You all know I'm all about dark settings and desolate landscapes and today, I'll take a look at the
Shadowsfall - Shadow Plane Player's Companion
This pdf is 34 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let's check this out!
After a nice parchment-like page of fluff, we are introduced to the plane of shadow, respectively its characteristics. After a short description of the planar qualities of the shadow plane, we delve right into the section on playable races. Not only the standard races, but also the drow and duergar, dhampirs, fetchlings, hobgoblins, orcs, ratfolk, tiefling and wayang are covered - all with a new racial trait to reflect the hardening effects of the plane of shadows. There also are two alternate racial traits, one granting halflings darkvision and one granting wayang negative energy affinity and after that, we get even more racial options with new races, first of which would be the umbral kobolds:
Umbral Kobolds get -2 to Str, +2 to Dex and Int, darkvision, +1 natural AC, +2 to Perception, Profession (Miner) and Craft (Trapmaking) with the latter and stealth always being class-skills, are light sensitive and small. The second new race are wanderers, mortals spawned from angels who abandoned their duties to become mortals looking slightly like humans, but being shrouded by an intangible aura of loss and sadness. They get +2 to Con and Int, -2 to Cha, darkvision, are ageless, treat any weapon as good-aligned, get resistance 5 against acid, electricity and cold as well as a +2 bonus to saves against emotion effects they can also extend to allies within 10 ft. The two new races rock hard, can be considered iconic and balanced and are neat, but unfortuantely lack age, height and weight tables, which is a major bummer in my book.
The second chapter talks about the respective classes and their roles in the eternal twilight of the shadow plane. We also get new archetypes, starting with the Dusk Stalker. Presentation-wise, the Player's Guide does something awesome here: Each entry features a short list of associated class, races (i.e. these are exclusive to the respective races), modified abilities and skills before going into the rather major modifications of the base-abilities of the respective classes. The Dusk Stalker is a variant of the magus that gains stealth-based abilities like silent spells, the option to use arcane feints, can expend arcane pool points to potentially silence foes and also get sneak attack. Neat! The radiant knight, especially suitable for wanderers: These fighters may harness their lost angelic heritage, gaining a vestige of divinity. This vestige can be used in a neat variety of ways and a dazzling burst of holy glory, ignore miss chances and aid allies with a bonus to AC and against fear. Also, the radiant knight's light is not dimmed by the darkness of the plane. We also get new class abilities: Cavaliers now can join the order of the blackened heart, an order seeking to cut away any weakness and inflict pain to purge weakness from the cavalier. Interesting, especially since the order is not necessarily exclusive open to evil members, allowing you to play a flagellant-style fanatic just as well as a kyton-worshipper. Sorcerors of the draconic bloodline may now benefit from umbral and quake dragon breath weapons, while summoners get 2 new 4-point evolutions, allowing their eidolon to create deep shadows that block even darkvision or add a touch that deals str-damage that can be used a limited amount of times per day. Witches gain the new blinding light hey, inverting the usual dark connotations of the class, while wizards now can also take the shadow elemental wizard school.
Speaking of arcanists: There are 4 new familiars (rabbit, opossum, pale fox and shadow terrier) as well as 8 new improved familiar option (but sans stats) that actually include the flumph! Neat! Neater, though, are the new 4 animal companion stats included: From a giant nightcrawler to an umbral vulture, we also get 2 stellar ones: Riding Dodos and shade ferrets (which can stand on their hind legs). Awesome!
Now Shadowsfall is anything but a safe haven, yet the intelligent races still prosper in their enclaves - thus, like points of civilization in the dark lands, we get not only a nice, one-page spanning b/w-map, but also 8 regional entries on the grand city states and boy: From the bullwark against the ever-present undead, Bastion, to the arcanocracy of Gear's Gate to the Kyton-stronghold of Bloodchain, the golem-patrolled Kingsgrave that provides shelter for those who manage to evade the constructed guards to even the outlands between the city, we get a nice overview-primer of Shadowsfall. Between 2 and 3 regional traits are provided for each area to customize your characters with backgrounds tied to the setting. Better yet, the traits actually are interesting, providing a minor edge against negative energy or even a DR against non-lethal damage. Nice!
We also get a selection of 13 new feats that allow you t enhance the undead your create, granting you better servants, increase your caster level checks when casting darkness and shadow-spells, a teamwork feat to channel cooperatively, increased accuracy with shadow walk, improved guerilla-sniping, improved dirty tricks etc. The truly interesting feats herein, though, would, at least in my opinion, be the feat-tree for shadow style that increases the movement of the user as well as adding your wis-bonus to fly and stealth. The subsequent feats of the tree allow you to ignore up to your wis-bonus of armor and shield bonuses or use a standard action to deal str-damage to opponents, thankfully with a respective scaling save to prevent attribute damage. Nice, well-designed, no balance-concerns. The final feat I really consider interesting is the Blind Targeted Spell metamagic-feat. You can hit foes with your spells even if you don't have line of effect anymore, as long as the target is still in your spell's range and has been in your line of effect no longer than int-bonus before you cast the spell. At +1 spell-level and the restriction of not allowing the feat to work with touch attack-spells to give away enemy locations, I can only consider this feat to be an excellent piece of design I'll continue to playtest in my home-game - from my vantage point, it looks like a rather cool option and actually one of the rare metamagic feats that doesn't suck.
Of course, adventurers in the Shadow Plane also have their unique, distinct tools of the trade and thus the item section comes with a wartrident as wella s some interesting alchemical items: Cover your undead minions in deathburn to convey the damage of their natural attacks to acid or throw the vials at your foes or pepper your foes with glass orbs filled with holy water. Now, if you cover your body with a paste that contains Kyton-blood, you may convey 1 point of damage per attack to non-lethal damage (can we have more of those?) and another salve allows you to better resist the cold of the plane. Speaking of cold-resistance: Feyschroons (not sure whether that should read "-shrooms") also protect you against cold ina limited manner, but are an addictive, two-edged sword. I'd love to see more drugs in PFRPG and I'm glad the item was included in the section. And now, oh boy, did I grin from ear to ear when I read about the two new vehicles included herein: Reapers, vehicles designed to mow down legions of zombies, propelled by muscle-force would be the first, while the Scout Guardians of Gear Gate's arcanocracy would be the second: Propelled by an eldritch receiver within a certain area (and beyond, at lesser capacity with an alchemical battery), these vehicles are one-man arcane walkers with a ballista strapped to the side. These vehicles are PLAIN FRICKIN' AWESOME! Seriously, can you see Pcs escaping through the woods, running from the city's elite and their walkers, hoping to outrun the arcane warmachines? I can and boy - excellent!
A total of 14 short, primer-entries of the gods of Shadowsfall introduce us to the umbral pantheon (including domains and subdomains) of Shadowsfall as well as new philosophy to adhere to. Speaking of subdomains: We get a new shadow subdomain (though we already have a couple of these, this one is rather neat) and the kyton subdomain as well. The old Ravenloft-truism that the darkest worlds are most in need of heroes holds true in Shadowsfall as well and the joy-mystery for the oracle makes you a beacon of hope and light in this dark lands, including the ability to inflict foes with crippling sorrow and gaining access to limited bardic performances as well as gaining enhanced euphoria-induced healing and the ability to make instant friends. Awesome mystery!
There also are 6 new spells included in the guide, which let you create black, clinging snow, get a miss chance via blinding shadows, grant darkvision to multiple allies, a greater version of disrupt undead, a lesser invisibility effect and a shadow-based enhancement to speed. Finally, we come to the topic of magic items: 6 new ones are included, including a rope that rings its funeral bell when crossed by an undead, a cloak that enhances stealth vs. undead foes, a cowl to better intimidate undead, a kyton's slaver whip and a salve that grants darkvision. Cloaks of darkness in shadowsfall work differently, merging you with the plane and making you invisible to darkvision, but not to regular sight - interesting indeed! Speaking of "working differently" - the final two pages of the pdf are devoted to a selection of 11 magic items that work differently on the plane of shadows, having been changed by the latent energies that suffuse the plane. Rapiers of blood drinking allow the wielder to make a touch attack to drain con from foes, but suffer half the drain themselves. Belts of mighty constitution +4 may now also impart a -2 penalty to Str and result in physical deformities, while necklaces of fireballs can end up as necklaces of exploding beads that immediately go off when removed from the string, necessitating the wielder taking the damage him/herself. I wish this section was longer, I really do - the idea of tainted items and inherent drawbacks as well as their design is excellent.
Editing and formatting can still be considered very good, though not perfect: While I did notice some minor glitches, they did not impede my understanding of the content herein and were few enough and far between. Layout adheres to a parchment-style look, 2-column standard and comes with a plethora of neat b/w-artworks as well as a neat piece of cartography. The wanderer-race and one of the AWESOME new vehicles even get their own neat full-color artworks. The pdf is fully bookmarked with extensive nested bookmarks, comes with a plethora of hyperlinks to d20pfsrd (which are not highlighted in the text) and comes with an alternate printer-friendly version that omits the parchment-background. Neat! Hero Lab users should also know that the pdf comes with herolab-files as an additional comfort!
This player's guide is a comprehensive, smart and well-written introduction to the plane of shadows that will whet your taste for the darkness of Shadowsfall. From nice racial options (with full ARG-support, if you like that book) to expertly-written, evocative primers on locales, this book has more to offer than the usual player's guides - While not all feats or spells are drop-dead-brilliant, there is at least one piece of crunch, more often than not multiple ones in each chapter that I'd not only consider innovative, but rather cool or even downright genius. My personal highlights of the book, though, would be the items and cities: Where the cities and areas drip with flavor and coolness and make you want to explore them, the items not only display a grasp of balance, but provide ample rules-representations for the taint of the plane and the resulting double-edged nature of magic items, a trope near and dear to my heart. Add to that the new vehicles and I'm all gushy about this product! After reading the entry on the walkers (which remain deeply entrenched in fantasy and don't become scifi-ish) and reapers, I so hope we'll see more vehicles and perhaps even vehicular combat supplements (adventures, all-out warfare anybody?) for the setting in future supplements.
This pdf would be a prime candidate for the full 5 stars + endzeitgeist seal of approval, were it not for one crucial oversight: Neither the umbral kobolds, nor the wanderers get an age, height and weight table and while one could just orient one at the human or kobold entries, I still feel that by making umbral kobolds e.g. especially light or wanderers significantly heavier than humans (weight of sin, anyone?), the two races could have been further improved. This remains my only gripe in an otherwise excellent offering, though, and thus my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 Rudii. This is not only a great purchase if you're into the plane of shadows, but e.g. also to scavenge ideas for Carrion Crown APs or any rather dark setting really.
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