Massing a huge 162 pages, Laying Waste is an enormous revamp of rules for critical hits in Pathfinder. The books starts with the new rules which essentially replace the confirmation roll and normal, boring damage multiplication with a severity roll and a host of potential effects based on the severity and damage type of your weapon.
All the possible crits have a save to reduce or eliminate the status effect. The save gets harder as your severity worsens as does, obviously, the effect. A light braining staggers for d2 rounds unless you make a DC20 Fortitude save. A moderate braining is staggered for d3 rounds and the severe version deals additional damage along with d3 rounds of the staggered condition. In each case, the DC gets harder by 5 as well. Even if your victim...er...target passes the save associated with the crit, they are still saddled with some bonus damage. The bonus damage varies from 2d6 with a x2 crit to 5d6 on a x5 weapon. This is a nice system that means a dagger to your kidney (or whatever strange organ drives your renal system) hurts just about as bad as a greatsword, which, while not necessarily going to make a simulationist happy, makes those that love variety in weapons ecstatic. Status effects caused by crits have conditions under which they can be healed. Rest or curative magic are generally there but in most cases you can also make a Heal check. Heal. It’s a skill. It’s between Handle Animal and Intimidate on your character sheet. You can be forgiven for not knowing it’s there; until now there hasn’t usually much reason to take it. I’m so pleased that this undervalued skill gets a real reason to exist in this ruleset.
After pages and pages of bashing, slicing, dicing, and otherwise mauling with criticals, comes ten or so pages of critical themed feats. There’s a lot of good stuff here like Sneaking Strike which causes opponents who take a crit from a rogue to become flat-footed until the end of the rogue’s next turn, a great way to get more sneak attacks in. There are achievement feats and mythic feats to be had here and a lot of neat things to do with combat maneuvers.
Then we have the archetypes. This is where I suffer from some disappointment. As the focus of this book is on critical hits, I can kind of understand why there aren’t archetypes for the sorcerer and wizard (although it seems like one that changed elemental damage into a physical damage type and did something with these rules is an easy fit) but not having a single archetype for the paladin, cleric, bard, druid, or any of the base classes means this whole section has limited value for me. What’s there is cool and chock full of flavor, though. The pressure point master is inspired and the scoundrel, mockingbird, disembowler, and urchin knight are great, too.
Next are the rules for fumbles, separated into melee, ranged, and natural attack fumbles. I’m a huge fan of these. In my group, some fights are just done by story and the dice are left to rest for a time. Inevitably, my players mix failure into their success and get thrown across a room, trip on a rug (which otherwise tied the room together), or simply stare dumbfounded at the unfolding horror of an elder god before the tentacular alarm clock wakes them up. But this never happens when we roll the dice. Misses are set aside and damage from the hits tabulated. The fumble rules give us the opportunity to force these situations into the dice rolling and enhance our stories. If I were an alchemist I’d take the vestigial arm discovery just to give this three thumbs up.
The remaining 30 or so pages are given over to appendices covering rules for called shots, armor as damage reduction, healing and scars, spells, magic weapon and armor abilities, a short bit of prose and a Laying Waste Iconic NPC.I give this book 4.5 out of 5. The rules are pretty great. The fact that there’s an Android app for Laying Waste crits is great. the lack of variety in the archetypes section is an absolute travesty (figuratively speaking; literally speaking it’s more of a bummer).
Buy it on Paizo, d20PFSRD, or DriveThru.