Arcforge: Ravages of the Qlippoth (priority review)
This Arcforge-supplement clocks in at 60 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 54 pages of content (yes, the pdf is missing its SRD), so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the behest of my supporters.
Now, before we start, it should be noted that Arcforge is a highly-permissive setting that gravitates to the upper echelon of the power-spectrum; psionics, akasha and tech in particular are firmly integrated into the setting, and it should be noted that the two core-engine books Arcforge: Technology Expanded and Arcforge: Psibertech have some issues in internal consistency regarding their balance and the power-parity between options within those very options presented. For the purpose of this review, I’m not going to rehash my complaints in those regards, and instead focus on the content presented herein.
Structurally, the book uses a somewhat weird approach: It begins with campaign information, then proceeds towards a bestiary, and finishes with class options; personally, I prefer my player-facing material at the front, GM material at the back, but that just as an aside. I’ll start off with the player-facing options, which include 7 archetypes: Apostate dreads replace Climb, Stealth and Swim with Diplomacy and Knowledge (Arcana, Planes, and Religion), and twin fear is replaced with the Spook ability (which curiously, has a double colon); the ability enforces concentration checks for enemies, and ties the extra action array of the shadow twin feature instead to failing such a check. 15th level allows for the dread of shadow twin to emit an antimagic or null psionics field when such a check is failed…and twin/dread are unaffected. This is a clever-high-level tweak. I like it. 18th level allows for the expenditure of 2 terror uses to use mage’s disjunction or unravel psionics, and for 3 uses, both can be activated at once, targeting the same area; this replaces level 18’s terror. The two terrors allow for dispel magic/psionics (upgrades later), or impose an effect that manifests their casting/Manifesting ability. I like this archetype.
The chainmaster soulknife reduces damage die size by one step, but gets the reach and trip traits for the mind blade, regardless of form, and makes the mind blade qualify as a spiked chain for feat etc. purposes. Instead of quick draw, the mind chain may manipulate things as though his chains were hands, and also nets an untyped +2 bonus to combat maneuver checks, and it adds the grapple quality. Bonus should be typed here, and there is a “APG”-superscript not properly formatted here. Instead of 8th and 16th level’s blade skills, we have damage and backlash damage increases for the vicious special property (incorrectly formatted), which makes an even more massive sudden death attack, and at 16th level, mind chains ignore DR and hardness and increase critical damage multiplier by 1 to a maximum of x6. X5 is already ridiculous, so yeah, not a fan. The archetype also gets a soul binding capstone coupled with assimilate and the option to manifest the chain sans save in a null psionics field, though it still loses its special abilities.
The depthlord oracle exchanges mystery skills for Knowledge (dungeoneering, engineering) and Use Magic Device, and mystery bonus spells are replaced at 2nd level with a psychic spell one level lower than highest oracle spell known; the spell is treated as one level higher for all purposes. Every two levels thereafter, the depthlord may choose another. The revelations include SR and PR, and transparency between magic and psionics, including an interesting caveat. Eldritch Abomination antipaladins actually get smit abomination (vs. aberrations, Great old One servants, etc.), detect psionics instead of detect good, and touch of corruption and channel negative energy are replaced with the option to impart cumulative Will save penalties with attacks, with cruelties including confusion, insanity, and mind-shattering. 4th level nets gifted blade at one level lower instead of spells, and a metamorphosis powers-based replacement for fiendish boon. Interesting one; great for the dark champion that fights horrors with horror trope.
The reshaper cryptic replaces pattern design with a warped appearance, and may forego cryptic insights in favor of 2 customization points for aberrant aegis customizations; 7th and 16th level net (greater) metamorphosis, respectively, and we have a new capstone. Rustsworn hunter slayers get proficiency with heavy armor and sniper weapons, but moves studied target to 5th level and reduces its bonus by 1. The archetype also loses armor check penalty on Stealth (incorrect formatting) instead of 6th level’s slayer talent. The talent at 12th level is replaced by class level resistance to fire, cold and acid. Steelduster rangers lose wild empathy and spellcasting in favor or a mech, and a new feat array option array for the combat style feats; hunter’s bond is modified to get a synthetic companion that may merge with the mech, and at the highest levels, the steelduster’s companion can even pilot the mech. The quarry abilities are lost, though.
The book includes 6 new feats: boon mech is a multiclass feat for mech progression; Harmonic Resilience makes your SR apply to powers, and PR to spells. Killing Madness lets you kill a creature by reducing it to 0 sanity or a mental ability score to negatives…I like the idea, but it’s not that hard to abuse. Mechanical Initiate nets a bonded mech at -4 class level. Metapsionic Ability has its verbiage in a pretty confusing mess: it’s clear that it originally was an excerpt from some other rules-component; its presentation as a feat confused me, big time. Still not 100% sure about how this was supposed to work. Soul Keeper makes creatures you kill slightly harder to return to the living, and nets you a minor bonus when you kill a critter; the bonus is conservative enough to make a kitten-exploit not feasible.
Unless I’ve miscounted, the pdf also includes 16 new powers…wait. Tactical suppression…that save-or-suck prevent creatures from using specific actions…sounds familiar. And those super-potent augmentation options…that bestow curse, just in better and much more flexible malefic metamorphosis…I *definitely* have seen that stuff before. That cool latent programming power…I know it…but…I also have those weird flashbacks to that one pdf. The Horror, the Horror! Kidding aside, the pdf reproduces a series of psionic powers first featured in the not-very-great Terrors from the ID-supplement. On the plus side, the formatting this time around is not a total trainwreck, but on the downside, a few of them could have used some gentle nerfbat-prodding. Oh, and the formatting is still littered with some legacy errors from Terrors, with power-references erroneously title-cased and the like. That being said, as a whole, the powers selected tend to rank among the best/most creative from Terrors book; if you need to make a decision, get this one right here. The cool mind-games powers are all here, formatting is better, and the power-selection is certainly something of a best of. If you need guidance on some nerfing, I’d suggest being very careful with the augmentation options provided. Eliminating them makes the power-section more suitable for lower-powered games.
Okay, that out of the way, let’s take a look at the setting section: The first 7 pages provide the basic introduction to the setting of Vandara, and if you read Spheres of Influence, for example, will be material you already know. Where the pdf diverges from previous books in the series would be with its major locations, which include the Ashfield, perfect reminder of the ruin that the qlippoth war wrought upon the lands; deadly and frozen Coeusel, where the qlippoth reign supreme and corrupt wildlife; the nuke-blasted and hobgoblin-led Dorukalad, a region that seemingly consists of trenches and bunkers, with war as the raison d’être for daemons and goblinoids alike…and there would be the Erebine, a labyrinth at the planet’s core and dumping ground for ancient war creatures and titans from the Maker’s War. We learn about the wreckage-choked Gray Ocean, where the qlippoth still retain some sort of supremacy, and the sajac fortification, fortresses on and around mountains,a re a bit like a combined super-dwarven hold and The Wall. Finally, the silicone barrier is also expanded upon. These lore-heavy write-ups are an absolute joy to read and genuinely compelling; they adhere to the “go large or go home”-style, without ever feeling rididculous. They make sense.
The majority of the book is taken up by…*dingdingding* monsters! We start off with a CR +2 template for apostle kytons, who can recite damaging prayers, cause bleeding wounds, and style-wise definitely have the whole Hellraiser-conversion angle going. Nice template, supported by a CR 12 cryptic with the template. A CR 13 shooting star firing and disease-devouring papinjuwari giant is also provided here, but it seems to have lost its flavor on the cutting-room floor. Of course, the main focus of this booklet would be the qlippoths: the book presents a psionic subtype variant, which is pretty nice, though oddly the headers for the signature abilities it nets have not been bolded properly. This is cosmetic, though. Qlippoths in Vandara have a corruption, and when they reduce Wisdom or Charisma to 0, they permanently alter the unfortunate: Elves may become drow; dragons psionic dragons; cyclops papinjuwari…you get the idea. I really like this. They also detonate. I’m fond of detonating monsters. I’m even more fond of the state of Aristeia, which means “certain doom”; essentially, it’s the super-saiyajin state for qlippoths, represent by, well a mythic template. A Cr 16/MR 6 Ylyrgoi (including a really nifty full-color artwork) illustrates that.
At CR 2 the cythnigot, at CR 3 the hydraggon, at CR 4 the thognorok, at CR 5 the deinochos, at CR 7 the shoggti, at CR 8 the utukku, at CR 10 the nyogoth, at CR 11 the gongorinan, at CR 12 the chernobue, at CR 13 the behimiron, at CR 14, we have the augnagarat, at CR 15 the wilbopik, at CR 16 the cataboligne, at CR 18 the thulgant, and at CR 20 the iathavos. Yep, that would be the whole qlippoth-cadre rebuilt as psionic qlippoths. I like this very much, as the new versions tend to be a tad bit more frightening/potent. Are the builds perfect? Not always; there’s e.g. an instance where a Psi-like ability notes a CL instead of a ML…but as a whole, this is certainly nice to have. These hiccups in refinement can also be seen with the qlippoth-corrupted creature, which has its header modification header not properly formatted; more egregious: the sample creature (Gnoph-Keh, CR 12, fyi) refers to “qlippoth-blighted” instead of “qlippoth-corrupted”; it also e.g. lacks the scent universal monster ability that it’s supposed to get from the template, among other.
But the book has one trump-card left to play. Or rather, 7.
Askyjoth. Estidoth. Kazeyoth. Liktruoth. Nyorbradoth. Remaloth. Zelovoth.
Most of them are CR 24.
Yep, you guessed it: qlippoth lords. And yes, they can go Aristeia with a modified template, and they get their own qlippoth lord traits. Oh, and those builds…ACs in the 40s. massive hp pools (usually 400+); massive defensive capabilities; signature abilities galore. We have e.g. one with crossover construct-outsider immunities and the ability to ignore warped/difficult terrain, essentially a living terraformer; we have a dervish-style shredder wielding 4 adamantine scimitars who can scavenge each day anew the abilities of 3 level 20 characters, and some less complex behemoths…and can you picture what kind of damage output you need to best that lord who also has a 20th-level vitalist’s collective?
These lords ROCK.
Why? Because they take the ultra-permissive approach of Arcforge and make massive numbers-puzzles bossfights that require top-tier, optimized parties to beat, doing what, arguably, only PFRPG can do to this extent. Some of these builds reminded me of some bossrebuilds I made for my super-optimized campaign, and I mean that as a true compliment. And yes, they get full-color artworks. There is but one thing I can complain about realistically here, and that would be that they lack lore; it’d have been amazing to see a big, fat lore section for each of the lords. Then again, their statblocks do tell stories, and ensure that even optimized parties should do their legwork before challenging them. Why? What about one who is immune to AND capable of using any psi-like ability of undead creatures under its command? Yeah, run into this fellow unprepared and without a plan, and you go splatter-splotch. And the themes they have are represented exceedingly well in the respective signature abilities. Yes, I’m a sucker for super-enemies…but who isn’t? Particularly when they highlight so well what the author can do?
Editing and formatting in particular are a bit inconsistent: On the one hand, there are top-tier complexity statblocks without any gripes, on the other hand, we have some aggravating formatting snafus in basic ability headers. Still, as a whole, so far the most refined Arcforge-book I’ve covered. Rules issues tend to be primarily focused in reprinted material, and as such, I’ll deemphasize those in the rating. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, with a blend of old and new artwork. The bookmarks are only basic: For example, we only get a bookmark for qlippoth lords, not for each individual one, which makes navigation less comfortable than it should be.
This installment of Matt Daley’s Arcforge-series feels like he found his voice; the flavor/setting components are great and evocative, and the monster builds, particularly for the lords, are BRUTAL, in the best of ways. The player-facing options show more restraint than I’ve seen in Arcforge so far, which is a very good thing indeed. The only components I’m not too keen on would be the powers, but mainly due to their augmentation options generally catapulting them significantly above comparable options at the same level; getting rid of the augmentation options is a rough, but swift way of nerfing them slightly at least, which should be sufficient for Arcforge games embracing the massive power presumed by the setting. (or, you know, only use them for qlippoths…) For other games, a sharper scrutiny may be in order. Still, even when taking the issues in the powers-reprint into consideration, design-wise, this is the most refined I’ve seen Arcforge so far.
Now, this book does have its fair share of avoidable hiccups, but it similarly has a lot going for it; if you’re as much of a fan as I am when it comes to super-deadly bosses, then this booklet will make you smile and warrant the asking price for the qlippoth lords alone. The Aristeia mode is just a beautifully volatile icing on the qlippoth cake as far as I’m concerned and adds a significant level of danger and unpredictability to the supplement. It also BREATHES Anime/Evangelion/etc., which I adore. Psionics and qlippoth are a great match, and I appreciated the rebuilds as well.
Soooo, how to rate this? Weeeeell. Formally, there are a lot of small hiccups that accumulate, and that some will consider to be jarring. HOWEVER, there is also a lot of genuinely inspiring stuff here. And I love the qlippoth lords. As a person, I’ll round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars; as a reviewer, though, I have to round down, since the sheer amount of formal hiccups would make rounding up unfair for all the other books I’ve covered over the years. Still, if you like your top-tier/super-deadly builds, check this out, even if the core-ideas of mechas and Arcforge as a setting are less interesting to you. If you even remotely like qlippoths, this is worth getting.
You can get this cool supplement here on OBS!
Want the other Arcforge books? You can find them here.
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