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Occult Adventures Review

August 10, 2015 1 comment

In October and November of 2014, Paizo conducted a playtest of six new classes all themed of the occult. During the playtest, players were encouraged to test and report all of the things they encountered and ways to help the classes improve. The playtest was then closed and players started the speculation about how the final product would turn out.

Fast forward to the release of Occult Adventures at GenCon 2015. People are estactic. The book is beautiful and fully loaded with everything needed to introduce the psychic and occult into players’ campaigns. Between the new classes, their archetypes, archetypes for existing classes, feats, equipment and psychic magic, this book has it all. All of this is new and it does not feel like a rehash or reskinning of established material. Combined with Pathfinder Unchained released a few months ago, Paizo is hitting on all cylinders and is putting out some quality books.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty and look at what is really important – the classes. We will take a look at what we saw in the playtest, what was changed and what we can expect from these classes in players’ hands. This may be a long article this week, but there are some interesting tidbits in there (and, of course, characters at the end).

Kineticist – Playtest Review

Quick Description: “With a connection to the elements, a kineticist can bring forth energy in the form of kinetic blasts. Instead of casting psychic spells, the kineticist uses unique psychic spell-like abilities called wild talents to manipulate elemental energy and matter.” – Occult Adventures, page 10

Final Changes: This class got the most attention out of all the occult classes. The appeal and nuances of this type of genre is popular and will drive this class for quite some time. Being able to understand, use and apply ‘burn’ will be one of the challenges of this class as will the amount of material this class encompasses. There are 20 pages devoted to this class (24 if you count the archetypes) and there is simply a lot to cull through to get what you want. Understanding the different types of blasts and how they are delivered remain the same with an added bonus of full damage to swarms creeping in there. This class looks like a lot of fun and with the right group, you could have campaigns builts around these types of characters.

Archetypes and Feats: The archetypes for the kineticist are interesting with the Elemental Aescetic (monk-like kineticist), Kinetic Chirurgeon (healing kineticist) and Overwhelming Soul (replaces constitution with charisma as the kineticist’s key ability) leading the way. The Overwhelming Soul will definitely see the most play since so many of the races that players enjoy have charisma bonuses.

As for feats, notable ones includes Parting Blast, giving a character a heroic, self-sacrificing death, and Delay Blast, sort of a I’m-over-here-but-I-hit-you-from-over-there trick.

4 out of 5 Rating: The concerns from the playtest (one-trick pony) are still there and even with feats and archetypes available, it just does not bump it up to a five.

Medium – Playtest Review

Quick Description: “By contacting spirits in places of power, the medium allows the personalities of legendary heroes to overcome his own, vastly changing his abilities and spells. He holds seances to benefit himself and his allies.” – Occult Adventures, page 10

Final Changes: This class was almost totally rebuilt. It is less confusing and much more interesting. Like in the playtest, the medium is very versatile and can take on any role with little preparation, but the spirits are much simpler. The medium channels entities not from the alignment axis (good/neutral/evil/chaotic/lawful) but from legendary spirits from the Astral Plane. The bonuses a medium receives from the spirits are thematically on point and the versatility is unparalleled. Even spell progression improves when certain spirits are selectd. The only confusion with this class may come from the influences and taboos that each spirit impart on the medium.

Archetypes and Feats: The archetypes of the medium are some of the best out of the entire book with all of them actually being used by someone. The Kami Medium gives an oriental flare to the class while the Spirit Dancer lends a Varisian (or gypsy) theme to the medium. Only the Spirit Focus is noteworthy; it adds +1 to the spirit bonus for a specific type of spirit.

4 out of 5 Rating: This is a complete turn around from the playtest. This version is so much simpler, yet versatile. This was a huge improvement and a great find in this book!

Mesmerist – Playtest Review

Quick Description: ” A mesmerist’s piercing stare lets him insinuate himself into other people’s minds. A master of enchanement and illusion, the mesmerist controls and influences the behavior of others.” – Occult Adventures, page 10

Final Changes: Still the consummate ‘face’ of the party, the mesmerist excels in this role. Still able to stare down its enemies and implant ‘tricks’ into party members, granting them protections and abilities. The mesmerists stare abilities are impressive, but lacking. There is some versatility where the mesmerist provides temporary hit points as healing, but when dealing with something without a mind, he is useless. At that point he must rely on ‘tricks’ to boost himself or party members and just try to survive. On the plus side, the mesmerist does have the capability to get Improved and Greater Feint without the Combat Expertise and intelligence score of 13 prerequisite. Mesmerists are tricky guys and gals.

Archetypes and Feats: The only two archetypes meaningful to the mesmerist are the Spirit Walker (who can actually affect the minds of the mind-less undead) and the Vexing Daredevil (a combat feinting mesmerist). Feats that work for the mesmerist include those that give more ‘tricks’ per day or add more effects onto their stares.

3 out of 5 Rating: This class is lackluster. Even from the playtest, the mesmerist had problems and they were not addressed fully. Players will have to find alternative ways to deal with ‘mindless’ problems.

Occultist – Playtest Review

Quick Description: “To make use of his powers, an occultist channels psychic energy into a varied collection of antiques and mementos with storied pasts. Every type of implement allows him to use a different school of magic.” – Occult Adventures, page 10

Final Changes: Was a fan of this class already, now even more. The spell lists were fleshed out and implements available for use were expanded. Other changes include being able to use mental focus without being afraid of losing power in an implement. During the playtest, players would not use mental focus because, when empty, it would cease functionality. Now the focus is placed and keeps the charge even if you use the mental focus to power other abilities. The only real problem now will be action economy. Using standard actions to activate abilities (like legendary weapon or aegis) take time from combat and keep them out of the fight a little longer.

Archetypes and Feats: Occultist archetypes and feats are actually the most lackluster element of the class. Honestly, they do not add much to the dynamics of the class. The best is Battle Host because it makes an excellent combatant and only one implement is needed, but the problem is that it is a masterwork weapon/armor/shield. You get this item for free at first level and youcan upgrade it as need be. Masterwork fullplate at level one, anyone? Granted you are stuck with it permanently, but still.

5 out of 5 Rating: The occultist wins. It does pretty much everything from the playtest and more. It has the versatility and the power to effect the outcome of any situation, even with action economy being low.

Psychic – Playtest Review

Quick Description: “With her incredibly potent mind, the psychic can cast spells that are more powerful than those members of any other occult class. She accesses these spells though a specific discipline, and can bend and amplify psychic spells as she casts them.” – Occult Adventures, page 10

Final Changes: The psychic has arrived! Pure psychic power is on the table and it tastes good. The final product is excellent. The spells are there and there are more disciplines. Once you master how psychic magic works (undercasting and such), this is probably the most powerful class in this book. Just make sure you choose the ‘Will of the Dead’ phrenic amplification as soon as possible so that you can affect mindless undead with mind-affecting spells.

Archetypes and Feats: Unfortunately, the archetypes do not do this class justice. Period. With the different spells and disciplines, they are not really needed. The different psychic and chakra feats are very, very interesting, but that is another article entirely.

4 out of 5 Rating: This class came a long way from the bare-bones playtest version. It is so much better, but something there is still lacking. It just just cannot get to five yet.

Spiritualist – Playtest Review

Quick Description: “Attuned to the spirits of the dead, a spiritualist forms a bond with a phantom – a returned spirit that has unfinished business but did not become undead. This spectral ally can alternate between forms, emerging from the safety of the spiritualist’s mind to take on an incorporeal form or an ectoplasmic body.” – Occult Adventures, page 10

Final Changes: There are so many similarities between the playtest and final versions of the spiritualist that it may as well be the same. The class has many of the same capabilities as before and could have been released on its own not as a playtest. More spells and phantom emotional foci have completely rounded out this class and it is now one of the best in the book. Expect to see level dips in this class, especially for the Dedication focus. While in the spiritualist’s consciousness, the phantom grants Skill Focus to Diplomacy and Sense Motive and Iron Will to the master. A single dip right there is a total of 10 skill points, +2 to Fortitude save and +4 to Will saves. And you have a sometimes-incorporeal creature that can run errands for you (scout, etc.). GMs will have their hands full with this class. It can definitely take over a game and utterly break it.

Archetypes and Feats: Sad to say that the archetypes are not super-exciting, but the Onmyoji does stand out for flavor (oriental) and spellcasting (divine instead of psychic). Feats are very close to the same feats that are available to summoners.

4 out of 5 Rating: Care has been given to this class and it is very well done. Power creep is the only problem that I see slowing rearing its ugly head.

Other Class Archetypes

Included in Occult Adventures are archetypes, cavalier orders, bloodlines and patrons for the other established classes. There are several very interesting ones to note: Promethean Alchemist (alchemist that brings a homunculus to life), Ghost Rider (cavalier with a spectral mount), Esoteric (tattooed magus monks), Mindblade (magus that forms weapons from psychic energy) and the Psychic Sorcerer Bloodline. Some of these archetypes and bloodlines convert to psychic magic. Remember that characters use thought and emotion instead of verbal and somantic components and there are inherent advantages to this magic (cast while grappled, etc.).

Stay tuned for tomorrow when a group of Occult Adventures playable characters appear. This time they aren’t dwarves…

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NPC CODEX REVIEW!

November 22, 2012 3 comments

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Happy Thanksgiving, Gamers!

Today, let us be thankful for the friends we have through gaming, and also thankful for Paizo for knowing what we need before we realize we need it. The NPC CODEX came out yesterday and I’ve been pouring over it in those brief hours, realizing just how much easier my life just got as a GM.

The Codex features a build at every level for every core character class (Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorceror, and Wizard), NPC class (adept, aristocrat, commoner, expert, and warrior) and for the core Prestige classes (Arcane Archer, Arcane Trickster, Assassin, Dragon Disciple, Duelist, Eldritch Knight, Loremaster, Mystic Theurge, Pathfinder Chronicler, and Shadowdancer). I also has builds of the iconics up to level 15, which is good for the Pathfinder Society Player looking to jump into a game with a pregen.

The builds are each unique, with awesome artwork that brings each stat block to life in a way that makes me want to play half of these characters more than a few of my own.

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Each character totes level appropriate equipment, comes with a memorized spell list, buffs factored in from equipment and spells likely to be precast. This is a nice touch for me, as I always have a lot of hesitation regarding magical equipment for improvised enemies.

The names attached to each character in the codex is more of a descriptor or role: Wandering Mercenary or Death Master. Complimenting that role is a familiar Before Combat / During Combat section offering some strategies in how the NPC might be used. Occasionally they throw in a sample backstory or personality detail to add life to a concept, which is a nice touch. Seeing how Paizo has built these NPC’s has expanded my mind in how I might incorporate different class features to accomplish a theme for a character. It’s impressive and is well worth a look.

This book has some value for the PF Society player, but is more useful for the home game GM. Throwing in a few thugs or thematically appropriate bad guys (Halfling Cannibals? Elven Barbarians?) is made much easier. As my home game prepares to invade a school of Necromancers, the availability of several grim and ghoulish clerics, mages, fighters and rogues is perfectly timed.

What it lacks? I had hoped to see some of the Advanced Players Guide classes in here, but that awaits for a sequel. Generally there is only build per class per level, so there aren’t multiple 1st level cleric builds, for instance. The book, quite rightly, guides you to deconstruct or add to each class to bring it in line with what you need, however. In line with that, they have stat blocks with the various animal companions at different break points in the back of the book, which remains a useful tool for rangers and druids who want the animal companion ready to go.

I’m sure sales will determine whether or not a sequel does come out for this, but my feeling is this is a good book to have on the shelf for the player who likes to seek inspiration and enjoys seeing some different ways to get there, or for the GM that finds his party goes straight off the published adventure and into an unexpected brawl not even contemplated by the GM ( i.e. every GM ever).
Just pull this off the shelf and your ready to go!

A Box of Instant Awesome

January 5, 2012 8 comments

I mentioned yesterday that it can be tough to think up a new wondrous item. It turns out Paizo has created a wondrous item you can get your hands on, the box of instant awesome! The Pathfinder Beginner Box does not disappoint. I was admittedly a little nervous about running the adventure included for some veteran Pathfinder and 3.5 players, but the Skyland Games verdict is unanimous: Buy this box now!

I know this is hardly a revelation as the box has been out for months and has been lauded by several sources, but I felt we needed to add our voice to the chorus singing praise. Belying the name of the box itself, it can prove to be hours of fun for both veteran and beginner gamers. Its presentation is brilliant in that you can use the pre-gens and the GM can read the adventure as you go for almost immediate game play.

We took a slightly different approach. Since we are gearing up for some Pathfinder Society play down at SCARAB, the guys decided to try out some custom builds as a testing ground for their society characters. Due to illness we were down a few members, so the party consisted of a war dog-riding halfling paladin, a dwarven blunderbuss-toting gunslinger, and a pyromaniacal gnome alchemist. Hilarity ensued.

I won’t spoil the intro adventure for those of you who haven’t played it, but it uses a lot of classic elements of old delves. The guys had a blast exploring the very well done flip-mat provided with the box. In the end, they were a bit over-matched and didn’t survive the final encounter.

The overall presentation is top notch, and while I can’t look at it with eyes of someone new to gaming, when I got my hands on it I was new to Pathfinder and found it a really easy transition from 4e. I looked at Pathfinder years ago, but was intimidated by the massive 576 page tome of the core rules. I found that once I got a taste, I wanted more. A lot more. I can’t imagine I’m alone in that regard, and hope this box provides the gateway for a lot of people to get in to tabletop RPGs. Loaded with Amazon giftcards from christmas, I ordered the core rules, advanced players guide, and the gamemastery guide. I’ll be reviewing those in later posts.

The Beginner Box is worth every penny for both veterans and newbies alike! If you’ve got someone in your life whom you would like to introduce to RPGs, this is the best product out there.

Scry – Pathfinder and DnD 3.5 System Reference Document Database App

December 22, 2011 7 comments

I’ve been on a bit of a Pathfinder kick recently, which I won’t apologize for because the game is awesome! After enjoying Paizo’s apps for their Crit and Fumble decks, I decided to dig a little deeper into the app store and see what other digital awesomeness I could bring to the table.

Enter Purple Ghost Software, and their app, Scry. Scry gives you two full System Reference Document databases that can be accessed offline. You can choose between D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder, and suddenly you have a ton of information right at your fingertips. Game Masters take note, this does include monster stat blocks, so if you don’t trust your players not to peek, you may want to discourage its use at the table by players. It can be incredibly helpful for looking up spells, feats, traits, and magic item effects.

Another nice feature is that many of the categories are broken down into sub-categories. “Items” for instance, is broken down into Armor, Artifact, Cursed, Ring, Rod, Staff, Weapon, and Wondrous Item listings. Once you get down to your chosen sub-category, the list is searchable, and features the common iOS alphabet column down the right side for quick browsing by letter.

It also lets you bookmark pages which can be helpful to both GMs and players alike. As a player, you can bookmark all the spells, feats, traits, and equipment your character has for quick and easy reference. A GM could bookmark the creatures the party will encounter for that particular session, or bookmark spells a particular create can cast. Very nice work with this app!

Scry is available on the App Store in both free (iAd-supported) and $4.99 (no ads) versions. There is a very similar app available on the android platform called PFRPG RD, which has free and paid versions as well. From what I’ve read, the free version may have less in the database than the paid version, but I don’t have personal experience with either. Android users, help us out in the comments below!

Categories: News, Pathfinder, Reviews, RPGs Tags: , , , ,

Pathfinder Society Midnight Mauler and SCARAB

December 19, 2011 5 comments

Last night I was the second night of Pathfinder Society at Blitzkrieg Games in Asheville. It was special session in that Del Collins ran the special Midnight Mauler scenario, in which the Decemvirate themselves send the Pathfinders on a very delicate mission. This mission can only be run by 4-star GMs (venture captains who have run at least 100 society tables) so it was a rare treat. I won’t go in to all the details in case any of you play it in the future, but it was a really well written scenario that featured some great faction missions, and a really cool chase/fight mechanic at the end, which to me was far superior to the typical 4e skill challenge.

The chase was represented by a series of boxes with arrows between them, representing the different challenges the Pathfinders needed to overcome to advance to the next square. Each box had two skills with different DCs that represented an obstacle. In the first one, you could either bash thru the swinging door with a Combat Maneuver roll, or climb the wall with a Climb check at a known DC that was on the sheet. Much like evaluating obstacles in your path, you could choose which route you wanted to take, and make a roll. If you failed by five or more you went back a square, if you failed by less than 5 you remained in that square, if you succeeded you moved on to the next challenge. Heroes moved in initiative order, and each attempt counted as a move action, meaning you could double-move, and if you made both checks, your Pathfinder would start to catch up with the target. Ranged weapons could be deployed if you were a square or two away, depending on the maximum range of your weapon. Each square represented 30 feet. It was a really exciting conclusion to the session, and worth looking at implementing into a homebrew game.

Del ran a great table, and despite having seven players at the table, he kept the action moving along nicely. He also had some stuff from sponsors to give away, including a massive d20 for all the players, and a copy of Prince of Wolves, a Pathfinder Tales book by Dave Gross. Who doesn’t like free stuff? He also mentioned that he runs SCARAB, the South Carolina Area Roleplayers and Boardgamers. Their 2nd annual convention is coming up! If you live anywhere near the Columbia, South Carolina area I would recommend attending. It sounds like its going to be a blast!

If you like RPGs and have never tried organized play, do yourself a favor and find the nearest Pathfinder Society game. Its an awesome experience!