Review of Path of Shadows-
Continuing in a series of reviews, I have been offered a review copy of Path of Shadows, and found it to be most excellent! Right off the bat, we have good writing and exposition in the opening pages.
Immediately diving into the Nightblade class, I noticed that on paper (as I have not playtested the material) everything appears balanced and well rounded, but distinct enough to set the class apart from traditional classes. Initially, the class appears to be a “Rogue-esque Magus”, but both versatile and defined in a way that you could have a Nightblade and a Rogue (or even a Magus for that matter) in the same party without much overlap or conflict.
What especially intrigues me about the class is the implementation of their “surge” ability, which creates an interesting action economy that seeks to balance powers used per encounter without making Nightblades susceptible to diminishing resources over numerous encounters.
So many options exist for this class, especially with the built in paths and extra archetypes in a later chapter that I could even see a party of two or more Nigthblades being a viable and interesting campaign option. Furthermore, the intentions to allow other classes to receive a taste of the Nightblade’s abilities is a fascinating developmental experiment, and one that I would deem a success.
Reading through feats and archetypes was especially fun, being the showcase of the book. Many of the ideas within Path of Shadows are rendered within the context of familiar classes, making it far more digestible than a dense (but fun) 20 level base class. Moreover, it stokes the curiosity of the reader so as to implore them to read the book in its entirety; such a thing is a rare accomplishment for such an ambitious supplement.
Feats in particular were yet another ingenious way to customize characters towards a focus on shadow. They appear to do a great job of helping players to realize shadow heavy concepts without the commitment of an archetype or class levels. Many of these feats are interesting and balanced enough to be put into an official Pathfinder product, and I was very pleased with them, perhaps so much that I may very soon find use for them in a current game.
I could also tell that a lot of special care was given into the Spell section. Here I began to notice a heavy focus on actual lighting effects as a game mechanic, which is interesting given the recent blog post by Mark Seifter. The entire conceptual framework of these spells as they apply to lighting rules falls under a tricky area with me (rules that make it necessary to consider an often ignored aspect of the game, such as encumbrance). However, here it seems organic and plausible, opening up an arena for sneaking and shadow-crafting that is relatively simple and interesting, while being no more rules heavy than current rules for illusions or summoning.
Spells that play with summoning shadow as a semi-tangible thing (such as Shadow Terrain and Shadow Structure) are fantastic, and well within the wheelhouse for shadow-mages of all sorts. Some of these spells seem especially potent (such as Shadow Field) and could potentially be re-examined for balance, but such cases were rare. If I had one other quibble, it would be with the Shadow Necromancy line of spells, which while thematically interesting, is realistically just another way for Sorcerers and Wizards to bypass intentional limitations to their classes.
On the other hand, the Summon Horror line of spells was amazing, and something that the game very much needed. Shadow themes aside, I am more than happy to implement villains that choose to summon aberrations, as it goes a long way towards creating a memorable encounter that stands out from the typical summoning faire.
As a side note, the artwork for Umbral Defender is amazing.
Finally, the magic item chapter was solid, though perhaps a bit less impressive than the rest of the book, and by necessity. The armor abilities are creative and good, especially as they would apply to a shadow-themed character. The weapons and weapon abilities are equally intriguing and elicited a second glance. The miscellaneous items were quite nice as well, thematically sound and filling in the niche left by the new spells. While relatively small, this section did a fantastic job of supplementing the rest of the material, and offering a good toolbox for characters that desire shadow themed magic items.
Some final thoughts on the book overall: A printer friendly file would be nice, but I have been spoiled by other companies that provide this. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, and the quality of this pdf is excellent. I’d also like to extend kudos for crediting artists so thoroughly. I love that kind of gratitude and moreover, it helps me recognize favored artists in the future.
I summation, I give this book a 5/5, as it has exceeded all of my expectations, even after reading many other similarly positive reviews!
[5 of 5 Stars!]