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The Youxia's Handbook
by James E. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/23/2020 15:25:21

The Youxia's Handbook is one of the most interesting updates for the Spheres of Might system. With new high-wire kung-fu style options, this book is geared towards games with fantastic martial action, rather than just guys in armor hacking at each other with swords. Also, Strength to AC (within reasonable limits). Overall, definitely one of my favorite add-ons for Spheres of Might, and a worthy addition to any collection.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Ultimate Spheres of Power
by Pål B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/19/2020 10:00:49

Ultimate Spheres of Power is a massive book with more than 600 pages that updates to the alternate magic system presented in Spheres of Power as well as the handbook project that expanded all 20 spheres. The book also includes materials from Spheres Apocrypha and other Spheres supplements that were published before its kickstarter. I have backed the handbook project for spheres on patreon as well as this book on kickstarter. I also participated in the feedback and discussions during the playtest of Ultimate Spheres of Power and its updated rules.

First off, when I picked up the original Spheres of Power back in 2015 I instantly fell in love with it and I now find little interest in playing pathfinder without it. The system could be used both together with or instead of normal vancian casting, and excelled at producing spellcasters based around a theme. With Ultimate Spheres of Power, this still holds true.

The idea is that you choose a couple of spheres which grant at will abilities you can augment by spending spell points. And then learn talents that expand those spheres, either by granting new abilities or granting effects that modify existing abilities like increased range or the ability to target an area. Abilities that significantly power up an ability such as [mass] talents that change a power from single target to multitarget or improve action economy with a single ability typically come with a spell point cost in addition to the cost of spending one of your limited talent choices.

The book is so massive that I won't be able to go in depth on all the options, but I will try to give some highlights of the options presented.

The Good Casting Traditions: Instead of the arcane/divine/psychic divide of the base pathfinder, each spellcaster requires a casting tradition which specifies details about how their magic works. This includes choosing a casting ability modifier (usually Int, Wis, or Cha), general drawbacks (does your magic require Somatic and Verbal components? Does it require a focus like a holy symbol, ring, wand, or metal weapon? Does your magic cause a horrible addiction, drain your life energy, cause pain, require you to play music, or drain energy from the land around you? And many more options), and boons (such as having an easier time maintaining spells with concentration, ability to overchannel to temporarily increase your power, or getting more spell points to fuel your magic). Casting Traditions should ideally be determined in a cooperation between the GM and the Player, but also serves as a tool for the GM to customize his world. Casting Traditions can also be assigned as arcane/divine/psychic or something else entirely if desired to increase the transparency with vancian casting.

The Spheres: The 22 spheres Alteration, Blood, Conjuration, Creation, Dark, Death, Destruction, Divination, Enhancement, Fallen Fey, Fate, Illusion, Life, Light, Mind, Nature, Protection, Telekinesis, Time, War, Warp, Weather, are all distinct and flavourful with mechanics that support the theme and allow for both specialization and diversity. The chapter with all the spheres and their basic talents is around 160 pages giving lots of options.

Advanced Talents: Magic abilities with significant impact on the setting are presented in a separate list of advanced talents. This is where you can find long range teleportation, scrying, creating 2 mile radius darkness, creating instantaneous and permanent effects, and so on. Depending on the style of game, a GM can choose to allow or ban advanced talents. Even if they are allowed, a player should still inform the GM of any advanced talent they take as even in high magic settings where most options would be fine, some can still have major unwanted impact and with well over 30 pages of advanced talents they might not be familiar with all of them.

The Somewhat More Neutral Sphere-Specific Drawbacks: Whenever a character gains a new sphere, they may choose one or more sphere-specific drawbacks for that sphere. In Ultimate Spheres of Power spheres gained through temporary talents cannot benefit from sphere-specific drawbacks and temporary talents cannot be used to buy off a sphere-specific drawback. The way these drawbacks work you lose access to an ability in the base sphere or limit that ability in some way in order to get a bonus talent in that sphere. This is a central and important mechanic when it comes to getting your concept to line up with your mechanics, but also a somewhat fiddly mechanic that can yield a lot of extra versatility if optimized.

Classes: While the classes are generally good, I find that most are either a bit bland or a build your own class type of class. The Incanter is perhaps my favorite class, but it is essentially a generic sphere caster who is specialized in having many magic talents. They did mostly fix the issue of dipping into the Incanter as they can no longer gain all their specialization options at 1st level, and the sphere specialization options now mirror the Conscript from Spheres of Might granting a special ability at 3rd level, 8th level, and 20th level making the option feel more unique compared to the original version. Similarly the Hedgewitch is a generic mid-caster and the Mageknight is a generic low-casting gish, but they are well made and interesting. The Elementalist stands out as everything Paizo's Kineticist wishes it could be, namely an easy to use blaster with mechanics that are easy to grasp and ability to pick up some thematic utility options. Correct application of the Casting Tradition and use of the Nature Sphere and you will have a great elemental bender.

Archetypes: With about 120 pages of archetypes, there is a lot to choose from and the quality will vary. A few archetypes such as the dual-blooded sorcerer were removed in Ultimate Spheres of Power as they essentially traded out nothing for a lot of power, while many of the generic sphere-archetypes for pathfinder classes remain pretty bland. There are however also a lot of inspired archetypes that change up classes in fun and interesting ways.

Transparency: Ultimate Spheres uses something they call magic skill bonus and magic skill defense in place of caster level checks in base Pathfinder. While caster level determines the scaling of abilities and DCs of sphere abilities. This can get a little confusing for players who are used to Pathfinder and d&d. For the most part the systems interact with each other in the way you would expect, and basic rules are specified in chapter 1 while specific instances of how the sphere talents interact with Paizo spells are called out in the talents where it is relevant. It still happens that you run into unclear interactions.

Balance Considerations While the original Spheres of Power was clearly a downgrade in power compared to vancian casting, especially at higher levels. This was mostly due to the loss in versatility. Even in the original, a sphere caster could pull off abilities that a vancian caster would need to wait until a higher level for (such as short range teleportation, or a mass charm monster) due to the nature of specializing in a single trick by investing all your talents into that trick. The possibility of creating this type of one-trick pony who has one trick that wins any encounter where it applies but is useless if it doesn't apply still exists in Ultimate Spheres of Power.

Ultimate Spheres of Power also comes with a massive increase in options, which has led to more powerful options. By dipping around, it is possible to gain a multitude of unusual bonus types that in some cases still scale faster than they should as well as unanticipated synergies. One example would be using the Community-Minded trait from Paizo with the War Sphere using the sphere-specific Battle Manipulation and Alternate Rally (for Empower). This allows the sphere caster for 1 talent and a trait at 1st level to as an immediate action spend a spell point to grant themself (as you are your own ally in pathfinder) or an ally within 30 feet of you a +4 morale bonus to either attack rolls and cmb, ac and cmd, saving throws, or concentration checks and checks against spell resistance for 3 rounds. While morale bonus is one of the common bonus types that matter, this together with other dedicated dips for either action efficient or long term buffs of different types can shake up math to the point where a buffed character makes the d20 rng irrelevant.

The increase in options has also led to an increase of save or lose abilities in Ultimate Spheres. While these have existed in base pathfinder and in the original Spheres of Power as well, they are much easier to get or stumble into in Ultimate Spheres. Due to how implements (magic items that increase your caster level and thus also save DC) work as well as how sphere casters can usually always operates at or near full power for as long as they have spell points, combined with the ease of making the save or lose ability multitarget, means spheres casters can shut down combat encounters just as hard as a vancian caster using their best spells.

In the end, my opinion is that while a caster using Ultimate Spheres is less versatile than a vancian caster, a vanilla paizo caster will usually find that they have less raw power compared to a sphere caster's best tricks. This becomes even more noticeable with unlimited access to advanced talents (which I would not recommend), as you have easy demon summoning in Conjuration that can match planar binding, the ability to retrain your whole character using Complete Reversion from the Time sphere, or creating a 2-mile radius area of death using Dark, Light, or Weather spheres. Access to advanced talents with GM approval is still needed if you want staple abilities like long range teleportation, or the ability to raise dead.

Conclusion While the balance of Ultimate Spheres requires more GM oversight than the base Spheres of Power, I find that the rules updates and additional content is an improvement of an already amazing system. I personally will not GM Pathfinder without allowing spheres, though depending upon the style of game I might insist upon only using casting traditions with significant drawbacks and disallowing advanced talents. As a player, unless my concept is specifically based on a d&d or pathfinder style character I find it much easier to realize it using spheres and to adjust the character to be more in line with the rest of the party and setting.

As such I will give Ultimate Spheres five stars and a strong recommendation to anyone who plays pathfinder, and especially anyone who is tired of vancian casting and would like to try out some new options.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
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The Youxia's Handbook
by Gabriel E. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/09/2020 19:52:36

This book opens up a great amount of new options for the Spheres of Might system fitting wuxia-style play, as advertised. I don't think there's a single talent written in here that I don't love. I think all the new archetypes presented are great (Kung Fu Exemplar in particular looks awesome); I also very much like the idea of the Light Body Technique optional ruleset, and the idea of grandmasters presented within seems really interesting - hopefully I'll be able to make use of it in games I run. Take my 5 stars and my money.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
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The Necromancers Handbook
by Tom G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/09/2020 14:17:18

The Death Sphere is perhaps one of my favorite spheres in the game. Mostly because I've always been fond of the ghost strikes and being able to readily debuff people whenever possible as a way of fighting. This handbook doesn't add much in way of ghost strikes, but the ones it does add are very welcome indeed. It does, however, add in a lot of ways new ways to reanimate using different sphers as well as new things to do with your undead. All in all a great addition to any necromancer. Also adds a great new slew of archetypes that bring something cool, creepy and a bit gross in the case of the Symbiat's archetype, to the table that really get the death juices flowing.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
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The Sanguinist's Handbook
by Tom G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/09/2020 14:14:11

The blood sphere was something I didn't know I wanted until it had already come out. It's a very cool thematic and a very great sphere focused on bleed damage, drain tanking and lots of debuffs. At times the sphere can be a bit loaded as to how fast and easily these debuffs can stack, but also has a bit of a balancing act against itself in how fast they can also all be cleared away. Overall, great sphere and love to see more blood stuff in the future.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
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The Fey Binder's Handbook
by Tom G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/09/2020 14:12:16

The Fallen Fey sphere had existed before this handbook, but it had the problem of being a sphere that was really weirdly niche and didn't do all that much even within its niche. Now it's got a lot more added and rewritten to it to make it a properly functioning and flavorful sphere for if you like Fey stuff. By itself, it's still not a sphere you would ever fully specialize in but it is definitely now a great utility sphere to dip into and pair with whatever else you're doing in your build.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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The Trickster's Handbook
by Tom G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/09/2020 14:08:31

Illusion has always been a bit of an awkward sphere in spheres and this helps it out considerably. Adding in clarifications, more talents, more categories of talents so you know what everything is supposed to do and also just more things to do in the form of tricks, or minor illusions. Adds cool archetypes to make use of these tricks as well. Overall, makes the illusion sphere - a very talent intensive sphere - all the more appealing to invest in.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Spheres Apocrypha: Dipsomania
by Tom G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/09/2020 14:06:20

Introducing a drunken fist monk, it brings in a new way to use the barroom sphere. Honestly, the archetype probably didn't need to be alcohol focused and the thematic might not be for everyone, but it brings about a unique method of power scaling in having a stacking system of bonuses and penalties the more drunk you are. Which is pretty unique and cool from a design perspective. It also has a feature called Eight Gates of the Drunken Master.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Spheres Apocrypha: Dipsomania
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The Tempestarian's Handbook
by Tom G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/09/2020 14:03:29

The weather sphere has always been a bit of a strangely imbalanced sphere given how fast it gives an incredible amount of world shaping power that affects a large area, with a safety net that is also sometimes too large to properly function. The book doesn't do anything to fix the problems with the base weather sphere, but it never set out to do that so I can't really judge it for that. Instead, it adds more options to the weather sphere that are weather themed but don't have to deal with the cluster that is the base weather sphere. With buffs in the form of Mantles and debuffs in the form of Shrouds, it gives a wide breadth of options to the player while also still being able to use the weather to their advantage. The archetypes are also cool. You can throw lighting at people. That's cool.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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The Worldwalker's Handbook
by Tom G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/09/2020 13:55:01

Probably one of the books I had anticipated the most during its playtesting life cycle. The world walkers handbook gives a bunch of new options to the warp sphere and barely any of them involve teleporting. Which is fine because the sphere basically already had all of that covered from release. Instead it adds to the "Bend" talents to add the field of manipulating space and that sweet reality fabric, a concept that existed when spheres first came out but was hardly expanded upon now. This makes the warp sphere become not just a one-trick pony in that all it does is warp, but now adds a lot more utility through buffing and battlefield control with it. The book also contains some neat archetypes including a teleporting monk, for all you warping punch enthusiasts.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Spheres Apocrypha: The Essence Smith
by Tom G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/09/2020 13:51:13

It's a neat archetype for Blacksmith that as far as I understand adapts the concept of the Artisan class from DDS into a more spheres friendly class. Basically, as far as crafting is concerned, this archetype is supposed to be the best and most cost effective way to ever do crafting. As a result it suffers from not really doing that much beyond crafting and using enhancement talents, and also weirdly gets less crafting feats then the base Blacksmith class itself.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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Spheres Apocrypha: Alchemical Poisons
by Tom G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/09/2020 13:47:44

I've always been fond of poisons and was glad to see that there was some more love for them coming out in the form of Apocrypha books. And this really just helps fill in some missing gaps for conditions and debuffs, as well as still allow you to deal damage with your poisons. Overall great addition.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Spheres Apocrypha: Cognition Talents
by Tom G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/09/2020 13:45:40

The talents in this book are pretty neat and very niche. They're a bunch of self buffs that can be cool in concept but aren't really that likely to come up with and can some times be a bit underwhelming. I'd be glad to see more cognition talents in the future but most of these probably just aren't going to be used.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
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The Bear Sphere
by Tom G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/09/2020 13:42:20

It's literally called the Bear Sphere. It gives you bear arms. It lets you arm bears. BEARS!!!



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
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The Chronomancer's Handbook
by Tom G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/09/2020 13:41:15

Time Magic is fun and it's always a fun concept to play around with. A nightmare to balance most of the time, or keep actually in time theme but I think the book does a good job in putting out talents that actually give you the feel of manipulating time and give even more utility to this sphere. Rebalancing some of the old drawbacks also makes this sphere more attractive, as well as adding more spheres of might compatible options for Haste and Slow and starting to fill out some of the 9th level spell equivalents in advanced talents. The archetypes are cool as well, but a lot of them are really poorly balanced.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
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