene, the players as a whole may decide for a dramatic break –this costs 20% harmony from all naguals, but they get to play with full maximum handsize, regardless of damage taken; they also recover either 3 damage, add damage, treat statistics temporarily as 8 or get a harmony-boost (yeah, the interaction with the cost is worded in an unambiguous manner.

There’s more: if you choose to, you can wear a mask without a massive mecha attached, becoming essentially more of a Persona-esque character than a mecha pilot – this is basically its own subset of playing options.

Character advancement is handled by EP – equivalency points, which can be used to purchase talents or access to talent trees or to improve statistics. The latter becomes progressively more expensive in a linear manner. Nagual strength is grouped in 5 tiers, and getting a higher tier nagual also costs EP – a LOT of them, in fact; weaponry and the like also costs EP, so from character to gear upgrades, we have EP as a simple and easy to track resource. Rough EP-cost guidelines for the GM/group are provided, allowing for an informed design decision when dealing with them.

EP also determines the intended power level of play by presenting the point-buy budget at the start of the game. In short: There is a surprising depth regarding customization options to be found here.

Talent trees? Yeah, you see, there are 4 classes of sorts – types of pilot. Soldiers get +2 Physical and may reach a maximum of Queen in that statistic. Mavericks get 2 Joker cards, which may be treated as Ace or King; Shamans have 1 + Wit improvements that they may apply to a nagual per day, each of which takes 30 minutes. 4 sample improvements are provided. Finally, there are the Chosen – who get +30% base harmony with the favored unit type. Each character also chooses one favored nagual unit type, and each of these 4 classes of sorts has their own massive talent trees, which feature 3 tiers – tier 2 requires having 3 talents in the tree, tier 3 requires having 7 talents in the tree. Wait, plural? Yep, each of them has actually several talent trees to choose from, to unlock, etc. – these could be easily expanded further, but even as presented, they provide a ton of replay value and differentiation options!

After some GMing advice for the system, we then come to the gear – the nagual. Approximately 35 pages are devoted to them, and alongside stats, we get pretty neat full-color artworks for them. I am pretty fond of the Camazotz design, with its stone-like head atop a bat-winged mecha and the steel-winged Quetzalcoatl, for example. The aesthetic of the mechas is pretty unique because it’s so different. The contrast of stone-like faces and metal bodies is something that took me a while to get accustomed to, mainly because it’s so different, but it does lend a truly unique visual identity to the game. Unless I have miscounted, 13 illustrated base nagual are included, with variants provided for further quick differentiation if simple customizing won’t do.

The game comes with a handy cheat-sheet (3 pages), premade characters for your convenience (18 page pdf) and a simple 3-page character sheet.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting on a formal level are good – I noticed a few typos, but not many. On a rules-language level, the game is precise and does a really good job explaining the game; it strikes a nice balance between basics and details, the sequence of presentation never left me wondering about concepts, and the game constantly uses brief summaries if you just want to get the gist of it – reading them suffices to understand the details. In short: The information is presented in a smart and engaging manner. Layout adheres to a full-color two-column standard and the game features unique full-color artworks that adhere to a unified and distinct aesthetic. The pdf comes with detailed, nested bookmarks for quick and easy navigation.

Scott Gladstein and Ian Sisson have provided something I very rarely get to see – a jamais-vu experience. I have literally never before seen the angle, and I love it to bits. The world of Cali is exciting and novel, and as someone truly fascinated with Mesoamerican cultures, I am smitten indeed. The level of research that went into this is apparent on all sides – regarding myth and culture, and fandom. If you’re saying that mecha-genre tropes and these myths don’t blend, then consider this book to be the sterling refutation of this claim. This book shows a genuine love for culture, world and concept, as well as for the narrative tropes associated with mecha games. Moreover, it lands in this exciting sweet spot. The game is quick and easy to learn and make characters for, and simple enough to explain it to newbies quickly, yet does have a serious depth to it – talent trees, nagual, equipment…you don’t have to engage in in-depth customization and the like, but the options, the mechanical chassis? It’s here, and sooner or later, you will want to take a look.

Unlike many storytelling-focused games, this very much knows that is has to offer some sort of meat on its bones to engage some people out there for e.g. campaign-length play, and Nagual has just that. We have a synthesis of mecha and Mesoamerica, of a storygame that still provides serious mechanical depth – and for that, I love this game. It’s novel and daring, and frankly, I’d love to see videogames, an anime and the like in the world; I’d love to see expansions – just more of it! Nagual is a novel and fun experience I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone who is tired of the same of stories, and to mecha-fans looking for something more than the tropes of an angsty teenager. This is daring and innovative in all the right ways, and for now, I am left with the honor f bestowing upon this 5 stars, my seal of approval, and designate it as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2019. I’m excited to seeing how long-term play with the system turns out, but so far, I’m very much loving this as a change of pace!

Endzeitgeist out.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Nagual Roleplaying Game
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Blood Knight Base Class
by Dylan T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/26/2019 20:01:21

The Blood Knight is a very solid take on the blood magic trope. They’re a D10 full BAB class with a bunch of necromancy themed powers. These powers run off a pool of blood points, magical energy that they get from injuring themselves and others. By default these can be spent to get temporary hit points at a 1:2 ratio or actual hit points at a 1:1 ratio. They can get up to their level in blood points by dealing that much damage to themselves or from others by damage to a living creature with a melee attack. That does mean that a blood knight could hypothetically carry around a bag of rats and murder them for arbitrary amounts of healing. Ordinarily I’d be way harsher on an infinite healing loop like that but it’s thematically coherent and in practice nets you very few hit points. So cheesing the system is impractical from an actual play stand point.

The meat of the class lies in their blood magics, rage power-esque pseudo feats that they get at every third level. These are remarkably well balanced; none of them feel useless or mandatory. The class gets a few other things to round them out, bonus combat feats, 4 level spellcasting, bonus negative damage on attacks, life sense, the power to make weapons out of their own blood, immunity to diseases, and the ability to infect their foes with the same disease that they suffer from. One quibble that I have with the class is that their class feature that allows them to make a weapon out of their own blood has a scaling enhancement bonus to attack and damage rolls, but that bonus doesn’t progress quite as fast as other classes that can give enhancement bonuses to weapons.

The class has three archetypes, blood fangs who focus on unarmed strikes and fever knights who swap out their bonus feats for a sort of sorcerer bloodline kind of thing, and the vampyre who swap the ability to make weapons out of their own blood with the ability to magically rip the blood out of people.

The book closes with a handful of feats, one of which nets you extra blood magics, one of which allows you to make a blood oath to slay a specific creature, and the other two of which make multiclassing from ranger, barbarian, or bloodrager less mechanically painful.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Blood Knight Base Class
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Bokafesh’s Never Ending Dungeon
by A customer [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/06/2018 18:46:21

Bokafesh's Never Ending Dungeon, is a rather unique product. In over thirty years of gaming, I've not seen another product with this premise – it caught my eye. That alone makes it worth the price of admission.

The premise is rather neat. The dungeon begins with a finite size, and has certain properties. By exploring new areas, the dungeon grows. A new sector is generated (choose your options, or use a combination of the charts for inspiration or go entirely randomly selected features), and it retroactively changes all the existing sectors.

The adventure/campaign can be adjusted easily for anywhere from a single session of play to as long as an extended campaign. It was designed for a ninth level party, but has adjustments for lower and higher level characters. There are a number of plot hooks to ensnare our characters into the story.

Exploration will reveal the nature of the dungeon. The characters begin within their first sector, and interact with the environment and the creatures therein. At some point, they discover the connection between this sector and the next. The next sector may be similar, or perhaps radically different, and as an example could be a trade town. The thing is, prior to going there the original inhabitants did not trade with anyone, but having visited the trade sector, there is now a bustling trade between the two sectors – and that is the way it has always been. The retroactive changes won't be immediately apparent, but upon return to a previously visited sector differences will be present and potentially drastic.

I'd probably use this product as and side quest and nest it within another product, rather than run it as an entire campaign, but you could build an interesting setting off of the basis established within and expand it in interesting directions. I especially like that previously known facts can change with exploration, and that the new reality is how things have always been, as far as all the inhabitants of previously found sectors are concerned. That definitely has potential for an interesting setting.

The PDF is 40 pages, including covers, credits and the OGL, which leaves 36 pages of content. The PDF has been divided into sections, including an introduction, several charts to randomly generate a new section (or to use as inspiration to partially randomly generate your own), some premade sectors and information on the mysterious caretakers, and then NPC statistics. The document is well bookmarked, making it easy to navigate. The scans were done well, and the text and diagrams are easy to read. The writing and editing were excellent, as the product is easy to understand, and words are spelled correctly.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Bokafesh’s Never Ending Dungeon
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Alternate Paths: Martial Magic
by Dylan T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/12/2018 12:56:38

Alternate paths: martial magic is a book aimed at making spell casters, particularly arcane spell casters more competent battlefield combatants. The book begins with a plethora of alternate rules to help GMs achieve this end. The first of which is the suggestion to do away with arcane spell failure chance entirely and follows up with a few suggestions on how to mitigate this advantage. The options presented are drastically different in terms of tactical effectiveness with one increasing the casting time for spells forcing you to throw away the AC bonus you get from your armor on each turn you cast a spell, which IMO should be all of them. My biggest issue with this is that this is presented as some sort of massive overwhelming advantage, but spell casters have always had means of thwarting attack rolls that were better than just having a high AC.

After that are rules for charging spells, taking more time to cast a spell to greater effect and supercharging spells for even greater effects beyond that. The book presents this as a dangerous gambit that gives foes a greater time to interrupt the caster. This doesn’t quite hold up in practice, as most of the charged casting times can still be completed on the casters turn and even the fastest supercharged casting times is a full 30 seconds. Making spell casting either too fast for that problem to come up or so slow as to be impractical in combat scenarios. Most of the actual benefits for doing this are pretty underwhelming, with one exception. The ability to apply a single +1 metamagic feat to a spell for free.

For spontaneous casters this is no big deal, for prepared casters spontaneous metamagic application is a huge game changer. Supercharging a spell in this manner allows you to add 1+1/2 your caster level in metamagic feats to the spell. That allows spell casters by way of feats like extend spell and bouncing spell to more than double their daily spell allotment. I don’t think this alternate rule is irremediably broken but one of the options is just so much better than the others that the rest come off as a waste of page space. I’m also assuming that you can’t just slap quicken spell on a supercharged spell to bypass all of the downsides. RAW, but definitely not RAI.

Then there’s a solid system for substituting the components of a spell with concentration checks. This is a neat way to get a newer player familiar with concentration checks in a low risk scenario.

This is followed by cosmic magic, a set of rules for a fourth type of magic more fundamental than the psychic, arcane, or divine magic. This is a neat, if somewhat cliché concept. I wish more page space was dedicated to this, as it’s a -1 to your caster level in exchange for some trivial benefits. After that there are critical spell rules, the ability to have a 5% chance to increase a spells caster level by 2 in exchange there’s also a 5% chance for a spell to completely fizzle. Doesn’t really add much to the game. Frankenspells, the ability to cast two spells at the same time to produce a greater effect. Most of these interactions are pretty well thought out save for how saving throws interact with each other. The caster picks which save from the spells they cast applies to the entire effect, a bit of ludonarrative dissonance as it’s more advantageous combine two spells with different saves in order to target a creatures bad saves, rather than because you care about that extra effect.

Then the book presents rules for gestalt play & magic knights. I don’t see any separate rules for magic knights but the gestalt rules are basically the same as the version that appears in unearthed arcana. Frustratingly, what’s there is rewritten to be more confusing and the section on how to incorporate prestige classes into gestalt characters is replaced with a paragraph that basically boils down to don’t.

There’s a bit on swapping spell lists between classes. It posits that as long as both classes have the same casting progression, swapping spell lists doesn’t cause too many problems. I disagree. While classes that aren’t defined by their casting ability like the ranger and the paladin can get away with that; Classes that have better progressions then that have some serious issues. A Magus with the Bard spell list is a thing of terror, and a cleric with the wizard spell list renders the wizard obsolete.

We get a section on how to mix metamagic feats and magic weapons. Casting spells as attacks of opportunity and ways to turn prepared spells into impromptu weapons, an attempt at balancing the physical ability scores as spell casting abilities. And suggestions to give everyone the magus’s spell combat ability.

The most elaborate alternate rule however is the mana system. This replaces the slightly counterintuitive vancian casting system with a more straightforward pool of mana points that are expended to cast spells, like in a video game. Spell casters have a pool of mana that grows as they level up, spells cost an amount of mana equal to their level to cast, and cantrips cost 1/3rd of a point. The system even acknowledges the problem with mana based systems, where spell casters can use resources normally reserved for low level spells on high level spells thus gaining the ability to cast them much more frequently. Little red presents three solutions to this problem. The first is to give spell casters a sort of magic fatigue that keeps them from casting spells after casting too many spells. This magical exhaustion goes away after a minute and can be reduced if you take a move action so it doesn’t do the job of limiting a spell casters daily high level spell usage very much and really adds a little too much complexity back into what is being sold as a simple alterative to vancian magic.

The second solution involves increasing the mana cost of a spell so that higher level spells cost more mana, two different formulas are provided along with a reference table. The reference table is presented after the next solution and as a minor nitpick gets its own formula wrong in for a single cell in that table. This is the first of many questionable layout decisions that are common throughout the book.

The third solution presented is to increase the cost of casting a spell if other spells of the same level were cast previously. This is an irritating amount of book keeping and again I’m not sure why its bundled with a solution that pitches itself as being simple.

Ultimately a lot of these rules are just ok with a handful of bad options sprinkled throughout the section. There’s not a lot of effort being put forth here and what we get are 12 pages of rules that are on the level of a series house rule the GM whipped up in an hour. Of particular note is that there are no specific solutions presented for the two biggest problems that spell casters face in combat, lack of hit points and poor fortitude saves. The closest you get are second order solutions like making constitution your spell casting ability score and gestating as a class with a good fortitude save which requires some preexisting knowledge of these problems.

First up in the classes section of the book is the beast, a magically altered solder that, while lacking any spell casting ability is able to retain spells cast on themselves indefinitely. These spells can come from the wizard or cleric spell lists and never get higher than 6th level. I initially balked at having buffs from two of the largest spell lists in the game spontaneously and permanently become part of a character every few levels but there’s a fairly detailed section on talking to your GM about what spells to take and only one of the beast paths, which are akin to sorcerer bloodlines actually allows you to arbitrarily add spells to your character and it’s the one that saddles you with crippling mutations. The class also gains a resistance bonus on saves against spells and spell like abilities. This bonus is mostly eclipsed by a cloak of resistance, so this feels a bit superfluous.

At 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter the beast gains beast talents, which are rogue talent-esq psudo feats. There are 10 beast talents to choose from which range from useful abilities like gaining spell resistance or spell like abilities (presumably from the cleric or wizard lists) to things prone to weird rules interactions like learning metamagic feats and applying them to spells cast on you. Suddenly taking quicken spell from a feat to take at around 8th level to something you should take as soon as you are able.

The class ends with a list of alternate favored class bonuses, none of them are particularly out of left field but the elvish one seems significantly weaker than the rest of them, only being useful for a handful of spell effects at 20th level.

After that is the cannoneer, a siege magician who’s class features revolve around blowing people up with a big freakin’ cannon. They specialize in dealing damage over an area, rather than to any one target in particular. As they level up they gain shells, which are special effects they can apply to the attacks they make with their cannon, all of which are pretty neat. Unlike the beast class which presents its talents at the end of the class these are placed right in the middle, a baffling layout decision on little red’s part.

As the class progresses they gain the ability to create a magical energy field that renders them immune to negative effects of their cannon. Presumably this allows you to fire at foes directly in front of you. It also provides a constant 20% miss chance against ranged attacks. Later on they gain the ability to ignore the effects of the evasion ability and raise the minimum on the damage dice dealt by their arcane cannon. At 20th level they can maximize the damage dealt by their arcane cannon a few times per day, this would normally be fine but it comes off as a bit unimpressive considering they’re already treating any damage dice that are less than 4 as 4s at that point.

The class also has some alternate favored class bonuses, all of which are fine, but the table precedes a few of the class features for some reason. This class really could have benefited from some editing as are several instances of weird language and poor layout decisions that tripped me up when I read through the class for the first time.

Then there’s the curse-wielder a warrior who wields a cursed item a la Elric of Melnibone. While there are several different types of items you can use for this class feature and each has their own benefits and drawbacks, the basics of the class functions more or less the same way for each one. As you use your abilities you gain stress and if you gain too much of it you need to make a will save to retain control of your character. I personally despise class features like this as they create more work for the GM and allow players to stop paying attention to the game.

Every curse-wielder can use an ability called power surge to take stress to get a bonus on attack rolls for a round, and can spend a bit more to deal extra dice of damage as well. Later you can add debuffs to attacks that you use this ability on, provided you don’t affect the same target more than once per round.

In the beginning these effects are wildly inconsistent in terms of overall power ranging from flipping a targets gender to rendering them blind. At 9th level these options expand giving you a plethora of new options. These are a bit more consistent ranging from frightening foes to afflicting them with a disease. One of the options is the effect of a bestow curse spell, this is hands down the best of the effects giving you one of the most powerful debuffs in the game without any of its normal drawbacks on all of the attacks you make in an encounter at about the same time as a normal spellcaster can do it 3 times a day. At 15th level the list expands again, adding two options: petrifaction for a few rounds or a chance to drop anything you’re holding. That second one is worse than bestow curse, which has a chance to just take away all of your actions for a round.

That aside, every even level you get a bond evolution, which is a new power that your item manifests. Some of these are unique to certain types of items while others are generic. Armor bonds include things like damage and energy resistance, giving the armor magic armor abilities temporary, and completely negating the armor’s maximum dexterity bonus to AC. This would give you positively amazing AC but you need to be 8th level to take it, which makes it a bit hard to build around, unless you happen to be starting around that level. Weapons gain things like an extra attack, magic weapon special abilities, and the ability to hold the weapon in an extra-dimensional space. Wondrous cursed items grant several different utility powers and some summoning and buffing abilities.

The generic bond evolutions include things like shooting rays and cones of negative energy, the ability to willingly give up control of your character to gain a bonus on attack rolls, and the ability to change the damage type dealt by your power surge ability. Among those options is positive energy, which heals living creatures. Because there’s no limit to the amount of stress you can take, this class has the ability to heal an unlimited amount of damage.

After that we have the esper, a self styled psychic paladin that channels the force of the collective positive emotions of intelligent life. At first level they gain an aura of hope that suppresses fear effects within 30 feet, so long as the DC is less than 10+esper level+charisma modifier. This goes up way faster than the standard save formula, so its usually going to work unless you’re heavily outclassed. It also gives all creatures a bonus on saves against mind-effecting effects and forces barbarians who are raging to make a will save to keep raging, which just sounds frustrating to me.

You also gain the ability to draw power from nearby allies, giving you a bonus on attack and damage rolls as long as you have allies within 100 feet of you that aren’t suffering from negative emotions. As you level up you gain vibes, special powers you can get while you’re drawing power from your allies. These include things like healing, telepathy, and taking on negative mental effects that your allies would normally suffer from.

Some of these options are a little on the weak side, but not egregiously so.

You also gain 4 level spell casting, like a paladin. Also like a paladin your caster level is 3 lower than your class level. How 2009. The esper spell list strikes me as a little odd. While they have spells that work off of positive emotions like I’d expect of them such as charm person, build trust, and heroism. They also have a lot of spells that work off of negative emotions like cause fear, ego whip, and they know.

Also the favored class bonuses table on this class precedes some of the class features.

The next class in the book is the inquisitorial scholar, an alchemist/inquisitor hybrid that fills a similar niche to the slayer in as much as they use knowledge to fight their enemies. They gain the ability to make extracts like an alchemist; these are also used to fuel their class features. They also gain a hunt class feature. Rather than provide some kind of fixed bonus against certain creature types hunts function as a sort of extraordinary version of the inquisitor’s judgment ability that only function against one type of creature at any given time. This is more specific than a single creature type, so if you fought say, a red and a green dragon you’d only get bonuses against one of them. Most of the actual hunt benefits are pretty solid. Of note is the subdual hunt which forces you to deal non-lethal damage but gives you a slayer level damage bump, and the elimination hunt which gives you full BAB during the hunt.

Also of note is the survive hunt which gives you a bonus to saving throws and AC but turns into a penalty when being attacked by non-hunted creatures. Rendering it a pretty weak option overall. Hunts are fueled by expending an extract of the current highest level they have available. This is a little weird narrative wise as you could use, say a 2nd level extract to activate a hunt but only if you don’t have any 3rd level extracts left. They also gain the ability to give a creature vulnerability to either a common elemental damage like acid, cold, electricity, or fire or a type of damage thematically relevant to the targeted creature. Increasing all damage dealt to them by 50%. I find this odd because the inquisitorial scholar doesn’t have any class feature that allows them to exploit these vulnerabilities unless they happen to be thematically relevant and a more normal damage type that anyone could exploit.

Most of the rest of their class features are basically lifts from the alchemist or inquisitor. Of note is the ability to take alchemist discoveries this is mostly of note because the inquisitorial scholar can’t take any discoveries that modify the bomb or mutagen abilities. This eliminates the vast majority of the alchemist discoveries and leaves only the weird ones that make sense for the mad scientist thing the alchemist has going for it but are aggressively thematically incoherent with the inquisitorial scholar.
After that we have the Maghamir, a magus/caviler hybrid class whose name loosely translates to adventurer. At 1st level they gain a version of the challenge ability that works on both spells and melee attacks and a flying carpet mount. This has the unfortunate effect of making them more or less immune to melee attacks in most situations where they can use their mount. They don’t gain a version of spell combat, they do, however gain a version of spell combat that only works on a charge.

So while they’re nowhere near the damage machine that is the magus they have quite a bit of utility built into the rest of the class. They get Treasures in lieu of magus arcane which range pretty wildly in utility from gaining a +4 enhancement bonus on any check where physical attraction is a factor to gaining a magus arcana, note that because you have no arcane pool your options are severely limited. Of special note is the “been there stole that” treasure, which allows you to as a standard action roll 3 times on the magic item table from the core rulebook and gain one of the items. This both takes a standard action, keeping you from using the item that you just produced on the same turn you produced it and not guaranteeing anything useful. I find this strange because there’s a thematically similar ability in the pathfinder chronicler, a prestige class in the back of the core rulebook that doesn’t have either of these problems.

The maghamir also is a member of a fleet, an organization with goals much like a caviler’s order. Thematically they’re all pretty similar to existing cavalier orders, but there’s about 30 of those so avoiding that would have been a lot of effort for no real benefit. Each fleet ether gives you class skills or gives you bonuses to skills you already had. Most of them also let you swap out your mount for other things, ranging from a unicorn to the ability to turn into a lightning bolt. The abilities you gain out of them are all pretty well balanced, if oddly formatted. The favored class bonus table is ahead of some of the class features on this class as well. This just seems like something that could have been avoided pretty easily.

Then there’s the Sagebeast a spellcaster with a monster sealed within them. While that might sound a lot like a certain anime that’s been going on for the last ten years some effort has been expended to differentiate it from that. However it’s mostly to the classes’ detriment. The monsters you have to pick from are all really boring things like Orcs and Yeti. Like the class spends multiple paragraphs talking about how sagebeasts live lonely lives of seclusion, how the sagebeast must master themselves before they can master their powers, and that how they’re often created to protect communities but all of the options you get to reflect that are chump monsters.

Mechanically the sage beast is a 6 level spell caster with ½ BAB who casts wizard spells. When they run out of spells (or when they use certain class features) they enter a monster form that improves their BAB to full and grants them a few other benefit s based on monster within them. They have consumptions; special ablates that allow them to expend spell slots for various benefits most of them are fine balance wise, one of them allows the sage beast to grow multiple size categories, which can represent a pretty significant bump in damage the other problematic one is nightmare aura, which allows you to spend an arbitrary amount of spell slots to create a fear aura with a DC equal to 10+1/2 your level+ the level of spells you sacrificed. This allows a sage beast to create very high DC aura that causes creatures to become panicked on a failed save. That forces you drop everything you’re holding and run away taking apart an encounter with a swift action isn’t particularly cool in my book.

Just re-fluff a bloodrager, this isn’t worth it.

Finally there’s the Shujaa, which is what happens when you take a sorcerer and perform the magical equivalent of foot-binding on them. The opening paragraph makes a point of how this is almost exclusively forced upon young children. Ironically their name loosely translates to “hero”. Overall this is a bit more tragedy porn than I’m comfortable with, which is a shame because this is a pretty well thought out class otherwise. The process a shujaa undergoes gives them powerful abjuration magic. They gain an abjuration spell at each level that they can cast at-will. The level of spell you can take with this ability never gets very high, capping out at 4th level spells by 18th level. There are still some nasty spells at these levels that get much nastier in the hands of a shujaa (looking at you stunning barrier), but this class feature is largely self contained. Their other class feature is an aura of magical energy that grants them a shield bonus equal to their charisma modifier + 1/4th their level. Combined with heavy or even medium armor that’s some pretty high AC but they gain their primary means of fueling their class features when they take damage, so it balances it out a bit.

As you level up you gain the ability to smack people with your barrier and the ability to distribute the shield bonus from your barrier to your allies. You also gain “barrier functions” as you level up, gaining new ways to manipulate your barrier. These range from making your barrier air tight, gaining energy resistance, to bull rushing creatures with it. All of these are pretty well balanced against each other.

My only (non-subjective) complaint with the class is that I’d have liked to see a bit more of the classes Aramaic roots reflected in the classes mechanics. As it stands you could just swap the classes name out with anything and it would still be coherent.

The book closes out with a selection of new feats. Most of these are class support feats, letting members of classes in the book gain more barrier functions, bond evolutions, and the like. There’s also salvo casting which lets wizards cast two low level spells with the same action, I’m not quite sure why that’s limited to the wizard. There are a few general feats, like the ability to shove someone who’s about to have a spell cast on them away and gain that spell’s benefits and the ability to make items that are cursed, not to be confused with the cursed items in the pathfinder rulebook.

Also of note is the warrior-wizard style this is a drastically underpowered feat chain that masquerades as a good option. It starts off giving spell casters full BAB when they make a full attack action with melee weapons, then allows you to use it when you only make one attack, and then finally allows you to use your caster level as your fighter level for qualifying for feats. This is a lot of feats for something that’s mutually exclusive with how you ordinarily approach combat as a spell caster and doesn’t give you any means to bridge the two. The book even notes that this style is far more powerful in the hands of a spell caster that can already bridge the two like a bard or a magus.

There are also four new metamagic feats, one lets you take line and ray spells and bend their line of effect as part of casting them and one that lets some (the ones with mass in their name) buff spells spread to adjacent allies. These are both fairly well balanced; the one that lets you spread buff spells in a little niche and its level adjustment is a bit on the high side. The other two don’t really feel like metamagic feats. One only effects the dispel magic and antimagic field spells while the other expands the functionally of the elemental spell metamagic feat.

Ordinarily I’d be a bit harsher on improved elemental spell as it shaves two feats off of a build but the builds that used the elemental spell metamagic never particularly cared about getting all four so it’s not that big of an issue. Ultimately, I don’t think that alt paths: martial magic does what it sets out to do, it lacks the defensive options to let spell caster keep up with the more physically oriented classes while giving them tempting offensive options that allows them to think they can. I can’t think of a better recipe for salt and dead characters.

[2 of 5 Stars!]
Alternate Paths: Martial Magic
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Alternate Paths: Martial Magic
by Mariah M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/11/2018 18:28:24

I recently bought this product and I personally loved it!

I loved the alternate rules and such and it truly can add to the setting that I use.

Though, I don't currently play Pathfinder, I definitely tweak them and run them with my 5e content and it has made my games awesome and my players happy.

What more can a GM ask for right?

Thank you for another great product LRGG

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Alternate Paths: Martial Magic
by Adam S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/06/2018 19:30:01

First of all, let me say that I was given a free book for reviewing, but I don't think it will affect my review.

So this book has an unusual niche- It's for improving the martial abilities of spellcasters, with several optional rules and multiple warrior classes with exotic abilities, called "exotic classes," and feats.

So the first chapter is optional rules.

Battle Mages discusses alternatives to arcane spell failure for armor, for those who want to get away from the squishy wizard stereotype, either permanently or as temporary methods to avoid it, depending on your comfort level.

Charging spells is a rule for empowering spells by taking longer, could go with a dragonball z dynamic to it, or making the magic more ritualistic. Definitely won't be appropriate for some campaigns I imagine.

Component bypass, what you'd think. Another way to avoid squishy wizards by avoiding somatic components among other things.

Cosmic magic, now this rule is a little bit of an odd man out, it doesn't really increase the battle prowess of spellcasters, although it reduces spell failure for armor if you were an arcane caster to begin with.

Cosmic magic, for those who haven't bought other books that have discussed it, is the primal universal source of magic that arcane, divine, and psychic magic all flows.

By the rules presented, just change the name of the spellcasting class to "cosmic sorcerer," or "cosmic paladin," whatever.

This could easily be expanded. Some classes wouldn't change too much by changing their source of magic, but conceptually some classes would change conceptually a lot. I could easily see archetypes for cosmic sorcerers, druids, paladins, and the like.

Critical spells, not that exciting on it's own, but neither are critical hits. I imagine someone will use this to let spellcasters have fun by plugging into the Laying Waste system by TPK games.

Frankenspells casting two spells at the same time combining them into one. Can be used to say throw a lightning bolt and a fireball at the same time at someone, or take advantage of spell interactions. Like say combining a harm and a heal spell to deal nonlethal damage, as a given example.

Magic Knights, this rule suggests gestalt play in pathfinder to allow someone to be a full bab warrior and a nine level caster at the same time.

Metamagic weapons is a fun idea I feel. Allows someone using a magic weapon to add a metamagic feat to their attacks. Since most metamagic feats don't have prereqs that non spellcasters can't meet, this rule could benefit noncasters too, if you want archers with seeking arrows or fighters beating up ghosts with ectoplasmic sword strikes.

Spell as attacks of opportunity, what it says on the tin there.

Spellblade is an interesting rule. It allows spellcasters to temporarily invest a spell into making a sword out of magic. I could definitely see some archetypes based on this one. A paladin or inquisitor with a divine blade, or a magus specializing in spellblades.

Swapping spell lists, not really about enhancing the martial power of spellcasters, but I'm sure someone somewhere would want to play a Paladin of Nature with the ranger spell list, as a example.

Physical casting modifers involves using Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution, with suggested downsides to balance things.

Universal spell combat, magus spell combat for everyone.

The next optional rule is a mana system to get rid of spell slots, with a "spell stress system" as an additional limiting factor, with two further optional rules to alter the cost of individual spells as desired.

Next is the classes.

The first is the Beast, a different take on the magical warrior. They don't cast spells, rather they have permament spell effects on them, up to 6th lvl. Full BAB, proficient with all armor and shields and simple and martial weapons. They use their class level for caster level when appropriate, and Con as their caster modifier. Spells that end when triggered normally recover in one minute.

Beasts have three paths to choose from for costumization- Government sponsored soldiers, the independent mercenaries, and the mutants. Mercenaries can change their permanent spells but have to pay for it like a scroll, or make spells cast on them last like their augmentations. Mutants can have more augmentations, but suffer a penalty, and can gain extra senses, natural attacks, or counting as a different type of creature as their mutation takes hold. Soldiers are the fighter like option with extra combat feats, but they don't choose their augmentations.

Further adding to customization they gain access to Beast talents, things like spell like abilities, gaining enhancement bonus to their natural or unarmed attacks, or recharging their augmentations when they save against a spell or spell like ability.

Lots of options for expansion that I can see. Alchemical supersoldiers, psionic Beasts who have implanted psionic powers, Androids who magically tinker with their own bodies, Beasts who gain their powers from a Sorcerer like heritage, racial archetypes for those who tap into their dhampir/skinwalker/kitsune/planar heritage, etc.

Cannoneers, dexterity based medium BAB class that specializes in firearms, and the magic cannon they wheel around. Instead of spells, their magic manifests as different types of shells they can fire from their magic cannon. Not for me, but I'm sure it'll appeal to others who want to be heavy artillary.

Next is the Curse-Wielder. Elric. Bilbo Baggins. Witchblade. Powers work off buiding stress, when stress gets too high the cursed item takes over, but resting 8 hours a day or rampgaging (letting the cursed item take over) reduces it. Their main attack power is adding negative energy damage to their attacks with which they can add curse effects. A major choice for this class is to whether fight or give in to the curse, another one is what kind of item they are stuck with, and the third is the personality of their cursed item.

Espers, champions of the collective unconscious. Full BAB limited casters like paladins, they gain an aura of calmness, bonuses from having allies around, can add nonlethal damage to attacks, Commune with the collective unconscious, a psychic shield, among other class benefits.

Inquisitorial Scholar. I think I would have reversed that name myself, but moving on. Hybrid class of Alchemist and Inquisitor. They use their knowledge of their nonhumanoid opponents to combat them, often through the application of alchemy. Think the Men of Letters from Supernatural or the Watchers from Buffy.

Maghamar, hybrid class of magus and cavalier. Magic carpet riding air force. They can channel spells through charge attacks. And join "fleets' instead of orders. One fleet turns this into a unicorn rider instead, though.

Sagebeasts. Spellcasters who can Hulk out thanks to a powerful monster within them. Proficient with light and medium armor and shields (except tower shields), but only ignore spell failure from light armor, and all simple and martial weapons. Intelligence based 6th level spontaneous casters. In monster form they are full BAB, an alignment shift, and abilities depending on what specific monster they turn into. While as written they are focused on goblins, monstrous humanoids, and giants, I imagine someone is going to want to expand that. Lycanthropes? Demons? Undead?

Shujaa, magical warrior tank class who are denied all magic but abjuration. Personal forcefield that provides a shield bonus, gain armor proficiency as they level up, they learn to shape their force field to share it with allies or attack with it, gain attack bonuses with it or add magical enhancements, etc.

Next is feats. There's the new metamagic feats and class feature dependent feats, including one that allows sagebeasts to maintain their alignment. but wow. They have a style that allow one to use their caster level for weapon attacks., and at it's pinnacle qualify for fighter feats and use their caster modifer for attack rolls.

Now now all these options aren't for everyone, I imagine a campaign that pushes the envelope with some of the more powrful classes out there will be more receptive than vanilla pathfinder games, but there is lots of fun stuff in here, that I imagine will inspire some of the readers. So 4 out of 5 from me.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mantaur (Racial Guide)
by Jeff L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/26/2018 13:29:47

This product features a racial write-up of the mantaur, a new playable race that is half human and, well, half nearly a whole other human. It's odd. It's also based on an Internet meme that's been floating around for a bit after an image appeared on Reddit. That said, it offers a strange yet interesting new race compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. The PDF is 8 pages, including the cover, title page, four pages of content, and two pages of required OGL info.

Physically, the mantaur is the torso, arms, and head of a human attached to a whole other humanoid body, minus the head. This unique configuration allows them to move either as a quadruped, with increased movement rate, or as a biped, with an extra pair of arms at their disposal. The breakdown of their racial traits puts them at an 11-point creature, with the lion's share of that going to the extra arms. One of their racial traits is androgyny, described “as being of both genders simultaneously.” As far as mechanics goes, this doesn't mean much. I can't think of any in-game mechanics that deal with it, aside from the elixir of sex shifting and possibly the Charming social trait. This seems like a missed opportunity to me to have added some new mechanics that might allow for this trait to be a racial advantage. Also, I should point out that in this reference, the term is being used to describe physiological traits, which may be problematic for some, especially since there is a section titled “Gender” that also uses the term to describe social roles. In the mantaur race, if the upper human portion of mantaur has physical male traits, its lower portion will have female traits, and vice versa. Socially, the mantaurs only focus on biological differences when mating, so there is little difference in social roles or fashion based on physiological makeup. Reproduction isn't explicitly tied to romantic partnerships either, which is a novel approach for societal norms and helps to define the mantaur as a distinct species, despite its very human features.

The book covers the other standard race write-up categories (society, relations with other races, alignment and religion, adventurers, and naming conventions) and provides height/weight and starting age charts, as well as favored class options for five Pathfinder core classes (barbarian, bard, druid, fighter, and monk) as well as the athlete, lover, and nomad classes from Little Red Goblin Games. Missing from the lineup are any new mechanics tied to the class. No new mantaur-specific spells, magic items, weapons, or equipment are offered, and that's disappointing. An offering of that type would have gone a long way towards helping to further solidify the idea of the mantaur race, as well as providing a little extra bang for the buck where the pdf is concerned. I'd personally be interested in seeing what sorts of equipment or magic would be developed by a race that has the advantages of quadrupedal movement and four arms, though not simultaneously. It would have also been an opportunity to give the androgyny racial trait some actual mechanical relevance.

One person comments on the original mantaur posting on Reddit: “I HATE THIS. I hate this so much and I want everyone to see it.” I was originally inclined to agree. Kudos to Scott Gladstein, Ian Sisson, and Christos Gurd for using it to develop a playable race that I don't hate and find intriguing. I only wish the race had received the full APG-style write-up. All in all it is a solid offering for the price range, and I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mantaur (Racial Guide)
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Sergal Racial Guide (Official)
by Jay M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/25/2018 09:14:52

I originally purchased this as a joke, however it was significantly higher quality than my expectations, and led to me actually making a Sergal character in one of my campaigns. I would definitely recommend it to others.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sergal Racial Guide (Official)
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Battle Chef
by Ben D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/21/2017 13:55:23

“That is why I decline the title of Iron Cook, and accept only the lesser title of Zinc Saucier, which I just made up.” – Bender, Futurama

Little Red Goblin Games brings the world of gourmet chefs to a fantasy setting with the Battle Chef class. This is a full class, and it has some pretty interesting mechanics. Like fighters, the battle chef is a d10 HP class, but has a ¾ BAB, more akin to rangers. Battle chefs also gain recipes which work like spells, and can have a cuisine specialty, which is similar to focusing on a school of spells. What I really like about this system, is that preparing a 3-5 course meal works like a video game; by consuming the meal (spells) in order, they give bonus effects. The effects of each recipe is determined by flavor profile (a minty recipe for example adds ice damage to you attacks.)

While the battle chef class, and accompanying recipe system, is the meat and potatoes of this release, there’s an appetizer-size portion of feats, and chef-based weapons and magic items make up the dessert.

Personally, I’d have liked seeing a selection of armor and shields (who doesn’t want to use a big wok as a shield, and wear an Apron of Protection +1?) I would like to see a few more feats in there, and maybe an archetype or two based on different kinds of cooks. Additionally, I think a d8 HP per level might be more appropriate here, but I don’t think it breaks the class in any way. That’s just me, and it doesn’t take away from the unique flavor of this class.

Well worth the money spent. Please tip your servers.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Battle Chef
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Alternate Paths: Martial Characters 2: Fight Smarter
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/04/2017 03:54:07

An review

This massive installment of the Alternate Path-series clocks in at 79 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, which leaves us with an impressive 75 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so the Alternate Path-series has carved a rather unique niche for itself in the context of splatbooks, focusing less on just adding to the pile of options and instead, showcasing some experimental and rather unique options – this time around, smart combat is the theme, and as such, the book begins with its mission statement and advice for the GM to make combats more interesting – and to not penalize players for not taking certain skills. This, among others, mentions the importance of terrain and skill challenges, the all but forgotten option to yield in combat and the like – as an aside, for skill challenges, check out Everyman Gaming’s phenomenal Skill Challenged Handbook – it should be core. It’s that good. Anyways, milestone-based leveling is also touched upon, before we dive into the new rules.

The first of these variant rules would be reactions: These are not a copy of 5e’s reaction-system, mind you: Instead, it allows the player to take a standard action as a reaction, with the two actions behaving just like swift actions and immediate actions. This adds a massive increase of dynamics to the combat – on the plus-side, implementing the system devalues bland “I hit 6 times with my weapons” full attacks (as they can’t be performed when you took a reaction). However, at the same time, this vastly changes the combo-dynamics, devalues AoOs and AoO-based builds and de-emphasizes long-term strategy for combats or at least increases the variables to an extent where prediction becomes very, very hard. Suffice to say, readied actions lose all relevance upon implementing this – and thankfully, the pdf does offer serious in-depth advice regarding the implementation of reactions: Class-based restrictions, basing them on feats, imposing of penalties – there are some serious and helpful pieces of advice there. Whether you like the flow of combat thus modified or not ultimately depends on your table – if your group is like mine and already has a lot of fluid movements and changing front-lines, then this may perhaps not be as amazing. If, however, you’re struggling to make combat something else than trading of full attacks, then this may be really amazing for you. All in all, an interesting variant rule-set.

Secondly, we look at the options for the conservation of attacks – iterative attacks are not particularly well-regarded in most tables I know. The system allows characters to sacrifice these iterative attacks in favor of bypassing hardness/DR, a +1 to atk, 3 may be sacrificed for a 5-foot step and 2 may be sacrificed for reloading or fighting defensively sans penalties. I am not a big fan for the atk-bonus benefit and as a whole and while the system does prevent abuse via TWF, flurries, etc., I do think that just replacing the iterative attacks with a kind of pool of options would have made sense. The implementation of this rule greatly favors single, devastating attacks – so if you’re building god strike characters or focusing on Vital Strike etc., this can be a bit ugly. Here, some discussion on the ramifications of the implementation would have been nice.

Next up would be simple grapple rules – which, while functional, do decrease the options available to the grapplers. The pdf suggests providing free Improved combat maneuver feats to increase their value – which generally is not necessarily a good idea, considering how other options build on them. Going with an extraordinary ability would have probably been smoother and retained the feat-tree-structure. I am, however, a HUGE fan of the variant aid another rules presented here: Providing a leg up and allowing for variant swift and full-round action aid anothers adds a tactical dimension to aiding your fellow adventurers.

The pdf also provides a couple of variant, inverse skill-uses: Torture via Heal, Ignoring via Perception or Misusing Magic Items – the first of these is less interesting, but in particularly, Misusing Magic Items can yield hilarious results – a successful check lets you roll d20 on a massive table. And yes, you can bestow transient sentience on an item. (As a minor formal complaint – spell-references are not always concisely italicized in the book.) We also get brief rules for wall jumping and running (cool) and a really cool fill-in of a rules-hole: The pdf contains an adept and sensible way of dealing with burrowing movement: The 3D-movement, hardness of surfaces and DR granted by material per 5 feet certainly will be used in my game. Speaking of 3D-movement – the proposed levels-approach makes sense and is easy to implement.

Finally, we have rules for cooking strange stuff in dungeons – as a minor complaint, “and large size creatures count as x2 large size creatures.” Should read “and Large size creatures count as x2 Medium size creatures.” – sizes are capitalized and there is a slightly confusing misnomer here. As a whole, I wasn’t too smitten by this cooking-variant. I’ve seen the concept done in a more rewarding manner.

The pdf also sports new classes – 5, to be precise. The first of these would be the calculator, who gains d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, good Will-saves and proficiency with simple and martial weapons, light and medium armors and shields, excluding tower shield, as well as with battle tomes. Calculators may enter computation mode as a swift action – this requires concentration and further swift actions to maintain and fear effects end it. While in computation mode, the calculator deals minimum damage and may not be affected by morale bonuses. However, they receive the computation bonus to all Knowledge checks and attack and damage rolls with ranged weapons, finesse weapons and one-handed or lighter melee weapons. This computation bonus equal to ¼ of the calculator’s level and may never exceed the character’s intelligence modifier. Okay, so is that minimum 1? No idea, alas. More importantly would be that the calculator gains 1 point of brilliance at the start of the calculator’s turn while he maintains computation mode. Question: If the character enters the mode for one round and then proceeds to end it on the second round, does he get this point or not? A calculator can only sustain the mode for a maximum of 1 minute and proceeds to take 3 times their class level in nonlethal damage upon ending computation mode.

A calculator’s brilliance pool may never exceed ½ class level (minimum 1) + Intelligence modifier (minimum 1) and may meditate for 1 minute to fully replenish the brilliance pool. The calculator begins play with one formula (the “average formula”) – formulae may be entered as a free action while in computation mode and they are incompatible with combat styles. Another formula is gained at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter. The aforementioned formula lets you deal average damage, btw. Other formulas allow the character to e.g. treat an attack as using full BAB, gain Quick Draw and Combat Reflexes for 1 round, etc. – these formula, unsurprisingly, cost brilliance to activate. Immediate actions can be used to reduce the damage incurred to minimum damage. Finagle’s Law can be a bit problematic, allowing the character to deal maximum damage – with high critical multipliers and multiclassing, this one can be very, very potent and should probably be relegated to the higher levels or feature another restriction.

2nd level, weirdly, nets a +1/4 class level bonus to saves versus illusion spells or those with the emotion or fear descriptor and imposes a similar penalty to all Charisma-based skills. This lacks the minimum 1-caveat, making 2nd level in essence a dead level RAW. Mathematical savant is interesting and gained at 3rd level – it grants an approximate idea of the success-chances of certain actions – and yes, GMing-advice is provided. Problem: No activation action is provided. Also at 3rd level, the class gets to choose a calculator axiom, with another one gained every 3 levels thereafter – these basically represent talents sans activation cost – including proficiency with firearms, constant detect chaos/law and the ability to ascertain morale bonuses/penalties (not a fan) and bonuses to AC versus lawful targets, damage versus chaotic ones. There also are a couple of such abilities that require brilliance point expenditure.

There also are some interesting stances here – a minor complaint: Improved stances do not require their base stances as prerequisites, which they should, seeing that they have no effect without them. Ally-boosts to concentration or precision damage caused are also interesting. Apart from these minor inconsistencies, this section is rather interesting. Probability prediction, gained at 5th level, is interesting: As a free action, the calculator may 1/round at the start of an enemy’s turn call out an action – if the enemy follows this action, the calculator imposes penalties on the enemy or otherwise hampers them via ally-support. At 8th level, whenever the calculator in computation mode rolls a natural 3, he can spend a point of brilliance to invoke Pi and treat the result as a natural 20. At 19th level, the calculator may spend 1 point of brilliance at the start of their turn, treating all attacks as using the highest BAB – nasty shredder, even at 19th level, and strangely favoring TWFs. The capstone renders immune to death effects, critical hits and possession and lets the character assume an “intangible state” as a swift action. This does not exist. I think this is supposed to mean “incorporeal”.

The face-changer would be obviously inspired by the Men of Braavos, must be non-good and gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves and proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light armor. The shapechanger begins play with the ability to disguise self as a Su, which does not allow for a Will-save to bypass. Okay. What’s the duration? CL for purposes of dispelling/ability-interaction? He can use it ½ class level (min 1) + Charisma modifier times per day. Starting at 2nd level, as a touch attack, they can store a creature’s mind – only one may be stored at any given time. The mind stored may then be accessed via Intelligence checks to recall information from it. 4th level upgrades this to work via touched objects that have been at least a year in the target creature’s possession. 3rd level’s surgical strikes is problematic: On a natural 15 or higher, you roll to confirm: If you do, effects that usually only trigger on a critical hit do trigger and you add + Dexterity modifier as precision damage to the damage caused. This makes fishing for crit builds and those that add critical hit effects via weapons or abilities very potent. Also at 3rd level and every 3 level thereafter, you gain a spy craft, which helps when going in deep cover – speaking a language sans actually speaking it, bonuses versus targets whose minds are held, changing places with a creature slain (generating the impression that the assassination attempt was foiled), morphing into the form of a loved one of a target – the abilities are interesting, but some are slightly exploitable: Killing spree nets you +2 to damage per foe killed, up to +1/3rd class level. Hand me the kittens, please. Similarly, there is an infinite, slow healing exploit. 4th level allows for the swift action reshaping of features, altering gender, race or age automatically. Okay, what’s the DC to notice the face-changer? 8th level provides a fluid form variant as an upgrade and 12th level nets polymorph – which is, unlike the previous ones, a SP. The previous ones have the magic interaction issues noted before.

7th level yields assassination – Dex-based save after 1 round study, on a failure, the attack’s target is reduced to 0 hit points. The ability may be used 1/day, +1/day for every 3 levels thereafter. The capstone lets him perform unlimited assassination attempts per day. 15th level upgrades the action required to swift and 20th level provides unlimited doppelgang…which is weird, for RAW, the base ability doesn’t specify a concise duration as the governing CL-component is opaque. Also weird: The pdf talks about allies and enemies and lets the face-changer define these anew each round, which is per se an amazing mechanic – the class, however, doesn’t do anything with it. Also, since quite a few abilities etc. sport caps on maximum number of targets, this can be a bit weird at the table.

The third class would be the nobody, who gains d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with hidden and rogue-y weapons and light armor, ¾ BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves. The nobody’s defining class feature is nonperson: As adherents of the grand Nothing, nobodies are hard to remember – it takes Intelligence-checks to recall them and 7th and 15th level further make it harder to remember them. While the class addresses how issues with adventuring companions are handled, the pdf does fail to italicize a spell-reference here. The nobody may enter a null state as a move action, for up to 4 + Intelligence modifier rounds per day, +2 rounds per level after that – that should be class level. Nobodies in a null state are hard to recall: The first time a creature sees them, it has to succeed a Will-save to perceive them. Fats movement or attacks etc. end a null state in progression. Creatures get +4 to notice the nobody when they can see him enter a null state. Yeah. This is pretty much a better variant of Hide in Plain Sight at first level. And frankly, it is very, very potent – not because of what it does, but because the ability is not codified regarding balancing components like effect-types etc. At 5th level, he can choose invisibility (improved invisibility at 9th level)as a SP instead, regarding the benefits – which, frankly, is worse in quite a few cases. 9th level also, confusingly, upgrades the null state to being treated as natural invisibility. This looks like a revision at some point went haywire.

Additionally, they get limited use touch attacks that deal scaling force damage and that impose negative conditions and later, even dispel effects and more creative tricks. These do NOT break the cloaking of the class. 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter yield upgrades to the array available, not unlike deeds. These include phasing targets away to the nothing for a round, being forgotten, etc. However, the abilities do have in common that they are missing some balance-components: Forgetting folks should be mind-affecting; silence-like effects lack a duration, spells are not italicized. It’s frustrating, really – the effects are interesting and generally, make sense. 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter, the nobody gets to choose a powerful sense and becomes undetectable by it, requiring Perception to notice them. 5th level yields void spike, the ability to cause negative levels with a 1d4-round cooldown, with 9th level and every 4 levels thereafter increasing the amount of negative levels caused by +1. 6th level nets constant nondetection and 10th level provides the option to become incorporeal while in null state at an increased round cost. The capstone provides immunity to critical hits and precision damage as well as the option to 3 + Int-mod times per day, as a standard action, destroy a creature on a failed save – 20d6 on a successful save. Ouch. At 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the class gets to choose an obscura, the talents of the class, which include entering null states as immediate actions in response to being targeted by a spell, attack, etc. Since this doesn’t move the character, I assume he is treated as invisible, with line of sight broken. More rounds of null state, fast stealth -you get the idea. AoE force damage, pocketing items into the Nothing – the class has flavor galore, but the important balancing tidbits, from clarifying durations to effect types make it problematic as a whole. A non-turn-ending, move action dimension door, exclusively to an adjacent to creatures, for example, is pretty damn cool and it, like many components of the class, would have deserved a bit more delicacy. As written, it is a VERY, VERY potent Stealth class. Unlike the previous classes, this one does get favored class options, btw. It also gets an archetype, the student of the sphere: Instead of the touch attack, they can basically conjure forth the lite-version of a sphere of annihilation and instead of void spike, he can later split these in smaller orbs. See, this one is really, really cool; amazing, even. That holds true for the whole class, mind you – with a bit of fine-tuning, this is a great class.

The sapper class gets d8 HD, 8 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-saves and begins play with Catch Off-Guard and proficiency with simple weapons, throwing axes, handaxes, picks (light + heavy), saps and all martial ranged weapons as well as firearms, if the campaign uses them. They are proficient with all armor and shields, including tower shields. The begin play with Int-governed bombs (like the alchemist) and these have a ½ class level damage progression, capping at +10d6 at 20th level. While they last only one minute, they CAN be handed off to allies…and they are Ex. So yes, they work in zones sans magic. Sappers also start the game with sabotage: A target hit by a bomb becomes flat-footed (or even prone, on bad failures) or takes a penalty to d20 rolls, governed by sapper levels. Only one sabotage can be used on a creature in a given round and the critter gets a Ref-save to resist the effect.

At 3rd level, sappers can consume bomb uses as a swift action to create distracting harrier auras with a scaling range. 15th level allows for the regaining of bombs via item destruction – with a cap to prevent cheesing the ability. 19th level increases the Dc to resist the harrier aura. The capstone potentially breaks non-magical items in the aura and suppresses magic items – which may then break…REALLY cool.

5th level nets an insight bonus to damage with firearms, on damage rolls vs. objects and with sundering weapons. They bonus increases every 4 levels. 10th level yields interdiction, which can drain spells, rage, ki and similar limited resources with sabotage – damn cool! And yes, the list cannot be comprehensive – that’s why the pdf has guidance to determine the points/slots thus consumed. Kudos! 2nd level and every even level thereafter yields a sapper art – these include bomb discoveries, obviously, but also adding the sunder property to bludgeoning weapons, counting as being equipped with a portable ram and crowbar, Disruptive, better dirty tricks, putting down landmine-bombs and terrain control via bombs, creating bridges, barriers or clearing underbrush, no longer misfiring…this class is a) balanced, b) cool. Now I wished the class got more sabotages as it progressed, but after the concerns with the previous ones, I was rather happy to find this fellow. Now, due to the lack of spellcasting, I’d strongly suggest giving this fellow more bombs per day as the levels progress than what he currently has, but that as an aside.

The final new class would be the scout, who gains d8 HD, full BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves as well as 8 + Int skills per level. …WUT? With that chassis?? Okay. Proficiency-wise, he gets simple weapon and all martial ranged weapon proficiency, proficiency with all exotic ranged weapons (!!!) and all simple and martial firearms as well as light armor. Scouts have a stamina pool equal to their Constitution score, which is increased by certain feats like Endurance, Diehard, etc. Starting at 5th level, they get +1/3 class level to the total stamina – I assume, rounded down.

Scouts may duplicate a lesser version of invisibility (Stealth-bonus equal to scout level, minimum +2) while not moving, ½ scout level (minimum +0) while moving – they can activate it for 1 point of Stamina. Starting at 6th level, hostile actions do not break this cloaking. Starting at 10th level, cloaking does not cost stamina anymore and at 10th level, the scout may spend 1 stamina as a move action to dimension door, sans ending movement. I think the cost is supposed to be higher: 14th and 18th level reduce it by 1 to a minimum of 1, but the cost already IS 1…Ridiculous: Range is equal to the scout’s overland movement.

They begin play with darkvision 60 ft. (+30 ft. if they already have it) and double that range at 5th level and they are treated as having keen senses for the purpose of prerequisites. Starting at 3rd level, the scout gains more options here: First the options to not be caught off-guard by invisible targets and better noticing them, then all-around vision (plus seeing through magical darkness) at 7th level, x-ray vision at 11th level, lifesense at 15th and true seeing at 19th level. This array is prefaced by the following: “Starting at 3rd level, the scout can gain the following suite of abilities provided they expend 1 stamina at the start of their turn as a free action:” Okay – does that mean 1 point per round of activation? Can the scout have multiple effects in place at once? Do the costs in stamina stack? No idea.

When unencumbered, the scout also gets scout movement – ½ class level as a bonus to Acrobatics to bypass obstacles and ignore difficult terrain at 1st level. RAW, this includes damaging terrain, which it imho shouldn’t. 3rd level adds scurry (+10 ft. movement rate, scales up to +60 ft.); 6th level provides feather fall and caps falling damage at 5d6 and 9th level provides spider climb (italicization missing). These cost 1 stamina to activate and once again, I have no idea whether the costs are cumulative or not. At 1st level, the class can spend a free action to gain a +1 competence bonus to atk against a creature until the start of their next turn, increasing that by +1 at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. 2nd level provides evasion and the ability to make a party travel overland at the scout’s speed. Additionally, targets more than 60 ft. away take +1d6 precision damage per 4 scout levels, minimum +1d6, from the scout’s attacks. Starting at 5th level, the scout is constantly under the effects of a mundane variant of the alarm spell’s benefits. 4th level yields uncanny dodge, 8th level improved uncanny dodge. As a capstone, the scout auto-confirms ranged critical threats and recovers 2 stamina per round.

Starting at 5th level and every odd level thereafter, the scout gains an exploit. These are the talents of the class and they include combat feats (at fighter level -4), ranged combat maneuvers, 1/day regaining Constitution modifier stamina points upon reaching 0 stamina, spending 3 stamina to double base movement rate for a round, swift action 3-round haste for 3 stamina, doubled range increments for all ranged weapons…you get the idea. Basically, the class does what it sets out to do: Depict a nigh untraceable, extremely potent ambush sniper. If you ever thought that the ranged combat ranger’s DPR was too bad or that he was too easy to pin down, this class is basically that guy on speed. Suffice to say, I won’t let this anywhere near my table. I shudder at the thought of what even moderately competent optimizers can do with it.

The pdf also sport a ton of new feats: Extra class ability feats, for example (erroneously referring to Nobody as Cipher). There is an Indiana Jones-style use-whip-as-hand feat that’s actually well-made and really cool. There is a feat to remain hidden at -8 to Stealth while attacking. The Befuddling Basics Style is an interesting take of unlocking combat maneuvers while retaining the feat-tree. There is also a feat, weirdly with the [Tag]-descriptor, that lets you combine two combat maneuvers. Another feat lets you make an attack with a creature you have just killed. OP: Over-Prepared Combat renders a target you have identified flat-footed against your attacks after identifying it. A take on the concealed damage trope is okay – but personally, I really liked the option to use razor wire to generate protection from arrows – problem here: Duration? Does it move with you? If so, does the movement require actions to maintain the globe? Using razor wire to make traps etc. is pretty amazing. Reminded me of how bad-ass Walther in hellsing was and really made me want to use these, in spite of the minor inconsistency noted. Seize the Initiative lets you retroactively grant yourself +4 to initiative, -4 to atk in the first turn and prevents the use of precision damage. Still, considering how damage outclasses defense most of the time, this is problematic. There is also a feat to stand up from prone position that is better than restricted class talents. Not a fan. Several feats allow for magus-spell-poaching. Spellwire Style combines razor wires with touch spell delivery – which is 5 kinds of awesome – seriously – the wire-feats here are damn cool and there is another feat-tree for them beyond those already noted. Problem: RAW, the Style-trees don’t work. The follow-up feats have the [Style]-descriptor – a character may usually only be in one style at once and the follow-up feats are usually combat feats, making the descriptor-choice here plain WRONG. That doesn’t break them, mind you, but it is jarring.

The chapter also depicts a new type of feat, namely [Friend] feats – these require a bond between player characters and provide synergy boons: AC-bonus while near a wild-shaped druid friend, save-bonuses versus the school of your wizard buddy, +5 ft. movement while near your raging barbarian buddy. These are nice ideas, though one deserves special attention, as it represents more of an alternate rule and the pdf acknowledges such: Collaborative lets an ally take a prerequisite-less feat of yours to qualify for a given feat, prestige class, etc., but this locks the feat and prevents retraining. This can, obviously, provide some issues, when e.g. follow-up abilities build on the loaned feat; at the same time, it can make sense in some contexts, so yes – I’ll treat it as a valid variant rule, since the pdf clearly designates it as potentially causing issues.


Editing and formatting are not the strong suit of Little Red Goblin Games. While not bad per se, there are a lot formatting issues. More importantly, this pdf’s rules-language could really have used a strict and nitpicky dev to look at the power and finer rules-interactions. The big picture works, mind you – but its small things like effects not properly codified that turn a potent ability into a problematic one. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports some solid full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Scott Gladstein, Ian Sisson and Christos Gurd’s latest Alternate Path was frustrating for me; you see, I REALLY like a ton of what I’m seeing in this book. The LRGG-crew is best when they’re experimental and you can say many things, but they don’t do cookie-cutter or bland. None of the classes or options herein are boring or sucky. At the same time, I really wished this had gone through the hands of a really picky dev. The options presented herein do have some issues in their rules-language and the details of their functionality and that drags them down quite a bit. Apart from the scout. The scout is just…takes a deep breath Anyways, what I’m trying to say is, is that this is SO CLOSE to being truly amazing. All of the classes have something really cool going for them, but whether it’s the inconsistent absence of FCOs for most of them or the finer details in the rules, this feels like a very much raw offering; like a beta-test of a very good, perhaps even a great game, but one that needs some serious work before it reaches the excellence and awesomeness it promises. From grossly undervaluing the power of Stealth (when playing by the rules) to the potent tricks, there is a strange sense of less balancing here. Take the sapper in contrast, who could really use more bombs over the levels, seeing that all cool class features are reliant on the expenditure of them and compare that to the others.

Can I recommend this? Tentatively, yes. You see, if you don’t consider this to be a run-as-is supplement, but rather a collection of experimental rules, and if you’re confident in your abilities to judge the impact of these options, then oh boy, I’ll guarantee that you’ll find some gems herein. At the same time, this is a very raw offering that fluctuates in the potency of its tricks rather wildly. A game that embraces the scout’s power will sneer at the relatively tame sapper and vice versa. The rough-edges in some of the ability interactions will require GM-calls. Still, while I should hate this book, I don’t. I enjoy it. Heck, I can see folks loving this. Why? Because it is creative and sports some seriously intriguing angles to pursue, significantly more so than many, many books I’ve read. As taken in its entirety, I can’t go higher than 3 stars for this: We have a mixed bag with some true gems, but also some less amazing components here. That being said, if you instead rate this for the cool scavenging options, you’ll get some real gems out of it – when rated as a grab-bag where you take some and leave some, then this suddenly becomes much more compelling – even with the flaws, this is at least 3.5 stars, rounded up, in such a context- And since I have a policy of in dubio pro reo, this is what my final verdict will be.

Endzeitgeist out.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Alternate Paths: Martial Characters 2: Fight Smarter
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Stray Spells (Racial Guide)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/06/2017 05:30:46

An review

This pdf clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 23 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

Okay, so the idea of spells becoming sentient humanoids isn’t new, but surprisingly, I have never seen the concept to be actually applied to a playable race, so the pdf does tread some new ground here. We begin the pdf thus with the “biology” if you will, of these sentient spells. Stray spells are, per se, immortal, though in practice, they always run the risk of being transcribed – this is a kind of Highlander-esque process where they can consume each other – the process takes 10 minutes, but more on that later. Stray spells are grouped in categories, depending on their spell school, with some specifics included – stray spells born from dispel magic, for example, tend to end up as loners…after all, their raison d’être would be the destruction of other stray spells – interesting nurture vs. nature angle for roleplaying here.

Speaking of interesting roleplaying opportunities – in a process not unlike transcription, two stray spells can fuse, budding basically into the analogue of offspring in an agendered, somewhat hermaphroditic process that could, e.g. generate fiery hail storm stray spells or even more interesting combinations – the only limits here, from a narrative point of view, are the ideas of those involved.

Racial trait-wise, stray spells get +2 Int and Dex, -2 Con, are medium native outsiders with a 30 ft. base speed. While sleeping, they gain a 50% miss chance, which is weird – does it stack with other miss chances? I assume no. “Anything that affects incorporeal creatures affects them.” You get the idea here – the racial traits, while understandable, don’t really adhere to the default formatting conventions, which may irk some of you. I felt the need to mention that, but let’s move on: They gain darkvision 60 ft. A stray spell can transcribe helpless stray spells or casters that are capable of casting 6th level spells or higher (or SP-equaivalents) when coup-de-gracing them, gaining temporary hit points equal to thrice the highest spell level the creature could cast or twice the creature’s HD if it was a stray spell, whichever is higher. These hit points last 1 hour and thankfully don’t stack with themselves. Stray spells “automatically makes an opposed caster level check against any attempt to dispel them, using their full character level as their cast level.” I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. A) That’s not how dispel magic or comparable checks work. B) How does this there even need to be a check (by whatever weird mechanics that’s supposed to happen), when the stray spell makes the check automatically?? They take damage upon failing the check and make end up being transcribed by the victor. But…I though they automatically make their check? That’s when it finally dawned upon me how that ability works: Basically, the roll a character level check against dispel attempts; they don’t automatically “make” the check, they just roll it, as a kind of saving throw substitute. -.-

After my initial annoyance over the rather wonky wording subsided, I found myself enjoying this drawback. As living spells, they are detectable by magic…and they have a spell form: They choose a spell of 3rd level or lower – as a standard action, they can turn themselves into a one-handed spell completion item that can be used by uttering the stray spell’s name as a command word. They use their highest mental attribute modifier as governing attribute modifier. A stray spell may be cast a number of times per day equal to 6 + the HD of the stray spell, minus 2 x the chosen spell’s level…which would translate to 3rd level spell access at 1st level. This is very strong, considering the potential AoE-damage output or the option to gain fly et al. at 1st level and should, as such, have some careful GM oversight due to the wide open nature of spells. Big plus: What can be used and what can’t while in this form are generally concisely codified and e.g. DR possessed translates to hardness, they have ego, etc. While not in any way a reliable indicator of power, they do come with RP-values, if you’re using them to gage general potency.

Random starting age and height/weight notes are included, as are favored class options for a couple of classic classes and some classes by LRGG. The racial paragon class does not get a favored class option, being already exclusive for the race – this class would be the stray king, who gets 2 + Int mod skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light and medium armor and shields, excluding tower shields. They have full BAB-progression and good Will-saves. Spellkings may transcribe spellcasters of 2nd level or higher and non-spell-completion/trigger items, provided the Cl of the item is equal to or less than the Max Spell Level (which starts at 0th and increases to 9th) – transcribing items never yields temporary hit points, only spells.

Wait, what? Well, the class gains transcribed spellcasting: Upon transcribing a creature, the stray king gains 1 spell the transcribed creature knew or 1 spell used in the construction of an item. The stray king thankfully can only hold ½ the character level (should probably be class level) spells this way; the original spell of the stray spell does not count towards this maximum. The maximum spell level they can transcribe thus is similarly capped per level and such spells may be spontaneously cast, with Charisma being the governing spellcasting attribute. Stray kings begin play with 1 +1/4 stray king level starting spells thus known…and, as you may have gleaned, the existence of the class has some seriously cool roleplaying ramifications – which the pdf acknowledges and talks about! Kudos there!

The spellcasting engine of the stray king, just fyi, is not your run of the mill system either: Instead, the class begins play with 4 stray energy and increases this amount every level – casting a transcribed spell requires an expenditure of stray energy points equal to the spell level. The stray energy amount scales up to 40 at 9th level, which remains pretty conservative – and that’s a good thing, considering that the class can pretty much cherry-pick from diverse spell-lists, provided they kill the foes… 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter yield a metamagic feat and 3rd level yields the option to add 1 metamagic feat to the stray king’s original spell sans level-increase. Starting at 10th level, 2 may be added for free to the stray king’s original spell, 1 to any spell the class has. This is wonky and less elegant than it should be, considering the diverging level-increases of metamagic feats – tying the mechanic to the level-increase of metamagic feats would have been a more balanced and elegant option here.

8th and 16th level increase the speed of transcription and 12th level nets, 1/day “per 2 Charisma modifier” (wording could be streamlined) the option to regain a bit of stray energy via transcription. The capstone yields a second racial spell. At 3rd level and every odd level thereafter, the stray king class receives an enhancement, basically the talents of the class. These do come with roleplaying implications (Cool!) and some are accompanied by compulsions, which may temporarily be suppressed with a Will-save. They are intended as roleplaying catalysts and not as penalties – and it is nice to see the pdf state that as such for the GMs out there. The enhancements are interesting in how they interact with the class engine: Clear vision, for example, allows the stray king to add Charisma modifier to Will saves instead of Wisdom modifier and provides basically an evasion equivalent for Will-saves…but only while he has 1 illusion spell known. So yes, these enhancements interact with the current spell array known, thus rewarding diversification over specialization in the chassis of the class. A scaling, translucent armor that may be a bit overprotective, automatically transcribing undead (which leaves a somewhat nasty scent on the spell king that may offend some NPCs), swift action more flexible alter/disguise self variants, shifting temporary hit points gained from transcription to nearby allies – there are some really interesting and creative tricks here. On the annoying side – these are not properly codified by type – no idea whether they count as Sus, Sps, Ex…

A total of 8 feats are included (one of which lacks bolding for the Prerequisite and Benefit headers) that allow for the retaining of more spells, stray energy, the ability to cast the racial spell while not in spell form, extra uses in spell form, Sr equal to 10 + character level + highest mental attribute versus your chosen spell, which can be upgraded to apply to the whole school of the spell…interesting collection.

The pdf also features two sample stray king characters, Kaleido Skop, a stray spell bard and Dirk Chein, an inquisitor. Beyond these, a template allows for the creation of spell-based monsters and comes with a sample spell beast.


Editing and formatting, while not bad, are also not exactly good: Beyond some formatting hiccups, there are a couple of oversights that impede playability (ability types) and some wording choices that are a bit unfortunate. That being said, the material herein DOES work and the playtesting this received does indeed show. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with nice full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

While the option for a 3rd level spell at 1st level mho needs a nerf unless used in high fantasy/high-powered contexts, this pdf ended up impressing me more than I thought it would: The race of stray spells is saturated with roleplaying potential galore and, in spite of the wide open nature of the race, it manages to retain a sense of manageable balance much better than what I expected. Ian Sisson, Christos Gurd and Scott Gladstein have, as a whole, created one of the precious few new races that really feel different, that offer an interesting playing experience. The race is smart and fun and, as a person, I really, really like this pdf. More so than I frankly should, considering the hiccups, glitches and minor inconsistencies; with a picky dev, this would be 5 stars + seal of approval material, no questions asked. That being said, in spite of loving this pdf, as a reviewer, I must unfortunately take the hiccups and glitches into account and they do drag down what would otherwise be an excellent offering. Thus, my official verdict can’t go higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

If you’re willing to work a bit with the pdf and if you’re willing to look past the imperfections, you’ll have a diamond in the rough, though!

Endzeitgeist out.

[3 of 5 Stars!]
Stray Spells (Racial Guide)
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Shapeshifter (Base Class)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/13/2017 06:36:38

An review

This new base class clocks in at 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 33 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This review was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon.

All right, so another take on the shapeshifter? This'll be interesting! Chassis-wise, the class gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level as well as proficiency with light and medium armor and simple and martial weapons. They get full BAB-progression as well as good Fort-saves. At first level, the class gains a pool of primal energy equal to the class levels. Primal energy can be spent or invested - reallocating these points is a standard action and spent points replenish after 8 hours rest. At 5th level, points may be reallocated as a swift action, at 10th level as an immediate action.

Starting at 1st level, the class gains visages, which are prepared - 2 at first level, scaling up to 13 at 20th level. Visages prepared may be changed via 1 hour of meditation. This can be done up to twice per day: The first time, this fatigues the shapeshifter, the second time it exhausts the shapeshifter. A new visage level is unlocked at 3rd level and every odd level thereafter - so yep, there are 10 levels of visages. Visages, somewhat oddly-named, can be considered to be less pronounced modifications of the body of the shapeshifer - they represent a cross between talents and spells - like talents, they provide continuous bonuses, but like spells, they must be prepared and can be switched. It is an interesting set-up and one that actually makes the class feel distinct. We can find electricity damage added to unarmed strikes, extra arms (sans combat capability, thankfully), the option to squeeze into tight spaces, natural attacks and armor - interesting tricks here! Primal energy may btw. be invested in natural attacks to upgrade them to primary attacks and the shapeshifter may grow mouths from legs, horns from hands, etc. and thus may have multiple variants of the same natural attack. Have I mentioned fleshpockets? Firing spines?

The flexibility these options offer and the choices available make the shapeshifter a potent class from the get-go, one that quickly increases and allows for the duplication of summon spells, use primal energy to heal, boost saves, create deadly toxins, grow internal extra brains...the abilities grow progressively strong, but know what's absent, for the most part? Means to regain primal energy. While switching and passive abilities are free, the big whoppers and more potent tricks also mean that the flexibility decreases - I have rarely seen a class that makes you want to spend a resource so badly...and not spend it at the same time! While the highest levels allow for very limited energy regaining via autophagy (no, you can't cheese it). The section, just fyi, is massive.

Starting at 2nd level, the shapeshifter gains predatory focus - he can study a target within line of sight as a swift action, gaining an untyped bonus of +1 to atk versus that creature, which increases by a further +1 at 7th level and every 4 levels thereafter. In addition to this bonus, predatory focus has an additional effect, with 8 choices available. These include bonuses to critical confirmations (which upgrades to autoconfirms at 15th level), ignoring parts of DR (taking different types of DR into account) or bonuses to Knowledge checks. The power levels of these choices oscillates quite a bit. Slightly problematic: Using focus as part of an initiative check. Does this count as a swift action? does it end being flat-footed? I assume no, but I'm not sure. On a cosmetic side-note, a sidebar has been formatted as another ability here, which is, formatting-wise, a bit annoying.

Starting at 4th level, the shapeshifter gains the power to consume the essence of a creature via the mantle class feature. In order to do so, they must kill a creature who is the target of the predatory focus, gaining the mantle associated with the creature. A mantle requires an amount of primal energy to work, requiring investment. Only one mantle may be active at any given time and investing primal energy is either a swift action or used in conjunction with the shapeshifting ability that allows for primal energy reallocation. The ability, while working smoothly, could didactically be phrased a bit better: As I see it, you may gain the mantle upon slaying a creature with the focus, but it only becomes activated upon investing primal energy. I admit to being first slightly confused by the sequence here in absence of a duration for the consumed essence, but yeah. Consider this just me complaining at a high level.

A total of 9 such mantles are provided and their activation costs range from 1 to 3 primal energy. It should be noted that these provide scaling benefits and thus also increase the activation cost at higher levels - with the exception of two mantles, who only have a fixed cost. Mantles grant abilities at 4th level, 9th level, 13th level, 17th level and also sport a capstone ability each. There are interesting abilities here - let us take the aberration mantle, as an example: If you make a Will-save, the prompting creature must succeed a save against the same DC or be affected by confusion for one round. 9th level provides a very potent debuff: Targets suffer -2 to saves to resist fear effects and the shapeshifter gains a +2 bonus to Intimidate as well, with both scaling - and creatures affected by the shapeshifter's fear-effects take an equal penalty to AC, attack and damage rolls. In combination with some options out there, this can make for pretty crippling debuffing. 13th level yields a morale bonus suppressing aura and at 17th level, they are aware of such bonuses and may flip them via primal energy expenditure into penalties - pretty cool! As a capstone, they get a bonus after slaying foes that may be granted to allies.

The Mantle of the beast nets either Fight or Flight when below 1/2 maximum hit points: The former lets you reroll minimum damage (not just weapon damage - that should have a caveat) and increases the damage output by 1, while Flight makes them no longer provoke any AoOs from creatures they are aware of...which is VERY, very strong. The abilities activated may btw. be switched as a swift or immediate action. This duality extends to the options at higher levels, including double rolls for attack or saves. 13th level provides the option to add a full attack after a crit confirmation, with a bonus, no less, and when in flight mode, they may perform immediate attack actions when subjected to a critical threat. This mantle is exceedingly potent, to the point where I wouldn't allow it - and yes, I am aware that the 1/2 max hit point caveat is intended to provide motivation to not have these constantly unlocked, but making abilities available all the time sans this bloodied-style limitation and making them less potent would have imho made this one run more smoothly.

The construct mantle, with save rerolls, SR and 13th level spell immunity that is powered by primal energy expenditure makes for a really cool and potent anti-magic defense option (with high-level options to converse dispersed magic into force damage bursts!) - really like that one! The mantle of the dragon nets draconic tricks (properly codified claws, natural armor and energy resistance (or DR) based on the dragon used to trigger the ability. The free 9th level breath weapon may look like a bit much, but subsequent uses require primal energy expenditure and cooldown, preventing spamming as well as imposing a hard cap. Once again, a well-wrought mantle. Fey can yield an immediate action Bluff feint, including self-granting concealment, with higher levels allowing the use of the ability when a foe misses. Alternate effects like dirty tricks are unlocked as well. The mantle of man is also interesting - it focuses on better social skills and features some cool social tricks, like using primal energy to not have creature attitudes worsen towards them or undermine hostile mind-influencing magic. Nice one!

The ooze mantle allow for the free movement into the square of other creatures and may even attack creatures within them - here, a sidebar dealing with reach etc. would have imho made sense to explain the various interactions that this uncommon option provides. At higher levels creatures that share squares with the shapeshifter at the start or end of the round take acid damage - and at following levels, Con damage is added to it (with a save to negate) and this damage nets temporary hit points, 20 per creature within...which is eminently cheesable. Can someone hand me the bag of kittens for massive amounts temporary hit points, please? The plant mantle nets tree stride and photosynthesis as well as high-level terrain control - no complaints there. The undead mantle begins with the negative energy affinity-like positive/negative energy change (healed by negative, harmed by positive) as well as temporary hit points. At higher levels, they can add negative energy damage to attacks, replenishing the temporary hit points of the mantle. These hit points are also used as a resource for becoming e.g. incorporeal at 13th level. Once again, an interesting mantle!

Beyond the base class and its various mantles and visages, we have 3 archetypes - one for the barbarian, one for the druid and one for the rogue, all of which can be summed up as losing a bit of their base tricks in favor of access to the visage engine of visages up to 7th level. Two feats allow other classes to dabble in the engine, while two other feats net temporary hit points for polymorph-spells casting casters. Fleshy Foxhole is OP - it lets you use items while merged with your form, which can prevent means of destroying them. Similarly, and I did not think I'd say that at one point, the Extra Primal Energy and Extra Shapeshifting feats, which net +4 primal energy or +1 visage (or two, if they're lower than your highest level visage) prepared are BRUTAL. They are both so good, taking another feat is basically pure foolhardiness, which is not a good sign as far as I'm concerned. While they have caps of how often you may take them, I'd strongly suggest capping them unless you're playing a really high-powered game.


Editing and formatting have two sides herein: On one hand, I was really impressed by the rules-language. While its wording deviates from a couple of standard conventions, it manages to get complex concepts done right and does so, as a whole, sans serious hiccups. On the formal editing level, we have minor plural hiccups, doubled letters and the like, so not so perfect there. Layout adheres to a solid 2-column full-color standard with original pieces of full-color artwork - many of which are actually quite cute, like the little oozes on the ooze-mantle page. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Designer Dayton Johnson had a really tough job here: One) I have literally analyzed more than 5 base classes dealing with the subject matter...and if I take archetypes into account, it gets worse. Two) He did not go the easy, standard route - the class does NOT use the eidolon chassis or that of the aegis or similar classes - instead it presents its own subsystem with a vast assortment of unique abilities, many of which are actually rather creative! This is NOT a phoned-in class - it is unique and creative.

In particular, the resource-management that lies at the heart of the shapeshifter is a true joy to behold: The game of switching visages is absolutely amazing and seriously fun, with a ton of combos hardwired into the class - it feels, at times, almost like a class penned by Bradley Crouch in that regard, and I mean that as the highest form of compliment! At the same time, the free access to all visages once the respective level unlocks, combined with the mantles, makes the shapeshifter a VERY potent class in the hands of an experienced player. GMs running a gritty or less high-powered game should consider implementing alternate restrictions, perhaps limit the visages available and nerf some of the mantle options a bit. What I'm trying to say is that the nitpicker within me could make a case that this class may be too strong, but I honestly don't want to. Why? Because I really love how it plays. While I will adjust the chassis and details of the class for my game, the playing experience presented by the shapeshifter is rather impressive - if I were to rate just the engine and how it behaves, I'd consider this an easy 5 stars. However, I do have a couple of complaints regarding some options herein and their power and similarly, but to a lesser degree, the glitches do annoy me a bit.

How to rate this, then? Well, for me as a person, this is a 5-star+ seal file for the engine tweaks I'll take out of it and for the actually creative and interesting options it has. As a reviewer, though, I do have to take my balance concerns and the hiccups into account, though, and from threat range increases that lack the stacking caveat to the other tricks, there is quite a bit to be potentially munchkin'd. I could rate this down to 3 for them, but that would not even remotely do this justice. Just note once more: This is a VERY potent option and not for low-powered games!

All in all, this drags my official verdict down to 3.5 stars, rounded up since it does not deserve being called mediocre - it is an exceptional, creative class, though one that imho needs a bit polish from the GM. If you don't mind the editing and are confident you can balance and tweak it, then get this ASAP - this is one cool class!

Endzeitgeist out.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shapeshifter (Base Class)
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Tome of Advanced Item Use
by Dylan T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/10/2017 20:04:01

This book begins with a vaguely pretentious and somewhat condescending introduction. I happen to like artificer classes and new items thank you very much.

After that we get the collector base class. they get heirlooms, magical items that function only for them. TL;DR, If you want to play a class that is defined by the gear that they use, play an Occultist (from paizo’s occult adventures) or one of the myriad archetypes that gains that classes implements class feature. Even if you take away the abilities that are far too powerful, all you have left is an uninspired mess of a class that tries to use things that other classes get as supplements to their abilities as class features.

To be specific the collector has several problematic abilities. Their main class feature, their heirlooms take the form of magic items of up to a certain price. This price starts small and improves as the collector gains levels. While the value of the heirlooms progresses thought the collectors career, it stops mattering after 8th level. At that point the collector can select minor artifacts as heirlooms. This allows them to gain a sphere of annihilation as an heirloom. While this is rather difficult to control when they get it, it is still kill anything with no saving throw and there are a handful of ways to make it much easier to control. While this is the most egregious example of what you can do as a collector, there are still plenty of minor artifacts that are only slightly less disruptive to play. The collector can also recharge magic items that have a limited number of uses, multiple times if they take the bond (the rage power esque pseudo feats that they gain access to every other level) this moves a wand of cure light wounds from a smart investment to 50d8 of healing a day. As early as 3rd level. This is an absolutely insane amount of healing that no other class can put out until they begin approaching 20th level.

There are a handful of other things like the ability to cast a spell from a wand twice in the same round and a bond that allows you to add 1/4th your level to your AC, along with a favored class bonus that does the same thing, making you obscenely difficult to hit. Also noteworthy is what’s missing from the class, namely any way to improve the save DC or caster level of any magic items you have, making items that cast spells non-competitive at higher levels.

There’s also the questing knight hybrid class. I don’t have access to the other class it draws upon (the fighting man) so I’ll decline to comment on this. I do note however, that it doesn’t get an heirloom at 20th level, making its capstone worthless.

After the collector is the Sacred Smith, this is by far the coolest concept of the three classes presented, but needs some heavy modification to work at the table. Their primary class feature is sacred forge, the ability to, over the course of 1 minute, create something from nothing. They have 10 pounds of matter that they can create every 24 hours, plus an additional 10 pounds per level they have. Unfortunately I don’t see anything that prevents them from just making gold with this ability, worse at 4th level they can make items created with this ability permanent, allowing them to, in essence, turn half their pool of matter into gold every day. (TIL: 50gp weighs 1 pound). At 9th level they can make magic items with their sacred forge ability. This doesn’t take any more matter than usual, and therein lies the problem. Most magic items don’t have any listed weight, meaning that the collector can make them for free and need only pass a check that is honestly pretty trivial (10+1/200th of the items price, rounded down. This DC gets even lower as the sacred smith progresses in level). A wand of cure light wounds is 1 oz and requires a DC 13 check to make. Trivial amounts of resources for positively insane returns.

They also have a few Battlesmith Trainings, rage power esque pseudo feats that they gain access to every few levels. Most of them are pretty solid, save that they expend only a pound or so of matter, which returns after an hour. That’s a lot of book keeping for very little expenditure, that’s more irritating than anything else. There are a few outliers, one gives you an enhancement bonus to damage rolls to bludgeoning weapons. But you get an ability before that that lets you give any weapon you make an enhancement bonus to attack and damage rolls that progresses at a faster rate. One gives you access to Dominate Monster (on creatures with the fire subtype) and Control Construct at 10th level. Those are 9th and 7th level spells respectively, and while they won’t come up every time, when they do, they’re absolutely devastating. Dominate monster lasts for a day per level and control construct is almost guaranteed to work if the sacred smith has ranks in spellcraft.

The sacred smith has a single archetype that allows them to trade out one of their abilities for the ability to create constructs via the animate objects spell, and later the craft construct feat. The last class in the lineup is the magician; they use a variety of props that mimic the powers of magical items in combat. While not particularly interesting, it is probably the most balanced of the classes.

Props are, as mentioned before, mundane items that the magician can turn into magic items, at least for a few rounds. They can only be slotless wondrous items, and the amount of gold they can cost varies by level. They can do this once per day per 2 levels they have. Unfortunately, they never get the ability to improve the save DC of these items, rendering there in combat use questionable at later levels.

They also gain secrets, ways they can modify certain magic items to gain certain effects. Most of these are pretty cool and I don’t have much to complain about. Although some of them give the magician bonuses on concentration checks and reduce arcane spell failure chance, niter of which were things the magician had to worry about, not having any spell casting abilities.

There is also a variety of new equipment tricks (from the adventurer’s armory book, a fact mentioned nowhere in the section). Most of these are solid choices, but some are pretty bad, dagger dance lets you do something you could already do, and hypnotic knuckle roll lets you spend a move action to give creatures a -1 on attack rolls for a round if they fail a will save.

There are also a handful of feats for intelligent magic items, a section of the game that’s better off being forgotten about.

Lastly there are a few rogue talents and magus arcana. These are all pretty solid, the magus arcana that lets you get a bonded item and later make it intelligent are pretty good, but I’m not sure how it works if the magus takes a wand with his arcane bond and makes it intelligent. Normally magic items with charges are explicitly not allowed to be intelligent items.

Unfortunately, most of the content in this book is unusable as presented, so I cannot give it a very good rating, but there are some gems in this book if you’re willing to put the work in to fix them.

[2 of 5 Stars!]
Tome of Advanced Item Use
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Alternate Paths: Social Characters
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/04/2017 09:30:41

An review

This massive installment of the Alternate Paths-series clocks in at 87 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with an impressive 83 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This book was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

So, what is this book? One could picture this supplement, as a whole, as a spiritual heir to both Ultimate Intrigue and Campaign, but I'll get more into the nit and grit of that later. In case you have not discerned that - this may not be the book to get if you're looking to run a murder-hobo dungeon-crawling campaign - the focus here is on intrigue, social iteration, etc. As such, the book assumes use of the downtime-rules from Ultimate Campaign. The pdf then provides a couple of considerations for characters and for what it means to be "civilized" and some general assumptions there - this ties into the dichotomy between primal and civilized characters, which is also represented by a few favored class options grouped not by class, but by what end of the primal/civilized-dichotomy the character represents.

We move on from here to considerations on certain types of deities - these represent general tropes of urban gods and come with the proper array of domains and the like. In an interesting conceptual twist, some deities are classified as predatory, meaning that they don't have followers in the traditional sense, but that they are basically "worshiped" by falling prey to the: Drugs, as an example, would one such concept. I do like how this influences potentially the meta-considerations of the game and we also get to know about locational deities.

Now, beyond this, we are introduced to the concept of social "caste" - the pdf acknowledges that this may not be the best word to describe the system, but, as a matter of fact, it makes sense - if you take a look at how historical societies worked (and continue to work, to a degree), you'll notice that the notion is not only restricted to pseudo-Indian environments. Social caste may be advanced via certain classes in the book and a feat can also be used at character creation to inherit caste. It is interesting to note that the higher castes come with a required minimum level - if you want to take levels in the 3-level socialite PrC, for example, each level will have new minimum level requirements, which thus means that upper caste characters will generally have a higher level than lower caste beings. The PrC nets, just fyi d8 HD, 6 + Int mod skills. It sports full spellcasting progression and nets a social path bonus each level - more on those later. For the purpose of the PrC, PCs start as "strangers" and progress through the 3 castes. Each of the castes has several distinct social paths: These include e.g. crime bosses gaining an income as well as a bonus to Intimidate and Bluff versus lawful creatures. Commanders gain morale bonuses when attacking professional soldiers and beings in your organizational hierarchy cannot deny you proper requests...but all of those paths also come with a social responsibility - these are similarly tied to roleplaying, with the example of teh crime boss requiring the boss to keep his charges safe, while the commander, obviously, is beholden to the structures of the military in which he serves.

Being famous or infamous, a physician or the like all can be found. In the middle castes, we can find merchant princes, ministers and bannerman, while the lower castes contain ascetics or champions - I kinda wished we got a bit more of these - 4 lower versus 7 upper caste paths show the system tilting a bit towards the more prestigious occupations. That being said, the system does engage in something that does rub me the wrong way: We get "misc. bonuses" in quite a few of the abilities granted by these paths - know how many bonus types PFRPG has? Do we really need another one that is not clearly defined? Not a fan here, particularly since some have been codified according to proper types.

The pdf also introduces a mechanic for social combat - unlike Ultimate Intrigue's verbal duels, these social combats are designed to be pretty rules-light and may take place in combat. As a standard action, you roll 1d20 and add the number of skill ranks (NOT the easily cheesable skill's value!) and the associated ability score modifier - the skill must qualify as being a social combat skill, obviously. Yes, these are concisely defined. The DC would be 10 + 1/2 the opponent's HD + the highest mental ability score modifier of the target opponent. If you exceed the target DC, the opponent takes 1d6 nonlethal damage per 2 ranks in the skill used. If you exceed the DC by 5, you also gain an edge. Social combat is a language-dependent, mind-affecting ability. A character defeated primarily by social combat gains the yielding condition - it cannot take hostile actions, may only defend themselves and is considered defeated - it should be noted that the GM retains some control here.

I mentioned edges - there are three of these and only one may be spent per social combat. These may be used to reduce the number of damaging d6s rolled taken from social attacks, can add +2d6 to the social combat damage, or add +4 to a social combat roll. It should be noted that this section does not specify an activation action, which it should - it is pretty clear from context that using an edge should not require an action and is considered to be part of the respective proceedings. The mechanic is precise, mind you - just complaining about the oversight of this formality.

A further aspect that influences social combat would be determination - these would be the creature's willingness to stay in combat: Determination is equal to the creature's highest mental attribute + the creature's HD. (As a minor nitpick: HD are usually noted first in such formulae.) Now, pretty interesting: The determination of a creature is modified, according to situations: A parent protecting his/her offspring, would e.g. double determination, while convincing peasants to rise up against a hated despot is much easier and halves their determination.

So, how does social combat run? Well, the result of using this system is that wise-cracking heroes can deplete pretty efficiently the determination of otherwise superior, but brutish/dumb creatures, getting them to stand down/see the error of their ways. Since determination is tracked individually, larger amounts of foes can make for more rewarding combats, while combats versus few or singular enemies can be solved decisively and quickly. Whether you like that or don't depends very much on your game's playstyle. That being said, the simplicity and elegance of the system allows for VERY easy GM-customization: You can run these social combat rules completely without determination...or you could use determination as additional "social-only" temporary "hit points" that kick in upon reaching 0 hit points, if you want to. So yeah, I am not the biggest fan of the default system, but I very much enjoy what you can easily do with it.

All right, next up would be 3 new classes: The noble gets d8 HD, a whopping 8 + Int-mod skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression and good Will-saves. Proficiency-wise, the class gains access to simple weapons, hand crossbow, rapier and all one-handed non-exotic firearms as well as light armor. At the start of each social encounter or verbal duel, they gain edges equal to Charisma modifier +1/4 class level, which are designated as noble edges. I assume that these do not adhere to the usual "1 edge per social combat"-rule, but I am frankly not sure. They begin play as a member of the upper class and gain a social path, as per the previous rules. Noblesse oblige, however and thus, each noble must choose and adhere to a given ideology: Personal glory, group glory, organizational glory, greater good or movements may be chosen and all have in common that they feature restrictions for the noble and also determine cases in which edges may not be used. These are concisely defined. The noble begins play with renown and increase that to great renown at 5th level, incredible reknown at 9th, fabulous reknown at 13th and regal renown at 17th level. And yes, these are concisely presented.

Second level yields social graces (another is gained at every even level thereafter) - in case you have not figured that out, indeed, there is some overlap between the social aspects of the vigilante class and the noble Instead of such a social grace, teamwork feats, social combat feats, social caste feats or the aforementioned social bonuses may be gained.

2nd level also yields the ability to talk down foes - when inflicting non-lethal damage via social combat, they may enhance their damage output, temporarily inflict negative conditions and allies may be targeted to grant them temporary hit points. This, weirdly, mentions an ally saving against it, which is not something the social combat rules here sport as a default. At 6th level, the push button ability allows for the expenditure of noble edges to determine the attribute of the target used to defend against a social attack. Beyond that, depending on the attribute chosen, the noble may choose one of two different effects to generate associated effects, ranging from calming targets to treating damage rolls as 4s or granting more temporary hp. Starting at 7th level, the noble may use noble edges to talk down foes as a swift action, but may not exceed one talk down attempt per turn.

3rd level allow for the combination of regular and social combat attacks. 4th level allows for the use of edges to grant morale boosts to themselves (only one per round and here, noble edges and regular ones are distinctly set apart, clearing up any confusion there...but still, wished that the base mechanics had noted that.). 5th level provides basically evasion for Will-saves,, which extends to all allies within line of sight and earshot at 19th level. 11th level increases talking down social damage, while 15th level increases the steps attitude is moved via Diplomacy and Intimidate. As a capstone, we get immunity to mind-influencing effects and auto-confirmed crits in the area of renown. And yes, the immunity can be suppressed. The class comes with FCOs for the base races and some more exotic ones from LRGG's oeuvre.

Furthermore, the class comes with a massive list of aforementioned social graces as well as advice on playing a noble - which centers on both elaborating the class mechanics and the roleplaying aspects of it. We even get suggestions for different "types" of noble and fitting social graces. All in all, I enjoyed this class more than I thought I would, in spite of the few hiccups, it is generally a worthwhile option.

The next class would be the legionary, who gets d10 HD, must be non-chaotic, and receives full BAB-progression, good Will-saves, 6 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple and martial weapons and all armors and shields, including tower shields. The class chooses a unit type at first level - these unit types are assigned social classes and receive their own class features - each day when assigning tactics, this type may be chosen and the social classes act as a limitation here. From quicker flurry-like thrown attacks to bonuses to atk and damage when they have not moved, the respective unit type features generally are interesting and fit the themes. They also scale with class levels. As always, I am not a fan of per encounter abilities, which e.g. the triarii sport (insert my long and at this point, well-known rant why this makes no sense). Cool: Second level yields bonuses to AC when receiving a morale bonus or sharing a teamwork feat and may share spaces with allies, which can be rather potent. They also get a kind of wildcard equipment ability called "arsenal" at 3rd level, which may not be cheesed. Magical arsenal is unlocked at 8th level, which can be galling for some GMs, but yeah - I can see it work in some campaigns.

3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter yield a teamwork feat and 4th level grants access to the first so-called legionary tactic, +1 every 4 levels thereafter. Galling: The wording here is messed up: Beyond a bear/bare-glitch, the wording here contradicts itself, implying two base tactics at 4th level versus the 1 it previously states - it requires checking the class table to deduce which one it is.

The legionary tactics are associated with the aforementioned unit types and two per unit type are provided. While these generally are pretty cool, the downside of the limited choice is that there won't be much variation between different legionaries of one caste. At 10th level, 1/3 class level of them may be reassigned as a swift action...which, considering the limited selection, is less potent than you'd think.

6th level and every 4 levels thereafter yield Skill Focus in a skill (or a noble's social grace) - these also include unlocks and double as increases in rank. The capstone nets massive social skill bonuses and automatic critical confirmation versus professional soldiers. I really like that "professional soldier" is defined here concisely - and so is "citizen"...but frankly, that should NOT be hidden in a class capstone. Considering that this is not the only ability referring to these concepts, it should have been properly defined in the base terminology employed by the book. The class sports a few favored class options.

The third class featured within would be the showman, who receives d8 HD, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves, must be non-lawful and gains 4 + Int skills per level as well as a custom proficiency list. Showmen are subject to arcane spell failure - the showman gains spontaneous spellcasting of up to 6th spell level, drawing from his own spell-list.

The signature ability of the class, gained at first level, would be a phantom blade - a magical blade that may be drawn as a move action...and yes, Quick Draw etc. is taken into account. When attacking with this weapon, Charisma is used instead of Strength for calculating damage (the rules-language is a bit wonky here, referring to score instead of modifier) and the showman may expend spell slots to increase the damage output of the phantom blade. It attacks, fyi, touch AC. It should be noted that damage type of this bonus damage and the phantom blade is not properly codified either. Targets hit by the blade may succeed a Will-save - if they do, they greatly reduce the damage output of the blade. Also slightly wonky: The conjured, versatile phantom blade is eligible for use with Weapon Focus, which makes all kinds of no sense and renders interaction with other abilities rather wonky. 5th, 117th and 17th level increase the potency and reality of the blade as well as the damage-types the blade may use - which provides a clue that the bonus damage and base phantom weapon damage should not by untyped, but rather the same as the weapon duplicated. 7th level allows for the sacrifice of spells to increase the save DC of the blade.

Starting at 3rd level, the class gains Weapon finesse and always treats the phantom weapon as finnessable. He also gains the first so-called bladewarp, of which there are two types: Shapes and effects. Only one effect may be applied to any given phantom weapon, but any number of shape bladewarps may be applied. Another one is gained at 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter. These are very potent and interesting, allowing you to strike at enemy spellslots/unused spells, confusing targets etc. Effects add power, while shapes allow for unique twists, but at the cost of making the blade easier to see through.

2nd level provides a bonus to Perform and more gold earned as well as the first carnival trick, with more being learned at 4th level and every even level thereafter . these represent the talents of the class. While the above hiccups did not bode well for the class, I was more than a bit positively surprised by the carnival tricks featured herein: We get the ability to basically teleport within illusions by stepping into the fantasy, readying counters to actions via skill-checks and knowing smiles or the ability to instill an identity crisis in the target that may well be more real than the poor hapless sod imagined. In short: These talents are really creative and make for cool poaching/hacking options, even if you don't plan on using the class as written.

13th level provides more reality for illusions, further enhancing this reality at 19th level. Minor nitpick: Spell-reference not italicized. The capstone eliminates the blade's save and increases the DC of his illusions. The spell-list's spells are not italicized and the class gains, once again a couple of different favored class options.

Now, while the base class has couple of unnecessary hiccups, it does come with a per se pretty intriguing archetype: the ringleader replaces spellcasting with an ability to generate temporary clones - and the archetype manages to concisely define and reign in this most difficult of abilities to prevent cheesing in a thoroughly concise and impressive manner. Instead of enhancing phantom baldes via spellcasting, he may expend clone uses to increases the damage output versus targets. Carnival tricks are restricted to a degree and 3 unique ones are presented. Additionally, 4th level and every 6 levels thereafter replace the carnival trick gained there with upgrades to clone staying power, with 10th level increasing the daily array of clones beyond the usual scaling of the base ability. Pretty cool: Shell-game-like switching of positions and at higher levels, the destruction of a clone can yield confusion to foes and reflexive swapping. This archetype is really nice and extremely hackable - I really, really enjoy it.

From here on out, we get 7 new spells - layout-wise, their pages sport quite a bit of free space - more than two could have fit on a given page, but that's a cosmetic complaint. From making targets seem buffoonish to making targets look like you (in a variety of versions) or the conviction of being attacked by chickens or other fowl, the spells are pretty nice. Magical very important papers help lending a sense of authority to the PC - but it should be noted that it has a couple of minor formatting deviations. Beyond the usual "extra" class feature feats, the chapter with new feats contains feat-based access to social paths, further enhances their bonuses or allows you to be part of more than one caste via Man of Two Worlds. Similarly, the paths and the social combat system entwine here, granting special attacks to e.g. Academics and sporting the [Social Style] descriptor - a type of bearing in a social context, if you will - otherwise, they can be switched akin to regular styles. And yes, much like regular styles, they sport 2 follow-up feats each and can be considered to be intriguing.

The final section of the pdf provides a significant array of different political services, codifying the arranging of relationships, assassinations, bribes, buyouts, etc. - these are well-codified with examples and descriptions, etc. - and both sources and modifiers are included, ending the pdf on a nice note.


Editing and formatting, traditionally a weak point of LRGG's offerings are generally good - while there are a couple of minor formatting hiccups and some abilities that could use a bit of refinement, as a whole, this represents a step up. On the big plus side, for the most part, this book does actually interesting things, often complex ones, and excels in some seriously difficult rules-operations. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with a blend of b/w and full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed and nested bookmarks.

Scott Gladstein, Ian Sisson and Christos Gurd have created a supplement here that I like more than any previous one in the series: While I personally loved the ascetic character-installment's esoteric tweaks, these did require a lot of GM-skill and consideration to properly use and this book is significantly more player-and GM-friendly. That being said, the book has, beyond a few editing hiccups, two crucial flaws that keep it from reaching the lofty praise I'd otherwise heap upon it:

One, the terminology and its definitions is didactically, not that well organized. Having to look up e.g. the definition of being a "professional soldier" in a capstone is not something I consider to be wise. Secondly, and more importantly in my book, the per se very cool social combat system presented herein could and should be a bit clearer in its presentation - and it honestly is stunning to me why the pdf does not elaborate for a page or so on the means of tweaking its baseline.

You see, the math of the system is pretty solid for what it seeks to be, but the default use creates a very distinct and pretty social default mode of operations...and that one may be one some GMs loathe. HOWEVER, the system, with absolutely 0 work on part of the GM, can be tweaked to enable for play in pretty much any campaign and playstyle you want to use. I can see the math, how it works in various campaign types and how it must be tweaked to accommodate them at one glance...but the same may not hold true for all customers. It is baffling to me why the pdf does not explain the repercussions of e.g. ignoring determination, of increasing/decreasing it, etc., when it is quite evident that some serious work has gone into the social combat mechanic. In short, even if you're like me and don't like the default, which provides pretty speedy resolutions, you may well want to take a closer look here - the system offers much more than what one can perceive at first glance.

The classes contained here are on the solid-to-good level: They offer unique tricks as well as sufficient customization options, even though a few minor hiccups can be found. The showman feels a bit like an odd man out - while per se not a bad class, it doesn't really tie in with the leitmotifs established here. I generally do like the caste-system mechanics and the favors, though the former could have used a bit of expansion.

How to rate this, then? Well, the balancing here is pretty good and similarly, even potent and high-difficulty tricks have been codified rather well. While the pdf does have a couple of hiccups that would see me usually penalize it further than I do in this review, I did draw a lot of inspiration from this book and that is something I rather cherish. If you expect perfection from a supplement and some rules that immediately let you go to town, then this may not be what you're looking for. However, if you're willing to work with the book, perhaps expand it a bit and do some tweaking, then you most assuredly will get your money's worth here. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Alternate Paths: Social Characters
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