This pdf detailing drow of Porphyra clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD (featuring a bit of rules text), leaving us with a bit more than 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Porphyra is unlike other campaign settings – the patchwork planet has been very much defined by the NewGod War and the Calling – and when the creatures called out for the reach of other worlds and deities…they got more than they bargained for. A LOT more. One of the drow (yes, ONE of the nations of these guys and gals know for their kind hearts) that responded were the Karza, named for the demon queen that created this race, one entity called Karzerothrine. These drow are pretty much the creatures we’d associate with the classic spider iconography, matriarchal structures, etc. – oh, and guess what? Some are born with sipder-like or arachnid features….not as penalties, but as divine boons. Guided to a titanic cavern in the new world, it is here that these drow struggle.
The pdf provides information on daily life of the drow and yes… even the familial structures. And here things are interesting: Unlike according to the classic depictions, years upon years of hardship and struggle have crafted a societal structure that may be decadent and pleasure-focused, but also one expecting struggle and satisfaction, generating a structure that is in constant flux, but not necessarily bereft of affection. It’s not guaranteed…but neither is it anathema and the focus of mutual exploitation and power-garnering means, oddly, that e.g. looks are less important. It should come as no surprise, then, that karza laws are few and far in-between – there are two, though: Heresies are crushed and all drow need to convert or die, adding a surprising sense of fanaticism to the drow that brings the component of evil firmly back into the fold. The pdf does cover the 8 great noble houses of the karza, with interests and specialties as well as reputations covered.
Statblock-wise, karza feature the standard drow traits, but replace their SPs with ghost sound, blend and spider climb. Things become interesting regarding the alternate racial traits, though: Remember how I mentioned drow with arachnid traits? Yep, from bites to different toxins to burrow speed, natural armor or blindsense…or even spider legs or scorpion tails, these alternate racial traits are pretty awesome, though, from a nitpicky perspective, I’d have loved to see bites/stings properly list the respective damage-types…but then again, one can assume the default for these. On a more relevant nitpick, the scorpion stinger lacks information on whether it’s a primary or secondary natural attack, unlike the bite. And yes, one of the new feats allows you to gain more of these, in case you want to play a rather arachnid/weird karza…or pit one monstrous foe against the PCs.
The karza do gain unique FCOs for the alchemist, barbarian, cleric, druid, fighter, inquisitor, ranger, rogue and sorceror classes – and yes, they are solid! The pdf also sports 8 faction traits for the Karza and yes, these get the bonus types right. The pdf also provides a nice, uncomplicated rule to harvest poisons from creatures encountered. Similarly, feats allow for variable poisons.
Speaking of poisons – the karza, as a whole, pride themselves on the vast plethora of poisons they can create – which results in a rather well-made and quick custom poison generation system – granted, one that could be didactically better presented, but once you get how it’s supposed to work, it turns out to be pretty smooth.
Now I already mentioned some of the prior feats, but it should come as no surprise that poison-supplementing feats can be found here. Not all feats are winners, though – a pretty lame +2/+4 skill bonus (plus option to influence vermin) and a pretty weak teamwork feat for better attacks versus AoO-provoking foes won’t necessarily wow you.
On the plus side, the general tendency to create a culturally concise picture of these drow is further emphasized by providing concise rules for hair dyes and liquid skin tones, precious metal body paints and the like actually provide an inspiring glimpse at some potential encounters and cultures – and I know I’d love to recline in a spidersilk hammock! Some fluff-only, brief summaries of karza cities can be found in these pages as well, with several intrigues, basically adventure hooks, further helping GMs looking for an idea.
Aforementioned demon lord gets a full deity-write-up (with gorgeous holy symbol), the verminkind domain and spider subdomain – both of which are solid.
Editing and formatting are pretty good – while not always perfect, the pdf’s crunch is generally concisely presented and hard to misconstrue. The rules-language could be a tad more concise in the presentation, but ultimately, the pdf suffers no grievous issues. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The artworks deserve special mention here: The pdf sports several gorgeous full-color pieces of karza with spider/scorpion-features. NICE!
Patricia Willenborg’s karza were not a group I was looking forward to covering. Spidery drow? Oh boy, innovation prize, anyone? Yes, this is the classic depiction of drow…and it isn’t. The VALUED aspect of mutation is an intriguing component that reminded me of a classic elf-based comic in the past…and the explanation and ecology of the lives of the karza is sufficiently distinct from the classics to make them feel different and interesting.
At the same time, the pdf does have some places where it stumbles – when spider legs, e.g., note that they can be “adorned with magical items (taking up shoulders, body, hands, wrists or ring slots)” I unfortunately have no real idea what that means – do the legs take up one of those slots? Can they duplicate such a slot? The wording here could have used some streamlining and it’s not the only instance herein – while the pdf gets the fine component right in some cases, in others it misses the mark – not badly, but still. In spite of this and while falling short of perfection, this treatise on the karza remains an interesting book that should provide some nice material for GMs looking for a twist on the spider-themed drow. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 since the great ideas herein deserve being acknowledged.