If you're like me, you have a rather massive selection of KQ-issues by now in your collection. You may also know the Wicked Fantasy-articles by Jess Heinig and John Wick that reimagines the classic fantasy races in a dark, unconventional way. Well, today, I'll check out the first 3 offerings of Wicked Fantasy, starting with
Wicked Fantasy I - The Reign of Men
This pdf is 32 pages long, 1 page editorial, 1 page cover, 1 page SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving 28 pages of content, so let's check this out!
John Wick's Wicked Fantasy seeks to redefine the traditional races of fantasy and add new twists to the tired old tropes. So, what has been done with the humans?
Rules-wise, they get +2 to a physical and +2 to a mental attribute, +1 to will saves (and further +1 every 5 levels), humans count as having each member of their party having their teamwork feats, can choose a skill as an additional class skill, and gain advantages based on their hometown - both in skills and a +2 favored terrain (hometown). They can also rally their allies - when a human threatens a critical, they can grant rally bonuses to their allies - I think that these should be morale bonuses from their fluff.
There's a focus there on hometowns and that makes for the true central focus of this product: It introduces us to a nation, the Reign of Men. Essentially, the humans in this product stem from an unique cultural background inspired by ancient Greece and the Roman Empire - devoted to philosophy, the central force of will and the betterment of their whole species is the focus of this reimagined mankind. The cities of the reign are detailed in intriguing detail and several gazetteers out there should take at look at this: The cities not only influence the bonuses humans get from their race, but also make for an intriguing, cool setting. On the other hand, though, the entwinement of the race and its fluff also makes it somewhat harder than usual for such supplements.
The pdf also includes 9 new feats, 6 of which add effects/expand the rally ability, with one being a sufficiently powerful capstone feat. The feats per se are ok, but use some strange mechanics: Inspirational rally, for example, lets allies make a melee, ranged, touch or ranged touch attack against a foe if you succeed at a check. This action-granting by criticals is uncommon and VERY powerful and generally not exactly standard - its emphasis on luck of the player to make use of the feats and the new human's signature ability focus on luck is problematic in my book.
The pdf also includes two new archetypes: The Philosopher (cleric archetype) gets a modified skill-list, 5+Int skills per level and two new godless domains. The Palantine, a variant archetype of the paladin that gets an intelligent horse, reliefs instead of mercies and an aura granting bonuses to will-saves to allies. I really liked both archetypes and the twists they gave the old classes.
The pdf, however, also includes a list of "appropriate" classes for the Reign of Men - all classes from the APG, UM and UC but the cavalier are banned per default - that's lame. No new tools for cavaliers (though the an alternate archetype of the Palantine could have been easily inserted), no Inquisitors (WHY??? The new human almost SCREAMS Inquisitor to me...), no oracles in spite of the Greek/Roman fluff and its ease of tying in etc. That's just sad.
Editing is rather good, I noticed only a couple of glitches. Formatting is somewhat non-standard - e.g. asterisks are used to represent multipliers, when usually, "X"s are used. Layout adheres to a used-parchment look and the 3 pieces of full color artwork are nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, but without a printer-friendly version, which is a minor bummer. This pdf is somewhat hard to rate - on the one hand, it's an awesome gazetteer of an alternate human realm that feels distinct and different from almost any other one. Its attention to detail is nice, its fully detailed system of government is awesome. Unfortunately, the crunch feels somewhat wonky in comparison, its focus on critical hits to make unique rallies is too reliant on luck/crit-range builds. The second signature ability, the hometown-based feats etc., are unfortunately very much tied to the respective hometowns, making integration into an ongoing campaign/ established campaign setting rather difficult. The new archetypes and the concept of a godless humanity, driven by its collective force of will and the ideal of human advancement is awesome and something I'd love to see expanded upon. On the other hand, though, the lack of support for APG, UM and UC is disappointing at best. As a racial supplement, the reign of men fell somewhat flat of my expectations, as a gazetteer of an unconventional nation, it works just fine. Mechanics-wise, I wasn't impressed by the pdf. In the end, the pros and cons mostly even out for a nice purchase, but not a stellar one. My final verdict will thus be 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 for the purpose of this platform.
This pdf by John Wick Presents is 26 pages long, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/prelude, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement and 1 page SRD, leaving 21 pages of content, so what exactly do we get with these Orks (yeah, with "k", just like in German!)?
You have probably read the Wicked Fantasy-series of articles in KQ, but just to be sure: Wicked Fantasy centers on a new takes on classic fantasy races, a reimagining so to speak. An example would be the Uvandir, genderless (but male-looking), eternal dwarves who can toil all day and night, never starve etc. In this pdf, we get an expansive take on the Orks in the vein of a widely-expanded ecology-article.
The reimagining of the race essentially makes the Orks what you've come to know: An evil race, created by evil gods. Orkish doctrine, for ages, had them consume their foes to take in their strength and worship pain - until they evolved. For which foe might offer more strength than one's god? In a feat of unheard-of racial uprising, the orks stormed their god's sacred hall, vanquished their pantheon and ate them, thus gaining their strength. (Though some sages speculate that some orkish gods may have escaped...)
Thus, via the divinely-infused bloodlines, Orks changed and diversified and had to deal with the lifting of the red haze of rage, for now, they encountered a state of mind as of yet unknown - free will.
The nomadic tribes have made tentative peace with the other races, as they seek to understand the powers their newfound freedom and the darkness of their ancestors blood offer them. Depending on the bloodline of one's ancestors, special abilities and dispositions are available to the green-skins. 6 of these divine bloodlines are included.
The Orks can also create so-called Feth'Ork-creatures by feeding animals and beasts their blood in order to mutate the critters into allies and negate the loathing regular animals exhibit when encountered by Orks.
I mentioned the worship of pain as well and it defines Orkish culture to this date - their sacred scars, the Va, all come with their stories and knowing these has to be earned. More importantly, 5 masochistic feats enable Orks to harness the power of pain and actually get stronger via hurt, pain and punishment. I really loved these feats and while they seem to be kind of powerful, the steep price they demand is worth the benefit. 3 feats are focused on the divine bloodlines and we get a new mystery for the oracles, the so-called blood mystery, which essentially provides the tribal shamans and makes for a neat piece of writing. We also get a new archetype for barbarians and one for bards, the latter being rather interesting, as it focuses on insulting foes and bolstering allies via epic story-telling, thus hearkening back to our own world's intricate webs of poetic allusions displayed in saga-literature and Heian romances like the Tale of Genji, to quote only two.
Editing and formatting are good, though not stellar: I did notice about 7 glitches on my first read-through and an additional pass at editing would have been nice, as some of the extensive bookmarks consist of only one letter. layout adheres to a 2-column standard and comes in full-color, with a parchment-like background and neat pieces of artwork. I really liked the writing, which makes this pdf rank among the most compelling ecology-articles I have ever read. On the other hand, though, I feel that some of the pieces of writing like the feats could be more concisely-written: I had to re-read some of the feats before I got how exactly how the crunch is supposed to work. Were I to rate only the quality of the writing, I'd settle for a higher rating, but as presented the glitches and minor hick-ups just accumulated and thus I'll settle for a final verdict of 4 stars.
and then there are
This pdf is 28 pages long, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/prelude, 1 page advertisement, 1 page front cover and 1 page SRD, leaving 23 pages of content, so let's check this out!
Halfings are not exactly a sexy race and have often been neglected in fantasy - recently, 4 Wind Fantasy Gaming released a nice supplement and now Wicked Fantasy reimagines the Halfling-race.
Perhaps the one factor that makes halflings problematic, at least for me, is that they don't essentially fill a crucial role in most fantasy settings. Haffuns are different. Ever since the dug up from the ground, escaping some undefined threat on the other side of the world, and immediately were able to communicate with the humans, they have ingratiated themselves into human society by their uncanny virtues.
Haffuns gain +2 to Dex and Wis, are small, get a bonus to hearing-based perception, professions depending on their family and temporarily learn just about every language. And then there's Talda, the "Seeming Way" - essentially the ability to blend in the background, this art not only makes the Haffuns the perfect butlers, it also makes them potentially creepy.
Creepy? Yes, for the Haffuns tend to adopt human families to serve them and woe to those who dare threaten the Haffun's family - they take any means necessary to protect it, preferably without making the people they care about even aware of their accomplishments. And then there are the homeless ones, essentially a halfling mob. Have I mentioned a kind of Halfling-pride movement preparing for war/open conflict with the humans? Or the fact that 20 legendary Haffuns grant their names and several abilities to their people, overseeing them as a strange shadow council?
That's not where the race stops, though: Another interesting twist is the halfling's secret, unknown language, one of many secrets the tall ones know nothing about. Another, not widely known one, is Ghuva, the giving curse. If you look a Haffun in the eye and really wish for something from the bottom of your heart, he/she has to try to fulfill your request or suffer from penalties. If they fulfill a request, the recipient gets a neat +2 bonus to attack for 24 hours.
There are 5 new feats, 3 of which enhance the Talda-abilities of the Haffuns - all of which ROCK. And then there's the new Jorsha archetype for the cleric - essentially a spirit shaman, they can see the departed souls - which is quite important, for the Haffuns tend to secretly link the souls of their departed to the houses in which they died.
Finally, there's the new Butler-class: The Butler gets d8, 6+Int skills, bonuses depending on the ancestor's name, up to +10d6 sneak attack, 3/4 BAB, good fort and ref-saves and access to a total of 30 special marks - a butler's marks help him take care of his family, taste and see from a distance etc. - this class utterly ROCKS and makes for a stellar alternate to regular roguish halflings.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the piece of good full color artwork rocks. The pdf is fully bookmarked, but no printer-friendly version is included in the deal, which is a bummer. Formatting features some minor non-standard uses of signs, but nothing too jarring.
Not only is the reimagined halfling awesome, it's easily inserted in any campaign setting and essentially comes with ingrained seeds for not only an adventure, but a whole campaign of conspiracies, be the benevolent or malign, on behalf of the Haffuns. This pdf ROCKS and in fact made me immediately want to introduce them into my campaign. Even better, you don't have to get rid of Halflings in order to introduce Haffuns to your setting - they easily work as another race! Seeing that mechanically, I didn't have any significant gripes, the potential of the race, the imaginative fluff and brilliant ideas like the Talda and Ghuva, I'll practically have to settle for a final verdict of 5 stars + endzeitgeist seal of approval. Go check these out - halfling secret agents rock.
As always, thanks for reading my ramblings!