In the Company of Wights (revised edition)

In the Company of Wights (revised edition)

This revised installment of Rite Publishing’s “In the Company of…”-series clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This is the review of the revised edition with the cool horseman on the cover – if you have the old version, re-download this asap.

 

All right, we begin this pdf with a heart-warming dedication to the founder of Rite Publishing, Steven D. Russell, who has left us too soon. After this, though, it is similarly heart-warming to see that the traditions of master Russell live on – we begin with an in-character letter of a member of the race, sent to Qwilion of Questhaven, the scribe that is responsible for collecting these pieces of information in the context of the great meta-narratives that suffuse these books.

 

Thus, as has become the tradition, the flavor-text presented to us would be written from the point of view of the species “We are the hollowed” – indeed! Intelligent, sentient wights spawned from strong souls, these beings sport a glowing gaze and retain the previous race’s racial characteristics like height and they, obviously, stop aging -as such, this time around, we actually don’t need an age, height or weight table and the racial traits replace those of the base race, but more on that later. The pdf elaborates on society…or rather, about how to fit in with the living and dead…and there is the Urge – the wights herein do crave the essence of the living and there are those that have succumbed to the Urge, while others resist it – the scenario is, roleplay-wise, not unlike that of the World of Darkness.

 

Now, regarding racial traits, we begin by acknowledging the first issue -as quasi-undead, the wights depicted herein (who call themselves the hollowed) have no Constitution, which would render them OP via most character creation methods – hence, ways to use them in a balanced context with point-buy etc. are included. The hollowed get +2 to Cha, -2 to Int and retain their former humanoid race’s speed and size, which means Small or Medium for the purpose of this race. Base speed is retained, though the hollowed lose, for example, slow and steady. As modified undead, the hollowed gain darkvision 60 ft., a +2 racial bonus to Intimidate. Modified undead? Well, a sidebar properly defines this: Hollowed have no Constitution score, but have no immunity or resistance to mind-influencing effects. They are immune to bleed, disease and poison, as well as stunning or paralysis, with the caveat that effects that cause the latter two and are resisted by a Will-save still apply – interesting. The race is immune to death and sleep effects and neither subject to nonlethal damage, nor ability drain or damage to physical ability scores. However, they are still subject to energy drain or damage/drain to mental ability scores as though they were living creatures. They are immune to exhaustion and fatigue, unless caused by The Urge or unless caused by a spell, SP or SU or class feature the hollowed possesses. A fatigued or exhausted hollow must save versus the urge when damaged. Now this is interesting – however, there is a minor oddity here: RAW, learning a spell or SP makes the hollowed susceptible to fatigue/exhaustion gained from it. Some may complain about that, but I think one can justify that in game by being more attuned to the particular magics. Balance-wise, this is very much necessary to prevent a metric ton of cheesy exploits. Hollowed are NOT immune versus effects that require a Fort-save and use Charisma modifier instead of Constitution modifier for such saves. Big plus: They lose the annoying undead fragility and remain undead and kicking unless reduced to negative Charisma score hp. Resurrecting magic causes massive damage to them and they don’t need to eat regular food or breathe, but require meditative rest akin to sleep.

 

Okay, that is already a VAST improvement right there. Death’s Stigma makes starting attitude of creatures two steps worse, one step worse for those that have had interactions with friendly undead. Disguising as a mortal imposes a -5 penalty on the hollowed’s Disguise check

Now, let’s look at the urge and how it has been translated, shall we? The urge is the rage of the void and destruction – going for longer than 24 hours sans 8 hours rest fatigues the hollowed; 48 hours cause exhaustion. When a hollowed is fatigued and takes damage, she must succeed a Will save (DC 15 + ½ character level, DC 20 + ½ character level if exhausted) – on a failure, they succumb to the urge and are compelled to attack the nearest living creature with their slam and energy drain. While under the effects of the urge, the hollowed may not use Cha-, Dex- or Int-based skills (except Acrobatics, Fly, Intimidate and Ride) or any ability that requires concentration. Successfully imposing a negative level on a creature causes the hollowed to lose the fatigued/exhausted condition and allows the hollowed to re-attempt a Will-save (versus Dc 15 + ½ character level) to end the urge as an immediate action – on a failure, the hollowed must inflict another negative level before getting a chance to shake off the urge. Hollowed may choose to willingly succumb to the urge as a free action, but after doing so, it requires killing a humanoid (!!!) to get the chance to end the urge via a save – so no, your bag of kitten will not cut it! Big, big kudos!

 

A hollowed that has succumbed to the urge gains a primary slam attack, (1d4 Medium, 1d3 Small) and energy drain, but the hollowed does not gain temporary hit points from the drain. Humanoids slain by them become wights (with penalties to atk, saves, etc.) – however, these spawns may be controlled freely by the hollow, provided he does not exceed his maximum or chooses to free them. Slightly weird: The spawn-notes refer to a Stealth bonus they do not get, one I could not find among the base traits of the race. Not a big issues, though – it does not impact gameplay.

 

It should be noted that character creation for 5 attributes and the process of becoming hollowed are concisely codified here.

 

Beyond that, undead PC races tend to be problematic due to their gazillion immunities – hence why Rite Publishing’s own, chassis-wise vastly superior restless souls tweaked that for even gritty game compatibility. If you’re shooting for powerful, but balanced undead races, both Kobold Press’ amazing darakhul and AAW Games’ dødelig do a better job at making the race as a whole not break the game – this race needs a whack with the nerfbat for undead immunities and drawbacks that matter. RAW they only have the undead fragility-thing going for them and that is the least favorite part of playing undead of pretty much every player I know.  Similarly, the reassigning of points for characters turned hollowed in play is okay…but imho still pales before the restless souls.

 

Clung tolife, the first of the alternate racial traits, eliminates the harsh death’s stigma, but replaces your immunities to bleed, disease and poison with a +2 racial bonus on saves against them. Cure seekers are not harmed by resurrecting magic and have the built-in potential to become living once more – they lose the ability to beget spawn. Death sense nets deathwatch 3/day as a SP, replacing darkvision. With humanoid racial trait, which can be selected twice, you can choose to retain some abilities from your parent-race, balancing them on a helpful case by case basis that the pdf concisely codifies. Finally, cure seekers may also choose to have positive energy affinity, but loses energy drain for the easier healing. All in all, a VAST improvement that couldn’t be bigger. I mean it. Every single aspect has been improved far beyond what I would have dared to hope for!

 

The favored class option-section has similarly been expanded and now covers all classes prior to the ACG and sports meaningful options – e.g. access to cure or inflict spells for bards. Big kudos.

 

The pdf also features 3 racial archetypes. The night strider rogue can fake being destroyed when at negative hit points, replacing trapfinding. 2nd level replaces evasion with the equivalent for Fort-saves. This can be upgraded to an improved evasion equivalent with an advanced talent. The debilitating strike rogue talent can cause sneak attacked humanoids to temporarily become sickened. An advanced talent can upgrade that to cause negative levels. Trap sense is replaced with scaling save-bonuses versus effects that traditionally affect undead. HUGE improvement.

 

Now, the pale rider cavalier gains an undead mount at 1st level (losing several of the mount’s potent trick to make up for its undead defenses) Instead of the tactician ability tree, the pale rider gets to choose from hollow boons – basically a talent engine in small, the first of which is gained at 1st level, with 9th and 17th level providing additional choices. These include gaining a burning mount (must be 9th level for that one), cold immunity, channel resistance, being diseased, skeletal mounts air walk options (locked behind minimum 9th level), stench, and much more – these are very strong, but are balanced by a hollow flaw, which must be taken whenever a boon is gained: Sunlight powerlessness, fire vulnerability, recoiling from mirrors (particularly fitting when going for a vampiric mount…) – very flavorful and damn cool. Starting at 5th level, nearby living foes are penalized for the mere presence of the undead mount and 14th level upgrades that to potentially causing the shaken condition – which may then be exploited by a display of standard rearing, potentially causing worse conditions. This re-design represents an upgrade from lame and useless to evocative and pure amazing. Two big thumbs up!

 

The final archetype would be the void singer bards, who replace inspire courage with a demoralizing dirge and they may instill a pale reflection of the urge, replacing suggestion. Instead of versatile performance, they gain the dirge bard’s secrets of the grave. Solid engine-tweak.

 

The True Wight racial paragon class gets 3/4 BAB-progression, good Will-saves, d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple weapons and light armor. At 1st level, they gain the ability to create spawn and add +1/2 class level to Stealth checks – at 10th level, spawn within 30 ft. also use their master’s result. The racial paragon class nets the Slam feat at 1st level (the feat nets you the slam attack, even when not under the effects of the urge) and it is treated as both manufactured weapon and natural weapon for the purpose of spells and effects that enhance it. The slam attack of the racial paragon scales over the levels, with the table noting Small, Medium and Large damage progressions. Why Large? Well, there is a chance that your Gm lets your Large PC race turn wight one day – while RAW not supported by the race, I really appreciate this inclusiveness.

 

2nd level yields a +1 bonus to Will-saves to resist the urge that increases by a further +1 every 4 levels thereafter.5th level yields telepathic communication with nearby spawns and 7th level yields DR 1/- that improves at 10th level and every 3 levels thereafter. This level also yields Multiattack when using weapons and slam attacks in conjunction. 11th level allows the true wight to enslave mindless undead within 30 ft. (with concisely defined limits). 17th level lets the true wight always add his full Strength modifier to slam attacks, double Strength modifier when just using the slam. The capstone lets the true wight potentially enslave intelligent undead. 2nd level provides a death mastery, the talents of the class: More than 2 full pages of talents are provided and an additional talent is gained every 2 levels thereafter. These include a variety of demoralization effects that enhance these with a variety of tougher negative conditions. Better controlled surrendering to the urge, at-will detect undead, worsening fear-conditions via subsequent demoralize effects, quicker movement or even swim speed, granting nearby spawns draining, energy drain slams (as a full-round action) while not under the urge…pretty cool. Supplying temporary hit points a limited number of times per day, fast healing with a daily cap and the option to grant it to other undead, free-willed spawn, Leadership-style, talking to the dead, possessing spawn (AMAZING), a rage-based ability tree…all in all a cool, visceral array of talents.

 

The pdf also sports 12 feats: Beyond the aforementioned Slam, we have Undying, which lets you remain active when not reduced below 0 hp. Strong Spirit nets you +2 to saves versus death effects and versus abilities and effects that cause mental ability score damage/drain – also, while under the urge, you gain immunity to these! Ritual Spawn lets you create spawn sans succumbing to the urge via ritual murder (not useful in combat, but amazing storytelling tool). Recovery nets you a sort of natural healing and lets you and your spawn benefit from long-term care. Pass for Living helps you, bingo, pass for living. Consume Life provides temporary hit points when causing negative levels. Control lets you roll twice to avoid succumbing to the urge or when trying to recover from it. Dead Mind (minor typo: Prerequisite: hollowed) should capitalize the “´H”) nets you +2 to saves versus mind-affecting effects, upgrading to immunity while under the urge. Extra Mastery nets you a death mastery. Greater Spawn improves the spawn (surprise!) and Pack Hunter nets you lifesense 30 ft. while within 30 ft. of a spawn or hollowed with this feat.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting of the revised version are very good, I noticed no serious issues in either formal or rules-language levels. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with excellent, new pieces of full-color artwork. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Aaron Phelps’ original version of this file took a severe beating from me. Deservedly so.

Instead of shrugging and moving on, Rite Publishing’s Miranda Russell did the rite thing: She hired none other than Stephen Rowe of the four horsemen to fix the file.

 

If you’ve been following my reviews, you’ll note that Stephen’s name on ANYTHING is pretty much as close to a guarantee that it’ll be amazing as you get. Well, he did not simply fix the copious errors in the file. He basically rewrote the whole damn file from the ground up: Previously lame or broken options suddenly not only cover MUCH more ground, they have been turned into versatile, amazing options. A race that struggled with horrid mechanics, balance-issues and a lack of a unique identity was transformed in a zero-to-hero success-story of design into one of the best takes on undead PC-races I have ever seen.

 

Let that sink in. The hollowed,a s depicted herein, are decidedly undead – they feel and play like undead. But at the same time, you retain control at all costs: Want to play the reviled outcast? Possible. Want a lower impact of your undead nature? Possible. Want an undead sans the fragility? Possible. Positive energy? Possible. Do you want a stint of undead existence for your PC, perhaps spanning a few levels, with the goal of returning to life? Possible. Want to become the dread leader of an undead pack? The pdf obliges. More than all of that, I adore how the undead traits have been balanced here – as written, the wights herein provide meaningful benefits and immunities that set them apart, but not to the extent of flat-out immunities left and right  -and the engine Stephen created allows you to customize precisely how your wight behaves. Are you playing in a pandemic campaign, where immunity to disease would trivialize the threat posed, making your GM concerned? You can get rid of that immunity if you want – or you could embrace it, but all decisions have consequences, all options are carefully structured to emphasize player agenda sans tipping the scales of balance.

 

In short, Stephen Rowe has rumpelstilskin’d this pdf thoroughly – he has spun gold not from wheat, but from chaff. His improvements not only pertain to mechanics, but also flavor, conjuring ex nihilo a compelling and amazing take on the undead rider trope that ranks as one of my favorites in this category. The expanded page-count is amazing. Heck, if you ever wanted a perfect example of what difference a great developer can make in a pdf, look at this and the horrible original back to back.

 

If you’ve been on the fence for this file, rest assured that this now represents a reference work par excellence regarding undead PCs – this is inspired in all the rite (haha!) ways. It also shows that Rite Publishing really cares about feedback and seeks to provide not something that’s just good or okay- the goal is excellence. A lofty level that this pdf undoubtedly has reached. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation.

 

You can get this vastly improved and now rather awesome pdf here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

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Reviewer without a cause