10.02.2010

Endzeitgeist reviews all the Rite races

Hello everybody once again! With the Questhaven patronage project approaching commission, I'm going to take a closer look at all the race-books published by Rite Publishing for PFRPG so far.

First of all, we all know what we expect from races - at least I do: They have to be unique, make me want to play them and not break my campaign.

Races are harder to implement in most campaigns than e.g. classes, PrCs and feats as they can potentially have wider repercussions for how races interact and the like. Thus I am one of the DMs, that tries not to overburden his campaigns with races - I especially loathe environmental sub-races that negate a specific set of environmental dangers/problems in the vein of e.g. Arctic Elves, Desert Elves and the like - that are cultural factors, not new races. At least that's how I tend to handle this problem.


That being said, I definitely think that a campaign can profit significantly from the introduction of new races. After all, one can play only so many elven archers, dwarvish tanks and the like before they get dull. 


That being said, I usually also dislike the half-breed idea - Just because you can play half-elves and half-orcs does not mean that we need half-breeds for just about any combination of races.


Rite Publishing's races, though, somehow have managed to NOT disappoint me so far and all provide some kind of unique and cool take on new races - that's why I want to draw your attention to some of their older publications - to be precise, the Ironborn, the Wyrd and the Restless Souls. After that, I'll take a look at the two rather paragon class-centric races of the "In the Company of..."-series. 


Ironborn of Questhaven 

Disclaimer:

I HATED, HATED, HATED the Warforged. There are several reasons for this and it has, quite frankly, been the main reason for me not to buy this pdf for a long time. Until one of my players asked, whether it would be possible to play a gear-enhanced human and presented an excellent 4 page background story. I dislike construct races for PCs, but his concept was cool.

 

To the review:

The pdf is 21 pages, 1 page Front cover, 1 page credits, 2 pages ads, 1 page OGL. That leaves 16 pages.

 First, we get a 2 page IC introduction to the Ironborn, including options to play small or large Ironborn, with some different ability modifiers.

This is a portent of the things to come: Ironborn are extremely modular and the better for it.

After reading this paragraph, I could see:

The base race is VERY well-balanced and the Ironborn-subtype features the construct-flair without making wilderness/starvation/environmental adventures a joke for the character. Kudos!

 

The true strength is the versatility of the race, though. You choose a base-suit of abilities according to the purpose of the Ironborn. We get 6 pages of ability packages, with primary and secondary (not accessible for large Ironborn) abilities and sometimes, even a variety of secondary abilities for a given suit.

 

The ability suits are well-balanced, with one possible exception, depending on the power-level of your campaign: The Centurion Suite is, on low levels, the ULTIMATE tank. Plus, it hits a pet peeve of mine: It has a 25% chance to negate crits against the players. This is the only suite I'd exclude for my players, at least until they are level 5. My favorite was the Omenbuilt, Ironborn reborn under a certain omen, thus granting them tokens when they fail at certain checks: I'm going to use the mini-token mechanic for other chars, too. Awesome!

 

We get 2 pages of physical and psychological peculiarities of the Ironborn.

The concept of the "burden", i.e. an instilled craving to do what it was created to do helps to easily drop them in any adventurer group and makes for nice roleplaying opportunities.

 

Then, we get a new sorcerous "bloodline" and a feat to construct Ironborn.

 

After that, we get 9 new feats, mostly for Ironborn and new rules for clockwork familiars. This takes up 3 pages.

The feats are well-designed and don't seem to be too overpowered, although two of them hit another pet peeve of mine: "Spring-loaded Reflexes" and "Intricate Joints" give Ironborn access to uncanny dodge, and improved uncanny dodge, respectively. These are class features for me, not something that other classes have readily access to without multi-classing.

 

While the prose is good, it's not as compelling as the prose in the "Wyrd"-pdf.

 

Conclusion:

Due to the fact that it hit 2 pet-peeves of mine, I give it 4 Rudii. Highly recommended for any campaign and better designed than the warforged, Ironborn are as versatile and easy to integrate as can be, avoid many of the unbalancing contruct-traits and still manage to keep the "special" fluff of the construct race for $3.7.




Wyrd of Questhaven

This pdf consists of 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page OGL and 1 page advertisement, leaving 13 pages of gaming material.

 

First of all, let me explain what or rather who the Wyrd are: To sum it up, they are a crossbreed of elves and ogre-magi that has transcended both of their parental races. (At least in the eyes of the Wyrd!)

The Wyrd are tinged with a foreign, slightly oriental tinge in tone that is expertly conveyed to the inclined reader in the beginning of the pdf. Unlike some companies, Rite Publishing combines the rather dry basic crunch-characteristics of any given race with prose written in-character, which, at least for me, has made reading this pdf much more enjoyable than reading run-of-the-mill race books. The section on the basic Wyrd traits as well as the introductory fluff spans 3 pages.

 

With regards to the race, the Wyrd are very interesting and predisposed towards casting classes, getting +2 to both Intelligence and Charisma and -2 to Dexterity. They also get a very minor SR, which I was weary of at first. I playtested it, fearing SR with ANY PC race and it actually is not overpowered. Nicely done. At 8th level, not unlike some races in variant settings, the Wyrd gets a late spell-like ability from a restrictive, but neat little list. Again, this did not prove bothersome for me.

However, the Wyrd also get +2 on checks to overcome SR and dispel checks and, depending on the campaign you run, this feature may make them a bit stronger than the PF Core races. In my campaign, where almost all supernatural beasties have SR and PR, the Wyrd but be slightly stronger. If you run a rather normal campaign, you probably won't have that problem.

 

That being said, let's move on to the racial Paragon Class for the Wyrd. For those unfamiliar with the concept: It's a Prestige Class that hones your racial abilities, making e.g. dwarves even harder, elves even more dexterous and elvish and in this case, making the Wyrd...well. More agile, enabling him to do extreme acrobatics, letting him grow to large and making him more...what is the attribute? Wyrdish? While the abilities are cool, they are balanced with only one good save (Will), a measly d6 hitpoints and only 2+Int Skillpoints per level, thus on the one hand giving the Wyrd great abilities and on the other hand preventing him from becoming too powerful. The Paragon Class takes up 1.5 pages.

 

After that, we get 11 new feats to customize the Wyrd, taking up 2 pages. Some of them serve to either customize your Wyrd at character creation (e.g. with an aquatic elf or drow bloodline) or grant the Wyrd permanent enhancements. The latter may look at first a bit daunting for a DM, however, all of them have the added clause that a certain ingredients have to be acquired first, which I personally think, is a very good idea. There is also a neat metamagic feat called "Programmed Spell" which I'll be using extensively.

The section takes up about 2 pages.

 

After that, Sorcerors get the new Oni bloodline. While it is concisely designed, it didn't really make me gasp in excitement. 1 page.

After that, though, we get the crown jewel of this pdf, at least in my opinion: The Prestige Class "Whispering Advisor of the Emperor Dragons". Once again, the fluff for this PrC is expertly written and very captivating. In essence, it's a skill/social-monkey class with very innovative abilities at every one of its 5 levels.

Power behind the Throne: Lets you help allies in battle or situations.

Whispered Advice: Use PbtT via whispering wind if you succeed a stealth check

Chosen Loyalty: Insight bonus to saves against charm and compulsion

Trap of Vengeance: Awesome plotdevice, this trap-ability makes use of the vengeful nature of Wyrd (which btw. is not vicious, but portrayed as reglemented and [mostly] honorable) and is just extremely cool.

Whispers of Despair: Demoralize opponents

 

I'm usually not into bard-like classes, but this one really made me want to play a whispering advisor. Awesome work! 2 pages.

 Finally, the pdf includes 9 new spells, from the AoO-disabling cantrip to lvl 9 Wave of Petrification, they all have their place in a campaign and are intelligently designed. This section takes up the final 2 and a half pages of the pdf.


Conclusion:

 The Wyrd are cool, their culture is imaginative and thinking about the daunting task of converting this once ECL+6 race to PFRPG, I have to admit that Rite Publishing has done an awesome job of not eliminating the flavor and options the race entails and at the same time making sure to keep the race balanced. The PrC is one of the rare instances that really made me want to play a character asap, especially if combined with the racial paragon class.

There is a minor downside to the uniqueness of the Wyrd though: Basically, your campaign world should have both elves or fey and ogre-magi for the race to work best and it would be even better if you had an eastern/oriental-tinged area somewhere on your world. After some thinking (and a suggestion by Steven!), I figured out a way to implement them into my Ravenloft world, so it is possible. However, the race is not wholly plug-and-play: Fluff-wise, you have to think a bit to implement them without losing a part of their uniqueness, but they are worth the effort.

Oh yeah, one last thing: Thankfully, the Wyrd are not a bunch of angsty half-breeds that don't fit with their respective parent race cultures, but have their very own, which they also consider superior to their parent's cultures.

Very refreshing after an army of angsty half-elven Tanis-look-alikes and Half-orc/ogre/troll/dragon/whatever misfits that have plagued fantasy gaming for the last couple of years.

The artwork is nice, I did not notice editing mistakes and while some of the feats were not as awesome as in other Rite racial books, some others were.

In combination with the racial paragon class and the awesome PrC as well as the fact that this race really DOES feel unique, evocative and new. For the rather cheap price of $3.75 and the high production values, I'll settle for a solid 4.5 Rudii with a tendency towards 5. 






Restless Souls

This pdf consists of 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ad, 1 page OGL, 1 page editorial.

 

The art by Hugo Solis and Joe Calkins is of high quality.

 

That said, you get a nice 4 page IC introduction to the "race" (actually more a template) and as a bonus for DMs like me, who like to print out pictures of characters, 2 one-page portraits of the characters on the cover to present to your players. Nice touch!

 

The design of the "Restless Soul" template is elegant, using a subtype of outsider to get around the unbalancing undead immunities and, while giving the restless dead a kind of penalty for PCs that just died, also ensuring that this penalty can be offset. The prose is topnotch, but I'll comment on that later on.

 

After that, we get 22 new feats, most of them for Restless Souls and one of them to ensure that your PC comes back as a restless dead (Soul Jar).

Examples:

 

Aura Sight: Lets you determine nature and strength of other creatures

Baleful Gaze: Due to a painful death, you can let your enemies collapse in agony with a glance a limited number of times per day.

Companion of Light: Gives you a soul-light companion. (Spirit Lantern)

Converse with the Dead: Talk to the dead.

Fading Form: Lets you blink.

Love and Friendship: Due to the bond with a ward, you and the ward are continuously under "shield other".

Master the Storm: Control the Weather for the right mood.

No Last Rites: Makes you a regenerating badass.

Unfinished Task: Gold for Oathbound and similar honor-bound characters, lets you ignore debilitating effects in regard to the task once per day.

And so on.

 

The feats are plain AWESOME. Many of them are so imaginative and cool that my players would create characters based around feats like this as a concept! While some of them seem to be powerful at first, they are neatly balanced by availability due to death, monetary costs and the like.


After that, we get 10 new spells, ranging from level 0 cantrip "Apparent Distraction" (lets you try to hide when enemies are looking) over lvl 4 "Enforced Choke" (choking an enemy to death, great assassin-spell), lvl 7 "Implacable Beast" (summons a creature stronger than you to kill a target; If successful, you are destroyed) to lvl 9 "Virtually Indestructible", granting an item exactly what the spell name says. 

All of these spells have in common, that they are to some extent clever, cool and all of them both are balanced and serve a specific need.

 

Conclusion:

The prose is awesome and, at least for people like me, who are inclined towards the darker subcultures and music-styles of metal and goth, just plain awesome in its cynical tone, making fun of the angsty cliché of "I wanna play kewl 1337 pseudo-undead tormented creatures" while actually utilizing the cool characteristics and tropes associated with just that and making them playable. Furthermore, "Restless Souls" can easily be implemented in just about ANY campaign.

 

Don't like the implied semi-gothic, cynical tone? All right, why not use the rules for Planescape-like Petitioners?

You know that a book is good, when the template spawns ideas for characters, feats spawn ideas for characters, prose spawns ideas for characters and spells spawn ideas for whole adventures (Implacable Beast, I'm looking at you!) - Plus, the fact that the feat for assured return as a restless souls gives players who have grown attached to their characters an additional option in campaigns that are loathe to use the Raise dead/Resurrection-mechanic of the core-rules.

Plus, I can see e.g. "Love and Friendship" leading to great, tragic, touching scenes in play.

 

Any Ravenloft-DM should get this NOW. Anybody who remotely likes the idea should get it now. Any DM running a rather dark/gritty campaign should consider checking this out. It tugs at my heart's strings. It's beautiful. The $3.75 I invested in this file rank among my best RPG-investions in the last couple of years. 5 Rudii.






In the Company of Giants

 This pdf is 22 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page OGL and 2 pages of advertisements. That leaves 17 pages of content.

The pdf kicks off in the manner and quality I've come to expect of Rite Publishing: We get an in-character introduction to the race that is very flavorful and appeals to the scholar of Scandinavian culture that is yours truly. We get two defining social concepts for the race of Jotunnar,that are described herein. They are Humanoids who can embrace a birthright and evolve into different kinds of giants via two social roleplaying concepts (and of course, XP). The concepts are called Vird and Osoem. Personally, I love flavorful, beautifully written texts that make me want to play a given race. The general introduction and fluff is 4.5 pages long and a perfect introduction that makes the Jotunnar feel unique and has a nice tie-in with the fluff of the Wyrd.

After that, we get the racial traits as well as the Jotun racial paragon class. The class has, 4+Int skills, a good fort-save, medium BAB-Progression and gains an improving unarmed attack and improving natural armor.

One drawback to this class that limits its usability is that you can't class in or out of the Jotun paragon class. Once you have taken a level in the class, the awakening elemental powers would tear the Jotun asunder if he/she chose to take a level in another class. While probably necessary to balance the class, I still think it's a pity. 

Your Elemental Power also opens a HUGE selection of 40 abilities, making the class quite versatile. From abilities like Backbreaker to Elemental Auras, Jotunnar have a nice selection ready to surprise their enemies.

Jotun also get a slam attack, natural armor, rock throwing and catching and increases in size, Strength and Constitution. It should be noted that Jotunnar may change their sizes back to smaller sizes via actions so they can continue to adventure with their non-Jotun friends.

After that, we get 18 feats for Jotunnar, most of them dealing either with evolving into a specific kind of Giant or fighting with rocks. While they were nice, I did not find them quite as evocative as e.g. the feats for the Wyrd.

Conclusion:

This pdf is beautiful. The artwork is awesome, the editing and formatting is good (I didn’t catch any mistakes), the prose is extremely atmospheric and the ambition of the project is daunting: Make a giant playable without losing the flavor or OPing it. The pdf accomplishes what it set out to do, although the no-multiclassing-ever-restriction is quite hard to swallow. If you want to play a giant, this is for you. However, if you want to play a Giant Druid or something like that, you can’t do that, which is kind of sad. While the class offers a huge set of abilities, I still would have liked some kind of Jotunnar-racial-PrC  that they CAN take without dying (In a future release, perhaps?) or some Giant-specific magic items, though.

Due to the multiclassing restriction as well as the lack of a PrC or e.g. magical Jotun-bags and the like, I'll rate this 4 Rudii. If you don't mind the multiclass restriction, add a Rudi. 

If you’re a DM looking for a refreshing take on Giants or a player wanting to play one, check this out. At the very least you get an awesome read for not even 4 bucks. Plus: Steven D. Russell has announced that we'll probably get new Jotunnar-PrCs and options in the Questhaven patronage project.





In the Company of Gargoyles

This pdf is 16 pages long, one page front cover, one page editorial, one page advertisements and one page OGL. That leaves 12 pages of content.

 

The pdf kicks off with the by now obligatory, glorious and well-written in character introduction to the race I’ve come to expect from Rite Publishing. In this case, I was almost immediately taken in by both the elegant solution of the problem of the Bestiary gargoyles as well as a flash of nostalgia: The concept reminded me of the gargoyles animated tv-series I grew up with and I love it. A permeating sense of melancholy is present within the writing and serves well to convey the mindset of the Stonewardens (the PC gargoyles), that have been betrayed by mankind and still, oath-bound, silently guard the thin-skinned races.

After 2 beautiful one-page artworks and the introductory texts on age, height, mindset and so on, we get the Stonewarden Paragon racial class.

 

The class gets 4+Int skills, a good BAB, a good Fort and Will save, claws, bite and gore attacks. Better yet, they get so-called enticements, mutations you can choose for your Gargoyle. You can e.g. get a tail, spit acid, grow extra arms and become a damn hard hitter in melee – a gargoyle with several arms, a tail and bite attack is a potentially fearsome for to behold indeed! What really sold the class on me, though, is that even mundane things like a bonus on survival and perception gets fluff: The Stonewarden touches a stone and communicates with them. Oh yeah, and the lvl 20 ability is GOLD for high-level investigations or food for a truly mastermind-type villain. Each and every ability has been written with flavor in mind and practically screams “gargoylish” to me.

After that, we get 7 new feats, most of them developing the ability and combat tactics being able to fly entails.

Finally, we get 10 new spells ranging from 1st to 9th level that just ooze earth elemental coolness and which I’d really like to throw at my PCs: From rolling shockwaves over partial petrification up to a devastating hail of boulders, the spells serve as a nice closing for the pdf.

On another note: In contrast to Jotunnar, Stonewardens may freely class in and out of their racial paragon class, which really helps to integrate them and make them more versatile in their usability.

The editing is top-notch, the b/w artwork is great and the amount of information cramped into the pdf is stunning, especially with the high-quality prose.

 

Conclusion: Would I want to play a gargoyle? Hell yeah! Would I work as a DM to implement them in my campaign world? Oh yes, I would, even if it were harder than it is thanks to the great prose. Would I recommend this file to you? Yes, definitely. Even if you are only remotely intrigued by the concept, go for it. My final verdict is 5 Rudii.




This concludes, at least for now, this little reviewing-spree.

All th best, thank you for reading my reviews,

Endzeitgeist out.


1 comment:

Steven D. Russell said...

Just want the thank Endzeitgeist for taking the time to compile his many reviews.