An Endzeitgeist.com review
The latest installment of Rite Publishing's massive "In the Company"-series for playable monster races clocks in at a massive 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 43 (!!!) pages of content, so let's take a look!
This was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
Unlike most of these books, we do not begin with the in-character prose that guides us through the book itself - instead, we start with author Jonathan McAnulty noting taking us a long on a short trip through his mind and past, explaining why this book exists in the first place - and personally, I like that. It makes the book feel...well, more direct and establishes a context and theme against which one may process the following information.
After this, we dive right into what has by now become a crucial part of the identity of this series, namely the fact that it reads very well: The introduction to the playable treants featured in this book is narrated by a member of the race, structured alongside a song of the treants, as the narrator explains the mythology, the role of shepherds of trees and then proceeds to detail the life-cycles of treants, misconceptions of other races, the unique society, ethics and relationships with other races. This whole section is provided in stunning, captivating prose and extends its level of detail to nomenclature to the finer details as well, resulting in a truly captivating experience as far as reading material is concerned.
Now, an important component of the treant as depicted here is that the treants are plants, yes...but the plant traits, very powerful as a default, have been modified for balance's sake, which is a pretty big (and smart) decision right then and there. Unlike previous installments of the series, the treants provided herein actually are not simply one race: There are multiple options to choose from, the first of which would be the birchwalker.
Birchwalkers gain immunity to humanoid-targeting effects, paralysis, stunning and sleep effects as well as +1 + 1/2 HD to saves versus charms, compulsions, morale effects, patterns, phantasms and polymorph effects - these would be the modified plant traits mentioned above. They get +2 Con and Cha, -2 Wis, low-light vision and are always awake, though their spell preparation etc. work via a meditation, though this does not include penalties to Perception for sleeping. Birchwalkers gain +2 natural armor and are resilient versus starvation, suffocation etc. - they get +4 to Con-checks to avoid the like and gain +2 to Diplomacy, Appraise and Craft. (Here, a cosmetic formatting glitch has crept in, with the artisan racial trait not beginning in a new line; cosmetic, though and not a reason to harp on the pdf. Birchwalkers get +4 to Knowledge (Nature) pertaining trees and armor made for them costs twice as much. They also take +50% fire damage. Alternate racial trait-wise, they can have a slightly faster speed (and minor bonuses versus trip and bull-rush), +2 to Knowledge (nature), +4 to Diplomacy and Knowledge (local) or +4 to Profession (orcharist), increasing a region's plant productivity 1/year via plant growth-y tricks.
The second version of treant we get is the oakheart, who gets the same modified plant traits as well as +2 Str and Wis, -2 Dex, only 20 ft. movement rate (that is never diminished), cannot run, is always awake, gains low-light vision, +2 natural armor, the same photosynthesis-bonus versus starvation/suffocation/etc. (and yes, they still require sustenance!), speak with plants at will, +2 to saves versus spells, SPs and poisons, +2 to CMD vs. bull-rush and trip and the same Knowledge (nature) bonus to deal with trees. They also share the requirements for more expensive armor and being flammable. Alternate racial trait-wise, they can get +2 to Diplomacy and Knowledge (local), 1/day wood shape, +2 to saves versus electricity, cold and heat-based saves or an increased natural AC at the cost of further reducing movement rate, down to 15 ft.
Pretty cool and a nice showcase of 3pp-camraderie - instead of simply replicating another author's work or generating redundancy, there is also the seedlings included. First written by Marie Small and then published by Jon Brazer Enterprises, these characters would be the option to use if you wanted less powerful base race stats and are the version you'll take for the low-fantasy campaigns. While seedling-material is obviously included herein, the original book is by no means redundant and can be pictured as a nice companion-pdf to this book. It's great to see Rite Publishing giving credit where credit is due.
That's still not all, though - there is a FOURTH race of treants in this book, the Willowkin. These fellows also get the modified plant-traits, +2 Dex and Int, -2 Con, darkvision 30 ft, low-light vision, +1 natural armor, photosynthesis, they can speak with plants at will, gain +2 to CMB when making trips and +1 initiative, +2 to Spellcraft checks as well as +1 DC when casting SPs and enchantment spells (not that big a fan of the SP-caveat since I know a couple of classes that cast exclusively SPs...) and 3/day daze, I assume as an SP - the trait doesn't specify, which makes figuring out the DC slightly more opaque than it should be. They also suffer from the more expensive armor and flammable drawbacks like their brethren. While their write-up, like those before, sports some of the cosmetic glitches, I noticed no formal ones. Alternate trait wise, they can get keen senses, +2 to Acrobatics (which should be capitalized, not lower-case) at the cost of natural armor, tremorsense 5 ft. instead of darkvision and 1/day healing by putting his feet/roots into water - which is a damn cool image.
The pdf provides a significant array of favored class options, but class-specific ones and general ones and then proceeds to provide racial archetypes, the first of which would be the Primal Forest Guardian, a treant barbarian that gets a modified skill-list and proficiency-list. Instead of uncanny dodge, improved uncanny dodge and DR, the archetype gains +1 natural AC per level and +1 DR/- per 2 levels, but also pays for this enhanced defense with reduced numbers of rage per day. Instead of fast movement, they become particularly adept at hurling boulders, trees, etc, increasing the damage output of these at higher levels and they begin play with a slam attack that scales in base damage. Pretty cool: At 11th level, the guardian can elect to forego iterative attacks in favor of an additional slam attack at full BAB, which improves the flow of combat. They do, however, gain less rage powers. Unique: The barbarian actually grows in size, up to Gargantuan at 20th level, with minor attribute bonuses and a single Dex-loss accompanying this feature. Bonus damage versus inanimate objects is nice, but more interesting would be that prolonged rages may animate trees in the vicinity of the primal guardian.
If you've read the above, you may have begun already contemplating how treant growth and multiclassing work - for you'd be correct in the assumption that all the archetypes herein indeed do sport such options. Their interaction is handled with a rather nice, explanatory sidebox that provides concise and succinct guidelines for the GM and players. Kudos!
The verdant healer would be the treant cleric and, like the barbarian, the archetype receives a modified list of skills and proficiencies and is locked into the healing domain as well as one domain of the player's choice from a brief list. Verdant Healers cannot channel positive energy to harm undead and gain 1/2 their class level to Heal-checks. They gain a scaling slam attack as well as natural armor bonuses that increase every 2 levels, with high levels also providing a bit of DR. At 3rd level, the archetype gains the option to use channel energy as a touch instead, which heals slightly above the median of rolls for regular beings, 6s for plants and allows the healer to even treat attribute damage and at the highest levels, raise dead. Think of this as a channel powered alternate lay-on-hands/mercy-ish option. They also are experts at brewing potions and gain, as mentioned above, growth, though size-wise, they cap out at Huge at level 20.
The tree master druid takes the tree animation one step further in a bonded forest and would probably be the incarnation of the treant character concept you think of first. This ability is powered by the quickening point pool, here equal to 2 + Charisma modifier, +2 per class level gained. This concept, just fyi, can be found in quite a few of the archetypes herein, with information on pool-behavior when multiclassing being provided as well. Obviously, wild shape is focused on plant shape iterations for a tonal consistency. The fighter archetype provided herein focuses on a combination of tanking akin to the barbarian brother and a focus on hurling devastating stones. The earthborn kineticist is locked into earth (geokinesis) as primary element and gains basic geokinesis as a wild talent and burn gets an interesting modification: Earth-related burn is reduced by 1 to a minimum of 1, while fire-related burn is increased by 1. Burn can also be accepted in order to temporarily increase the kineticist's defensive capabilities and they may infuse the power of earth in their slams.
The serene master would be atreant monk (which is a pretty powerful option, considering the fact that the armor-restriction is null and void for those guys) - and the combo of modified monk-AC-rules and AC-scaling means, ultimately, that these guys end up with better capabilities to survive the rigors of adventuring. While they do not gain stunning fist (thus locking them out of quite a few archetypes and tricks that use Stunning Fist as a resource), their damage-output is increased. Now here is an interesting option: At 4th level, they can deliver attacks by proxy via trees, allowing them to be supremely lethal combatants in forests. I was pretty skeptical about this one, but it ended up being rather cool, so kudos! (And yes, ki-powered, but balanced regeneration is included, though the ability lacks an activation action.) At higher levels, these guys can also swap places with trees. Prophets of the Glades oracles gain the new deep woods mystery, which sports among its revelations true strike-ish benefits alongside rock throwing as well as establishing an effect that lets your survey a tree and share damage with it...which certainly is powerful, but also evocative and in line with the treant mythology established in fiction. As a minor cosmetic nitpick, that one's name isn't italicized. Pretty cool would also be the second mystery, the weather mystery, which grants you bonuses depending on the current weather! You know...I actually really like this idea! Windy day? Your bonus applies to Dex. Cloudy? Wisdom. I think there's a class concept here. Three sample curses for treant oracles, from being hollow to being fire-scarred or stunted can be found as well.
More classic and in line with what you'd expect is the Woodland Stalker, a pretty straightforward ranger with treant-y abilities. The wald walker rogue is interesting in that it may, among other options, flank with trees a limited amount of times per day and has quite an array of nice, unique talents. The skald archetype provided similarly uses the treant-y tricks like slam attacks and hurling stones, but supplements them with unique performances. The arcane classes aren't left out either: Sorcerors can gain two new bloodlines, the ley line and fey woods bloodlines; the first featuring healing capabilities for the sorceror and the second being more closely aligned with classic tricks, including a vanilla quickening directed tree attack. Finally, the verdant scholar wizard gets a bonded tree that can aid him when making magic items and divide damage between him and the tree. Additionally, a selection of unique arcane discoveries are provided for the archetye. This one surprised me. Why? Because the bonded tree is narrative GOLD. "Look, the leaves of our protector's tree are falling...a great calamity is approaching" or "Defend the sacred tree of our guardian!"...damn cool and made me come up with multiple, cool ideas.
The pdf, as has become the tradition with this series, features a racial paragon class, the tree shepherd. Tree shepherds get d8 HD, 4+Int skills, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort-saves, proficiency with clubs, great clubs, spears, stones and slings. They begin play with the option to supernaturally animate trees with a range of 50 ft + 10 ft. per level, powered by 4 + Cha-mod quickening points, which are expanded by +3 per level thereafter. The animation takes one full round for the tree to uproot itself, though somewhat annoyingly, the ability does not specifically call that it requires the tree shepherd to expend this action, which means that the activation-action component of the ability could be clearer. The number of trees simultaneously animated and their power increases at higher levels. If a tree is left beyond the radius, it roots itself, but you do not need to spend quickening points again to reanimate it while the original duration persists. Charisma governs the number of trees a shepherd can have activated at a given time. The class also features forest stealth (+class level) while in forests as well as the scaling AC and DR-bonuses some archetypes featured as well. Obviously, the iconic slams and stone hurling can be found as well and tree shepherds get the powerful savage growth of treant barbarians, which means they cap out at Gargantuan size at 20th level.
At 1st level and every 2 levels thereafter, the paragon class gains a forest gift, which would be the talent-selection within this build: The talents themselves run a broad gamut of tricks: Moving a whole forest via quickening expenditure at high levels? Yup. Summoning elementals (maximum power based on shepherd size and point expenditure) may be nice, but personally, I really like the option to call forth mist in a 1-mile radius. Sure, only 60 feet visibility...but I know my players will LOVE this one....and visibility can be further reduced via additional points. Now get a character with mist sight and you have a great setup for a brutal infiltration. Conjuring forth an exhaustion-mitigating spring that also heals, gaining greensight or benefits depending on the season (YES!) render this class, alongside the numerous attribute bonuses, versatile and strong, but fitting for just about every campaign. In fact, I'd probably recommend it more for a lower magic environment that emphasizes magic as something mystical rather than as something common.
That's not even close to what this book has to offer, though: Beyond detailed age. height and weight tables, we get information on treant food and unique mundane and magical items: From fire extinguishing chalky powder to living chests or treant brew rations, there is a lot of cultural uniqueness to be found here.
Speaking of which: The new feat-section, featuring the options to animate vines and bushes, increase your photosynthesis as well as multiple styles render this section rather neat. Beyond the significant array of feats, rules for crafting vine traps alongside 8 sample plant traps (CRs range from 1 to 5) complement the well-ingrained ideas we have on treants. Bowls of light that enhance nearby plants, clubs that can be animated via quickening points or enchanted, returning rocks - the magic items are similarly uncommon and fitting. The pdf goes one step beyond, though, and provides a 20-level NPC class at full BAB-progression, good Fort-save, d8 and 2+Int skills for NPC-treants - which reduces the tricky bits of the previous archetypes to the base and may be a nice option for low-powered campaigns that want a manageable, straightforward treant-PC.
Editing and formatting are good; on a formal level and regarding rules-language, there isn't much to complain apart from a few hiccups. Formatting-wise, the pdf similarly sports a couple of minor issues, with in particular line breaks between abilities not being always clear - one more pass in those two disciplines would have made the book a bit more streamlined. Layout adheres to a nice, two-column full-color standard with branchy-graphic elements based on public domain art in the margin, providing a nice, fitting aesthetics here. The full-color artworks in the book seem to be not only original, they also are rather beautiful. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Oh boy, this was work. But also a rather joyous occasion, at least for me. Why? Because I'm honestly glad Jonathan McAnulty has once again written a big, whopping book. Then, I started thinking about treants and started shuddering. I mean, seriously? How can you maintain their power and evocative tricks and retain a sense of balance? It seems like a losing game, no matter what you do: Get rid of the plant traits and the high-power games while whine; don't get rid of them and the low-powered games will start yelling "unabalnced!". How does this book solve this conundrum? Simple. In the best way possible. It's all in here. Want a high-powered treant? Go for birchwalker. If you're like me and like races to have powers and drawbacks and a unique flair, go for the oakheart. Want a more agile one? Willowkin. Something in line with the core races? Seedling. Better yet, the racial paragon class and archetypes generally sport the "treant"-feeling. They are not simply general archetypes with a racial coat - they feel and play distinctly unique, they are fitting for the races. The cornucopia of supplement information and fluff further enhance this book and render it, as far as player-agenda, table-variation and the pure imaginative potential is concerned, one of my favorites. The mile-mist...the moving of trees...beyond mathfinder abilities (which are there, fret not, my fellow crunchers!), this pdf offers great storytelling devices that may actually be useful above and beyond the limitations of the system. This book codifies what we know of treants from literature and our cultural unconsciousness and provides the definite book on playing the masters of the woods and, personally, my favorite in the whole line alongside the rakshasa-book. That being said, there are a couple of glitches herein, some of which pertain to ability activation and thus, the rules-language. While one can usually glean what they are supposed to be, that does remain as a minor drawback- Mind you, these glitches are few...but they're there.
So...let me reiterate that: As a person, I absolutely adore this book, particularly the extensive means to customize treants to make them viable for just about any campaign. As a reviewer, however, I can't let the glitches that are here slide...and thus, I'd arrive at a final verdict of 4.5 stars. I do know, however, that quite a few of you out there tend to share my opinions and prefer evocative, unique options that emphasize a cohesive theme over formal perfection of bland content. Hence, I will round up for the purpose of all the platforms - this pdf has its heart at the right spot and is a fun, great read that will make you want to call forth the shambling, ponderous masters of the forests deep.