This massive sourcebook clocks in at 86 pages, 1 page of front cover, 1 page of editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page of advertisement, leaving us with…yes. 82 pages of content. That’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s take a look!
This book, just fyi, is not a collection of classes in the traditional sense – instead, the goal of this book is to provide a unified set of traditions to codify martial arts in Pathfinder. The pdf does this by introducing martial “ways” – like the Way of the Void, which adds Wisdom-modifier to AC and CMD, even when flat-footed and to touch AC. The Way of Life does the same for Charisma, but loses the bonuses when becoming flat-footed. Both work only when unarmored and unencumbered.
The Way of the Mind adds 1 point of Int-mod per class level as a dodge bonus to AC and CMD, but only while armed with a melee weapon and not denied Dex-mod and the martial arts style works with regular (non-large) shields and when wearing light armor. Way of the Body get their Constitution modifier as a circumstance bonus to AC and may stack their bonus with natural armor and enhancements thereof as well as with shields, but the AC does not enhance for CMD or touch AC. Way of Force assumes that the character has some means of erecting force armor. Finally, Way of Armor is considered to be the armor-wearing option for the characters. So that would be the classification of (already existing!) defense options that can be gained via classes, archetypes et al.
Next would be martial strikes, with a handy table that breaks down base damage for Small, Medium and Large sizes by BAB (and includes non-martial artists) – martial artists using an unarmed strike get Improved Unarmed Strike and thus, the monk-y damage types are covered here. After a brief discussion of weapon groups, we dive into archetypes for the respective classes that allow you to basically add martial arts to existing classes, grouped for your convenience by the Way the archetypes adhere to – and yes, this is the reason why I bothered to explain the respective way-classifications in detail. They are useful to bear in mind for designers, sure – but beyond that, understanding them once allows you to basically create your own archetypes pretty easily.
Now, as for the Way of the Void, we have 3 archetypes – the Iron Inquisitor, the Path of Spirit Cleric and the Void Fighter. All of these have in common that they gain not only the Wis-modifier to AC, they also gain scaling further bonuses to AC at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter, following the guidelines as presented above in the brief discussion on the way of the void. The respective archetypes also feature a proper unarmed fighting damage progression, that increases the damage-die size at BAB +4, +8 and +12, respectively. While this is a minor deviation from usual rules-language, which tends to codify the like in levels instead, it is a functionally sound one. Obviously, the exchanged abilities differ from class to class, with the loss of proficiencies in the armor department being a unifying theme. The inquisitor also loses track and domain, the cleric domain powers, spells and spell-slots, though the cleric does get a modified skill-list including Acrobatics etc. to make up for this. The fighter, finally, would be the most complex of the modifications, gaining a modified skill-list (but, alas, no upgrade to skills per level – poor sap is still stuck with 2 + Int mod…) as well as a +1 bonus to Reflex saves that increases by +1 every four levels beyond second, replacing thus bravery. Armor training is lost in favor of 3rd level evasion and 19th level nets DR 5/- instead of armor mastery, with the capstone replacing weapon mastery with gaining an auto-confirm for one type of weapon (and a multiplier increased by 1); if unarmed strikes are chosen, the character gains 18-20/x3. Additionally, the character can no longer be disarmed when wielding this weapon. Nice one! This would be as good a place as any to note that each archetype presented herein comes with a sample character, drawing upon the rich variety of races available in the Porphyra-setting.
The Way of Life, the Charisma-governed array of archetypes, provides a total of 4 such archetypes, though their balancing is a tad bit more complex, with none of them providing a straight and narrow concept applied. The Child of Wild Ranger, for example, does receive his bonus to touch attacks in a conscious deviation from the established base-line and gains uncanny dodge at 2nmd level instead of the combat style feat. (It should be noted that, as far as I read this, the choice for combat styles still must be made here, to ensure the integrity of follow-up abilities in the class progression – only the feat is lost, not combat style per se as a class feature. This is something to bear in mind and may be an oversight or not – I assume competence here due to the rather deliberate wording, but still felt that prospective readers might want to be aware of this peculiarity.
The Noble Savage Barbarian (EZG flashes back to “Introduction to Cultural Studies” and the tropes of the noble savage…) may enter a disciplined rage – basically, the archetype can burn 2 rounds of rage per round instead of one, allowing the character to utilize rage powers, but not benefit from other benefits of rage. The character can freely switch between regular and disciplined rage and duration stacks with regular rage benefits for fatigue cool-down, unless it is the only rage employed, where the character no longer takes the fatigued condition. Starting at 5th level, 1 minute of disciplined rage translates to 1 round of rage burned, with 9th and 13th level increasing the ratio to 10 minutes and an hour, respectively and 19th level unlocking the option to always use rage powers…which is *very* strong. Uncanny dodge is gained at 3rd level and its improved brethren at 7th and indomitable will being unlocked at 15th.
The archetype pay for these powers with trap sense as well as DR and also gets an expanded skill-list. Overall, I may be weary of powerful barbarian archetypes – the general notion that barbarians rank among the most powerful melee classes is something I’d immediately sign, having experienced the brutal annihilation that 3 power-gamer barbarians with vastly diverging builds have brought upon foes at my table. This archetype, as a whole, does not lose any crucial features and takes a limited resource, namely rage powers, balanced by their limited availability, and amplifies their availability by factor 10, then factor 10 again and then factor 60. Do the math. The system of the class is not made for this and it simply begs to be abused to all hell. Another issue would pertain rage-cycling tricks – if e.g. 10 minutes of disciplined rage count as 1 round of rage and the barbarian ends it after 2 minutes, does that allow for yet another use upon restarting the disciplined rage? If so, does it resume at the 2 minute mark? I assume no, but I am not sure, since the archetype does manage to cover interaction between rage and disciplined rage, but not within it.
The Oracle of the Way goes a different route, beginning play with Improved Unarmed Strike and, when unarmored and unencumbered, adds Cha-mod to her dodge bonus to AC and CMD, applying it against touch attacks as well and losing them when encumbered or deprived of Dexterity mod to AC, replacing armor proficiencies and the oracle’s curse. The martial strikes damage-die progression can be gained via the selection of one of the archetype-exclusive revelations, which also includes significant bonuses to Acrobatics, Evasion, Fast Movement, Stunning Fist and Uncanny Dodge – the basics of martial arts. However, the oracle may never select a revelation that grants an armor bonus.
Finally, the uncanny monk gets uncanny dodge at 3rd level, its improved brother at 7thand pays for that with Still Mind, otherwise being a pretty straight conversion of the monk to the Cha-based way of martial arts.
Next up would be the archetypes for the Way of the Mind, with the Magus getting two of them, the Canny Magus and the Magus of the Mind. The canny magus replaces medium and heavy armor proficiency with canny defense and moves improved spell recall to 13th level. Straight and simple. The Magus of the Mind has no armor proficiency and proficiencies with monk/oriental weapons and also gets canny defense, replacing the armor proficiencies, but also gets the martial strike damage die scaling and moves Improved Spell Recall down to 10th level – this would be the more monk-y variant, basically. Canny Rangers are proficient with light armors and shields only, get a modified skill list, fast movement at 4th level, uncanny dodge at 7th and improved uncanny dodge at 13th. 10th level makes all jumps long and provides full speed while balancing/climbing. All in all, a solid take on the concept. The Canny Rogue is basic, replacing trapfinding with canny defense. The Canny Summoner loses armor and shield proficiency in favor of Canny Defense. Quicksilver Alchemists, finally, get a modified proficiency list, canny defense replacing swift and instant alchemy and the option to generate quicksilver oils, which modify the extracts-list. This modification, though, also means that the alchemist loses basically the own-body-transformation extracts.
The Way of the Body provides 5 archetypes, the first of which would be the Animal Adoptee, who gets a modified skill-list as well as an extension of prohibited armors, but also the Constitution-based Way of the Body – and no, it does not stack with wild shape’s natural armor bonuses. The Brave Barbarian exchanges armor proficiencies with Way of the Body, noting that rage does not increase the AC gained thus. The Grizzled Ranger adds Acrobatics to his list of class skills and exchanges armor proficiency with Way of the Body. The Iron Man Fighter does not gain a suit – quite the contrary; he gets a modified skill-list as well as Way of the Body, but pay for that with armor training. Armor mastery is instead applied to being unarmored. The Scarred Alchemist similarly exchanges his armor and shield proficiencies with Way of the Body. All in all, more linear, basic archetypes here, maintaining thus more multi-archetype potential.
The final way, the Way of the Force, covers 10 archetypes: The Dandy Bard gets a modified proficiency list, losing out on, among other things, armor, but gains mage armor at 4th level as a 1st level bard spell and may stack its bonus with bracers. The Force Knight cavalier loses all armor and shield proficiencies, but starts play with the option to generate a +7 armor of force that can be enhanced with spells etc.; but such enhancements do not stack with 4th level’s ability to stack bracers of armor on it. The bonus granted by this armor is +7, which is pretty hardcore at 1st level, particularly since the armor comes with a matching shield of force. 4th level unlocks 1/day mage armor that can only affect the mount and 6th level allows for the creation of force weapons that get the ghost touch property…and may be enchanted. Question, though: They are generally not considered magical as in getting +1 bonus, only for affecting creatures, so how do you calculate further enhancing force weapons? Alas, no idea. I’m generally weary of this archetype – with an indestructible armor at 1st level, the archetype is too dip-prone for my tastes, with only expert trainer and the 6th level feat-gain paying for these powerful tools.
The Ghost Hunter Rogue gets the mage armor/bracers-combo, with the SP for mage armor starting off at 2/day, +1 at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. At 3rd level, the rogue gains at-will disrupt undead, which can be used in conjunction with full attacks and sneak attacks. Additionally, he inflicts full damage versus incorporeal foes and may inflict sneak attack damage on them. Additionally, the SP may be used in melee and increases in potency and range, with high levels allowing for other creature types to be affected. This does replace trapfinding and trap sense, though, requiring the expenditure of a rogue talent to be able to disarm magical traps. Ghost Knight cavaliers get s a modified proficiency list and begin play with a destiny that powers the SPs and SUs of the knight as a narrative device. These knights get the ghostly armors and shields of the force knight, with the same trepidations applying, but this one also helping with Disguise-checks…+10. OUCH. 2nd level replaces the order ability with perma ghost touch on weapons wielded as well as SP mage armor for the mount. The mount is replaced with the third level ability to gain a phantom steed (1/day; at-will at 6th level; 9th level: As a swift action; 12th level: As an immediate action; 15th level: Steed becomes incorporeal), basically eliminating the need for mount-y cool-downs after it perishes. 4th level replaces expert trainer with an extra-dimensional weapons cache (!!) and 8th level replaces the order ability gained there with 1/day ethereal jaunt. The final order ability at 15th level is replaced with an extension of ghost touch to all allies within 60 ft. I like this one’s fluff, though I consider it slightly too powerful for what it takes – see above for the dip-issue and adding the steed and cache…makes for a cool archetype, yes…but also one that is imho a tad bit too good.
The Guard Maid Paladin gets the force aura/bracer combo as well as the force shield, but pays for it with armor and shield proficiency. The archetype also receives the Body-guard-Ward theme, replacing aura of good and may smite threats to the target, greatly enhancing smite’s versatility. Lay on hands may only be used on herself and her ward and instead of detect evil, scaling bonuses to Profession 8servant), which may be used as a replacement for Perception, are gained at 2nd level. 4th level nets the extra-dimensional weapon cache and spells that usually affect only evil creatures apply their benefits versus threats to her ward – OUCH! Divine bond must be a weapon. 14th level makes all attacks within 10 feet count as lawful and 17th level provides DR 5/- and immunity to compulsion spells and SPs, with allies gaining a save-boost instead. As a capstone, the archetype increases DR and adds banishment to smite. I like the theme of this archetype, though the force-trickery PLUS the significantly improves smite and spells render this one too strong in my book -at least while the smite lasts. Once the daily array is done, the archetype loses quite a bit of power, making the playing experience a bit swingy.
The Protégé Bard gains a familiar at first level and the usual mage armor/bracers-synergy of the Way of Force, including loss of armor proficiencies. At 1st level, the protégé gains a patron audience – a powerful entity that may gate in the bard, thus allowing for a great rationale for absentee players to vanish. Furthermore, high levels provide more interaction options here and limited control for the bard – a VERY cool ability that is basically narrative gold if handled correctly. Just FYI, it replaces deadly performance and the familiar kills off countersong and distraction. Instead of bardic knowledge and jack of all trades, these bards also add patron spells to their bard spells known and 10th level nets commune at-will. Easily one of my favorite archetypes herein.
The Robe Magus is once again a simple one – replace the medium and heavy armor proficiencies with the mage armor-trick, but also add scaling bonuses at higher levels to retain its viability. The Robed Summoner similarly loses the armor and shield proficiencies, but may stack mage armor and bracers and also gets 6 force-themed spells. The Shield Maiden Paladin would be the light-version archetype herein, with modified skill lists, no armor proficiency and a force armor akin to that of the ghost knight, including the Disguise bonus. Her shields are ghost touch and her divine bond is modified to apply to her shield instead. 8th level nets SP fly on herself (and mount) +1/day at 8th level and every 2 levels thereafter, with 11th level granting overland flight as an alternative and 17th level making the ability at will, replacing aura of righteousness thus. No complaints about this one. The Shining Cleric get the force armor (only at +5 AC, though) and replace channel energy with basically the sacerdote’s untyped ray (see my review of Legendary Classes: Sacerdote for this one) and the shield as well. Shining inquisitors lose proficiency with shields and armor and gain the same sacred aura as their cleric brothers as also gets the force shield.
All right, the pdf has even more to offer, though; it also features a total of 5 new base classes, with each exemplifying one of the martial arts codified herein. The first of these would be the Boxer, who gains full BAB-progression, d12 HD, 2 +Int skills per level , proficiency with simple and close weapon group weapons as well as with shields. Boxers may not wear armor or use shields or carry something in two hands and gain, obviously, Improved Unarmed Strike. Boxers add class level to damage, +1/2 class level with two weapons or shields. He gets the canny Int per level to AC and CMD and adds Con-mod as natural AC. At 2nd level, the boxer gets the Block class feature, which lets him perform a competing attack roll against an incoming attack – on a success, he blocks it, with every 5 levels thereafter allowing for +1 block per round. After such a block, however, the boxer is staggered for 1 round, which cannot be mitigated. I assume this to also offset immunity to being staggered and it’s the reason why I’m not rattling off my usual disdain-for-swingyness of competing rolls rant right now. Higher levels provide more bonuses to atk and damage, resistance versus certain conditions, more AoOs and 3rd level (+ 6th, 11th, 16th and 20th) allow for the progression of the chosen boxing style, which can be likened to orders or similar linear ability-suites. 3 boxing styles are provided, with haymakers allowing for his weapons/unarmed attacks to count as two-handed, 6th level dazing blows…generally nice. At 16th level, the style lets you perform one attack as a full-round action. If you hit, it’s automatically a critical threat and damage multiplier is enhanced to x3. Ouch, particularly considering the significant damage bonuses of the class. 20th level provides crippling criticals here, with reduced speed, attribute damage, etc..
Stylists are defensive and agile, allowing them to follow up blocks with AoOs. Swarmers would be the TWF-specalists here, with high levels allowing for a 10 ft-step instead of a 5 ft-step or a 5 ft-step in difficult terrain.
The second class would be the fencer, who gains full BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-saves, d10 HD, 4+Int skills per level and proficiency with all simple and martial weapons as well as light armors and shields. They get canny defense, Weapon finesse, add fencer level to damage in melee when one-handing a weapon (+1/2 level when employing a buckler) as well as parry, riposte and the like – this is basically a twist on the duelist as a base class (with all that entails – I’ll spare you my usual rant here), though one that also features an order/bloodline-akin set of fencing schools, somewhat analogue to the boxing styles mentioned before…oh, and there are 13 of these and they modify much, much more: Agrippa, Bonetti, Capo Ferro, Carranza, Firentine, Ghisliero, Grazzi, Hard Knocks, Hayd’n, Melane, Military, Tibault and Yeoman can be selected. These schools have requirements (Agrippa can only be used with Weapon Finesse weapons and may not be sued in conjunction with off-hand weapons or shields, but off-hand ranged weapons such as throwing daggers are permitted.) and grant abilities at 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 11th, 16th and 20th level. And guess what…in spite of not being a big fan of the parry mechanic…I consider this class to be pretty much the most faithful and coolest take on the fencer; personally, I actually prefer it over the swashbuckler, since tricks like Weapon Bind and the ability array as such generally maintains the flair of the historic inspirations for the styles…this would be my default fencer class in a magic-less swashbuckling game. Granted, I’ll make the class more modular and convert swashbuckler options to more customization options to enhance player agenda…but still: Kudos!
The Lin-Kuei gets 3/4 BAB-progression, all good saves, d8 HD, 6+Int skills per level, the monk AC-bonus, fast movement, proficiency with a smattering of oriental weapons and lethal sneak attack, which increases to up to 7d6, but does not apply when flanking a foe…oh, and guess what: The class has a minimum damage-caveat to avoid shuriken-sneak attack exploits! KUDOS! And yes, via so-called secret techniques,basically the talents of the class, these guys can get lethal flanking, use shuriken to flat-foot foes, poach among ninja tricks and render targets charged flat-footed against the character. With 4th level ki pool, evasion and uncanny dodge etc. and basically a significant array of monk tricks, these guys can be pictured as a powerful (never thought I’d write that in the monk context!) hybrid of monk and ninja…and boy, me likes. While pretty potent and definitely better than rogue and monk, these guys make for pretty much a perfect class for the quick-footed martial artist and prove to be a more than cool addition to the fray! Another winner here!
The Mystic Dancer gets 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves, ingrained unarmed strike progression, d8 HD and 6+Int skills per level as well as a modified proficiency list (barring armors) and Cha-governed spontaneous spellcasting, drawn from the bard list. They may not apply Still spell to any spells, but may apply Silent Spell to them. They use Way of Life (i.e. the Charisma-based martial art) and can best be pictured as a monk/bard-hybrid. Now this is a personal preference, but I consider the full bardic spellcasting and skill upgrade a bit much here…though, admittedly, the class should probably not completely outclass the bard, since by now the class has a lot of unique material to utilize. Still, in comparison to a core-only bard, the mystic dancer will probably win…if not restricted, for the performance they use is dependent on movement, which may well be the most deceptively cool balancing mechanism in the finer details I’ve seen in quite a while. In play, this relatively simple restriction proved to be a rather intriguing tactical component…so yeah…another interesting one here and one I’d allow in my games!
The final class herein would be the Swordmage, who gets full BAB-progression, d10 HD, 2+Int skills per level, good Fort- and Will-saves and no armor proficiency. They can cast a limited array of spells (up to 4th level) from the magus spell-list and must prepare their Int-governed spells in advance. They treat all magus and sorc/wiz spells as on their list for spell-trigger purposes, with 3rd level allowing them to use sorc/wiz spells for crafting purposes. They get Scribe Scroll at 2nd level and begin play with the full +7 AC-bonus force armor and the capacity to use a force shield. At 4th level, the swordmage can cast spells with somatic components with his weapon hand and 5th level nets an arcane pool, which, among basic enchantments, allows at 9th level for the swordmage to cast spells ritualistically from the sorc/wiz spell list, provided he has the scroll – combat utility here is almost zero, mind you: Beyond a level-restriction, it also takes at least 1 minute to do so, which maintains a sense of balance here. Spellstrike is gained at 8th level and higher levels allow for the expenditure of arcane pool points to move as a swift action, Quicken magus spells and line of sight/effect-dependent short-range teleport…alas, lacking the declaration as conjuration [teleportation]-effect…but at 17th level, that’s probably not that important anymore anyways. This one is easily my least favorite of the classes introduced herein, it being basically a full BAB-twist on the magus, a kind of arcane paladin. It’s not a bad take on the concept, mind you. In fact, it’s one of the better takes on it…but it also is not too unique in how it plays, with the somatic component being probably the most defining feature of its playing style.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level – Purple Duck Games has really taken care to make sure that the formatting is precise and functional here. On a rules-language level, there are quite a few deviations here and there – most notably a lower-case attribute here, a “Constitution bonus” instead of modifier there when it should be modifier…for the most part, these do not hamper the rules themselves, but they can be a bit annoying if you’re as anal-retentive about things like this as I am. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard that still is very printer-friendly. Artwork deserves special mention here: The book has A LOT of artworks for the unique characters featured herein, with many gorgeous 1-page artworks…kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with nested bookmarks pointing to each class, archetype, way…the book is easy to navigate.
Carl Cramér, Julian Neale and August Hahn deliver in this book…something completely different than what I expected. This is not a WuXia-toolkit like Dragon Tiger Ox; neither is it Path of War or the Martial Arts Guidebook – this book, in a way, is much more down to earth and compatible with your average Pathfinder group. Why? Because it basically codifies the already existing martial defenses that stand in for armor and defines them as entities. After that, it proceeds to apply said defenses as ready toolkits to existing classes, showing you the easy modifications you need to make. Extrapolating a relative value for them and applying them further is rather easy at this point – and it may be the coolest thing about the archetype-section. I won’t lie – that section of the book did not wow me from a creativity stand-point…but it incited an understanding for the mindset behind applying the respective martial arts to base-classes…and if I’m not sorely mistaken, that’s ultimately the idea of this book.
This is further enforced by the base classes introduced here – for while not all of them did blow me away, a couple actually did…to the point where I want to use them, play them even. That’s a pretty big deal, considering the limited space allotted to them. And yes, they lack favored class options. However, while certainly not perfect, the central achievement of this book, to me, lies in its didactic component. A halfway crunch-savvy GM can take the ideas herein and run with them, making a whole array of unique martial arts-y classes that end up being more artsy (haha -sorry…will punch myself later for that) than the didactically-used archetypes herein. To me, this book teaches by showing and evaluating and it does so in a surprisingly concise manner, in spite of hiccups here and there.
How to rate this, then? Well, here, things become a bit difficult – you see, for me as a person and designer, I liked this book much more than I would have imagined…mainly because I wasn’t consciously aware, not thinking of these defenses as codified “ways”, but rather as yet another set of class abilities. This book did generate an awareness for me I value rather highly. Beyond that, the book actually sports no less than three classes I can see myself using and enjoying…in spite of all of them being relatively simple and me gravitating usually towards the complexity-monsters. So, once again, this book has some serious plusses. At the same time, I consider a couple of botches in the rules-language, rare though they are, unnecessary and some of the balance-decisions to be a bit off, particularly regarding the force armors and shields.
The fact remains, though, that this is basically the easiest-to-apply unarmored-martial-arts-y-toolkit for Pathfinder I know of; no new system to learn, no complex modifications – choose a base class or an archetype (most of which retain compatibility with as many archetypes as possible) and there you go. This book probably won’t blow you out of the water, but its achievement lies in its gentle, unobtrusive teaching, in its simple-to-add options to the game. I can’t rate this 5 stars, even though I want to…but I will rate it 4 stars. And, at least for me and from a designer/homebrewing-perspective, this very much is a superb scavenging ground that slowly but steadily grows on you and provides quite a hefty dose of food for thought and basic chassis to embellish and build upon. Hence, I will also add my seal of approval to it, with the caveat that for simple plug and play, this does somewhat lose a bit of its appeal. If you do not plan to tinker with it, consider this a 3.5 – 4 stars-file instead.
You can get this massive crunch-book here on OBS!