as you might know if you've checked out my recommendations of free RPG products, there is a small company called Necromancers of the Northwest, that has some time ago joined the fray of PFRPG-compatible publishers. Due to them being a rather humble company, they didn't seem to get too much publicity, so I figured I'll try to change that, as they sometimes have some rather cool and unusual ideas.
Today, I'm going to take a look at their first book presenting a guild as well as their take on a new class of magic items, the orbs.
This pdf is 32 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 28 pages of content, so let's check these mercenaries out!
After an introduction to the mercenary company and some adventure outlines/plot hooks, we get information on hiring the mercenaries for" active" or "passive" duties (i.e. guard duty vs. adventuring/preventing assassinations) as well as information to joining the Blackshire Mercenaries, improving one's standing in the guild as well as how jobs are granted to soldiers and spending influence in the guild. I.e. we actually get tables and information on how to both gain influence and on how to spend it/what benefits you can get in the guild.
So what is the guild and how does it work? In a work of dire rat infestations, marauding wyvern and vicious orc press gangs, adventurers always can find work. What, however, if none of these specialists are available? What if one has already been betrayed by powerful adventurers and thus rather want specialists who may ask for a steep price, but adhere to professional work ethics? That's what the Blackshire Company is for. Driven by pragmatism and a desire to earn money and get the job done rather than adhere to chivalrous codes of honor and conduct, they are hardened, grizzled and yet uncompromising problem-solvers. Depending on the level of the member and the amount of influence one has, specific benefits are available, lending using the guild towards e.g. prolonged campaigns with PCs getting ranks in the guild.
The guild also gets its own Prestige Class (to join, you of course have to have sufficient influence with the guild), the Blackshire Exemplar.
The 10-level-PrC gets d10, 2+Int skills per levels, a good BAB-progression, a medium fort-save and centers around professionalism-abilities like immunity to fear and can learn from a list of 13 special guild maneuvers. The guild maneuvers are powerful, but adequately represent the fighting style of the guild. Their capstone-ability lets them make a full attack as a standard action, though. OUCH. This ability, even for a capstone-ability feels rather powerful and lends itself to potential abuse. They also come with a lore-section.
Next up in the book are the sample NPCs:
The section contains three dwarven brothers that learned to expertly coordinate their effort, an example of an evil as well as an example of a good chapter-head, a duelist-style fighter, a low-level thug and a legend among the companies.
-Dennai Battleshield (Dwarf Fighter 7/ Stalwart Defender 2)
-Dorbin Battleshield (Dwarf Fighter 7)
-Dragor Battleshield (Dwarf Fighter 7)
-Helgar "the Butcher" Bailey (Human Fighter 10)
-Percival Callahan (Human Paladin 10)
-Rolando (Human fighter 7/ranger 6/blackshire exemplar 4)
-Sophia Ironblade (Fighter 10)
-Tolbin Denny (Rogue 4)
The organization per se is very well presented - you can easily imagine this very capitalistic and professional approach to being mercenaries. The company can serve as anything you'd like - as foils for the PCs, as allies, as a home away from home or as all of the above. Presentation of the benefits and tracking rank in the guild rock and are detailed enough to be of use even to the most novice of DMs. The company can easily be dropped in into just about ANY campaign and is sufficiently modular. I'll go even so far as to propose that they make a nice elite-order in rather low-magic settings. However, there are also some downsides to this file: While I like the Blackshire Exemplar class, I think that the capstone ability is too strong and I would have loved to see more guild techniques. The NPCs, while well-designed and with some APG-support, did not necessarily impress me that much - on the one side, they may be well-crafted, but somehow they felt a bit unspecific and don't come with their rank specified in the guild. I also would have loved to see stats for the 3 leaders of the guild. Another problem is, that while the company is easy to implement and is well and extensively detailed, but it somehow lacks iconic powers and also feels generic in the negative sense. The short write-up of the Blackblade mercenary organization from RiP' s "Elspeth Blackblade" somehow felt more compelling to me.
Editing is top-notch, I didn't notice any mistakes. Layout is fine, too, although it adheres to the used-parchment-look of NWN, thus being not too printer-friendly. The mostly public domain art fits the topic. Formatting is nice, there is only one glitch of a line in the last stat-block - half of one line is hidden beneath another line. The pdf is extensively bookmarked.
My final verdict for this pdf will take the low price and the amount of content into account. Due to the formatting glitch and the minor problems I encountered, I'd usually settle for 3.5 Rudii. However, I couldn't name a single "Guild"-book apart from this one and it is well-crafted for a VERY low price. Thus, I'll round my final verdict up to 4 - it's good to see a fully-detailed and professionally presented guild out there, even if it is a rather generic one. I hope to see more.
This pdf is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 23 pages for the orbs, so let's take a look at them!
Orbs have long been a rather neglected iconic piece of mage's apparel in D&D and PFRPG and this pdf sets out to change that. At first sight it seems like all the slots are taken for magic items, so what do orbs do? Well, they serve as a magic amplifier of a sorts, which I consider a good idea.
The orbs range from 8000 GP to artifact-level and the pdf kicks off with a nice piece of IC-writing. Additionally, we get two feats, one to craft orbs and one to channel spell-like abilities as well as through the orbs along some insight into the design-process. The items come with short descriptions, which is a nice plus. Without further ado, these are the orbs:
-Dragonscale Orb: Depending on the color, they can change the energy of a spell and grant minor spell-like abilities and can once per day panic opponents.
-Duelist's Orb: +5 to identify spells and +5 to DCs of having the own spells being identified. Additionally, counterspell as a free action once per day.
-Lens of Spell Distortion: Can distort own area-spells so they don't hit specific squares and 3/day focus an area-spell on a single target, with +2 to the DC.
-Miser's Orb: Ignore 5000 GP of material components per day.
-Orb of Abjuration: +1 to DC of spells of the school, can spontaneously change spells to abjuration spells from a short list.
-Orb of Acid: +1 DC to acid-spells, 3/day sicken enemy damaged by acid.
-Orb of Alacrity: +10 ft movement, 3/day cast a spell that would take a full round as a standard action.
-Orb of Alignments: Penalizes enemies' saves the farther they are away from your alignment. Additionally, you can detect good, evil, law and chaos per will.
-Orb of Blasting: Sacrifice spell-levels to deal raw force damage. Now this one is iconic and cool!
-Orb of Burdens: +50 lbs carrying capacity for purpose of movement and encumbrance. When damaging an enemy, he can 3/day choose to lower the creatures carrying capacity by 50 lbs.
-Orb of Conjuration: +1 to DC of spells of the school, can spontaneously change spells to abjuration spells from a short list.
-Orb of Counterspells: +2 to caster-level checks to counter spells, 3/day retain spell used to counter after countering.
-Orb of the Damned: Spells with the death-descriptor can be made to annihilate enemies, preventing resurrection, but also incurring a -4 penalty.
-Orb of Divination: +1 to DC of spells of the school, can spontaneously change spells to abjuration spells from a short list.
-Orb of Electricity: +1 DC to electricity-spells, 3/day stun enemy damaged for 1 round.
-Orb of Elemental Acid: +2 to caster-level for purpose of casting acid-spells, can transform damage to acid damage.
-Orb of Elemental Fire: +2 to caster-level for purpose of casting fire-spells, can transform damage to fire damage.
-Orb of Elemental Ice: +2 to caster-level for purpose of casting ice-spells, can transform damage to ice damage.
-Orb of Elemental Lightning: +2 to caster-level for purpose of casting lightning-spells, can transform damage to electricity damage.
-Orb of Empowered Spell Mastery: Gain the empower spell metamagic feat for as long as the owner has the orb. Spontaneous casters can cast empowered spells without increasing the casting time. Preparing casters can decrease the additional levels by the metamagic feat by one.
-Orb of Enchantment: +1 to DC of spells of the school, can spontaneously change spells to abjuration spells from a short list.
-Orb of Evocation: +1 to DC of spells of the school, can spontaneously change spells to abjuration spells from a short list.
-Orb of Fear: 3/day, when casting a spell with the fear-descriptor, additionally penalize enemies with 1/2 level to atk and damage.
-Orb of Flames: +1 DC to acid-spells, 3/day make enemy catch fire.
-Orb of Frost: +1 DC to cold-spells, 3/day slow enemy damaged by frost.
-Orb of Illusion: +1 to DC of spells of the school, can spontaneously change spells to abjuration spells from a short list.
-Orb of Invisibility: +5 to Stealth, 1/day enable people subject to invisibility to bypass e.g. tremorsense etc.
-Orb of Kings: +6 to Cha-based skill-checks. 1/day when casting a spell of the charm-subschool, target +1 creature.
-Orb of Maximized Spell Mastery: Gain the maximize spell metamagic feat for as long as the owner has the orb. Spontaneous casters can cast maximized spells without increasing the casting time. Preparing casters can decrease the additional levels by the metamagic feat by one.
-Orb of Memory: + to Concentration. 1/day as a swift action prepare a spell cast in the last 24 hours.
-Orb of Necromancy: +1 to DC of spells of the school, can spontaneously change spells to abjuration spells from a short list.
-Orb of Piercing Spells: +1 to checks to overcome spell resistance. 3/day sacrifice an unused spell-slot or prepared spell to lower the spell resistance of a target by 2 times the level of the sacrificed spell.
-Orb of Rage: You can cast spells while in rage or under the effect of the spell. Gain barbarian rage for 5 rounds per day or if you already have barbarian rage, gain + 5 rounds of Rage per day.
-Orb of Refraction: +1 to all ray attacks. 1/day make a ray hit an additional target with a ray.
-Orb of Segments: Reduce number of segments required by a segmented spell by 1. If casting a segmented spell, you can add one segment for +2 to the spell's DC. YOu don't know what segmented spells are? Go ahead and check out Advanced Arcana by NWN - this book scored high on my list of top-3pp-products in 2010.
-Orb of Shadows: 3/day cast any spell you know without using slots or preparing it. The spell is only half-real and can thus be disbelieved.
-Orb of Sickness: 3/day inflict a disease on enemies hit by your spell. DC is reduced by 2, though.
-Orb of Spell Power: 3/day add +1 to a spell's DC. Alternatively, use all 3 uses to recharge one charge in a staff.
-Orb of Subdual: You can opt to make a spell non-lethal. Awesome item!
-Orb of Swirling Color: 3/day fascinate enemies when you cast a spell, 1/day can use scintillating pattern.
-Orb of Thralls: +4 to opposed Cha-checks to control charmed/dominated creatures. 1/day take control of dominated creature as with magic jar.
-Orb of Transmutation: +1 to DC of spells of the school, can spontaneously change spells to abjuration spells from a short list.
-Orb of Unnatural Strength: When you polymorph a target, grant it +4 Str. 1/day sacrifice a spell of the polymorph-subschool to grant a creature an enhancement to Str of the sacrificed spell- level times 2.
-Orb of Widened Spell Mastery: Gain the widen spell metamagic feat for as long as the owner has the orb. Spontaneous casters can cast widened spells without increasing the casting time. Preparing casters can decrease the additional levels by the metamagic feat by one.
-Summoning Stone: Summoning-subschool spells are automatically extended, 1/day summon a creature as per summon monster IX.
-Eye of Souls:Focus for spells that trap souls. The souls can be used to power spells.
-Orb of Demon Command: Devil-crafted orbs that can summon and control demons and grant you major bonuses against them.
-Orb of the Archmage: +2 to AC, atk, saving throws, own spells cannot be countered and only be dispelled by disjunction. 3/day ignore spell resistance.
-The Skull of Il'Shabosh: Skull of a deadly demon, the wearer can control caster-level times 4 HD undead. Creatures slain by the caster rise as undead.
Editing is top-notch, I didn't notice any mistakes. Layout adheres to the NWN-standard, i.e. the full-color-used-parchment-look. Not the most printer-friendly look and unfortunately no printer-friendly version is provided. The artworks are nice. The pdf is also extensively book-marked. Content-wise, I've got nothing to complain at all. While the "Orbs of Elemental X" felt like filler, I liked all the other orbs as well as their presentation and basic concepts. This pdf would be a straight 5-star-file, were it not for the fact that there is not a printer-friendly version. Thus, I'll settle for a final verdict of 4.5 stars. Orbs are cool and for the low price you should check it out.
Additional note for people who follow my reviews: This will be my last review in the ToC-centric-format for the immediate future. They take a lot of time and I'm not entirely sure they are as useful as I'd like them to be. Don't fret, I'll of course continue to provide detailed reviews!
All right, I hope you people out there have a nice week-end,
as always, thank you for reading my ramblings,