I want to keep these little reviews short and sweet, so I’m not going to go through everything that lies within this wondrous tome. (Well, figuratively a tome – I got the PDF). Rather, I would like to point out three things that are particularly good about the book, and also to discuss any flaws that I find in it. Again, this won’t be a thorough review, more like an impression.
First, the cool:
New Base Class: Alchemist
I really like that Alchemists are one of the new base classes presented by the Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide. They are in some ways the Paizo take on the 3.5 Artificer from the Eberron setting, but their focus is not on crafting magical items, but rather on producing alchemical items.
The most exciting application of this ability is creating grenade-like bombs which Alchemists throw in combat. They are walking with loads of potential chemical energy strapped to their backs and around their waists and in their pockets, and during combat, the Alchemist is mixing volatile chemicals on the fly and tossing them on her foes. That’s kind of cool.
Alchemists are also able to create mutagens which they can drink, Dr. Jeckyll style, to modify their abilities in a similar way to how transmutation spells like Fox’s Cunning function. As an Alchemist advances in level, she gets the chance to make Discoveries, improving her abilities, and there is even the Master Chymist Prestige Class, for those who really want to go over the top with their Jeckyll/Hyde issues.
A little note under an Alchemist’s special abilities – they all receive the Throw Anything ability. True, an Alchemist is pretty deadly armed with chemical bombs and mutagens, but I picture a fun scene with an Alchemist in a kitchen, hurling steak knives and pots of boiling water at her foes…
New weapons like the boar spear, sword cane, chakram and double crossbow make their debut in this book, as well as a number of new alchemical items and substances, which makes a lot of sense with the new Alchemist class. There is also some truly fantastic artwork depicting the various weapons and suits of armor – far more colorful and evocative than I’ve seen in other fantasy armories.
What really struck me, though, were the simple new pieces of adventuring gear. Some things, like earplugs or a periscope, immediately make me wonder how I could build encounters around their use, or as a player, how I could abuse these things to gain an advantage in the game. There are also items like the astrolabe, bear trap and compass that simply make sense, and can also be of obvious use to adventuring parties.
For those who are less than honest when they go down to the common room at the end of a hard days’ dungeon-crawling, there are loaded dice and marked cards. Overall, a lot of new cool stuff for the inevitable d20 shopping sprees at character creation and between adventurers.
New Prestige Class: Mastery Spy
It has always driven me a bit crazy that in almost all d20 systems, and in most gamist-simulationist combat-focused fantasy RPGs I’ve ever seen, there are heaps and piles of weaponry, racks of armor, and hundreds of combat abilities, as well as a plethora of magical spells that are aften solely useful in combat. If I want to play a socially-focused character, a “face” so to speak, however, I’m just out of luck. I’m going to wander, forlorn from encounter to encounter, making Diplomacy rolls and hoping that, at best, I might make some NPCs like me a little bit more.
Enter the Master Spy, requiring a number of social skills at up to 7 ranks as well as the Deceitful and Iron Will Feats. A Master Spy is going to be more socially powerful than other characters of her level, and will become a master of both disguise and deception, able to hide and even alter her alignment. This is still a combat game, of course, so the Master Spy also periodically gets a bonus to sneak attack damage, and at higher levels, will get the assassin’s death attack ability as well as the ability to entirely assume another persona at the highest level, allowing her to even fool the most powerful divination spells.
The problem remains that the Master Spy will not be as powerful or effective in combat as probably any other Prestige Class – that’s just a fact of d20 in all of it’s forms. For a social-focused Rogue, however, or possibly a Bard, the Master Spy is a great choice, and I can see a game being built around an embedded Master Spy and her allies helping her from the outside, acting on the information she gathers.
Sneaky Fourth: Hero Points
Under New Rules, the Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide introduces Hero Points. These are very similar to my house rules of Action Points from the Eberron setting in 3.5. Essentially, Hero Points give players more options, as well as some control over when things like character death happen. I like this in particular because it gets rid of the ‘meaningless death’ issue in many fantasy RPGs – where the player fails one roll and her character plummets to her death, or is killed by the save-or-die spell, in a way that doesn’t further the story whatsoever. Screw that.
A little artistic oversight – the swords on page 261 and 263 are being held in exactly the same way, almost like the artist was using the same sword-holding model for each painting.
Honestly, I am a serious fan of most of what Paizo does, but there aren’t many flaws in this superb book. Most of the ‘flaws’ I came up with were places where the book didn’t go far enough, or where I wished they had included more of the great stuff they are serving up.
4 out of 5 vials of alchemical mutagen