Sunday, October 13, 2013

Aasimar and Tiefling, A Guidebook to the Planetouched by Green Ronin Publishing

Aasimar and Tiefling, A Guidebook to the Planetouched is the first book I've ever read by Robert J. Schwalb, though given his increasing presence in the hobby it will not be my last.

I picked up this book expressly because of  that James Ryman cover that you can see to the left. It got my attention and had me thinking about the possibilities of running planetouched characters through my campaigns and in a couple of campaigns I may actually get to be a player in, in the coming weeks. Of course the ridiculous armor on that half-fiend woman makes no sense, but I'd put even money on her beating the pants off that blonde.

Green Ronin has created some of my favorite resources over the years and I like most of the stuff they're doing now. So I have high hopes for this book. 

Let's see if they're justified.

Chapter One: Children of the Planes

The book begins with a discussion of Outsiders. Unlike the standard version presented in the Monster Manual this version of the Outsider represents an ". . . extension of divine will, beings personifying aspects of morality . . ." (pg. 5). Which would be fine if that was what Mr. Schwalb meant when he wrote it. Instead he presents us with examples that have nothing to do with morality. 

". . . The succubus is lust, the solar justice, and the pit fiend despair . . ." (pg. 5)

Lust is one of the seven deadly sins so it's clearly an aspect of morality. Justice on the other hand is not so much a question of morality as it is a judging of right and wrong in accordance with the laws established in either the state or church. These laws can be bad laws (for example, the Constitution of Tennessee Article XI, Section 14 states that the intermarriage of white persons with negroes, mulattoes, or persons of mixed blood, descended from a negro to the third generation inclusive of their living together as man and wife in this State is prohibited), yet when you judge them you are not deciding whether they are right or wrong; instead you're asking was the law broken or upheld. And despair is an emotion - not a moral act. 

So already we're all over the place and we're not even out of the first paragraph. 

This is followed by a regurgitation of information on the Planetouched that we've already gotten from several Wizards of the Coasts products, which is neither here nor there. But the alternative level adjustment options available for these guys are just plane awful. 

We're then given four background questions that we can ask ourselves about the plaentouched character we're about to play. And really they're not worth two flips. I can understand where they might be useful in a White Wolf World of Darkness campaign, but in a Dungeons and Dragons game they come off as a needless distraction.

In the same vein we're given a grouping of Planetouched Archetypes and there is not one archetype presented that is exclusive to the planetouched. Every single one of these archetypes could be applied to your orc barbarian, your elven sorcerer, or your human rogue. There is nothing special here and I can't help wondering why they were included. 

When we move on to using the Planetouched in the classes it is just a massive disappointment. We either have multiple classes performing the same shit (aristocrat and noble) or we're wasting ink on non-player classes and lamenting the fact that an Aasimar can't be a bard and paladin at the same time. 

The fuck?

There is not a single part of this first chapter that I found useful. The rules for creating new planetouched races are hideous and the new races are just so bad. Their names are terrible and so often I found myself rolling my eyes as I read them. For example, the Silvans (pg. 24) are sparkly elves from the astral plane. 

I mean, really?

Chapter 2: Half-outsiders

A wasted chapter filled with triteness. Skip it and read the Monster Manual for how to build half-celestials (pg. 144-146) and half-fiends (pg. 147-149). 

Chapter 3: Feats

Now here is where the book begins to shine. There are some fantastic feats here that are balanced perfectly. I've read it twice and most of these feats would be a welcome addition to my games - except for Feed (pg. 36). Feed can fuck right off. It's a feat suitable only for non-player character villains, and even then I wouldn't use it.

Chapter 4: Prestige Classes

There is nothing here for your players. BUT there are three fantastic non-player classes that should rock your player's worlds in planar adventures: the Ethereal Pilot (pg. 45), the Planar Guide (pg. 47), and the Plane Singer (pg. 50). 

By the same token you have one of the worst prestige classes I've ever read in the Xen Chi Mystic. Be a monk instead, you're a million times better and far more powerful. 

Chapter 5: Spells and Magic

There are so many good spells in this chapter that I am really impressed. Even the Bogg spells are good in spite of the stupid name. By contrast the magic items suck. Only the wishing chalk (pg. 76) is worth keeping and the rest are a waste of space as far as I'm concerned. 

Chapter 6: Planar Perils

This selection of monsters is heavily influenced by dreams and emotions. More so than I had expected even with the confusion at the beginnig of the book. Instead of that area of focus I expected to see more monsters associated with the seven deadly sins and with issues of morality. 

Anyway, there are four monsters worth pulling into your regular arsenal: the Chaos Horror (pg. 77), the Ethereal Barge (pg. 79), the Lost Soul (pg. 83)*, and the Power Angel (pg. 88).

Appendix: Typical NPCs

A waste, really. Only four NPCs are presented and it's just a level progression for planetouched rogues, wizards, clerics, and paladins. A real shame to end on such a note. 

Overall Review

The art in the book is typical of Green Ronin products and sets a good tone for the text; but the book could have used some more editing to fix some of the glaring errors. Of the 96 pages there is only about 20-30 pages of useful text. 

I'm glad I bought it used for the stuff worth keeping, but I would have been pissed if I had paid new book prices for it.

Score: 4 out of 10

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