Hard to really review this, since it's just a couple of items. The items contained are good, with the smart lens being the real stand out, and for .50 cents, it's a solid purchase. Just nothing that makes it a must buy.
Black Chrome is Cyberpunk RED's first big gear book, and it does a lot to not only expand play, but also the world at large.
The start of the book does a good job of both explaining the concepts of night markets (A concept touched upon in the core rules) along with explaining the ease of use that this book provides in making your own. There's a helpful display showing what information is being displayed, the explanation of new key words, and even a new mechanic that we'll get into later. Before I go into anything else, of particular note with this book is the layout. Most Cyberpunk books have a similar layout, but the way that the information is provided in Black Chrome is a stand out, and really helps sell the vibe. I really can't say enough nice things about it.
The start of the book isn't the strongest, as it's the apps section. A new mechanic and something to give one's agent more use, the majority of these apps lack useful mechanics aside from a few (the trauma team one is a personal favorite). It's easy to take these as a proof of concept, but I don't see most players getting a lot of use out of these on both a flavor or mechanical level.
Cyberware is next, and we now have a whole slew of budget options for players who don't want to shell out the money or GMs who don't want to turn NPCs into loot crates. In both situations, these budget items are great additions with some fun flavor implications to the world at large. There's also some neat new additions which allow you to determine your hit points in universe through some clever workaround. There's also a little something to make bullet dodging easier for players or a nice sidestep to GMs who want to make such actions harder.
One of the larger features of the cyberware section is cyberfingers, with most of them being generally useful tools. None of them pass the mildly interesting tier for me, but for some people, that's enough. But there's no new functionality that you're missing out on if you give them a pass, and a hand full of them is a dangerous way to drain your humanity quick (something that's hard enough to hang onto with all the cool stuff above).
Fashion and Armor is one of the highlights of the book to me, both for the creativity of the gear and the art showing it off. The descriptions are all lovely, and there's quite a few new pieces of gear in here which are both mechanically interesting as well as fitting to the greater lore of the world. This book would be worth the price alone for the mimic kit and mechaman smartglove, but unique effects like shocking grapplers, being fireproof, and even holographic clothing keep everything here incredibly interesting and great for player expression.
While I don't think the general gear section lives up to fashion, that's a high bar, and the items here include some very fun new things like a 3d printer, a portable gear repair station, and even a new net arch-less drone. There's a strong mix of utility and fun items here, and while some might never see play at your tables in the hands of players, they make great items for NPCs to really help with world building.
New linear frames are next, and for most of these, I just can't validate the cost. Most are based off of the Sigma Frame's increase to 12 body, with almost all of them able to be made into internal frames. But at the cost of a beta frame, the added utility they give doesn't feel worth it to me, as each one is running 5,000 EB and doesn't feel like their additions are adding 4,000 EB worth of value. This might be the area of the book that was the most of a letdown to me, but I think it's also because there's no middle ground between 1,000 EB and 5,000 EB in value, so any improvements to a sigma frame were going to push the cost up a lot.
Vehicles are our next stop, and this is another area in which the book shines. We don't even just get cars, there's a great selection of flying vehicles here too, and this is where the new mechanic I mentioned before comes into play, nomad access. While some vehicles may not be worth the listed nomad access levels, others are more than worth it, and the art for each vehicle presents them in a fashion that makes them all seem so cool. I don't want to pick out favorites here, but let's just say a lot of starting nomads are going to be looking at the Grundy. Also a hoverboard?!
And you knew we'd eventually land here, the weapons. These are more of a mixed bag than I would have liked, but at the same time, I can also say there's more hits than misses, including items to actually use the demolitions skill (which was tragically underlooked in value in the core rulebook). For being a weapon's section, there's a ton of tricky items in here that would be more at home in a spy kit than in a holster. Melee weapons start with a few new flavors of ignoring armor (but none topping the kendachi mono three), and quite a few new fist weapons with some neat tricks to them. Thrown weapons actually get some love here too, with boomerangs and tomahawks designed specifcally for throwing.
I think the sheer variety of guns is impressive here, all of them carving out unique niches for themselves. If I'm going to be honest though, my favorite are the purposefully bad ones, the guns that are given to street level doombas who won't stand a chance again a properly armed crew. Sure, things like the pepper shaker are great for autofire, but give me an overlord handcanon any day of the week. Combination weapons are a large theme of the book, with various combinations being displayed within. None of them would outdo a focused version of one of their components though.
But we're out of gear now, and into mechanics and flavor with an explanation of the economy of the system. This right here is great for people who aren't completely up on the lore, giving a snapshot of how to play out matters of finding or creating gear. It's all just amazing as a learning tool, and a great use of pages in a book like this.
It's hard to say what my favorite part of this book is, but the night markets are absolutely top three. Fun descriptions and ideas for unique night markets along with fixers (and stats to run them) make for what shines as a culmination of everything that we've seen in this book. The fixers are fun and unique, with their personalities being given for players along with the gear they'd normally carry and even advice on how to be invited to or join their night market for asipring fixers. Another one of those 'the book is worth it for this alone' moments in a book that's full of them.
So there's plenty of gear in this book that I wouldn ever touch, and yet I'm still 100% satisfied with what was contained within. Black Chrome fits the style of Cyberpunk along with providing way more worldbuilding than I'd have expected from a gear book. This is a book for players and GMs alike, and I can't suggest it enough.
The Danger Gal Dossier was a very anticipated book for a lot of us in the community, as many gangs from previous editions have lacked much lore to them. Not like I can blame R. Tal for that, you only have so many pages, but this book sought to rectify that issue, and it did in spades. Maybe I wish it was another 50 pages long, but that's complaining about not getting enough of a good thing.
The book starts with a useful guide on how to use the NPCs and factions contained with in before getting into the meat of the book. Each group is given a very enlightneing opening page done in character as Danger Gal operatives to speak about the group's origins, goals, resources, and any other useful trivia to help run them better. It also provides a handy template for making your own factions in Night City, something that people interested in a book like this will certainly consider.
The majority of gangs and organizations (hard to call loose confederations of characters like 'edgerunners' a gang) along with smatterings of corporations are on display here, with each one being given care and consideration not only to their lore, but also their gear. The unique spread of weapons and other gear given to each NPC is very nice, although it is a shame that more from Black Chrome couldn't be used (understandable since anything listed here had to be reprinted), but even with that limitation and the sizeable amount of reprints from different supplementary material, most NPCs still stand out from both a gear and lore perspective.
2020 players and 2077 gamers will notice some familiar faces coming out to play, helping to better integrate people from either of those groups into the diverse world of Cyberpunk RED. I can say that from the lore and concepts given for each character that even a new GM should have a solid idea of how to run each character in a unique fashion. The care given to groups like The Bozos, Danger Gal's Puma Squad, and The Pirhanas especially are the kind that are rife with plot hooks out of the box, from scisms among clowns to interpersonal drama on the Puma Squad, and the Pihranas just all be pretty nutty.
Factions that most players will have in their game such as Trauma Team and NCPD were also given far more capable members than those suggested in the core rulebook, making what could have easily been a squash into a proper rumble. To segue here a bit, DGD also gives a higher tier of opposition in both the Boss (in which the core rules only had what I would call a lacking cyberpsycho) to 10 hardened mini bosses, 6 bosses, and even 3 hardened bosses (Crusher from the Maelstrom is a great example of a real combat monster). This is enough to challenge groups who may have not been intimidated by the CRB's offerings or even the DLC hardened opponents.
Astute readers will also notice what is a treasure trove of unique Tech Upgrades, or TUp, in this book. Plenty are on the more simple end like +4 skill chips, but others are more interesting, such as minor skill bonuses to different skills along with exotics getting +2 option slots. There's so much to pull from for this book, and tech players have a great place to see just how much more diverse they can make their new inventions.
All non CRB gear has been reprinted, including some ellusive items from MicroChrome, a little known piece of the game (with one of the items being reposted in the companion DLC). There's honestly a lot that I'm really glad to see, such as bicycles, junk ammo (great for mooks), and The Observer drone. Smart Lens was reprinted with a slight errata as well to make it not compatible with paired cyberware upgrades, so be aware of that if you're still sticking to the MicroChrome version.
One of the best parts of this are the NPC guidelines (which are guidelines and not hard rules [intended to be only taken as guidelines]), which give the parameters not only for what the concept of a hardened PC is (which can also be found in one of the DLC volumes, so it's not exclusive to this book), as well as the parameters for what makes someone a mook, lieutenant, mini-boss, or boss and the hardened variants of each. Just for clarity, these are just guidelines, not immutable rules, simply suggestions.
The book finishes off with what I consider to be a very charming one shot adventure known as The Incident, even if I knew it by another name first. It's a relatively straightforward adventure which helps introduce the PCs to at least one of the new characters introduced in this book along with a fun bit of investigation, getting to meet with one of the more unique subcultures inside of Night City, and threads that could easily lead themselves into another bit of the adventure.
I did like this book as a whole, but there were some things that I thought could have helped. A small tactics section for each group could have helped to give fights against them more of a unique feel to them, something that with only mostly CRB gear can be difficult. Gear diversity was also an issue, but considering all the gear is self contained, I can give that a pass. I do also feel as though as much as I enjoyed seeing the pregen characters in the edgerunner's section of the book, that group was given too much real estate, and I wish there could have been another faction or two in place of those characters, since the edgerunner group was probably my least favorite of the book while also being the largest at 17.
These are nitpicks though, and as a whole Danger Gal Dossier opens up so much lore to the world that if you enjoy Night City even a little bit, it's very much worth it to pick this up. Full five stars, seal of approval, and whatever else I can give it because the team knocked it out of the park, and they've left me incredibly excited for their next offering.
Cyberpunk RED easy mode is R. Tal's way to help people jump into the game. The book itself is decently lengthy for a free volume, and with it, you could run a very bare bones version of the system, meaning that it accomplishes its goal for helping people dip their toes into the mechanics and see if it's for them.
I will say that I don't love the structure of the book, as the beginning of it is quite a (trunkated) lore dump. We start with a primer for the theme and vibe of the game, only to lead into 8 pages of lore. Speaking as someone who can have problems getting into a new game, having this much lore tossed at me from what I'd consider the pick up and play book is daunting. It's all lore I like, I think it's well written, but I think it stifles the pacing of an initial read through, especially for prospective players. Even from a GM's point of view, there's a lot here that won't immediately add to how they run the game. A list of example media beforehand while putting the lore later in the book would have been a better way of helping people engage with the themes without bombarding them with the world at large.
Past that is a simplified rules set, but one that could be used well enough for the experience. It keeps it simple, snappy, and overall does a great job at replicating the feel of the game under a more limited scope. I feel like I could hand this off to a TTRPG newbie and come back with them asking few questions about the basic mechanics. There's a lot of mechanics that the players won't need to know, lessening the burden on them. A new GM might have issues with how much is being thrown at them though.
Lifepaths also make an appearance, and to me, these are for most pick up and play groups something I'd love to toss to them after their first game to get them invested. No complaints about it here, it's one of the more unique systems in the game, and I'm glad it made an appearance in the Easy Mode offering. Anything that helps show the unique values of the system is aces to me.
Along with a few maps, we get an adventure, Getting Paid. The adventure itself is very classic in its set up, has enough options to avoid being a straight point A to point B adventure, but I do worry that the amount of freedom in what can happen will be daunting to new GMs. To someone who knows how to run a game, they probably won't be tripped up, but I can see the large amount of variance in what the GM could do being too much for someone not used to TTRPGs. I believe a few more guiderails could have been helpful here.
As a whole, I consider this a solid introduction to the system as a whole, with only a few hiccups such as lore placement and an adventure that risks overwhelming new GMs being the only slight stumbling blocks here. But it's also free, so why not grab it anyways and decide for yourself?
Interface RED Volume 2 is a nice collection of the previously released suppliments on the R. Talsorian website. To me, reviewing the stuff that's already publicly available isn't terribly interesting, so I'm going to be talking about the unique content. As a caveat, I really enjoyed all the reprinted stuff that isn't unique to this, but at the same time recognize that the unique content is the biggest selling point here aside from having it physical.
The main event here is the bioexotics packages, those that turn your on the street Edgerunner into those people from that one Batman Beyond episode. It's more than just surface level modding here, as each package also comes with the cyberware needed to not only be an animal (or devil/orc/better you), but to truly embody it. This does include some new cyberware exclusive to this volume, so if you're a completionist on having all the possible gear, it's worthwhille to pick it up on that alone.
Now speaking as a mechanical player, most packages are probably going to have something that you just won't care about. Rarely will a package be all vital, as most tend to include some cyberware that's more for flavor than anything else. That's to be expected, but it's worth knowing about before going in. Also regardless of the severity of the package, each one will take a month to install, and the costs of them are typically enough to the point where unless you sell your soul, you won't be able to start the game with these. Despite the cost, there is a sidebar mentioning that their cost should be considered lower for the purpose of a fixer sourcing them, meaning that even the higher end ones won't be impossible to get until the late game.
As for how much of the fantasy of these creatures they embody, I'd say that depends on your view, but I can say that from a mechanical perspective, they do very well to give what these animals/creatures should be. One thing to worry about is some steep humanity loss, but in a step for convenience, the humanity loss for each of these forms is preset. That way, you don't have to worry about going cyberpsycho while becoming a cat girl. Cost wise, these packages are very efficient, with one package normally retailing for 2,100 EB and 14 HL having a value of 5,700 and 57 HL if bought separately. The only true cost is the month you spend having it all done and in therapy afterwards.
I believe that this volume sets out what it intends to do in creating unique forms for players as well as a diverse suite of forms that NPCs can take, making the game world a more interesting place. It's not the kind of thing that will fit every game, but for those of you who liked that one episode of Batman Beyond with the splicers, defintely grab this!
That out of the way, I went into this with absolutely no idea what to expect. I'd read shadowrun 5e and a bit of other stuff that could possibly relate, but this was my first foray into the world of cyberpunk. And what I saw did a lot to separate itself out from the rest of the crowd in its worldbuilding. But I'm getting ahead of myself; I'd like to start with the mechanics.
The first thing I'd like to touch on is the new combat system (which is as the book labels it "Thursday Night Throwdown", or TNTD), which is very player friendly. There's no attempt to make a completely realistic combat system which completely grinds the game to a halt in order to make for a slower experience. Instead, the gunplay is presented in a way that can be gotten across quick and easily, making for a more frantic and fun experience. Combat allows both offensive and defensive contributions, and while the base system may feel a bit too basic for those wanting a tactical masterpiece, I believe that the flow of combat is enhanced by what's being done here. Efforts were made to make melee combat viable despite the prevelance of guns, something I appreciate (something that's a bad option isn't an option to me), although there are patches here that I think could be abused by a savvy team (such as suppressing fire). Regardless, you won't be leafing through 500+ pages to find out how to shoot your gun, leading to more time getting to feel like a free wheeling badass.
The social mechanics as well as the stat system also follows this rule of simplicity, with 10 stats you can have along with very clear ways of determining success and failue through simple checks with reasonable levels of ease. Doing anything in Cyberpunk RED should be quite easy, which is nice as there could have been a lot of needless complication. I'm sure the finished product will add more complexity, but for a demo, this is quite nice and will help a lot in getting me into the vibe of setting up a proper game for even the newest of players.
There is an issue here with the netrunning system. It's comprehensive, but that's the problem. Of anything presented here, it has the most options by far, and tries to cram a lot of information into the same amount of space that similar concepts that are less complex are given. The ideas behind it feel more scattered in how they're presented, and I find it difficult to recommend including netrunners in a first run of this. Where everything else just feels like a teaser, the netrunner rules feel like a fully fleshed out subsystem. Let me say though that the netrunning does NOT take the player out of combat and cause a party split, but it will cause the GM to have to have different encounters set up for both netrunners and 'meatspace' players, so those who want to incude netrunning may want to consider having more players who can interact with this aspect of the game to validate the effort of including it in their game more properly unless you're okay prepping what amounts to a second encounter for situations where players want to involve themselves in this subsystem.
Enough about the mechanics though, it's time to talk about the worldbuilding. And let me tell you, I was not expecting nearly this much detail about the world in this product. There's about 40 pages given to this topic, which helps give you a sense of what's going on. From what I can tell, it's 25 years past CP2020, and there's been quite a few changes. It feels as though there's been a scaling down of widespread tech in a way that I wasn't expecting, with communication and conflict being on a smaller scale. This isn't a bad thing, and personally I think it helps push things into a new direction that's different from what one would expect. The world feels even more gritty than I would have expected, with permanance being a rarity in all facets of life.
A lot of the worldbuilding took me by surprise, and while a solid amount of the book is dedicated to the well known location known as Night City, there's plenty that's just about the world surrounding it. While there's enough detail to be daunting here, I think that it hits the high points of the world well enough where you have a strong understanding of the setting, even if you wanted to run the game in other places. The book itself is interspersed with quotes from what I assume to be important NPCs from the world which help to give a bit more color to things, mostly setting the mood and letting you know that things are going to be bad. And might I add that the line about what does and doesn't apply to cyber psychosis was well appreciated by quite a few friends of mine.
As a small aside, the slang that typically comes from books like this feels very natural. I have an issue when RPGs have their own slang to include while playing that makes it feel very stiff and robotic and breaks immersion, but the CPR slang has a very natural feel to it which makes it seem like something that you could reasonably say without feeling silly. It's a small but important detail to worldbuilding that I think helps the strength of the overall product, and something that definitely makes me feel like I could integrate it into my games and lexicon.
The sample adventure as well as a lot of other things made sure that you'll have groups who are prepared to 'rock out' properly once the dice hit the table, and while the gear and other such things are quite barebones (especially compared to the comprehensive netrunning section), this is absolutely enough to give people a taste of things to come before the full release is at our doorstep. Any issues I have can easily be chalked up to 'it's just a demo', and if I kept saying "I wish it had X thing in it", by the end of it I'd be complaining that a demo kit wasn't the full CRB. The only thing I'd like to see in the full release is for netrunning to be portrayed in a cleaner fashion, but that's something editing could clear up, and isn't a big fear of mine for this product
For my first foray into the gritty world of cyberwear and circuitry, I would say I'm definitely intrigued. There's a real style to the book that feels like there's more to come, that I've only seen the tip of the iceberg as far as this system is concerned, and it's got me hooked.
This week we’re looking over Legendary Hybrids: Skinchanger by David N. Ross and Patrick N. R. Julius, a hybrid class between the vigilante and druid. Gotta admit, these are two totally separate ideas, and the fact that they’re so different is why I wanted to check it out. We start off with a small little preview of the concept before giving us the introduction to the class, which is nice and informative.
To begin, we have a d8 class with a healthy skill list and 6 skill points per level along with a good reflex and will save and 4th level casting. We get proficiency in simple weapons, light armor, and weapons made through the abilities of the class. The first class feature we end up with is adopted persona, which after a week of study lets us take on a persona from someone else; you get half your level to bluff checks to maintain the persona, but not to disguise checks, which I thought was odd. We also pick up a slower sudden strike progression at every 4 levels, starting at 1st (I don’t love sudden strike, but I see the value in it).
Next we get improved unarmed strike, which is a nice addition. Now we get to the big part of the class, skin change. You get it often enough, once at 1st, and then an additional time per 2 levels you possess. I do wish it could be spent in increments rather than a single use at a time, but it’d basically be all day then. The save is reasonable, although I am amused that it stacks with druid levels for its advancement, nice little touch there. There’s a lot of thought put in here as to how it interacts with wildshape and polymorph abilities, which I appreciate.
For skin changes, we start with disguise, which is basically a physical disguise person. Next humanoid form gives us a more limited alter person which evolves into monstrous physique. Now we snag social talents at 1st and every 4 levels afterwards, also stacking with vigilante levels for which social talents they can take. We get a few unique social talents, like faster studying, having ‘no’ persona, and a lot of other fun ones which I think add a lot to the class. They are limited on which normal social talents they can take, but that’s fine to me.
Shapeshifter’s empathy is a neat ability that lets them nonverbally communicate with other creatures which forms they can take, and a neat little flavor ability. At 3rd and every 4 levels thereafter we get stalker talents which are nice, as well as a few unique ones for the class. Honed strikes is one of note, making your natural weapons and unarmed strike equal to a medium monk, and measured strike is useful for dealing damage more accurately at the cost of damage. Transposing strike is another one I like, as it’s a nice battlefield control ability (although not great against things that negate nonlethal damage). At 3rd we also get trackless step, and at 4th we get divine spellcasting, which shocked me. It does have its own unique and robust spell list with a few spells reduced in level to keep them reasonable.
At 4th level we get advance skinchange, which is an interesting set of abilities which provides unique powers as well as some class features from other classes. Extra form is almost certainly going to be a strong pick here, as it lets you really embrace the theme more, to the point where I would have liked to see this be a base ability rather than an option. Inert shape is a huge winner here, and the ability to go full gazebo is very much appreciate. The best thing I can say here is that I could see taking almost every option here, which is a great sign of a well balanced talent roster.
The same can be said for the latter options, greater skinchange and legendary skinchange, although I don’t really think they needed to be broken up into different class features, considering that they also have level restrictions. Trap form might be one of the most inventive abilities from the entire class though, allowing you to become a hazard yourself with considerably clear rules as to how it is adjudicated.
The list of skinchanger forms is given at the end of the class with quite a lot of care given to making sure that it works well, followed by the spell list. We also get a very customized FCB section with quite a few nonstandard races. The feats are short but useful, helping you to better utilize your abilities, with the standard ‘extra X’ feat for more skinchanging and other things like this.
For archetypes, we start with the chimerist, which specializes in fusing personas. The big boon of it is letting you make better use out of the disguise skin change, helping to make you far more of a beast while in it at the expense of some damage. Next is lycanthrope aspirant, which has a pretty obvious focus. As a whole, it’s more of a direct build path into being a better lycanthrope, but does its job well, even if it’s a bit constrained. Finally, we have the shape thief. It basically lets you take someone’s entire persona, and it does it quite well with some very interesting mechanics.
I like a lot of what I see in this class, it’s very originative while still using a lot of the old framework that we’ve seen before. The only issues I have are that it feels a touch too complex, and there was some parts while reading this that kind of got me a little ‘rules dizzy’ as I was going through it. But when it works, it works beautifully.
For me, the thematics were spot on. The way the class combined mechanics with concept was really amazing, and for the slight issues that it may have had on my end, everything came together to make a really fluid shape shifting experience that I think a lot of people are going to enjoy. There was a lot of creativity that went into this that I deeply appreciate.
Final Thoughts: 4.5/5
David N. Ross and Patrick N. R. Julius’s skinchanger is one hell of a hybrid, and a hybrid done right. While it incorporated a bit more vigilante than druid, the end result was awesome, and I really enjoyed it. While the slight mechanical issues I had were enough to keep me from giving this a 5/5, it does easily get rounded up for probably one of the best shapeshifting concepts I’ve ever seen.
For this week’s review, we’re going somewhere different with things, and I’m doing a location book. This time it’s Places of Power: Oleander’s Sanctuary. Rather than my normal fare, this is a location that GMs can insert into their games at a whim, and it starts out with an interesting stat block of one mysterious (?) entity, 1 intelligent bear, 1 intelligent hamster, 1 intelligent owl, and 1 intelligent wolf, making it different than most locational stat blocks you’d see. It’s for the most part good aligned, with resources such as animal healing and transmutation.
Next we get a small description of the area, it’s compact and heavily implies that Oleander and their animal crew are not fans of others just jaunting into the area. With a knowledge check, the PCs can learn a bit about Oleander, which not shockingly at all involves Oleander being a large fan of animals and an adamant opponent of those who would abuse them, often cursing such people.
After this we have rumors, and one thing I particularly like about this section is that these rumors can be gathered from animals, provided you can speak with animals; a nice touch that helps make the area feel more unique. And as appropriate, there’s a few false rumors thrown in for fun. We follow this with a bit about how to keep Oleander vague, as they’re intended to be a very mutable person for the purpose of one’s story. There’s a lot of good advice here to make sure the PCs get the most of of this location, and there’s no wrong way to run Oleander or her sanctuary.
Following this we get a run down of the NPCs and areas involved in the place of power itself, which are later expanded upon in greater detail, as well as a map of the place. Personal preference here, I’d prefer the map to be on its own page rather than sharing it with these details, as it’d make it easier to pull out and use for other things which I’d like to do.
Rather than go through all the locations and such, I can say that each one provides a decent amount of either interaction with the interesting NPCs or the environment, and each of these environments feels unique enough to the point where I could find something to do there. We’re also given some random events which can spice up the visit, further giving the location a ‘living’ feel to it.
There’s also a list of boons the PCs can get through helping out Oleander, so they’re not something that has a normal GP cost. I’m not huge on the 0 point ones, but they’re flavorful regardless. The larger boons are all really cool though, and they’ll almost certainly only be of uses to those with familiars or more likely animal companions. We finish with a more in depth look at the NPCs referenced in the book, and while they are interesting, a lot of them are very ‘out there’, especially the most toyetic of the bunch, Wooly.
I can’t say there’s anything wrong with the mechanics here, but at the same time, there was nothing that truly wowed me. The formatting is tight, the the rules language is solid, and I doubt GMs will have a hard time incorporating this into their game.
While I like the off the wall nature of this place, the book itself goes out of its way to tell you “If this doesn’t work, make it a hallucination”, which to me almost undersells the unique nature of Oleander’s Sanctuary. It’s a creative place that won’t fit into your super serious games without some slight modifications, but as a location, I find it very enjoyable, if a bit too wacky at times.
Final Thoughts: 4.5/5
Thilo Graf’s place of power is one that I like on a base level, as the ideas behind it are just very refreshing. It’s not just an animal sanctuary, but also has very real overtones of genetic splicing and other concepts like that, helping to make it stand out from other locations of which I’ve read. While at times it feels like it’s trying too hard to be different, it does always feel like it’s going in a direction players would enjoy, so for the purpose of reviews, I’m going to round up here.
It’s a trip to the old book borrower’s lounge as we check out Letters from the Flaming Crab: Libraries. We start with the normal credits and such, although Flaming Crab Letters (henceforth called FCLs) always seem to have a great deal more personality to them.
The intro is another fun example of this, with an in universe message to the reader, something fans of FCL have come to expect. We start off with a historic look at libraries, which has some fun information about their origins and such. This flows into what a library is, which is far more wide of a term than I had initially believed. The language is as evocative as I’ve come to expect from FCL, helping to draw one into the mythic qualities that a library can encompass.
From here the idea of different kinds of libraries and their differentiations are made, planting adventure seeds in all the variations that can occur. All of these are explained in ways that helps to give a sense of grandeur to libraries, something I didn’t think I’d ever say. I genuinely enjoy the curator examples, as the way that they’re presented allows them to be easily implemented into games without much issue.
Now we get some library stat blocks (again, not an expected statement), along with sample libraries which are fully statted. Each one of the KP (knowledge point) entries gives a fun bit of flavor which again could be easily transplanted into a game without much effort. This is followed up with different kinds of information storage, such as tablets, scrolls, wall carvings, and other such unique methods.
While I recognize the immersion perspective of the fluency point system, I also feel like it’s bogging down a book that has a lot of interesting mechanics already, creating more issues than solutions. Thankfully, this section is only about a page, meaning that if you’re like me and don’t care for it, you won’t be trudging through its rules for long.
At this point, we get some interesting info about magic in libraries, and a nice little section of content (classes/monsters/etc) that work well with library themed games. To follow this, we get the library subdomain for cleries and library mystery for oracles, giving us some mechanics (the oracle mystery is a little too specialized for my tastes, but it’s still very thematic). We finish with the bookring, which is a seriously cool magical item that lets us store books in gems for future use.
FCLs aren’t known for their mechanics; that isn’t to say they’re bad, but it’s very obvious mechanics are secondary in focus. The mechanics given here though are fun, useful, and easily transplanted into games. It’s probably one of the largest strengths of FCLs, the ease at which they can be included in just about any game.
FCLs ARE known for their thematics though, and that continues on here. The language used is evocative enough to give libraries a sense of reverence and mystery that they lack normally, and just like I always feel when I finish an FCL, I want to include something from this book into any currently running game.
Final Thoughts: 5/5
Being entirely honest, the FCL series is a diamond in the rough in the RPG market. These books ooze with charm and include mechanics which feel fluid, but what they do more than that is to make the mundane amazing. After reading the hygiene book, I wanted to force players to bathe; after reading this, I want to force players to learn, and I’m sure if they did a book on proper chewing technique, you’d better believe I’ll have a session based solely around proper chewing.
Today’s book is Into the Breach: The Bard, a mechanics book for the class that seeks to expand its options. First impressions are that the art and layout are sound; not amazing, but pretty nice for the cost of the book, which is always nice to see. We’re looking at about 40 pages of content here, so let’s get into it.
We start off with the chronicler of blades, which while a cool name, isn’t really my favorite archetype. We get some slightly different weapon proficiencies, bonus feats, but we lose all spellcasting, and that’s just…that’s no good. There’s no class feature here which really draws me back in after such a hard loss, so this definitely doesn’t work for me.
The courtless bard on the other hand has a very interesting mechanic of summoning a creature as per summon nature’s ally in place of inspire courage, with the creature lasting as long as you perform. Shimmering speed in place of inspire greatness is interesting too, giving a decent miss chance to allies. Stunning glance probably lasts a tad longer than I’d like (2d4 rounds), but with all the caveats and tags it has, it’s probably fine. As a whole, this is a very fun fey themed archetype.
Fabulist is our next archetype, and while the ability to get a familiar is nice, it’s odd that there would be options for non-familiar creatures, an oversight I don’t really like. Getting access to some domain spells is huge though, easily worth the trade here. Morsel of Wisdom is odd though, as it’s just a modifier swap, not really a huge deal here. Fabled Friend has a lot of potential to be busted, as it’s a planar ally effect that can be done quite a bit, and its capstone is highly situational.
Grotesque is an odd name for an archetype, and it’s already starting with reduced casting, along with a debuff to enemy attacks in place of a buff to your allies attacks. You’d need at least as many enemies as allies to make this a fair swap, at least to me. Sickening stunt and twisted masterpiece are fun additions though, and most of the disturbing acts are very flavorful and decently powerful as well. The flavor really sells this archetype, making it a favorite.
But Jester…is bad. Capering and cavorting is NOT worth losing spellcasting, and nothing in the archetype comes close to validating that. It even replaces casting at 2nd level, so do I get casting at 1st level, and just lose it the next?
Now lifeweaver starts hard, getting some new spells added to their list and free lingering performance with a bonus to it. As a whole, it’s a solid white mage archetype with altered performances to make sure that everyone stays on their feet, done in a way that’s thematically satisfying. While it might be a touch too good at its job, when it’s support, I can give it a pass.
The matchmaker is…very NPC-y. Like reading through its features, it’d make a great NPC, but as a player archetype, it’s far too specific in what it does. I really don’t think it needed to lose armor and weapon proficiencies though, but I guess that helps it fit its NPC role.
With prop comic, we have an interesting tone shift, and while I think using your perform (comedy) bonus in place of BAB (maybe ranks would be more fair), this is a very interesting archetype. With the amount of time and effort that goes into schticks, this feels more NPC-y, but at the same time, as a one shot character, this would be a blast.
Rookery Master is pretty standard, but the ability to start a bardic performance with a familiar while already doing so yourself is crazy powerful. It’s a pretty okay archetype aside from that, but getting extra familiars too is really pushing things.
Things that made unique weapons good are my jam, and skirling adept does that. Easy sonic damage for a round of bardic performance isn’t bad, and audimancy is an appreciable damage boost to both the few sonic spells there are as well, but dulcet duelist isn’t explained very clearly (it’s not a great ability, so it’s not a huge issue). Shattering resonance is another nice flavorful ability though, and windstorm whistle is just cool, definitely an archetype I enjoy.
Now song bow starts by giving us some utility with bows and slings (and proficiency with them), but singing arrow (or somewhere later in the book) should give stats for singing arrows or groaning bullets if they’re going to be required for a class feature. Aural shot feels like it should have more limitations, especially with being able to use it with lingering performance. With Rallying shot, the daily limit feels fair, but I’m still not in love here, and I really wish concussive shot had a ceiling for the damage, although the possible free trip is probably the better ability here. I do like tremor shot and the added spells though, so as a whole, I’m a fan.
We start off squad leader with weaker spellcasting and the ability to form squads, as well as the explanation of how commands work. Personally, with all the commands here, I’d say I like this better than the base bard, as it gives a lot of tactical options that really drive home the theme in a solid and mechanical fashion. Really, this is just a great archetype that I’m probably going to adopt into my games.
And here we get to the prestige class, the holy rhapsodist, which is intended for bard/paladin multiclasses. The prereqs are easy enough to meet, and it’s a d8 3/4th BAB class with a good fort and reflex save, getting 4 skill ranks per level. The class thankfully progresses casting, although you’ll be hurting from the 2 paladin levels needed to get in this prestige class. We start with holy resonance, which isn’t really great, as deafened is pretty weak, and it’s adding a second damage type, so not a huge fan here. Voice of the divine though is nice, as it keeps lay on hands and bardic performance from dropping off.
For needing to pay two uses of lay on hands, psalm of healing feels too weak to me, especially with that half healing caveat. Psalm of mercy would be better if you had enough paladin levels to get mercies, but bard levels are more important to keep your casting strong beforehand. Clarion call feels like it’s intended to only work with bardic performances that give bonuses to to saving throws, but even without that, it’s pretty meh. The entire prestige feels very unnecessary, like it was an afterthought.
Finally, we end with the mime alternative class, which has the same basic chassis as the bard, so we’re going to skip to class features…so, no armor or weapon proficiencies…cool. Spells are…confusing. Copycat is…okay, it’s interesting, and I hate to call back to non tabletop related things, but this feels like a conversion of the Mime class from Final Fantasy Tactics. Copycat makes casting really clunky, and as far as I can tell, you get a free round’s worth of actions. Distraction is just really situation, and the mimic ability feels gameable, especially with wand/potion mimic, which doesn’t take into account expensive material components. The code of silence is flavorful enough, little annoying, but nothing too bad. Also there’s a ton of dead levels here, like way more than should be considered okay for a product being released in 2017. As a whole, I feel there’s too many mechanics that are just gameable or too complex to make this worth using.
The fairy plays though, those are a lot of fun. An interesting new concept for a magic item that are performance based, these give reason to actually spread out your performance ranks. Both the sample plays given and the possibilities from them are pretty great, definitely a cool way to help make performances unique. There was nothing that felt truly stand out from the magical items to end the book, but they’re small fun diversions none the less.
If not for the holy rhapsodist and mime class, this could have gone to a 4 easily, maybe a 4.5. But both of those drag this down significantly, making for either a tepid prestige class or an overly complex alternative class. The archetypes that were bad here were just bad, while the ones that were good were pretty awesome, and fairy plays are a great way to build magic item that’s just painfully flavorful. I appreciate the effort that went into everything, but some of the execution was just lacking.
The stronger suit of the book is that it really does a great job of making you feel the design goal of each piece of content, which is something that drew me in. While some pieces are weaker than others, the flavor of this book is definitely a large selling point, and there’s quite a few pieces of content in here that you can really feel the care that was taken in making them interesting.
Final Thoughts: 4/5
David S. Macrae along with Benjamin Wilkins, David S. McCrae, Frank Gori, Jeff Harris, and Kris Newton give us a nice group of archetypes with some less than stellar additional content, but when thinking if I would round up or down here, it’s fairy plays that managed to shift my opinion. The entire book has a lot of promise to it, and while there are some parts that I wish were more refined, as a whole this book gives enough value to make it a good purchase if you’re looking to vary your bards and their performances.
Ah, Writing with Style: An Editor’s Advice for RPG Writers. This…this is a book that I initially did not want to buy. To give you a bit of history on me, I’m prideful and handsome, and I don’t like admitting that there’s places I can improve, especially in places where I believe I am talented. Because of this, this book sat in my cart for about 4 hours while I went back and forth before finally swallowing my pride and getting it.
I am very glad I did.
The thing about this book is that I can’t really review it like I normally do, because it’s not my normal type of book to review. I can’t really run it down, because really, this book is a sum of its parts. No one part of it is going to completely fix your writing, and the author goes out of their way to tell you this. What it will do is give you a clear path on problems that you may be having with grammar, delivery, extraneous words, and all sorts of other things that even the best writers still do. And the thing is, having each one of these placed into its own section is like a targetted guide on how to properly fix your problems.
Out of any book I’ve owned, I may say this is the one for which I am most thankful for proper bookmarking, giving me a checklist to go through when I write something, so that I can check off each individual section, and double check the ones I know are problems for myself. Each section gives solid advice in a tone which doesn’t feel condescending (that was one of my biggest fears here) along with clear examples of what the author is talking about. This alone makes the book worth the price of admission, as like some of you, I require examples instead of just explanations to be able to grasp a concept.
The tone of the book as a whole is warm and welcoming, something that I very much appreciate, and there feels as though there’s a genuine desire by the author to educate their audience. Despite the book being 40+ pages, it’s an incredibly easy read (I might have taken about 30 minutes to go through it once before giving it a second read), and it has become an indispensable resource for me since picking it up.
Doesn’t really apply, but I’d give it a 5 if it did.
The only way I can rate the thematics is by the tone of the book, and that was enough for me to give it my highest rating. The terminology used and the tone of the book are just what I would want from something like this, and I just…I really like it.
Final Thoughts: 5/5
To give you an idea of my thoughts on this book, the file’s saved in my computer as “Designer’s Bible”, and that sums up my thoughts on it. Writing with Style by Ray Vallese is concise in getting across very important issues in writing, and really the worst thing I have to say about this book is that it didn’t come out sooner.
This week we’re looking at 8-bit Adventures: Vampire Slayer Gear; and as you can tell from the art and such, it’s trying to recreate the feel of the old and beloved retro game Donkey Kong.
We start with a small introduction to help ease us into things, giving the reader an idea of what they’re in for with this book, and what that happens to be is gear to help us kill vampires, letting us know that it isn’t just magical gear (which is often the case), but also mundane gear, which I very much appreciate. We also get an explanation of why it’s just gear and not a full setting, which feels extra, but doesn’t really hurt. We also get proper bookmarking in the PDF to help us find our way around.
Next we get some ‘game terms’ mixed in with some pathfinder game terms to help us get more of a feel for things, although not sure ‘mundane’ is an actual game term here. Still, it’s keeping in tone with everything else, and as a whole, I appreciate that. The art inside is very reminiscent of that you’d find in an old instruction manual, which does wonders for keeping you in the proper mindset of this product.
The cleansing fire section isn’t my favorite though. While I get what the writer is going for, mechanics like this don’t really translate as well outside of what they’re hoping to do here. I don’t believe that we’re getting a good point for when to include treasure of this magnitude into games. Different charts for different levels would have been much appreciated here, rather than a one size fits all listing.
The language in the star whip leaves a lot to be desired, and while the author did clear this up in a post, it’s still in the book as a rather confusing item. Also I’m not sure how you’d be able to have an action readied to catch a returning cross boomerang, as attacking with it would generally be a part of a standard/full attack action, thus not giving you a chance to ready an action in response. Even an immediate feels like a bit too much, as you can only catch it once per round, making it not great for full attack actions. Sure, it’s a mundane item and early game it could do well, but it feels less than ideal for mid to late game.
Slayer’s shield of defense feels a bit too ‘spell in a can’ for me, and whip crystal also has imprecise wording (I’m assuming it’s a size increase) making the intent clear for veterans but cloudy for most others. I want to like the Slayer’s Mystic Whip more, but it’s the same issue of spell in a can here, making it a touch too mundane for me to really appreciate.
The rest of the magic items also feel plain, with bracers of the multi-blow most likely meaning “two weapon fighting penalties” rather than the two weapon fighting feat. Hourglass watch is also crazy powerful, it’s effectively an auto kill against any evil creature without spell resistance, and it’s multi target for 9 rounds; that’s just brutal. And at 8k, a mid level adventurer could pick up a few of these to just auto kill a large amount of creatures. Sure, it being mind affecting limits it a bit, but that’s still an I Win button against a lot of foes. The large and small heart crystals are kind of interesting even if the large one feels like it could end up being pretty cheap in the case of staff charges, and the small heart crystal feels undercosted for its effect.
I do kinda like Rosary of Destruction too (though I think it should have a save), and the ability to amp it with turn undead is pretty nice. Sapphire ring is another item that has pretty clumsy rules language that could really have used a more discerning eye. I also believe that wall meat might be the best curative item I’ve ever seen by a wide margin; it doesn’t even give an amount of ability damage it heals, it just heals all of it as well as a very sizeable chunk of hit points. White cross is okay though, it’s thematic and fair for what it does.
We finish with a list of creatures that you can substitute in for others, which is a nice finishing touch.
Mechanics range from okay to uninspired to just non-functional, and there’s a lot in here that I just don’t care for as a GM. The power is all over the board, and most of it isn’t really that interesting. I’m not really the primary market for this, but it feels like a lot of this was written with the idea of pushing the mechanics of this game into pathfinder without a huge amount of consideration for the rules.
This is a book for thematics, plain and simple. Personally, I think it does it well enough, but there was never enough here to keep me completely drawn into the setting and ideas held within. It did a good job, I got the jist of what they were going for, but the way that mechanics were smashed into this didn’t make it feel like a seamless transition between two different media, it just felt like I was shoving one into another.
Final Thoughts 2/5
While I respect the effort that went into this project, as a whole it fell flat for me. With imprecise rules text, quite a few items I wouldn’t let into a game if given the chance, and a less than smooth transition between the two properties. Derek Blakely came off as a video game fan who wanted to push a game’s framework into an RPG, and while if you’re more of a rules light group who’s fine with that way of doing things it’ll work okay; for a more rules savvy group, this isn’t for you.
The Aethera campaign setting was one that I’d had my eye on after I’d heard about it from others, and I’ve had some talks with its creator even before everything came out. But right now, I’d like to get into this slick sci fi setting to see if it’s the place to be for Starfinder, or if the Golarion System will reign supreme.
We start by with an introduction by the creator talking about the genesis of the setting, and honestly, it brought a smile to my face to see how things were set into motion. It very much humanizes the writing staff and creator, Robert Brookes.
From here, we jump straight into races (not counting the small comics which serve as chapter openers, which do a good job of setting the tone of the setting), which is actually quite a bit jarring. This may be the only large issue that I have with the book, but I would have preferred a section in which we were better introduced to general terms and concepts that we would be seeing in Aethera. We’re going into races where I feel like there’s terminology and ideas that I’m expected to know but can’t because we’re just getting into things.
But the races? Oh man, these are great. We start off with the Erahthi, which could have easily been more ‘big slow plant people’ but have such elegant designs (the art here is amazing, the entire book’s art is first rate, don’t ask me to expand on that because we’ll be here for days) that even just through visual representation they feel different. The explanations behind their physiology and other things like that is very well done, and they feel like they could be transplanted (PUN) into other settings rather easily.
Infused struck a chord with me, as the entire concept behind them is something I find fascinating; a created human-like race. The racials, mechanics, and other features of them manage to make the infused feel different from both a gameplay and setting perspective, something that I very much appreciate.
Personal preference is that I don’t like animal races, but the Orkanta manage to show off a large variety of different animal like traits and background that I’d actually be quite okay adding them to my games despite my aversion to their concept.
I’ve saved the best for last though, as the Phalanx? Top tier. I’m a sucker for machine races, and just the sample picture for them sold me 10 times over. The thing I really like about this race? They make sense in the world, and they would make sense in other settings as well (as long as you allow robot people, that is). The striking art is enough to win me over, although their construct typing with constitution gives them a lot of benefits that may be difficult to balance in your group. Either way though, I love these things, and I will marry the first one that will have me.
The rest of the core races and such get a small write up too, enough to integrate them into the setting, and it feels as though care was taken to place them among the playable roster, meaning that tieflings won’t feel out of water next to Erahthi or Phalanxes.
We get to classes, and here we get to one of the unique things about the setting (which I actually like); no gods. This means clerics and warpriests are kind of out of luck here, and while content is given to help you play one here (as well as options for clerics of beliefs), this is an interesting bit of mechanical fidelity with storyline that I really enjoy. It’s rare that we see mechanical consideration for things like this, and while some people won’t like it, it’s something that I actually applaud.
In their place, we get the Cantor, and I’m not the biggest fan here. There’s no real problem with it, it’s mechanically fine, but even the flavor calls it out as a divine bard, and the mechanics only reinforce that. For that concept it’s fine, but for how daring the rest of the book has been, this is an oddly safe choice. I will say that the hymns are the best part of this class, and where it gets most of its identity. This would be a great class feature to jack for other classes too! I’m sad I don’t like it, as it’s a very plot integral class, but it’s just a touch too bland, even with hymns.
The rest of the classes get the Aethera treatment here too, being given their place in the world. A lot of the flavor here is over the top in a good way, really driving home just how easily these classes can be played in Aethera. You can really tell there was care given to make sure that they can fit into your games, even for something as simple as the fighter who kinda works everywhere without need for explanation. The fact that they go as far as to include the hybrid and occult classes and newcomers like the vigilante speaks volumes (even if the vigilante’s section is small) to the commitment to make sure everything jives in this setting.
The archetypes all felt very in tone with the setting (3 alchemist archetypes kills me, please let this class rest), with quite a few interesting discoveries for the haggard class. Personally, the alchemist archetypes felt more tepid to me, with bioengineer feeling like a warmed over preservationist, combat medic being a little confusing and kind of cliche (it’s a very well covered topic), and the wastelander feeling like filler.
Rift Breaker particularly has some interesting concepts behind it that feel a touch too ambitious, but I’d rather see something going 110% and failing than doing 80% perfectly (God, I wish I could repost some of the art from this…) I will say that due to the nature of a lot of these, they don’t transfer to other settings AS well due to some of the unique properties of the Aethera setting, but it’s not really fair to count that against them, as they work well for the setting.
As there’s a lot of setting specific archetypes, the power level is all over the place, and there’s quite a few archetypes I myself can’t see using, but it’s fine for a setting book especially to have some NPC archetypes, things that are more for flavor than mechanical power. With the wide variety of archetypes though, there’s at least a few your eyes will glaze over.
Seriously, the amount of archetypes is shocking, and it shows that Robert went to the best in the industry when he assigned them, as while there may be small issues here and there, most of them read very well and take close consideration of the rules. Things like Aethertech Pilot are nearly class hacks rather than archetypes (not that I have a problem with class hacks…not at all…), but when the class in question is the cavalier, I’m not here to complain about making it better.
To me, things like the Thornslinger most represent what can’t be pulled out into other settings, but at the same time, it’s just…awesome. Like the mechanics for it are sound, it’s a fused gun, and just…it’s awesome. It’s such a unique concept that I can’t help but love it. I seriously need to get off of talking about archetypes, but there’s just so many and so many of them deserve attention. We need to get onto the meat of the setting, the setting itself.
As expected from a space setting, we’re dealing with an entire star system here rather than just a planet or even just a continent. This is where we get to yet another interesting point of the setting, no outer plains. I can understand why this is done, to keep a tighter focus on the more developed part of the setting, and it’s something I can appreciate. It’s here that we get the history of Aethera, something that takes up quite a bit of the book.
For history, we get a basic set up of an ancient civilization that went kaboom, which is an okay way to start off any campaign setting. What we do get is an interesting ancient race in the progenitors who are basically a race of macguffins, but we get enough info on them to make them a nice set piece. The collapse itself is well explained with the vagueness needed for GMs to draw their own conclusions, giving the tritarchs to help seed that information if needed. The lore of the world is engaging enough to draw one in, and that’s coming from someone who’s not big on sci fi stuff as a whole.
Something interesting that the history section does is separates different parts from the perspective of different races, giving an entire section to the erahthi and tritarchs before moving back to humans and other races. This is an interesting way of pacing things, and I’d say it partially works. It does let you focus in on races you like, but at the same time, in a straight read through, it causes the narrative to jump around too much for my liking.
The way that the century’s war is presented feels like it’s coming from an organic place, and the escalation of tensions within manage to feel real, giving it a lot of weight. This was the point in the history where I was the most ehngaged, and ‘maze ship’ is just a great visual. A lot of this feels like it would have been good to put before the race section, as after reading it, everything about races makes more sense. For a regular book, this would have been fine, preferable even. But for a campaign setting, I feel like I couldn’t appreciate the races as much before reading over the history section.
The locations given are enough to give plenty of adventure seeds, as the Ebon Knight had me thinking of adventure hooks to bring people to it just upon reading it. While not all of them hold the same potential, it’s safe to say that there’s some very enticing locations that would make for some great adventures. The lore of the Century’s War is a strong enough backdrop while having strong parallels to other settings I enjoy, giving the entire setting a very ‘grey’ vibe.
On the economy, I’m not 100% sure if I love it, but I do find it very intriguing how money works in this setting. The slot system itself is a nice take on the caste system seen before, and it helps make for a different style than I’ve seen in other settings. What I’m really appreciating though is the way that the lore and history of the setting works with the adventure hooks, giving a very complete feeling to things.
The alternative skill uses are all fairly standard, they help for corner cases in which the setting requires its own unique rules, which is appreciated, even coming with skill unlocks. I particularly like the Heal skill unlocks, which really open up the skill a lot. I do feel that the Performance skill unlocks are more limited than I would like for how much investment they require, but the rest feel fine.
Some of the feats have the same issue, feeling too limited for that’s being required, like Aria of the Soul or Cleansing Bridge being once per day. Body Muffle is another that while interesting isn’t worth a feat to me; as a trait, it’d be pretty great though. Cunning Mechanic is another I could see being downgraded to a trait, as stat swaps have basically hit the realm of traits in power level. Destined Choices is pretty great though, opening up a lot of options for Cantors. Same with Esoteric Arts; it’s a real game changer for Incantor. Really, the feats vary wildly on great options to not worth it, making them a mixed bag.
The gear is more of the standard stuff you’d expect, although there’s a little variety in it, like the instrument weapons. I will admit that I do really like the drug section, as each one feels like a fun addition to the setting, even if like most drugs they’re generally debuffs in the long run. Kind of odd the armored long coat is cheaper and better than the light trooper armor with a better max dex bonus, but I do appreciate armor mods, as I really enjoy customization in my gear. This gives me the feel that I could use multiple armor sets, which is a plus in my book.
We’re back to using normal Paizo firearm rules here, which I think is a mistake myself. I mean I appreciate the ‘guns everywhere’ rule to make guns not stupid, but with this setting, I’d probably just say treat guns as any other ranged weapon, as I don’t think they need the same distinction they have in other settings. I also don’t think the recoil additional rule is needed, as guns still don’t have the power to disrupt a game, so it’s a huge penalty that only serves to help ‘realism’. What I can say here is the fidelity with different types of clips is very nice to see, adding a lot more variety to firearms than I was expecting. Firearms are actually kept in relatively obtainable terms as far as price goes, making starting with one far more reasonable, and unique ammo is kind of a drug for me (hellbore is just…god).
Moving onto aethertech, we see what are effectively magic items, but with an associated cost and duration. Really, the change in what is a resource in this setting by making a lot of things require aetherite will be a jarring change to some, and it really does change a lot of assumptions about what to do with your atherite. We get a lot of fun things here, like farcaster stats, which I was interested in myself. Most things listed right away are survival/flavor items, but they’re strong additions to the setting.
Automata, or prosthetics, follow a very similar formula for not letting you go over your ‘humanity’ when decking yourself out in cyber gear, although certain races like phalanx or infused can cheat this somewhat. Automata are also another place we can spend aetherite for effects, adding to the list of things this wondrous material can do. I am slightly sad that implanting a firearm makes it a full-round action to reload, as this does hurt its usefulness. Strength boost too requiring a swift action to activate rather than a free action. Quickstrider legs also don’t really give an amount of AU needed to use their effects, which isn’t great.
I’m also not sure what ‘plasma’ damage is, I do wish it was listed as half fire/elec here for the arc cutter. But now we’re getting to the only thing that matters, power armor. The power armor itself isn’t that exciting, but where the fun really lies is the accessories for it, helping you customize it into whatever you’d like it to be. I do wish each set had more usage slots or the enhancements took less space, as I don’t feel like I have enough space to really tune out a mark I or II suit, instead having to wait until mark III before I can really open it up. Mark III is where power armor starts feeling proper, which while isn’t a problem, does make me a little sad. I’d also like to eventually see power armor mark V or higher, as I feel limited by ending at mark IV.
And now we get to another section I was anxious to see, aetherships. From here, we see that the crew is of the utmost importance, as their skills directly tie into the ship, which is a nice way of avoiding having a junk ship always lose against a larger one. The rules for ship are a slog, but that’s not really the book’s fault; this is an entirely new way of doing things, and I’d rather see these rules be long instead of incomplete. The use of existing mechanics rather than reinventing the wheel is very much appreciated in a lot of sections. I especially like the dogfight section, as it gives a fun few ways to initiate this iconic scenario.
Separating atherdrives and shells was something else that I thought allowed for more customization, and this feels like the kind of thing that in the future could be expanded upon greatly. The plant fighter in particular has a very unique ability, and the amount of single pilot ships is just enough for me to be happy. Capital ships start to get a bit too complex, and while I understand why they work the way they do, this is the point where the system starts to lose me.
Now we get to some of the special materials, but there’s less utility here than I would have hoped, as singing steel’s the only truly interesting material here (with a shout out to aeronite ammo which for some reason doesn’t have a price listed). What I do like here is the plant symbiont section, as it feels robust and rife with chances to create your own creature that will serve your needs.
The section on different takes on music really does show just how ingrained music is in the setting, a point that is driven home often in this book. I actually kind of like that the entire setting is under a dimensional lock effect too, as it makes it very important as to how you decide to get around, and making sense of why ships are so important. I like the blood sacrifice rules, and I like that it’s needed to be stated that sacrificing others is evil; it’s also an amazingly efficient way to prevent resurrection, which is worth noting.
The effort gone through in the fidelity of monsters found in aethera is impressive, making sure that the campaign setting remains coherent. The bestiary creatures all feel natural, and there’s a reasonable mix of high and low level creatures here. There’s also a nice collection of NPCs which is useful for getting a feel on how to build characters in this setting. The fact that things like true dragons and other classic creatures aren’t featured as much (while limiting) further defines the setting, helping to keep it from another “dragons rule everything” trope that’s been overused in other settings.
Something that I’d really like to touch on is that we have a real spotlighting of kyton here. For me, these creatures were always ‘background devils’, but Aethera actually pushes them to center stage, giving them far more importance to the story, and I think this is a good decision so that we have more variety to the setting. The choir of the machine might be my favorite way that music is introduced into the setting, as it feels intimidating in a very real way, and helps to build up kyton in Aethera as more of a threat than anything else I’ve seen in the bestiary. I’m all for heavily regimented evil working like clockwork, and that’s what it feels like is going on here. Just the description of their dungeons alone is enough to get the wheels in my head turning as to how to best implement these adversaries in my games (also sorry to mention the art again, but wow).
For a story based template, living idol is just too cool. It wraps up the entire outsider dearth in a very slick package. The reverence given to these creatures is also very intense, making them not just another encounter, especially with how hard it is to kill them. The idea of a normal monster getting powers through followers is just all kinds of crazy good here, and I could gush about it for a while.
Finally we’re getting to the Taur, who I have been jonesing to read the stats on since I first read about them in the history section. I appreciate the base low CR for the taur as well as the decent spread of CRs for them, making for encounters that work at multiple different points in adventures. It’s a nice note to finish on, as I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting these things statted.
So what do I think as a whole?
There’s a lot in this book that I love mechanically, and most of it is non-pc stuff. The player content ranged from amazing to obvious filler, but at no point was there anything that ever made me think that it deserves lower than a 4/5. As a whole, you can tell that the people who helped with this project know their way around the rules, and it managed to avoid any glaring errors, although like most products, there were a few minor issues with formatting. Still, I believe that if you are running in this setting, you are going to find things you can use in this book to enhance your games. One thing I wish would have been talked about though is the change in how Wealth by Level works considering how the currency is also a resource, I’m still not 100% sure on how to balance that. Super props for living idol, I’d use that in non-Aethera games in a heartbeat.
I was not expecting to be as drawn into this setting’s lore as I was, not even a little bit. I’ve read quite a few settings in my day, and while there were a few cliches in here, even they were done in a way that was impressive, and the stuff that was unique blew me away. I lost sleep because I wanted to finish reading the history section, and that’s more than I can say about (almost) every other setting that I’ve read. From the taur to the century war to the kytons, this setting made me care, and that’s probably the most glowing praise I could give it. Every time I read over a location, I felt as though there was a reason to go there, an adventure or two waiting to happen, and the amount of times I wanted to jot down adventure notes while going through things was too numerous to count.
Final Thoughts: 5/5
I went into this expecting a lot from Robert Brookes and crew, seeing as this setting had held the top slot over at Drivethru for quite a while. What I got was a ringing endorsement of that spot, seeing why so many before me had picked this up and enjoyed it. While the mechanics aren’t perfect, the lore alone is reason to pick up this book. The Aethera team has made what WILL be my default setting for Starfinder, what may end up tying my normal default pathfinder setting, and what will be something which I am glad to have read. Kudos for this amazing setting.
This week we’re looking over Art of War: Youxia; a hybrid class of samurai and unchained monk. Right away, I have to say that this is a different set of classes than I expected to see smashed together. With a d10 hit die and decent starting gold, our opening is pretty standard for something like this, giving us a role and letting us know that this is going to be another ki based class. We’re picking up a decent skill list with 4 ranks per level (thank god it’s not 2), and the normal monk weapons along with light and medium armor.
We get a pretty standard suite of bonus feats ala the monk side of thing, as well as picking up samurai’s resolve, so at the moment it feels pretty same-y along with the standard monk unarmed strike material. I will admit I like gaining the ki pool at 2nd level, as the monk felt like a class that needed to be 3rd level to be played fully. As someone who doesn’t like parry being as limited as it is normally, I really do appreciate being able to burn ki on that. Like it’s a straight swashbuckler lift, but hey, I like it.
Sadly we get to just wholesale stealing ki powers, which hey, it works, but at the same time, it removes a lot of unique design space that could have been utilized here. A lot of space could have been saved here by saying “see unchained monk ki powers for more information.” Also slightly odd that we have to get to the bottom of page 5 before we see the class’s table.
After this, we see the same class just pulling advanced weapon training and weapon mastery feats from the fighter class, which makes this feel like more of a monk/fighter hybrid instead of monk/samurai, as only resolve was pillaged from the samurai class.
It appears that we’re also getting a new skill here, meditate, that is going to factor into future products. I can’t really judge it by that though, so I’ll talk about how it plays into this class. It basically boils down to a way to ignore some debuffs for pretty low DCs (turning nausea into staggered effectively for DC 20), basically making it a powerful defensive skill. Out of the next section, the only content that really caught my eye was the signature ki feat, something that lets you reduce the ki cost of a ki power/technique by 1, but it cannot lower it below 1, making more expensive techniques manageable.
Beyond here we see more conversation of things that have been planned for the line along with more reprinted content, this time in the way of style feats. It’s thankfully not all reprints though, actually adding in some new styles to the mix with the interesting ‘sub style’ feats for existing style feats. Vermillion has some things I don’t like (needing to know your opponent’s strength score and saying a single attack at your highest base attack bonus rather than just attack action), but I enjoy the final part of it, as well as just the concept of being able to take different paths down a style tree.
I want to like phoenix style more, but it’s just very resource intensive for too little reward. That’s an issue with cockatrice style too, as while I like where it’s going, it’s going to require fighter tier feat acquisition to use it to its fullest. Desert Scorpion is odd in that it reduces your effective size, which could have been nice if it didn’t affect your damage. The fact that you have to go through the chain to undo these penalties is not consolation enough to use them.
Southern scorpion actually bucks the trend and makes for a much more engaging combat experience with how it plays out, although I really don’t like that it gives a deflection bonus as I’d rather see that as a dodge or shield bonus. Aside from that though, it’s pretty nice, definitely something I could see myself taking. Leopard style is another that I found myself liking due to how it plays with ability damage, although the excessive saving throws needed here can get exhausting. Manticore style is also another that I like, even if it’s a pretty easy way to sicken someone. It’s definitely a cool way of making throwing weapons more interesting.
I want to like mirror style, but it seems like hell to adjudicate at a table, stealing style feats and such. It’s far more meta than I’m comfortable with myself, and while it’s not ‘bad’, it is the kind of thing that could aid in immersion breaking, as you need to ask a lot of questions while using it.
The class is easily the weakest part of this document, but it’s not terrible. It’s a hodge podge of other class’s mechanics, but the way that it’s put together certainly makes it better than the samurai. As a martial character, it will run you well enough, but no one running this class should get angry if they’re just called monk or fighter while doing it, because that’s very much what it is. Some of the style feats are what really drew my interest, which along with an okay class made for a decent experience. I really wish we’d gotten some archetypes, favored class bonuses, or just other small tweaks that would have made this class really stand out, give it a little more personality.
It really did feel as though this book is intended to be run as a part of a setting heavily incorporating style feats, and to me, that’s a cool idea. What drew me out of it though was the reprints which took up at least 1/3 of the book. I do feel like more content in the setting could help out a lot in getting across a much more vibrant picture, but as far as it stands, there was just enough to keep me out of truly embracing the idea that I can’t go higher.
Final Thoughts: 3/5
The youxia is an entirely serviceable class, but it takes no chances whatsoever, making it hard to remember in the grand scheme of pathfinder. Greg LaRose’s class is fine, but that’s as much as I could praise it, as I prefer to see more daring design choices made with hybrids rather than a smashing of two classes together. I feel like more chances could have been taken here, and in the future, I’d like to see something a good bit more unique from this author, as their creativity really showed in the concept of sub schools for style feats as well as a decent number of said said schools.
Hey there, giving this smaller publisher a look with their new product!
What I liked
-The quirkiness of the seeds being listed in your base gear got a smile from me.
-Weed out is a really cool ability that goes in a direction I wasn't expecting, making it quite unique.
-Stability talents are a good way to make a boring class feature more interesting.
What I wasn't sure about
-I'd have liked more plant powers, but that's just me being selfish here.
-Again, a personal complaint, I'm not a fan of bonus feat design, that's just me.
What I didn't like
-I wish the gardening weapons had been more unique; it's a cool idea, but it doesn't feel like it goes far enough. It's also vague on if they can be enchanted like weapons since some of them would normally be considered tools.
This is a considerably small product that's exactly what it says on the tin; it's a gardener class. The lack of feats, archetypes, sample character, and other content wasn't great, but this class does what it does, and it does it in an interesting way for a basically non magical class. The layout work was fine although somewhat spotty at points and it feels like it could have benefited from a dedicated editor, making me give this about a 3.5, rounded up for the sheer quirkiness of the product.