This massive supplement for aquatic adventuring clocks in at 138 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page kickstarter-thanks, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 132 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, after a brief introductory text that introduces us to the subject matter with well-crafted fluff, we enter the meat of this book: Much like previous Cerulean Seas-expansions (which btw. is the must-have underwater-adventuring resource for PFRPG), this one depicts in lavish detail a part of the submerged world and the plethora of options that accompany it – after venturing to the lightless depths and the frigid regions of the world, this book basically can be considered to be the Far Eastern supplement for Cerulean Seas. If you’re new to these books, rest assured that we begin with the level of precise detail one can expect from the whole series: From types of lakes to environmental peculiarities, rules-relevant and concise basic information sets the stage for the things that are to follow, namely, the more detailed components.
But unlike Cerulean Seas supplements so far, there is a crucial secondary twist to the subject matter at hand – a distinction between salt- and fresh water, between the themes of assimilation versus tradition…but more on that later. In an admirable level of involvement with the setting, anthromorph and merfolk subspecies are revisited and explained as how far they work within the context of Celadon Shores, before we’re introduced to the respective new player character races. Part of this is a new humanoid subtype, the kamigei, which are aligned with a particular eastern element, which can then, as a supernatural ability, add minor elemental damage. The subtype also is in tune with nature and receives resistance based on the associated element.
The new races mentioned before are interesting – for one, taking breathing and the ability to exist in salt/fresh-water into account – in a world where depth tolerance and swim speed are most important, e.g. the avian Benitsuru may be interesting, but their lack of gills means that they are severely limited – and the focus on underwater adventuring means I actually for once will not complain about a race that begins with a fly speed instead of upgrading gliding wings. And yes, each of the races herein has at least one flavorful, interesting and unique trick, like knowing the weather. The heikegani crab-people adhere to a code of honor reminiscent of the samurai and sport an artwork that is downright awesome. The lobster-like creatures begin play with deadly crab-claws as well as Improved Grapple and may utilize their power over metal to form it into objects – an intriguing one, though a rather powerful race.
The hitogoi carp-people, denizens of freshwater, are accomplished craftsmen, while sea kappas have a cool twist: These kappa sport a bubble on their head – as lunged creature, they need to resurface to refill their bubble, otherwise following the mythology regarding the Strength-draining effects of a kappa’s bowl being emptied. The four-armed mizugumo, bell spider-like centaur-y individuals with 4 arms may be powerful, but needing both lungs and requiring fresh water means that they ultimately are fragile as far as their ecological niche is considered. Like the heikegani, though, they can be considered one of the more powerful races that can cause issues in less high-powered games that handwave the complex interactions of depth etc. and have a different focus. And yes, they can weave spider silk. The Mizugumo also have a lopsided attribute-distribution in favor of the physical, while the river ningyo is lopsided in favor of the mental attributes.
The shark-like Sembito with their blindsense, blood fury and emphasis on physical attributes similarly are a bit lopsided in their focus on physical prowess. The bioluminescent Suibo, gorgeous jelly-fish people with their tendrils and boneless bodies similarly adheres to this, slightly more advanced power-curve, while the fearless Uobei, based on betta-fish, once again adhere to a slightly more conservative racial balancing. The races all feature age, height and weight tables and generally can be considered to adhere to roughly two different power-levels -there are some races here obviously intended for lower-powered games, while the others exceed them, but remain on a level playing field amongst themselves. Now noted, depth tolerance and racial buoyancy as well as lungs/gills and salt/fresh-water all constitute balancing mechanisms that can be used to reign them in, but it’s still a component I wished had been handled slightly more streamlined, perhaps with scaling options for the races.
The next chapter would be devoted to class options, with a short discussion on class roles in the context of Celadon Shores being the first component…and thereafter, we have samurai orders. Not one, not two – 7 full-blown orders with their own edicts and abilities can be found on these pages, constituting the single largest concentration of orders designed for the class I know of. The order of the crab is an order of dedicated bodyguards that can mitigate attacks on allies, while the order of the crane is a specialist of non-lethal combat and taking foes in alive. The sebek-ka-exclusive order of the crocodile is thoroughly devoted to the emperor and may enhance their defenses with a variable mystical armor that allows for some flexibility regarding special qualities added. The order of the imperial dragon may negate crits/sneak attacks a limited amount of times per day and is basically the most “default” feeling of the orders, while the order of the shark can cause retributive bleed damage and, at high levels, maintain functionality while near death – and even transcend death, provided he can keep on dishing out ever increasing amounts of damage. The order of the snake gets poison use and vindictive, retributive attacks, while the order of the wheel is all about the elements and a serene understanding of the forces of the world, allowing him to ignore certain amounts of damage a limited number of times per day. All in all, a flavorful, well-crafted array of diverse orders here!
The book also contains multiple relatively complex archetypes for your perusal, the first of which would be the hoiyomi wizard – these guys don’t have spellbooks; instead, they have spell tattoos, which they can quickly and temporarily apply to their skin. Beyond regular magical tattoos, they also receive at higher levels the option to spontaneously convert spells into blasts of energy and their familiars similarly are tattoos they can call forth from their skin. Nice one! And yes, the capstone ability allows them to make the tattoos of targets rip them practically asunder.
The kawakage is an archetype of the mariner class, modifying the movement superiority of the base class to particularly affect the interaction with rapids, waves on water and even offer land speeds that don’t suck quite as hard as those of many a race herein – particularly in a world where the land/fresh/salt-water differences become important, this one makes for a well-crafted, intriguing choice. The Yamabushi presented here would be a variant of the paladin class who is particularly focused on upholding the natural order and as such, opposed to the undead, though at the cost of lay on hands and mercies.
The book also sports two base classes, the first of which would be the Godaikishi, who gets simple and martial weapon as well as shield proficiency, d10, 2+Int skills per level, full BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-saves. The class is determined by the attunement with a mystic element, with an additional element being gained at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. The element chosen determines other class abilities and changing attunement is a full-round action. While unarmored, the class adds Wis-mod to AC and CMD and sports a scaling bonus as well, though the attuned element determined the additional effects conveyed by this mystic armor, ranging from being treated as spiked to offering protection versus the cold climate. At 5th level, a similar enhancement based on the attuned element is available for the weaponry of the class. The class can also generate an elemental lash to add to his regular attack, a kind of elemental-themed smite, if you will, with daily uses scaling over the levels.
2nd level provides a 1/2 level-based scaling elemental touch as well as growing resistance versus elements that can later be extended to allies. Said resistance also becomes full-blown immunity at higher levels, which is interesting. At 4th level, these guys can unleash the elemental touch within sight as a ray…though one that could have used a proper range – as written, it’s line of sight – granted, not as far underwater, but still…fixed values tend to be less prone to abuse than sight. 4th level provides arcane spells of up to 4th level, curiously governed by the Wisdom modifier, which need to be prepared and are drawn from the spell-list of the class. Higher levels provide SR and full-blown immunity to spells and effects of certain descriptor and, rather intriguing, the capstone is similarly variable and dependant on the attuned element. All in all, a well-crafted elemental-themed class that did not bore me – the relative simplicity of the class and its great magical defenses make this a relevant addition to the game., though I really wished it got 4 skills instead of just 2.
The second class is the Wokou, who gets d10, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light armor and buckler and gets full BAB-progression as well as good Reflex-saves. They also begin play with an animal companion – and this is pretty much one factor of the class: Basically, the wokou is a teamwork-based pet-class with a front-line fighter who can ignore difficult terrain, with higher levels providing size-increases, abilities like evasion and (improved) uncanny dodge and the like, while also sporting a secondary focus on intimidating foes. There’s nothing wrong with this class, but it is very linear – not much choice or strategy beyond the base framework. Not bad by any means, but not mind-boggling either.
The book also sports two PrCs, both spanning 10 levels. The Mambabarang gets d6, 4+Int skills, 1/2 BAB, Fort- and Ref-progression and 1/2 spells per day progression…and the PrC is kinda awesome, if disturbing: You see, the idea here is to imbue spells with a range of touch in Vermin, which then receive improved defensive capabilities. The spells are then delivered to the target touched by the vermin. Yes, this is tactical and narrative gold. Furthermore, unnatural lust regarding vermin to recruit creepy-crawlies, gain a vermin companion and yes, they can make their creatures explode and clothe themselves in a halo of bugs – awesome, unique, fun and perfectly functional beyond the confines of the waves, this is one of the best vermin master/caster type of takes I’ve seen in a long, long time. Kudos!
The Tsuwamono is a lawful PrC that gets d10, 4+Int skills, full BAB-progression and 1/2 Fort-progression as well as DR increasing from 1/- at 6th level to 5/- at 10th. They offer 1/2 challenge-progression and gain attribute bonuses as well as physical-attribute dependant bonus feats. At 4th level, they can manifest an ephemeral imperial sea dragon and maintain his presence for 4+Cha-mod rounds. 9th level allows them to 1/day declare an attack a natural 20 or maximum damage – both requiring the use before rolling the respective dice. A solidly-crafted PrC with a nice blend of unique abilities and a more common ones. Nothing to complain, though not as awesome as the Mambabarang.
Oh, but the lands of Nikaikoku have so much more to offer: The next chapter not only has detailed information on currency etc. – it also sports a colossal amount of weapons and armor – the weapon table alone spans two-pages! And yes, mounts can be found here as well and suffice to say, many of the weapons have rather lavish full-color illustrations, something that btw. extends to armors. And yes, the balance here is tight – kudos! Very important for the dynamics of this book would also be the Hitogoi inventions, which contain e.g. an apparatus that allows the wearer to breathe saltwater as though it were freshwater or bioluminescence suppressors. A significant array of racial feats can also be found here, though going through all of them would bloat this review even further. The array of new spells also features the respective dichotomy between salt water and fresh water and provides a pretty intriguing array of well-crafted spells – racial trail spells that provide continuous damage, loud gong strikes – the spells range from numerical effects to those that make sense from a utility perspective – nice. 5 magical items and 5 mystic shards can be found here as well – the latter of which represent the elements and probably, the fractured balanced of the very world: There is, for example, ghost water, which does not dissolve anything and refuses to freeze. Similarly, true steel or livewood allow for nice, mystical tricks – basically, these can be considered to be interesting magical materials that you can use for puzzles, explaining how things work and so much more. It’s an uncommon item-class, but one I really adore.
The fifth chapter of this book covers the setting-information and as such. sports a glorious map of the area covered as well as information on sample cities, factions, languages, histories and deities as well as the racial histories of the people there, including remarkable NPC-write ups, though these remain fluff-only, we receive an inspired chapter that should suffice as a gazetteer to the region.
The next chapter once again displays one of the most impressive aspects of the Cerulean Seas – the bestiaries: The creatures sport awesome artworks, are concisely created and usually sport a whole array of unique abilities: What about a cross of a long-hair witch and a coral? Yes, this is just as disturbing as you think it would be. Or Foo Otters and Seals? Sea Worm/Cephalopod crossovers? Newts equipped with howdahs? Snail-Oni? Killer clams with tentacles? Oh YEAH! And trueform river otters made me flash back to South Park, but in an awesome way. As always, we get appendices: Monsters by CR and source book (and by freshwater/saltwater), a brief pronunciation guide (!!!), an index of tables, an index of art by artist, cardstock minis for PC-races and a colossal, detailed index that makes handling the book easy. Finally, we close with a brief haiku – as befitting this tome.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches – kudos to Margaret Hawkswood, Patricia Hisakawa and Steven O’Neal. Layout adheres to Alluria Publishing’s gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf is fully bookmarked. Both cartography and artwork are STUNNING – the artwork in particular is absolutely gorgeous and reaches Paizo/WotC-levels in most cases – this is a truly gorgeous, beautiful book.
Emily Kubisz, with help from Sam G. Hing and Cameron Mount, has crafted yet another fantastic addition to the Cerulean Seas canon – this series of books continuously maintains an exceedingly high quality standard and produces a vision of a world both alien and familiar – one that suffused by the believable. Even biologists among my friends comment on how the books feel “right” to them, concise and ultimately, “realistic” – as far as a completely flooded world of fish people can be. But beyond the obvious usefulness in a Cerulean Sea context, quite a lot of the pieces herein, from classes to archetypes etc., can easily be scavenged for landlubbing Pathfinder campaigns – while the design-aesthetic tends to focus less on player agenda and variance than I’d like and while the balancing of the races is not always perfect, these components ultimately do not unduly mar the package as a whole: Celadon Seas sports a huge array of truly inspiring components and ideas, has a great bestiary and the overall quality is certainly impressive. The unique ideas like the mystic shards are inspiring -and I really wished the book had done a bit more with them, introduced perhaps devices or vehicles based on their fluctuation of the like – but I can’t put that omission forth as a valid means of criticizing this book.
While I am not sold on the balance of all the races and while I really liked only one of the two classes, 1 of the PrCs, and at least the class/PrC components can be chalked up to personal taste….and there’s a lot of other cool crunch to adore. In the overall context of this book, the flaws literally remain a drop of tainted water in the gorgeous, endless sea. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars.