Urizen, the Bleak Lord and the Genius Guide to the Death Knight

Today I’m taking a look at TPK Games‘ latest offering in their Infamous Adversary-line, Urizen the Bleak Lord. However, since the character is based of the Death Knight-class by Super Genius Games, I’ll first take a look at the

 

 Genius Guide to the Death Knight

 

This pdf is 17 pages long, 2/3 of a page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving 15 1/3 pages of content, so what exactly do we get?

Basically, the Death Knight is a new 20-level variant alternate base-class of the Antipaladin. To be more precise, it’s a rather major overhaul and thus feels rather distinct, but let me start with the basics: Death Knights get d10, 2+ Int skills per level, good BAB, good fort and will-saves and access to limited spells of up to 4th level.

Death Knights come essentially in two flavors: Adherents of Undeath, destruction and foes of life make for the classic, evil death knight. Somber protectors of the dead and their resting places and devoted foes of undead are the other group. While the latter can be neutral, no good death knights exist. Each type of death knight gets its own spelled-out, precise codex, which is nice and something missing from most knight-style-classes.

The class, as can be expected from SGG, comes with several interesting signature abilities: For example, the ability to attack with gravestrikes, which work against living and undead targets. these strikes provide additional damage. Another source of damage he has is the touch of corruption, which enables him to heal undead and cause wounds with his touch attacks. Over the course of a death knight’s career, they gain several immunities. In fact, they can select from a total of 15 immunities, which all hearken to what one would expect from the dead – a growing resiliency against cold damage, immunities to negative conditions etc. Since one can choose which immunities to gain, this makes for the imho best “gradual-transformation-to-undeath”-take I’ve seen in a class. Being a variation of the paladin, the death knight also gets auras, all of which are rather neat. At 5th level, they can choose from two bonds: The first one lets the Death Knight enhance his weapon via the spirits of the dead, while the second grants the death knight an undead servitor from the Low Road.

The Low Road? Yeah, but more on that later. The Death Knight gets 3 new feats, one of which is practically obligatory in my opinion: Deadly steed grants you a rather cool mount as a cohort. We also get a feat for extra immunities and one that grants the death knight a dazzling gaze attack.The pdf also contains 17 new spells, 9 of which are the new Grave Summoning-spells, which can call undead from the pale road to serve you. Since the concept of the pale road is so entwined (purely via fluff) with these spells, I’ll get to it here: The final (and best) section of this pdf introduces the Low Road.

Ever thought about why the ethereal and astral plane aren’t cluttered with the spirits of the recently departed? Why a plane shift can’t simply bring back dead comrades? Well, it’s because they go to a demi-plane bordering on the astral and shadow planes, where they find their way to their afterlives in the outer planes. This concept, while rather simple, enables the neutral death knights to have undead servitors without upsetting the natural order: Their undead are souls lost on the way to the afterlife and, once their summoning ends, they get another chance to find their final resting place. Nice concept that fills a hole in the cosmology! Even better, we get advice on adding new undead to the roster of summonable creatures. The other spells enable you to emit mists that impede vision if you want them to, masquerade as one of the living and one that lets you teleport between corpses/resting places via the pale road. This last spell, while immensely cool, also has a downside – it lets you enter the pale road (which is supposed to be utterly off-limits for just about everyone and everything). You also become aware of ALL tombs/resting places of the kind you entered and may only exit via one of them, which e.g. means that if you entered via a dwarven tomb, you may only exit via one. While the awareness of ALL resting places in range is something potentially problematic for DMs, I think the limits imposed on the spell make it a manageable task.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, though I did miss one rather major component: The death knight spell-list is absent from this pdf. While I assume the antipaladin- list as the default, not having the information in this pdf is somewhat of a bummer. Layout adheres to a 3-column full-color standard and the cover artwork, as with all recent SGG-books, is AWESOME. And with all recent SGG-books, I’d love to see a version of the artwork without the title etc. to show to my players. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a minor bummer.

This is a hard pdf to rate. On the one hand, I LOVE the way in which the class handles a (partial) undead-transformation and utilizes the immunities. I also am enamored with the concept of the Low Road. On the other hand, though, I feel that the class is less than it easily could have been: Why is e.g. the steed a feat and not a 3rd possible death bond option? Why are there so few death bond options? And while the immunities are a neat way to customize the class, it feels more linear than similar SGG-classes. What I also doesn’t get is why there is not more synergy with SGG’s Death Mage – while thankfully the spells also feature e.g. their respective levels for the Death Mage, that’s all. All in all, the Death Knight, while not a bad class, feels not too exciting, which is rather strange considering the awesome concept. In fact, while the fluff is utterly awesome, when compared to other SGG-classes, the central class-mechanics feels somewhat uninspired. Don’t get me wrong, but in the end e.g. the armiger makes mechanically for the more enticing tank-class – at least for me and for now. If SGG ever releases a pdf for the Death Knight/Mage with feats, archetypes etc., similar to their stellar “Hellfire Magic”, perhaps, this class could easily be expanded to become awesome. As written, the relative linearity of the class in combination with the lack of bookmarks and spell-list drags down the otherwise stellar supplemental content. Try as I might, I can’t bring myself to rating this a full 4 stars and thus will settle for a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3.

That out of the way, let’s take a look at

 

Urizen, the Bleak Lord

 

TPK Games are back with their latest installment of the Infamous Adversary-line, this time featuring a cool collaboration with fellow 3pp Super Genius Games. The pdf is a whopping 36 pages long,  1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 4 pages of advertisement and 1 page SRD, leaving us with 29 pages of content -still quite a bunch for a pdf centered on one particular villain.

 

From rather humble beginnings, the Infamous Adversary-line has improved so far to include some of the most iconic villains sold in PFRPG and this time, they take SGG’s antipaladin variant class Death knight to infuse unlife into it. As with all recent Infamous Adversary-pdfs, we get an extensive and expertly-written short fiction that draws the reader into the narrative, information on the villain’s allies, resources, tactics, lair, quotes and motivations. After an introduction by Super Genius Games’ Owen K.C. Stephens, we thus delve into the background of Urizen.

And it is here that I pronounce the inevitable SPOILER WARNING. I’m going into details that will spoil your experience with Urizen, so potential players: Please skip to the conclusion!

 

Still here? All right! Once, Urizen was a mortal barbarian living in the frozen wastes under the reign of cruel Utgaroth, god of the frozen north winds. Then, he was not only mortal, but also known by a different name, that of Graldis the Cold. Obsessed with the cold and seeing his brethren as weak for requiring the warmth of the fire to stay alive, he took his magical bone beads and was banished to the cold. Just before succumbing to the dread terrain, he found a suit of demonic armor that whispered to him fell promises of power and sure enough, he donned it. When the half-giant exilant winter witch Valkiri found him, she realized that this man would become the fabled dark messiah she had hoped for – guiding him towards the frost giants, Graldis managed to gain dominance over them – at the price of his death and, subsequently as per his pact, his immortal soul: Graldis rose again from the pyre, reborn in cold undeath as the Graveknight Urizen the Bleak Lord, the fragments of his erstwhile humanity being slowly shed like frostbitten toes and fingers.

 

The ensuing subjugation of tribes and giants now see Urizen on the brink of being able to wage a war from the north to extinguish the fire of the living, not unlike the threat of the Walkers behind the Wall in “A Song of Fire and Ice”.  Apart from his stats when he still was mortal (CR 6 armored hulk barbarian), we also get a CR 14-version with 8 Death Knight levels and the fearsome CR 19-incarnation of the true master of the north, sporting 13 death knight levels in addition to his armored hulk powers. Beyond that, we also get two possible mounts fully statted with an ancient skeletal wyvern and a skeletal mammoth that should serve as appropriate steeds for the Death Knight. Finally Valkiri also gets two incarnations, one at CR 10 and one at CR 15.

 

Conclusion:

 

Editing and formatting, unfortunately, as much as I’m loathe to say it, can only be considered sloppy. Double blank spaces? Check. Inconsistency in names (Valkiri/Valkari  as an example)? Check. “Nearby” in Arcane Familiar Nearby not bold? Check. Then we have punctuation errors, etc. making me REALLY wish this had gotten another pass at editing  – it needs one,a s the glitches detracted ratehr heavily from my immersion in what otherwise would be a compelling background story. The artwork of Urizen is top-notch indeed and beyond reproach. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks and an additional, printer-friendly version sans artworks. As with all releases by TPK Games, much of the pdf is hyperlinked to d20pfsrd if you’re using the pdf on your tablet/PC. Layout adheres to TPK Games‘ 2-column standard as well as a sufficiently frost-bitten looking font for the headers. The character comes with full herolab files.

 

This is one of the pdf that make me be annoyed at being a reviewer – there’s a lot to be enjoyed in the pages here and Urizen is indeed a cool (pardon the pun) villain that will lead to memorable showdowns, cool encounters etc. While personally, I prefer Ischadra and Raxath’Viz, he is still on par with the line’s high standard.  Getting 3 different statblocks is also nice and ensures continued usability of the adversary. What is less awesome, though, is the rather unpleasant amount of editing glitches that has crept into these pages. I try not to be too anal-retentive when it comes to them, but this pdf is beyond what I’d consider neglectable, especially since they detract from the appeal of the otherwise great fluff and also found their way into the statblocks, which is a big no-go. As an additional gripe, I have to mention that the witch-consort featured herein lacks stats for her familiar – though these critters are rather crucial for witches. The rules of the Death Knight have been implemented well and the characters, fluff etc. are also executed rather nicely. But the glitches, combined with the lack of a familiar unfortunately make it impossible for me to rate this higher than 3 stars. If you don’t care about them, go ahead, check it out. If you’re really stingy about this kind of stuff, wait for the (hopefully upcoming) revision this pdf deserves.

 

As always, thanks for reading my ramblings!

Endzeitgeist out.

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Reviewer without a cause