1.08.2016

Cyclopean Deeps Volume II

Cyclopean Deeps Volume II




The second tome of Matt Finch's massive subterranean sandbox clocks in at 250 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 244 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Well, before we do, let me reiterate for a second what this is and what it means: Well, on the obvious side, this is the second part of the massive Cyclopean Deeps-mega-adventure-sandbox, which, per default, is situated even below the dungeon of Rappan Athuk in the Lost Lands campaign setting - but, quite frankly, there is no place in any given campaign setting you conceivably couldn't plug this into without any hassle whatsoever. Why? Simple: Cyclopean Deeps takes place in an area almost never explored in any given setting: In the unfathomable, lightless depths beyond even the civilizations of drow, duergar, etc.

You know, the place perpetually hinted at, where surface-dwellers are but intruders into a world so strange and different in morality, their minds might fracture; the place, where tentacled horrors abound and odd deities rest in uneasy slumber; a place so weird, it makes some outer planes look cozy and familiar by direct comparison. Here, demon lords and the forces of abyss and hell rank among the beings that still may be considered understandable...normal even. Beyond this deep horizon lies an endless cascade of the deadly and weird, one that rendered the first book in this two-part-saga a worthy part of my Top Ten of 2014...but can this remain on par with its predecessor?

Before we answer this question, let me explain something: While Part I could conceivably stand on its own, it did sport the city of Ques Querax, odd and wondrous beyond belief - and this book with its plots, quests and content does make ample note of said place. While the individual components of this book can be scavenged and taken apart, to properly get the full experience, you should definitely own the first Cyclopean Deeps book and run them in conjunction.

All right, finally, it should be noted, that this is a massive sandbox, complete with really big maps, hex-crawling through the dark and chapters upon chapters of wholly distinct environments that would make good individual mini-dungeons, should you prefer running this in bite-sized chunks as opposed to as a massive sandbox.

All right, and this is exactly as far as I can go into this adventure-review sans SPOILERS. So, please beware that from here on out, SPOILERS reign. Players should definitely jump to the conclusion.
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All right, still here? Great! After we have established basic power-dynamics within and around Ques Querax, we now delve into the respective, unique environments and take a look at the more complex and possible endgame scenarios for excursions throughout the Cyclopean Deeps - but before I go into the details, let me emphasize something: The Cyclopean Deeps may be weird, but they are concise in an almost uncanny manner. Much like the best offerings of the Lost Lands, the Cyclopean Deeps breathe a sense of antiquity, with empires upon empires fallen by the wayside, ruins reappropriated throughout time...and not even the inhuman cyclopean deeps are exempt from the eternal waltz of revolution, war and rebirth - but unlike in quite a few modules with storied backgrounds (like a significant array of society scenarios...), there is no requirement for either captain exposition to throw a wall of text at the players, nor is there a strict requirement for the PCs to know it all - instead, much like in the exemplar Sword of Air mega-adventure, what we have here is, ultimately, indirect narrative.
If you're like me, you will, for example, shudder as the PCs explore the narrows of Braath and find the remnants of a strange aberrant culture whose mantid servitors, created to embalm their master, took a disturbingly logical step towards "improving" the holiness of their masters - by cutting out unimportant things like living and turning their erstwhile gods into a species bred for death by embalming, fulfilling their task in the most gruesomely efficient manner imaginable - and yes, this and a wicked plan concocted by a demon prince can be unearthed as the PCs explore the mortuaries of the mantid priests - if the PCs avoid death as it lurks around every corner.

Speaking of which: The very utterance of a death god may summon the soul-consuming, fickle godling from its aqueous realm and power-struggles, degenerate things and worse abound and interlace perfectly with the narratives already established in Part I of this saga...just remember, don't speak the name of CHOA-THOOM as you traverse these grottos...or he may take notice of your petty mortal existence...

As much as I utterly the adore this beautifully exhibited mastery of horrific tropes, though, as much as I love the wizard that seeks to recruit the PCs here, it is his devious arch-rival, legendary Jupiter Kwan and his hidden worlds that truly set my mind aglow with possibilities. You see, at one point, the PCs can find a strange artwork of rhizome-like strands that remind you of synapses or worse - turns out that this is the map for his hidden worlds, a kind of demiplane-conglomerate of chaos, stitches together from stillborn realities, crumbling demiplanes and the like - and exploration of this gruesome place within the endless void of Ginnungagap remains my absolute favorite environment in quite a while - not only due to tables upon tables of environmental peculiarities, but also due to the fact that Dark Souls-like mist gates with devious properties find a glorious rendition here, one I'm so going to steal the hell out of. In this chapter, Matt Finch's massive imaginative potential seems to have peaked beyond its otherwise already utterly impressive level.

Now, admittedly, I have not been 100% honest in the beginning of this review: You see, there is a humanoid culture down here - a whole holdfast of duergar mines can be found within the pages of this tome and its concise depiction of a ruthless ideology and the hints towards the malachite city (city of brass for earth, if you need an analogue...) are tantalizing indeed...but there is so much more going on here...and yes, this ties together with the at this point nigh obligatory demon lord that is a part of this area's power-dynamic, obviously constituting another exceedingly powerful evil to play against the vileness found herein...or simply try to vanquish or die trying.

This is ultimately me and my preferences, but surpassing even the grisly narrative shared before, the Orchard of Yiquooloome is, shudder-factor wise, very much the apex of the whole cyclopean deeps for me - a creature of primordial chaos that makes elder brains seem kind, it is here that PCs finally find out the truth behind elder ambergris...much like the origins of the fabled darkmist are explained in another chapter - but I'm not going to spoil that for you. Why? Because I could keep on babbling about the vast imaginative potential herein for ages without truly managing to depict how brilliant this one is.

For your information: We actually do get player-friendly versions of all maps herein and yes, there are ample new creatures, artifacts and the like to be found within these pages.


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious issues in this massive book. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' elegant b/w-standard and the pdf sports A LOT of great b/w-artworks that capture perfectly the weirdness and sheer jamais-vu-level of wonder the Cyclopean Deeps require. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, though I'd very much recommend getting the absolutely stunning hardcover of the book - as always with FGG-books, it is made to last and features great production values.

Matt Finch, with assistance from Bill Webb, Skeeter Greene and Greg A. Vaughan has crafted a book that not only transcends book Vol. I in scope; in fact, the Cyclopean Deeps, as a collected entity, ranks among the best dungeon sandboxes I've ever read, regardless of the system. Book I was brilliant, Book II may actually be even more refined: There are less old-school-y relic in the rules-language here; the builds are more complex...in short, this is brilliant. I read this book back to back, while revisiting some of my sword and sorcery favorites....and if I'M honest, I found myself reading more CD. The prose of this book, its vast imaginative potential, bespeaks a mind that not only is capable of weaving disturbing and brilliant concepts with short hints, it also exemplifies a journey of exploration while reading it: As a GM, you explore the Deeps while reading this book, and I was not bored for a single second. Beyond being a milestone in imaginative potential, this book is sword and sorcery gold, perfect weird fantasy material for everyone with even a tiny soft spot for weird fantasy, for lovecraftiana, for fantasy that dares to deviate from the established concepts to provide something raw and gorgeous.

A word of warning - this book is very detailed and not for the faint of heart - when a sidebox explains in pretty grisly detail what happens when a PC's body in gaseous form, spread over mile-long in millimeter-thick tunnels, meets a magic-dead field and has his body extend through the caverns, I found myself shuddering and remembering one of Junji Ito's lesser-known, brilliant horror-manga. The Cyclopean Deeps are a place of eldritch beauty, but each and every part of its drives home that this is the place where "man was not meant to tread," combining a superb sense of the exploration of the unknown with a constant, disturbing sense of uncanny displacement and existential wrongness.

That being said, as easy as all of this sounds or may sound to you, finding a final verdict for this book was nigh impossible to me: You see, I can't really fathom and abstract my knowledge of Part I, separate it from Part II. Unlike other such sagas, they BELONG together...but Part I already received its accolades on my Top Ten of 2014 and I have a policy of not awarding spots to the same components twice (otherwise, you'd see Ultimate Charisma, for example, in my Top Ten of 2015 once that hits sites...). At the same time, this is a perfect example for my thesis that Frog God Games has surpassed the roots of 3.X Necromancer Games by leaps and bounds - no matter how you look at it, Cyclopean Deeps ranks among the best old-school modules/sandboxes out there. With intricate attention to details of not only formal criteria, but also regarding the prose, it ranks among the finest, most unique (and horrific!) sandboxes I have ever read.

How good is Cyclopean Deeps? The collective of both books is so good, even among FGG's mega-adventures, I'd only consider it second to Sword of Air, which makes it one of the best mega-adventures out there - PERIOD. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval...and, I will retroactively bestow the grace of the Top Ten spot of 2014 Part I scored also on this beast, since it is a crucial extension of the first volume.

If my ample gushing was not clue enough: I'd strongly recommend getting this masterpiece; in my humble opinion, the Cyclopean Deeps are absolutely mindbogglingly good and transcend Rappan Athuk, which kind of gave birth to these, in their superb environments by leaps and bounds.

You can get this awesome book in eitehr Pathfinder or S&W here on Frog God Games' homepage! 


Alternatively, you can get this masterpiece on Paizo:

 Here's the link for Pathfinder!
And here's the link for old-school S&W!

Frog God Games, master of massive, glorious books, are currently kickstarting Richard Pett's magnum opus THE BLIGHT, a book that may well surpass even these brilliant tomes! The KS has only 9 days left and already is the biggest book the Frogs ever made, so don't miss out on that wonderful monstrosity! Here's the link!

Endzeitgeist out.

12.18.2015

Spheres of Power

Spheres of Power




Spheres of Power is one massive book - 230 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page SRD, 3 pages of KS-backer-thanks, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with no less than 220 (!!!) pages of content, so let's dive in!

As you can glean from the sheer length of this book, my usual in-depth analysis would bloat this review to extents unprecedented, so instead, I will paint in somewhat broader strokes than usual - also, since, apart from the well-written chapter-introduction fluff-texts, the vast majority of content herein is CRUNCH.

So, the basic principle is pretty simple: Spheres of Power represents an alternate magic system that can work as a substitution for the default vancian casting and alongside it. Personally, I'd suggest using it as a replacement, mainly for a couple of reasons. For one, there is the factor of terminology. Spheres of Power utilizes the term "Caster Level" to mean something different - basically, it could be likened to the base attack bonus and, similarly, there are full, 3/4 and 1/2 progressions for classes and the like you'd convert to the system: Paladins, for example, would adhere to 1/2 CL-progression as "low casters." Saving throws are no longer based on spell levels, and instead adhere to the classic 10 + 1/2 caster level +casting ability modifier, if appropriate. Casting ability modifiers (CAM) are dependent on the respective class used. Casting time ranges from 1 hour to 1 swift action and distances adhere to pretty much the concise close, medium, long distinction we already know from spells.

Characters utilizing the Spheres of Power-system also utilize spell points equal to class level + casting ability modifier. It should be noted that the multiclass rulings for these basic components are VERY smooth and easy to grasp. Spheres of Power also introduces  the MSB and MSD - Magic Skill Bonus and Magic Skill Defense. MSB is equal to total levels in casting classes; MSD is equal to 11 + total levels in casting classes. This becomes relevant in instances of pure concentration or when pitting your magical force against another caster becomes the relevant thing you're trying to do. Concentration is d20+MSB+ability modifier - for spell-level interactions, an effect's spell level is equal to 1/2 caster level, with the option of manifesting a magical effect voluntarily at a lower caster level to render concentration easier. Penetrating SR is done via d20+MSB - simple, elegant and the same ease also works for any call for CL-checks: You instead roll MSB.
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And that's about the basics. The system's core rules fit comfortably on two pages. That's a GOOD thing. Even better, the presentation is so simple and concise, it renders grasping the system hilariously easy. There also is no divine/arcane divide anymore, just fyi - so yes, false gods and the like...suddenly a much more likely narrative option. It gets better: Magic is divided not into traditional schools and subschools, but into spheres. Each time your caster level increases, you get magic talents - these can be used to unlock new spheres OR to learn special tricks within your available spheres.

You see, each sphere has basic abilities that work at-will (byebye, 5-minute adventuring day/nova issue...)...and others, that require the expenditure of spell points. Hence, you can actually remain relevant as a caster sans burning through your resources and still shine in your core competences - though, obviously, burning through your resources will yield its own benefits. This basic system also allows for exceedingly simple customization of existing classes into the frame-work of spheres of power, meaning you will not be missing out on your favorite 3pp-class or archetype, just because your group opted to go for Spheres of Power.

From the very get-go, this radically changes how magic and particularly, magic specialists, work - you no longer have a specialization represented in things you can't do, but rather by the things you CAN do AND, at the same time, you get magic that is less prone to resulting in nigh-godlike omnipotence casters at high levels - basically, sphere casters will excel at their given fields, with literally your choices each level mattering more than your class or its access to ridiculous amounts of resources, but at the same time, they will be at the same time more restricted. Magic at once becomes more manageable, but also more reliable and less bursty than in the vancian default. A total of 20 spheres are provided and each covers a significant array of utterly awesome options.

Let's take the Alteration-sphere as the first example, shall we? If you're like me and have been delving into the gritty details of shapechanging and its mechanics, you'll have noticed a serious array of pretty complicated details hiding in the proverbial shadows of polymorph-y effects - granted, the issues have been mitigated a bit by Pathfinder, but there still are ample instances wherein a particular modification of one's body becomes problematic and requires some dedicated close-reading. Alteration's basic ability, Shapeshift, requires a standard action to activate and shifts either you or a touched creature, with a duration of concentration. Unwilling creatures receive a save and necessitate the expenditure of 1 spell point to shift.

Additionally, you can expend 1 spell point to maintain shapeshift for 1 round/caster level sans concentration for 1 spell point. The ability is codified properly as a polymorph effect, and yes, we get rules for interactions between shapeshift effects, allowing you to MSB-check to see which shift prevails. Targets affected lose extraordinary and supernatural abilities and instead gain those noted...and yes, equipment and magic item activation is also properly covered. Disguise-interaction can be found and intriguingly, targets can also be partially changed via blank form, granting them e.g. low-light or darkvision, natural attacks (all sporting the proper primary/secondary classification) or cosmetic appearances.

Now this is the extent of things you can do with just access to the sphere - sans talents. Add talents into the fray and things become really interesting: Want to transform into animals or makes other creatures into humanoids? Check. Just affect the mind of the target, for a lycanthrope-like berserk, animalistic state? Check. Add lunging to natural attacks? Check. Poach amid nice monster abilities à la trip or tremorsense? Yup. Size changes? Bingo. You won't be able to do them all unless you specialize, but if you wanted a shapechanger with a focus on the undead and vermin...well, here you go, 2 talents and you're covered. And btw.: I am only lightly touching on the options one single sphere allows you to have...now contemplate what you can build with 20 of them!

Obviously, the material provided herein not only shows some extreme care regarding its rules-language and set-up, it also needs, by virtue of its "alternate system"-ambition, be able to cover the most divisive aspects of magic, the ones with the most potential for issues...and beyond complexity beasts like aforementioned alteration, there are two spheres that pretty much exemplify the basic tenets of combat-centric magic: Destruction and Life. Destruction's base ability is somewhat notorious, since it originally provided force-damage blasts at-will...which is a pretty nasty, since it is the best damage-type you can conceivably have and makes incorporeal foes too easy to eliminate. It is my happy duty to report that the damage-type has since been changed to bludgeoning, rendering the warlock-y blasting the sphere grants as a base ability less problematic.

The scaling of +1d6 every odd level and the limited range still maintain reasons for non-magical ranged weapons to exist, though you can use talents to extend the range - again, a matter of player agenda. Each blast can be further customized by one blast shape and one blast type talent, which allows for some form of control. Now, yes, this is a pretty simple means of adding warlock-y blasting capacity to your caster, but at the same time, this is the one sphere I'm not completely blown away by - mainly, since I'm a huge fan of the highly customizable ethermagic introduced in Interjection Games' Strange Magic-book: The variety there and the unique options as well as the damage-scaling are a tad bit more precise and refined and personally, I consider the resource-management there a bit more compelling...but know what? If you're mathematically up to the task, you can fuse the two/recodify ethermagic as its own sphere - the easy basic structure of spheres of power allows for such blending and ultimate, that is perhaps the biggest strength of the system.

The Life sphere, then, would be the other means by which a system could be broken: After all, this one is all about healing and by now you know how much I loathe any system that provides infinite healing. The Life sphere does just that...and at the same time, it doesn't. The base, at-will ability, allows you to provide temporary hit points to a touched target, but only up to your CL and only when the target is injured - basically, you can band-aid minor injuries, while major ones require the expenditure of spell points for proper healing, which the sphere also provides. While quite a few minor negative conditions and even ability damage can thus be alleviated via the expenditure of spell points, the tying to the resources of the respective character (remember: One pool of points for ALL spheres...), suddenly, we have an interesting resource-management game here that emphasizes the severity of different injuries by virtue of whether they can be covered by invigorate or not. My one gripe here is that invigorate's scaling could have been a tad bit less linear at higher levels, when damage far eclipses its usefulness, but then again, I can modify that to properly fit my own tenets with just a modicum of preparation and basic math. The impressive component with this sphere, at least in my book, is that it manages to provide an infinite source of HP-replenishment without breaking the game in play - even in relatively gritty contexts. Flavor-wise, it also does not suffer from in-game logic issues that haunt similar solutions or healing surges...so yes, consider me thoroughly impressed.

These three spheres, highlighting some of the most problematic potential aspects, should provide enough insight on why this system as a base set-up, has merit...but we're not just left with it. Instead, we get no less than 11 (!!!) base classes.

Since my usual in-depth analysis would bloat this horribly, please bear with me as I'm going through them at an enhanced pace:

The Armorist: d10, 2+Int skills, full BAB, good Fort-save 1/2 caster progression via Wis. This guy can create special bonded equipment (weapon, armor, etc.) with preset enchantments and swap between them on the fly in combat. Like it!

The Elementalist: d8, 4+Int skills 3/4 BAB, good Fort- and Ref-save 3/4 caster progression via Cha. Take the Destruction sphere for free with slightly better elemental enhancements as well as some monk-y tricks like evasion. Another Airbender-esque class. Okay when you're looking for it with Spheres, but I've seen cooler takes on the concept.

The Eliciter: d8, 4+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB, good Will-save, 3/4 caster progression via Cha. This guy is pretty much the instigator/enchantment-type of manipulator who supplements his spellcasting via 3+1/2 class level hypnotism-abilities; If gaslighting, (de-)buffing and generally being a good face is something you enjoy, then that's a great class for the subject matter.

The Fey Adept: d8, 4+Int skills per level, good Will-save, 1/2 BAB, full caster progression via Cha. If the name wasn't ample clue - here we get the illusion sphere as a bonus talent and generally supplement these tricks with shadow/nature-themed tricks. If creative illusions and fooling foes with nasty tricks is your game, then this is the one you want. Also, obviously, if you like the slightly sinister tint of fey-type material. (In Midgard, this would e.g. be interesting...)

The Hedgewitch: d8, 6+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB, good Will-save, 3/4 caster progression via either Int, Wis or Cha, chosen at first level. This class chooses a tradition that can be considered a thematic "bloodline"-like concept that represents different takes on the concept of the witch, with individual, exclusive customization options.

The Incanter: d6, 2+Int skills per level, 1/2 BAB, good Will-save, full caster progression via Int, Wis or Cha. This essentially can be summed up as the full-caster grab-bag class - basically, you can trade in things like domains and bloodlines (obviously minus spells and the like) for specialization points, which can be gained by losing the bonus feats of the class in ever-increasing amounts. The class also allows for such specializations to modify the spheres. Nice one.

The Mageknight: d10, 2+Int skills per level, Full BAB, good Fort- and Will-saves, 1/2 caster progression via Int, Cha or Wis. This would be the pala, bloodrager, magus-y garb-bag class. With Stalwart (evasion for Fort-and Will-saves), it has one of my pet-peeve abilities at 3rd level and over all, feels a bit like it doesn't really manage the grab-bag aspect that well...nor its own schtick. Among the classes presented herein, it's perhaps one of the conceptually weaker ones.

The Shifter: d8,4+Int skills, 3/4 BAB, good Fort- And Ref-saves, 3/4 caster progression via Wis, would, surprise, be the kind of druidy/alteration-sphere-specialist that lets you (and allies) go full blown wolpertinger via further natural attack/tricks and customization options.

The Soul Weaver: d6, 2+Int skills, 1/2 BAB, good Will-saves, full caster progression via Cha. This would be the healer/cleric/necromancer-type character that is determined by channel energy and the duality of blessings and blights. Nice one!

The Symbiat: d8, 4+Int skills, 3/4 BAB, good Ref- and Will-saves, 3/4 caster progression via Int. perhaps the class with the coolest fluff: Basically, you have a strange psionic aberration from the far realms/outer dark fused with your very souls, granting better tricks of the Mind and Telekinesis spheres and psionic-flavored additional tricks. Anime-Psion, the class, effectively. I like it enough to be thinking about how to blend this with DSP's psionics.

The Thaumaturge: d8, 4+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB, good Will-save, full caster progression via Int, Wis or Cha. Theme-wise, this one is a bit occult-y, having the ability to enhance his tricks for the chance of backlash and a general sense of the Spheres of Power-class for the grittier games...make no mistake, though: These guys can still go pretty much blast-happy on foes.

All right, so that would be the base-classes...but that's not even close to the end of this massive book. Instead, next, there are archetypes - in fact, one for each core class. Don't want to do the conversion work? Here's what you need. Neat! The 10-level bokor PrC would be particularly feasible for campaigns featuring both spells and sphere-casting, since it can be envisioned as a hybrid vancian/sphere-caster. Nice if you require the like; personally, I think Spheres work better as a substitution.

Okay, where things get interesting, at least for me, is with the advanced magic-chapter: Instead of smashing these components into the design of the vanilla spheres, the advanced magic talents provided can be envisioned as the rather brutal options: 2-mile darkness? Check. Tsunamis and summoning? Check - This section is absolutely, marvelously, brilliant. Why? Because it does right what so many systems like this do not get: There is a lot table-variation out there. From low-fantasy grit to epic high-fantasy, from magic suffused space-opera to horror-esque sci-fantasy, there are infinite ways to play the game - and this chapter collects the high-fantasy, huge AoE, narrative effects and takes that requirement off the GM's shoulders: No skimming through the spheres and disallowing certain options - simply restrict this chapter (or unlock) it at your leisure and there you go. Quite honestly, this is absolutely stunning: Want to play a game where PCs can unleash tsunamis against dragon-fleets? Allow! Want to play gritty survival at low levels? Ban (at least for the PCs...)! Simple, elegant and as tightly phrased and presented as possible. A joy to read and a fistpump-worthy hell yeah moment if there ever was one. 

Secondly, rituals deserve special mention - know how I mentioned that imho, this works best as a substitution? If you're like me, you will have rolled your eyes and thought: "Oh great, so module xyz, which banks on spell zyx, now won't work." Enter rituals. Basically, this allows you to redesign spells into sphere-based rituals that duplicate the spell's effects and aligns them with spheres. While personally, I'm not a big fan of adding the power imbalance of the triple scaling axis of spells back in, particularly when a module requires the like, a limited system-transparency is thus maintained...and you can still tinker with the casting time (which is increased significantly) even further: This allows magic to have a Sword & Sorcery-style flair: Sure, there is the quick sphere-casting...and then, there is the time-consuming, dread, city-leveling rituals...and you can add wonderful lists of exotic components to the fray for further adventuring opportunities and means for the PCs to foil evil ritualists. Optional pricing and tables of strange effects further supplement this use of the rules.

The Spellcrafting system that allows you to make your own magical effects, at least to me, somewhat pales in its actual requirement (seeing how many spells can be converted), but who am I to complain...particularly when my beauties, one of my favorite sub-systems, incantations, are covered as well? This book, at this point on my initial read, had achieved an almost creepy level of "EZG likes it" - something further escalated by the copious player options that not only manage to get counterspelling and circle casting and contingencies right; no, beyond mere feats and the like, it was the accumulation of casting traditions that further elated me to levels of joy seldom obtained: Basically, you choose boons and drawbacks for casting traditions, representing benefits and drawbacks of individual approaches to magic, with general and sphere-specific ones all coming together in one glorious customization fest that should have both players and GMS alike grin from ear to ear.

Okay, but what about the magic items? One whole chapter is devoted to magic items, crafting and modified effects, further underlining the massively-detailed, holistic approach of the book. And yes, you'd be right in a way that this book may sound daunting at first glance - it's really not. Also thanks to a massive chapter guiding you through the implementation of rules, the cherry-picking process and manipulation/creation of more of them - before actually delving into several brief sketches of sample campaign settings sporting the rules- Oh, and, just in case you're like me a grumpy guy and now would begin complaining about "magic not existing in its own vacuum" and things like "world consistency" - what about no less than 6 sample organizations, including traits and TPA/CPA-levels? Heck yes.

But, you know me: I'll still complain over the lack of NPCs. Well, we get those as well. And skeleton/zombie/animated object toolkits. Oh, and char-sheets.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch  -while I noticed very minor inconsistencies here and there (one ability reading: (primary...) while another read (Primary...) and the like, at this point, any complaints about those sound hollow. One pet-peeve of mine makes me constantly cringe, though: The books gets cold damage wrong, constantly referring to it as "frost damage" etc. - something that btw. also extends to the expansion..but at least it is consistent in this glitch.

Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard with ample of original full-color artworks. The book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and provides an interactive version of the char-sheet. Unfortunately, I do not own the physical copy of this book, so no, I can't comment on that version.

Adam Meyers, Owen K.C. Stephens, Thomas Keene, Ryan ricks - gentlemen, you have me utterly flabbergasted. It's time to come clean here: I wasn't excited about this book in the least. Not at all. I saw the KS and literally thought "Meh, don't need it." You see, the pitch of avatar/fiction-like spellcasting simply didn't appeal too much to me. Damn, was I wrong. For one, sphere casting is much (MUCH!) better balanced than vacian spellcasting and the introduction of the material herein should end the martial/caster-strife for most groups. Secondly, this book actually manages something just about unprecedented: It manages to account for table variations in an almost uncanny way: You can use Spheres of Power with Interjection Games-classes, psionics, Akashic Mysteries...and actually get a balanced, cool game. similarly, you could highly restrict it and go full-blown gritty...or utterly anime-style high-fantasy. This system's modularity is a thing of true beauty, its easy means for potential expansion a milestone. Now granted, there are some minor aspects I am not a fan of - stalwart, the destruction-sphere's blasting and similar elements all didn't blow me away - but see, that's the beauty of the system: By means of its elegance and relatively open design, I see no reason why a capable GM couldn't tweak, mesh and blend the living hell out of this system.

Beyond an increased emphasis on meaningful player-agenda, tight rules-language and a holistic claim it actually manages to fulfill, spheres of power also has these cool tidbits: From the advanced customization to relics and incantations, this massive book takes just about anything you could complain about and tells you "Jep, already covered that...here." This may very well be one of the, if not the most refined, yet open casting systems I've seen in a long, long time - one that still can, but doesn't need to, draw on the vast canon of published Pathfinder-material.

If the above, gushing monologue wasn't ample clue for you: Spheres of Power is a phenomenal book, a tome of a quality you only rarely get to see and one that is, quite frankly, significantly better than the limited KS-pitch back in the day ever made me hope it could be. Spheres of Power is a universally, absolutely superb book, one that cannot only inspire characters or the like - it can inspire campaigns. It is my firm conviction that this book belongs into the library of the distinguished Pathfinder-GM: There is an exceedingly high chance that my next campaign will use these rules (alongside non-vancian casting classes by e.g. Dreamscarred Press and Interjection Games) to take a complete break from vancian spellcasting. Not because I don't like spells and the vancian system - quite the contrary, actually. However, because I believe that using this book and using different spellcasting methods lets you tell a whole cosmos of different tales, of different power-levels and dichotomies between casters and non-casters.

I'll say it again - Spheres of Power is one of the most impressive books I've read in a long while; it may not be perfect, but it is a massive inspiration and I staunchly believe that any group can benefit from at least contemplating using this book when starting a new campaign (or initiating a magic-altering event/switching settings, etc.). Spheres of Power is a milestone-level book I will certainly try to get in print. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars, seal of approval, nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015 as well as the EZG Essentials-tag, since its facilitation for story-telling and its ridiculously high scavenging/system-fusion potential. A stellar tome, well worth every cent of its fair asking price. 

You can get this superb, massive tome here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!

If you want to support Drop Dead Studios making more Spheres of Power-supplements, you can do so here on their patreon!
 
Endzeitgeist out.