Sunday, July 27, 2014

Recession Reviews - Thunderscape the World of Aden Campaign Setting

Review written by Richard Litzkow

Thunderscape the World of Aden Campaign Setting
Written by: Shawn Carman & Rich Wulf (Kyoudai Games)
Page Count: 227
Throw Away Pages: 8 (2 cover pages, 1 toc page, 2 backer list pages, 1 OGL page, 2 Index pages)
Golden Pages: 11 (Races), 73 (New Classes and Alternate Classes), 5 (New Feats and Skills), 47 (Cosmology and Geography), 29 (New Equipment and Rules), 11 (New Monsters and Antagonists) total 179

Cover price: $19.99
Price per page: $0.09
Modified price per page: $0.09, cover price/pages + golden pages – throw away pages = modified price per page
Crunch to fluff ratio: 1.32 to 1
Our rating out of 10: 9 (highly reusable classes, feats, new equipment and races. Concepts like the Fallen class and it’s versatile and clever approach to combat, or the Ferran race are things that have been largely missing from core Pathfinder and are worthy imports into any home-brew or established campaign setting - either wholesale or with minor tweaks).

For nearly a thousand years the world of Aden knew peace, technology and magic flourished and the realms grew rich and fat. Then one day, with no warning the sun disappeared and the world was plunged into darkness – as if someone had switched off the light. And in this darkness emerged the Nocturnals – the nightmares of every sentient living creature made real, and though the darkness lasted only a short time when the sun appeared again the Nocturnals were still there. Killing, feasting on an unsuspecting world – millions fell, others gave in to the madness and terror giving their souls over to it to become another horror. 10 years after the Darkfall the world struggles grow against a land overrun and tainted by the Nocturnals.

This is the premise for Thunderscape the World of Aden a godless world where magic and technology are synonymous. The book features all new classes, races, feats, other uses for skills and an entire section to new mecha-magical equipment and the rules surrounding it.

It also adds a terrifying new monsters, and an even more horrifying template – Nocturnal, that allows you to turn old monsters into new sinister specimens for your party to fight.

There are 7 new races in the Thunderscape campaign setting as well as the classic Dwarves, Elves, Humans and Half-Elves. Many of these new races are evolved forms of classic fantasy races. Goreaux are hyper intelligent goblins, Jurak are more civilized descendants of Orcs, Faerkin are gnomes who have crossbred with fey to such an extent that they often manifest outwardly fey traits. Rapcians are almost a south american themed lizardfolk. The new original races are the Echoes – featureless humanoids with an inky exterior that can adopt the shape and features of the deceased. The Illithix Exiles, a insectoid species with the hybrid features of bees and ants and the Ferran. The Ferran are a species of anthropomorphic animals, with three different racial packages – Ferran Predator, Brute or Sneak allowing players to decide what category their Ferran wants to come from. Mice Ferrans are probably sneaks, likewise Foxes, but there are no hard restrictions.

The classic fantasy races listed follow many of the original tropes, Elves as aloof and distant, Humans as versatile. Dwarves get a new backstory though, originating beneath the earth they eventually dug to the surface whereupon they believed themselves to have 'dug into heaven', fully three quarters of the race went back underground decrying those that stayed as heathens and waging a secret war on them.

Racial abilities are fair and balanced, with interesting note to the Jurak who gain a bonus to damage against any foe that has injured them within 3 rounds. Echoes likewise must make poppets incorporating material from the deceased they wish to appear as.

There are 9 all new core classes to play as, Arbiter, Entomancer, Fallen, Golemoid, Mechamage, Seer, Steamwright, Thaumaturge and Thunderscout. Very few of these will feel familiar, one could loosely compare the Mechamage to a Wizard but the focus on building familiar-esque golems and modifying them is a big enough difference to be worth read over a few times.
    The Arbiter is an Int based shield and weapon fighter with rogue like elements thrown in with their 'Strategic Maneuvers' picked every 2nd level after 3rd level.
The Entomancer is almost a sort of totemic druid that venerates insects, they too chose at every odd level an insect themed power from a series of lists including 'The Way of the Mantis', 'The Way of the Bee'. While they can take powers from any list they can only access the greater powers by having a certain number of abilities from within a single Way.
    The Fallen is perhaps one of the most unique classes to Thunderscape, they are those people who have been corrupted by the Darkfall but are often the anti-heroes that use their sinister powers to fight the darkness. From the 1st level of the Fallen class a player must choose one of 6 'Stigmas' (Befouled, Behemoth, Horror, Incinerator, Madcap and Seducer) these stigmas mark you are tainted but are also your source of power. As you level up you gain powers associated with the stigma you chose and each functions differently.
    As a class the Fallen is about combination, a default ability native to any Fallen is the ability to inflict a form of psychic torment on an opponent as a swift action. Opponent so marked save vs a status effect (like Shaken) and whether they save or not against the status effect are marked as 'tormented'. Tormented subjects take additional damage from the Fallen and are subject to a variety of other effects based off that mark.
    An example would include the Madcap stigma ability to be invisible to any tormented foe, allowing a Madcap to use another ability to inflict an area effect burst of torment so that a room full of enemies cannot see him until either the tormented condition runs it's course or he breaks the invisibility by attacking – at which point he becomes visible to that particular victim.
By far this class is one of the most clever in the entire book as each stigma has different ways of inflicting area affect torment as well as offering other unique debuffs that go along with their tormented condition.
    The Golemoid is another thoroughly unique class, they represent people who have either willingly or unwillingly become hosts to mechamagical implants (called manite implants) that reduce their life-span but become a part of them. As they level so given over to this magic they begin to grow new implants, shedding their organic heritage to become living constructs.
Almost all of their implants function off a grit like system called 'Steam' gaining an amount equal to their Level + Constitution modifier. This spendable resource allows them to activate many of their implants or gives them the ability to detect magic, buff their AC for a round, help them make acrobatics checks or break objects.
    Similar to a fighter the Golemoid chooses early on a specialty, in this case a form of combat. Steam powered weaponry, ranged combat or natural weapons. Their implants reinforce these decisions with a Gunner specialty Golemoid likely taking an internal ammo belt and finger guns for an optimal build. But implants are not limited by specialization allowing the player to customize as they see fit.
    The Seer is another original class, functioning as a close range bard who altered reality around her with her prophetic auras. Many of these auras allow a save, and an enemy that saves can be forced to make another save if they leave and re-enter the aura. Possibly subject to abuse by Seers who dance backward and forward to trigger a new save. The auras are unique offering things like 'decrease the amount of healing an enemy receives by the Seer's Wisdom modifier, while increasing ally healing by the same amount', or even allowing her to give additional actions to allies with her new but limited spell list.
    The Steamwright is another new class, as cutting edge techno-mages they invent volatile gadgets that only function a certain number of times per day but offer a fair bit of bang for their buck. These inventions can be modified, limited by whether it is a primary or secondary invention and by the class level of the Steamwright. Inventions include new weapons; like the Belcher (cone effect elemental damage), Grenade Launcher (the envy of alchemists everywhere) or even small auto Turrets. Utility inventions include rocket packs, translation goggles, trap detectors and so on.
    In addition Steamwrights may over-charge their weaponized inventions adding a pool of damage dice that they must declare beforehand. A Steamwright with a grenade launcher by level 5 could in theory deal 2d10 + Int mod AoE with an additional 2d8 firepower damage. In addition to deploying an auto turret that fires independently for 1d8 + Int mod. In terms of game-play balance Steamwrights pose a bit of a balance issue, outclassing all other similar level classes in raw damage even with a limited number of uses per day.
    After the Steamwright is the Thaumaturge, a reimagining of the Magic of Incarnum supplement for 3.5. The Thaumaturge has a deliberately abominable stat line, because all their power comes from drawing about legends and their aspects. These change your base saves, BAB and even give you temporary hit points. A Thaumaturge might never be able to cast spells but if you need a stand in Fighter, Rogue or Ranger then they are the Swiss army knife of classes.
    Finally the last new class is the Thunderscout, and one that impressed me least. They are small vehicle driving rangers meet 3.5ed Scouts and for certain nations they fit well with the fluff, so they make sense contextually. But mechanically compared to any of the other new classes they are far more boring. They get spells earlier but a limited selection and they are designed as swift moving vehicular ranged support. They don't have the interesting combination build up tool box the fallen have, or the customizability of the Golemoid. They don't bring highly modified golems to the party, or super-tech inventions. They aren't as flexible as the thaumaturge and they don't buff their allies as well as the Seer. Thunderscouts are a great fluff class and mechanically they are what Rangers dream of being but that doesn't make them as interesting – only competent.

    After the new classes there are explanations for how all the old classes fit in, including a bunch of new archetypes to make regular classes work in Thunderscape. This is also where the first mention of godless clerics and paladins come up. See if Thunderscape ever had deities, then they aren't there now. The World of Aden lives and dies on it's inhabitants, divine spellcasters still power their spells through faith but no-one is answering any calls when they try to start up a conversation.
    Additionally we learn that Detect Good/Evil, etc spells only function on the supernatural. Monstrous Humanoids, planar beings, all detect as an alignment, but ordinary beings don't. This is because as a setting Thunderscape focuses on surviving and thriving in a world being devoured by nightmares. Mundane evil is as invested in their own survival as they are mostly avoiding corruption and losing their mind. This means that a game revolves less around party alignment and more about prevailing what ever the cost.
    An important note though about the base classes in Thunderscape, guns in Thunderscape are treated as highly common to the point where many of the base classes gain a firearm proficiency or two, the twist is that guns, work like bows. So Gunslingers are problematic as many of their abilities function on hitting touch still. Either you nerf them, or you let them out class almost every other class.
    The new feats are all fairly standard, with exceptions like the feat Studied that grants additional free skill points base on your current level and gives you 1 additional skill point each level thereafter. This could be prone to abuse, but it also indicates that the writers wanted characters not to ignore skills as is commonly a problem.

    The remainder of the book covers a detailed historical timeline of the setting, a large section dedicated to each of the countries and a section dedicated to new weaponry and rules. Including the effects of manite implants on living beings – a fascinating read and delightful new mechanic. The Bestiary section is only 11 pages long and could do with more substance, and after that the index section (along with the original table of contents) is all nicely hyper-linked – like all proper pdfs should be, allowing easy navigation of the book.

    At the end of the day I love this book, it is well thought out and while there are minor editing oversights (some inconsistent phrasing of pathfinder core rules) or omissions in detail (regarding the new spells for animating constructs) the editing and presentation of the book are superb. The art is a bit of a mixed bag with many internal chapter pages having gorgeous tableaus but other art being markedly less high in quality (most commonly in the races section).

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