An Endzeitgeist.com review
This installment of the Legendary Villains-series clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction/how to use, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 29 pages of raw content, so let's take a look!
This was moved slightly up in my review queue as a non-prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
All right, let's begin with the new archetypes contained herein, the first of which would be the alchemical scoundrel, who gets a modified class skill list and reduced the skills gained per level to 4 + Intelligence modifier. They replace the vigilante talents gained at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter (until 16th level) with the alchemist's alchemy ability as well as the infusion discovery and they may select alchemist discoveries in lieu of vigilante talents. The main meat here would be over 20 special discoveries here, several of which may be taken as alchemist discoveries. These include alchemical splash weapon damage upgrades when damaging a target for the first time. Note that I assume this to not apply to bombs, since they RAW are not defined as alchemical splash weapons. I arrive at this conclusion partially due to other discoveries, which allow the archetype to replace the fixed DC of regular alchemical items for a limited number of them and designate these items as breakthrough items with a scaling DC.
Gaining access to bombs and throw anything can be achieved via another talents. Bomb Tinkerer is not perfect - it allows the alchemical scoundrel to change the damage inflicted to "fire, ice, cold, electric or bludgeoning damage" - neither "electric", nor "ice" damage exist in PFRPG. Worse, when combined with a discovery that changes a bomb damage type, you can choose half one such predetermined one, and "one damage type of the alchemical scoundrel's choice" as the second. Problem here: This should refer to the available choices. RAW, it allows for free damage type selection. 8th and 12th level unlock sonic and force damage, both of which reduce bomb damage dice size, though. A feral mutagen variant that also enlarges, penalty-less cognatogen options or evolving mutagens, which grant limited access to unchained evolutions (OUCH) can be found. Personally, I'm partial to e.g. a false tooth for immediate action infusion access with scaling uses.
Gaining the master chymist's mutagenic form and mutate class feature has interesting interactions with identity-change, though personally, I'm not too big on granting PrC-signature abilities via regular class features. Interesting: Those that choose the mutagen can learn brute archetype's special talents, which makes sense - particularly since they only work will mutated. Nyehilists (puntastic!) can choose the true mutagen at 20th level. I am not a fan of quicker creation of mutagens, cognatogens, etc. - delimiting limited resources can get wonky in the long run.
I am also not the biggest fan of persistent mutagen as a discovery being a way to gain the class ability as soon as 12th level, as opposed to the alchemist's default 14th level. All in all, a crossover-archetype I would have expected in the hero-book...and one that I'm not that keen on.
Second would be the consumed vigilante, who replace their old identity and gain Nameless One as well as bonus hit points. Instead of social talents, they gain Skill Focus (okay, I guess) To make up for that, these guys do require less food, water and sleep to regain health, with higher levels further decreasing this. 3rd level nets renown, with 9th level unlocking greater renown and 15th level incredible renown, with the duration to acquire renown also reduced. 5th level provides a +2 bonus to Will-saves, which increases at higher levels and applies the bonus also to several negative conditions. As a complaint here: The bonus is once referred to as insight and once as morale, so which of the two is correct? 19th level greatly increases the difficulty to find out anything about the vigilante. Suffice to say, this archetype gets rid of the whole social talent-stuff.
Now the next one would be the first one I'd consider a villain archetype in theme, the dread champion, to be more precise. These guys must be evil in their vigilante identity, get an aura of evil, smite good, etc. - dread talents can unlock further abilities in that field...you guessed it, this guy is basically an antipaladin/vigilante crossover. It's generally a solid archetype.
The Fortune Thief gains access to a witch hex and when affecting a target with the hex, they gain a luck point, with Cha-mod acting as a cap for how many they can have. Cool: The ability actually is kitten-proof and cursing one's allies is also no reliable means of refreshing the pool. These points may be spent as a free action for skill-check bonuses or temporary boosts to atk and damage...yeah, this is somewhat luckbringer-like in style. The pool does per se not empty or replenish without this refreshing, but since this ability replaces vigilante specialization, the new talents the archetype receives can allow for minor regeneration of luck points while sleeping, Hex Strike to be added to non-unarmed melee weapons, passive benefits for holding on to luck points, longer bonuses and reflexive luck boosts that can negate crits or allow for attack and damage rerolls. All in all, the engine is REALLY cool...but e.g. savage hex causing untyped damage (should be typed) equal to class level on a successful save is something I'd strongly suggest typing. Nice: This one does get its own capstone.
We'll get delightfully disgusting next - the plague scion is locked into the stalker specialization and begins play with the antipaladin's plague bringer class ability. At 3rd level, the archetype gains a signature disease, which gains a scaling DC...and from here on out, the scion can add diseases contracted to this list, which is rather cool. 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter adds further diseases, with one being dominant. This replaces unshakable. 4th level yields plague strike, which connects Sleight of Hand and hidden strike with the infectious warfare they engage in to lace objects with their virulent strains...and this is actually pretty cool and limited uses prevent abuse! I like it! Higher levels yield frequency-increases for diseases, detecting the diseased, variant transmissions for signature diseases and, at higher levels, adding the ravaging template to those infested...oh, and at the top, we get magic-resistant diseases. Two thumbs up for this nasty villain!
The protean prowler is locked into a chaotic vigilante identity and replaces vigilante specialization with access to scaling unchained eidolon evolutions, which they may reassign Constitution modifier times per day - this process takes 1 minute and covers half the points - so two uses for complete reassigning. This pool can also alternatively be used to use evolution points to duplicate a scaling array of transformations, duplicating the effects of ever more potent spells. The process of investing the evolution points to affect these changes could have been worded slightly more concisely - as presented, I am not sure whether the evolution points required for the respective transformation are regained upon its end - I assume no, but "invest" does imply that in contrast to "spend"...
Anyways, onwards to the shadow savant, who replaces vigilante specialization with shadow clone, a duplicate they can generate as a standard action within 30 ft., a total of 1/2 class level + Cha-mod times per day. The Disguise check rolled as part of creating this clone is also the Perception DC required to notice that the clone is not actually real.. The clone lasts for Cha-mod rounds and has an AC of 10 + Dex-mod + Cha-mod +1/2 class level and vanishes on a successful hit. It is properly codified as an illusion [shadow] effect, so kudos there. The maximum distance it can travel from the savant is equal to 45 ft., +15 ft. per level. At 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the ability conjures forth an additional shadow, and when sharing the space with the savant, they duplicate mirror image's benefits. Only one use of the ability may be in effect at any given time and all shadows may be controlled with the same swift action - all in all a mechanically sound take on a very difficult concept to pull off. The archetype adds shadow control techniques to their arsenal of social talents, allowing for shadow control beyond line of sight, light-dimming, longer-lasting duplicates, control over the shape of the shadows, the ability to see through their eyes...and at higher levels, things become awesome and include swapping places - kudos, btw.: Codified as teleportation effect.
Beyond these, there also are tricks added to the vigilante talents, and, as you may have guessed, it is here that we find the more combat-centric options, which include partial reality, retributive negative energy damage (and at higher levels short-term staggers), Now, this becomes even more intriguing at 5th level, when 2 non-tangible shadows can be replaced with a semi-real doppelgänger that shares your non-limited-use abilities and also duplicates non-consumable magic items - it is really impressive to see this ability this waterproof and airtight - an excellent representation of what N. Jolly is capable of. The appearance-tree of abilities is then further replaced by upgrades of this doppelgänger ability-array, making for one of my favorite archetypes in the book: Mechanically-challenging, diverse, sporting a unique playstyle, this is a really inspired one. Kudos!
The symbiotic slayer would be one that I can't, in any shape, way or form, judge neutrally. When I was a little child, I already loved good villains more than heroes...and I will never forget the Spider-man comic with the glorious Todd McFarlane-cover of Venom holding Spidey's skull. It was #207 in Germany, not sure which one it was in the US. So...yeah, for a couple of years, I was a huge venom fanboy after that. This archetype gets a tiny ooze-like familiar (sans bite and with 0 speed, it's an aberration) - the vigilante identity is assumed quickly as a standard action and this cannot be hastened via the usual talents - the end-result, obviously, would be the vigilante identity. And yes, when under duress, the symbiote may force being used; it dies when the host dies, but can be rendered dormant, though the host can feed hp to it to wake it from slumber. Symbiotes have an ego and increase that ego, the longer they are manifested, representing rather well the Spidey-trope. Instead of the familiar's regular benefits, it acts as an armor for the host, has a telepathic bond...but also sports an elemental weakness.
The symbiote has a cool, linear progression and while I am not a fan of stalwart, at least the ability is gained at 11th level and only works while the symbiote is manifested. The archetype also gains several unique vigilante talents denoted by the [symbiote] tag: These include gaining natural attacks (properly codified!), duplicating armor...really cool. Cool alternative to fast healing: The buffering symbiote talent: It nets class level + Constitution modifier (twice Con-mod at 10th level) temporary hit points that recharge at a rate of 1 per minute while not manifested, + 1 regained per two symbiote talents possessed. Represents the concept, abuse-proof. Elegant solution. Interesting: Stealth-upgrade that may bypass automatic blindsight/sense-detection. Dual minds, reflexive acid is cool - gaining first Improved Grapple and then, at 6th level, also Strangle and at 10th level smother looks like a bit overkill for one talent, though: Strangle alone is very, very potent.
Increased reach, throwing a limited amount of times per day an entangling cluster at foes, temporary swift action fast healing with limited uses (thankfully), creating a duplicate living garments, reduced weakness, allowing the symbiote to gain control, resistance, burrowing, alchemical self-enhancements of physical ability scores (Str or Dex), flight (locked behind 6th level, gets better) and whip-like tendrils...as well as a proper capstone ability complement a thoroughly amazing archetype...and if you're like me and love venom/carnage etc., then this may well justify getting the pdf on its own.
The new social talents included herein allow for complete disjunction of social and vigilante identity (absolutely overdue!), being able to use skills that would need tools without them, gauging marks, being able to use a vigilante talent in social identity sans compromising either, Performance Weapon Mastery and a chameleon-style serial-killer talent that lets the vigilante assume the identities of the slain - some really, really cool stuff here.
We also gain a significant selection of new vigilante talents that range in power from cool and balanced to KILL IT WITH FIRE. Advanced Grip would be one such candidate I don't consider too necessary. +1/2 Str-bonus to damage with one-handed weapons and offhand attacks are treated as not-offhand for Power Attack purposes. This...just is a further number escalation and I can make fearsome sh** with it. Boon Companions, bonuses while bleeding, making nearby terrain count as difficult - all cool. There also is a talent many folks will hate: Know the famous spiked chain exploit from back in the 3.X-days? Well, the chain lasher talent unlocks that one again - attack both adjacent and at reach. Personally, I consider this cheesy and won't use it. Death Dealer is also problematic - it nets the assassin's death strike...and at 12th and 16th level, it reduces the number of rounds of study required. Oh, and with sniper, that becomes available at any range - explicitly. There also would be talent that stacks critical range with other critical range-increases, which can be really, really nasty - there is a reason that stuff does not stack usually. The multiplier may be reduced to x2 as a catch, but the threat-range is the issue. Cool on the other hand: Breaking the 6th level cap of spellcasting vigilante options. There also are a few nomenclature hiccups here - one punch assault once was probably once punch hero, as its follow-up talents calls it by that name. Gaining a panache pool and then, via another talent, access to deeds, is interesting. Gaining hair hexes, smashing foes in walls...there is some cools tuff here. If you've been using Legendary Swashbuckler or Assassin, you'll notice both of these being supported, which is nice.
Notice something? Yeah, they really oscillate in power and utility. WILDLY. I'll return to that aspect later in the conclusion.
The pdf also sports feats, some of which add e.g. more shadows for the shadow savant, modified spellcasting, reduced symbiote ego, more social talents, using Int or Wis as governing attributes, hidden strike and sneak attack synergy...cool. However, I do have an issue with Injected Infusions: Why? Because it lets you inject mutagens and infusions in allies...which is once again a number-escalation. Modifying symbiote weakness is cool...buuut: Adding hidden strike/sneak attack to splash weapons targeted at foes at -1 damage die size is either solid or brutal. I assume that the bonus is supposed to not apply to splash damage? Once again, this felt a bit weird.
The pdf also sports a 5-level PrC, the Crimson Dreadnought with full BAB-progression and good Fort- and Will-save progression, d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level and BAB +3, 5 ranks in two skills, etc. as moderate prerequisites. The PrC gains martial weapon proficiency and gains Nameless One and acts under royal edict: Horribly scarred by the brutal initiation, they gains scaling bonuses to AC and saves and makes removal of their armor nigh-impossible. There is also another issue: You see, these guys, RAW, are constantly fatigued. Sleeping in heavy armor automatically fatigues the character. Pretty glaring oversight there for a PrC that fuses you in the armor...2nd and 4th level yield vigilante talents, 3rd level bonuses to saves versus mind-affecting effects and a 2/day reroll. 5th level yields 2/day swift action fast healing and the option to fight on...I love the idea of the PrC, but I wish the abilities gained were slightly more interesting and fitting for the concept.
The pdf provides nice and balanced variant multiclassing rules for the vigilante and the pdf sports new magic items: Mystic bolt enhancers, memory-wiping smoke pellets (no, you're not immune - hilarious Code Geass-style intrigue can ensue...) and charming gloves...nice.
We do end with one of my favorite parts in the whole pdf; Red Love. The beauty on the cover. Her story ties in with Legendary Vigilante's NPC and she clocks in as a fearsome level 14 symbiotic slayer. She is...basically Carnage. The female version of Carnage. Her boon, unsurprisingly, focuses on killing and her tactics are brutal. Nice build!!
Editing and formatting are inconsistent in rules-language and formal criteria: There are components of the pdf where it's almost perfect...and some that sport glitches neither characteristic for the author, nor for LG. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and sports a variety of nice full-color artworks - most I have seen before in LG-books, though Red Love's amazing artwork does make up for that. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
So, I have this theory that explains some issues that haunt this book: You see, usually the "Legendary" class supplements for PCs and Villains are strictly separated; The PC options tend to be tighter in balance and, by design, the NPC villain options sport cheesy, nasty and powerful tricks beyond what I'd allow for PCs. Thing is, this, at least in part, feels more like "Legendary Vigilantes II"; The theme for "Legendary Vigilantes" was hybrids and we have two of the more interesting hybrids in this book - ones that don't really strike me as evil, mind you.
At the same time, we have powerful and obviously evil ones herein, distinctly designed for villains. In the archetypes, this aspect, this blending of the product lines, doesn't hit as hard, but once we get to the talents and feats, the small optimizing tweaks, things get nasty....and this is my main gripe with the book. I can live with a couple of nomenclature hiccups, but we get too much straight number-escalation here. Do we really need even more damage? Did we need the resurgence of one of the most-quoted abuse-builds ever? Sure, it's not as potent as it once was due to PFRPG's diverse options...but still. These aspects make me cringe, and not in a good way. In fact, a part of this pdf feels like it's the B-side of Legendary Vigilantes, where the concepts aren't as tightly controlled etc. That side is what I don't like about this book.
At the same time, OMG; I CAN HAZ VENOM!!! It's the single best representation of the symbiote-user I have ever seen. It's glorious. It's worth the asking price alone. In fact, don't get me wrong, there is more to LOVE, ADORE, OMG-level celebrate herein than in all of Legendary Vigilantes. The brilliant highlights are brighter here and this pdf, or so I'd like to believe, and it shows where N. Jolly was really inspired. At the same time, the proverbial shadows of this book are also darker, it feels less carefully designed than usual in some aspects, uncharacteristically so.
This strange duality also seems to extend to the power-level of archetypes and talents provided herein - there are some that yield PrC-signature abilities and actually improve them. As a talent. Yeah, can see it for NPCs, but players will never see them...but here's the problem: "Legendary Vigilantes", the PC-book, does point towards this book, implying player-use.
I am, ultimately very torn on this book - on the one hand, I consider enough material herein to be less interesting and/or problematic...but on the other hand, there is plenty of material I adore and want to praise to the high heavens - one side of me want to slap 5 stars + seal on this, while another tells me to rate it down to 3.5. I honestly wished we got a distinctly PC-centric book and one that is obviously and clearly designated as villain material...and I wish the glitches weren't there.
THAT BEING SAID. If you're a capable, rules-savvy GM, gives this book careful oversight and then give the aspects you consider non-problematic at your players. This book contains pure awesome. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars...and while there are components that deserved so much better, I can't round up or slap my seal on this. Still: Thank you, master Jolly - from the bottom of my heart. The Symbiotic Slayer is glorious.
[4 of 5 Stars!]