The second of Everyman Gaming’s massive racial supplements clock in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 28 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, after Alxander Augunas’ passion project, the Kitsune Compendium, the second installment of what I’d call the Everyman Compendium-series depicts the Samsaran. Where kitsune had a problematic standing as per the default rules-coverage of Pathfinder, the issue is much further exacerbated for the poor Samsarans, whose rendition is not only less present in our mass culture due to less representations in media like anime, I couldn’t, for the life of me, mention a single RPG-supplement covering the race or its concepts. Now personally, I am not a fan of the base race as specified by Pathfinder’s base rules – I consider it a lopsided race with its dual boosts to mental attributes. I won’t hold that against this pdf, though.
So has Alexander Augunas made his homework regarding their mythology? To abbreviate the procedure: Yes. First of all, the basic premise of the race is expanded upon – what has so far been a mostly identity-less race that required some knowledge of mythology to properly work in game, herein receives what can be likened to a proper, distinct identity. Following the example of the previous compendium, we not only are introduced to the peculiarities of samsaran psychology and physiology, but actually receive information on those components as well as 5 little-known facts that allow for a level of detail in the depiction of the race that is extremely helpful – it is, in fact, identity-constituting. Why am I emphasizing this? Because the karmic cycle of reincarnation provides a completely new array of background-stories and yes, perspective for actual roleplaiyng. One, mind you, that in its ecology-style depth also gives sound reasons for the physical fragility of the samsaran race and their potential for uncanny valley-esque human-like shapes.
The shards of the past racial trait’s repercussions on psychology and perspective help immediately in creating a distinct identity, whereas the significant array of alternate racial traits help you customize a samsaran character in a surprising array of ways, including both Skill Focus and e.g. increased levels for the purposes of sorceror or bloodrager bloodlines. (Though the language purist in me cringed a bit at the correct, but accent-less “déjà vu”…) The genius component here would be that the shards of the past are rationalized as having a myriad of varying effects in these alternate racial traits, providing an intense plurality of options with a narrative that is founded upon the same bedrock, further enhancing a diverse, yet unified racial identity. And when the design takes decisions à la making FCOs more efficient and counting all classes as favored classes, the rules representations also lend their own uniqueness to the fray.
Speaking of which – if you considered the basic marriage of fluff and crunch to be interesting so far, you will be excited to read the respective lines on samsaran cuisine, marriage and yes, death – for after all, a changed perspective in one component of a people’s culture more often than not radiates to other components of a culture – here, Alexander Augunas weaves an actually believable, valid and coherent yarn that is adequately steeped in mythology to make me consider it not only a good read, but an excellent job. Speaking of which – no you do not need to spend hours upon hours to cobble together a creation myth – this pdf does provide that for you as well, alongside a pretty interesting further legend that ties the race to the rakshasa for a further link with an established creature in the dynamics of the game world. On a related note, a brief ecology on said foes of the samsarans made me really wish there were compendiums like this for monsters as well and reminisce about the days of old, when monsters actually sported a lot of background information…ahhh, good times…
3 bardic masterpieces centered on the theme of raising the dead/reincarnation (and preventing the animation as undead) can be found within this section, though the second of them does sport two instances of a missed spell-italicization. The theme of reincarnation is also represented via the detailed perspective of Samsarism as a fully depicted new religion, including its own reincarnation sub-domain of the repose domain.
Now where this pdf starts, appropriately, transcending its limitations is with the genius concept of slumbering samsarans – since the concept of memory as identity and reincarnation as a lens that colors perception essentially constitutes a basic fact of life for samsaranas, it should come as no surprise, that playing an awakening samsaran is well within the possibilities of the framework provided herein – yes, this allows you to play a half-orc that is actually a samsaran. Or a ratfolk…or a wayang. While some of the combinations are not 100% within my pretty conservative feel-good area, the basic concept has to be applauded for what it is brilliant. The option to change your character with what amounts to pretty much a very basic and minimal tinkering midgame when introducing this book can be considered to be a stroke of genius that, for other races, wouldn’t work – here it perfectly blends the uniqueness of the race with a crunch-concept that should be called by the name it ultimately is, which would be “inspired.”
The concepts of natural and induced reincarnation thus firmly entwined with the confines of a racial identity, we receive further elaboration on the topic at hand in the guise of both neat fluff and the new reincarnation mystery – which manages a plethora of things: For one, it perfectly encapsulates what it should cover and provides glimpses of past lives and talents and thus, flexibility. More importantly, at least in my book, playtesting this one brought a further kind of enlightenment regarding its use – it is actually a mystery for an oracle that wants to heal without constantly being outclassed by the cleric: While it does not manage to AoE efficiency of the cleric’s channel energy, it doe receive lay on hands, better cures and some rather solid buffs, rendering its distinct in mechanical identity from the cleric – it plays surprisingly different and is efficient without poaching in the design-niches of similar mysteries or classes.
The focus on reincarnation as a theme does generally invoke a sense of flexibility hat is hard to maintain in rules without breaking them: The hunter archetype reincarnated hunter (yeah, surprise, right?), while suffering from a diminished fort-save from the continuous strain of reincarnations, does replace the animal component with being able to call upon his past life’s talents – each day, the hunter chooses 2 classes from a previous life and may enter a state of emulation that can be maintained for character level minutes a day, to be spent in one-minute increments. These emulations include minor barbarian Str-bonuses, beast shapes or proper unarmed damage and yes, they do scale with the levels. Have I btw. mentioned that ability that reincarnates you and gives you a 7-day period to find your body as per locate object? I’m so going to steal this ability and make the period of grace a timer for my Demon/Dark Souls-themed, planned ultra-lethal campaign…
Monks of a Million Lives may enter a zen trance that is at once kind of akin to a barbarian’s rage and yet, rather different – beyond getting stacking interaction right, its wis-based focus and non-attribute-based bonuses render the general feeling of this archetype rather unique, with flurry of blows being replaced and instead ki pool expenditure acting as a means of adding a non-penalized additional attack to an attack – note the absence of the “full” here – as written, you can craft a nasty combo here…if you can’t figure it out, drop me a line. And no, in the case of the monk, I’m not going to complain about this. As a nitpick, I do think that once again reinforcing that expenditure of a ki point constitutes a swift action would have helped the ability especially with novice players, but that is ultimately me running low on valid nitpick material and exhibiting signs of complain-withdrawal. The ki-powered option to reincarnate, and yes, reincarnate even as young creatures (and thus, ready to enter the fray) add just another uncommon narrative dimension to an already cool archetype.
Seinaru paladins essentially replace auras with banners – solid, but falling behind the previous archetypes. Both rogues and ninjas can benefit from several new tricks – where ninjas may steal souls and borrow feats from previous lives, rogues get a smattering of talents that, among other things, provide a tighter synergy with the CG and allow you to wilder in the investigator class’s talents, should you be so inclined. (Sorry for the barb – chalk my little hit in the ACG’s direction up to a lack of proper material to complain about in this book…)
Among the casting classes, the guru would constitute a cleric with diminished spellcasting and access to an investigator’s inspirations, whereas the shapeshifter hunter hits a pet-peeve of mine with detect shapeshifters – while nothing is mechanically wrong here, I HATE the spell (the one included herein being the oomphteenth iteration of it I have seen – and while it’s one of the better ones, I still LOATHE it) and the general notion with a fiery passion unless it is combined with a proper means of countering it – less a statement about the archetype than the spell, if you will. At least the annoying lock-into-trueform-strike, obligatory for archetypes with this theme, is relegated to a level where I don’t start cringing like crazy. Spirit Seer shamans receive a spell-list to add to theirs while close to their animal and are locked into one revelation instead of a hex at 2nd level. Reincarnated sorcerors become interesting once more, replacing their bloodline with a mystery (and gaining an oracle’s curse), while new hexes and a reincarnation patron should provide a welcome option to witches fed up with the dark and sinister touch of many of the base class’s patrons, with possession and shape control/shifting of a less sinister bent being a focus here.
Apart from aforementioned spell, which I loathe with a fiery passion on a personal level, the magic chapter does provide a nice new spell with rebirth alongside a selection of intriguing takes on the race’s relation with magic schools. The new feats herein build upon the fluidity of racial and class identity generated within these pages, allowing for the poaching of spells from spell-lists of the same magic type via a feat, enhancing the shards of the past racial trait (after all, there should be a rewarding option for keeping it in the face of the new options herein…) or the Expanded Arcana-feat. People enjoying the concept of qinggong monks in particular will enjoy the two feats that allow you to essentially become the light version of these guys, no longer requiring full devotion to an archetype to pull off that one signature trick you wanted to be able to do. Finally, a 3-piece feat chain is pretty cool, getting even counterstrikes right sans sucking – but requires the use of called shots, so its general utility is somewhat limited.
The samsarans also receive and inclusive, massive array of FCOs (including ACG-classes), while the final page not only provides a thematically-fitting array of traits, but also one nice drawback.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed almost no formal glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience as well as with several pieces of beautiful full-color artwork by Jacob Blackmon.
Alexander Augunas is not in a position to be envied – at this point, I am expecting nothing short of excellence from him. This book was not one where he had an easy task ahead. I am of the firm conviction that races ought to be more than the sum of some generalist accumulation of traits and ultimately, a good race needs to make sense in components that range from culture to crunch. The samsarans, to me, were pretty much a prime example of “boring” – until I read this book. Weaving a tapestry both compelling and believable, this massive compendium took a race I didn’t like in both theme and crunch-chassis and turned it into what amounts to a required addition to my own home-game. While I will modify the base race traits to be less mentally-lopsided, that is not the fault of this book. Indeed, any book that captures my interest and manages to evoke a sense of creditable wonder should be lauded indeed.
More so when, in spite of some pet-peeves of mine being present within these pages, I cannot help but gush on about the sheer level of loving detail provided herein – while my knee-jerk reaction to some of these bits and pieces was one of disdain, this all ultimately pales before the amount of exceedingly awesome pieces of content within these pages. I cannot properly fathom the impact this has to have on someone who is sold on the notion of samsarans from the get-go. Alexander Augunas once jokingly has remarked that he had a talent to make me like things I loathed before. While this, obviously, does not extend to every piece of content, I can definitely attest that this supplement is one superb racial supplement and one, that ultimately can only receive a final verdict of 5 stars +seal of approval. Well-written, concise and inciting the imagination, this is indeed one top-notch offering, so if you’re like me and were never sold on the race – give this a shot. I am pretty sure you will not regret this and end up wanting to integrate them into your campaign!