Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: Blood of Angels (for Pathfinder)

Okay, so I'm still in a reviewing state of mind and I'm planning back-to-back reviews of the Blood of Angels and Blood of Fiends player companion books for Pathfinder.  These two cover the aasimar and tiefling races and it seems fitting to me to review them together.  I'm particularly interested in how to include half-angel and half-demon playable races in my new campaign world because they're part of that world background.

So, Blood of Angels (BoA) is a book for players as well as DMs for the Pathfinder RPG.   The pdf version is 36 pages, including the front and rear covers and a full-page version of the cover art without lettering.  I liked all the art in here.  With a stronger publisher like Paizo I expect good quality art and I was not disappointed by any of it.

BoA jumps right in by laying out the racial traits for aasimars.  I like having that information right up front in quick-reference style on page 2 and I like that it's all on one page to print as a handout for the players.  I like the traits they have for the aasimars--except that they get darkvision.  This has become a bit of a pet peeve for me because it is a very powerful ability which most characters only get by magic items or spells.  It usually causes a bit of imbalance in parties.  I'd prefer that PC races not have darkvision; better to use low light vision or infravision.

Then there are good sections discussing the many ways that an aasimar may have been conceived, possible influences and experiences during early childhood and adolescence, physiology, relationships with other races, adult worklife paths, dress, habits, romance, and homes.  There's also a small but decent section talking about aasimars who are not human-based.  These are all great for building background on characters, whether PCs or NPCs. I was glad to see that most of this material is setting-neutral, or at least "generic fantasy setting".  For those who are actually using Paizo's Golarion campaign setting there's a nice geographic section with a paragraph or two per country/region on how aasimars might fit there, including some good plot hook material.  There's also a section talking about how the aasimar race works as an option for each of the Pathfinder core and base classes.  I didn't see a real need for this section, but I'm sure some people will find it handy for character background building.

Then there's a fun table of 100 variant aasimar abilities to replace the standard spell-like ability to use the daylight spell once per day (with a caster level equal to the aasimar’s character level).  I thought these were good flavorful items.  It did make me remember that Pathfinder has truckloads of rules which add advantages to characters but few which provide disadvantages.  I'd really like to see Paizo come out with some "anti-feats" to help balance the relentless addition of advantages to already very powerful Pathfinder PCs.  Anyway, some examples of variants are:
  • Nonmagical insects never bite or sting you unless magically compelled to do so.
  • You can subsist entirely on honey and wine.
  • Your kiss invigorates others. Once per day, you can kiss a creature to change its condition from exhausted to fatigued, or from fatigued to normal.
  • You feel sick to your stomach and take a –1 penalty on ability checks when within 30 feet of an evil outsider.
 Next is an optional section where you can pick from one of six specific heritages for your aasimar instead of being "generic".  "Each heritage presents new ability modifiers, spell-like abilities, and skill modifiers that
replace the default aasimar racial traits, as well as a pair of custom traits. Each entry also discusses the most common (though by no means ubiquitous) personality traits, physical features, and places of origin of aasimars with that particular heritage."  These include the agathion-blooded, azata-blooded, and archon-blooded.  Although the random table of variant abilities was fun, I preferred the fuller treatments in the heritage section.  All six heritages were well done, I just wish they'd included more of these instead of some of the later material which I felt was not really aasimar-specific (read on).

Next is the all-too-typical section on new feats.  I honestly feel that Pathfinder already has all the feats it really needs and that feats are one of the primary areas of "rules bloat" in the system.  Of the ten feats, only four are really aasimar-specific.  One of them, Supernal Feast, was kind of creepy.  It includes allowing the aasimar to feast on the body of a recently deceased good outsider in order to gain temporary hit points.

New rules for divine classes come next, including two new oracle curses, three new inquisitor inquisitions, and three subdomains.  As one who prefers playing divine classes these were nice options, but none really seemed to be especially connected to aasimars.  There were also two new bard masterpieces (only one obviously aasimar related), and the Martyred bloodline for sorcerers.  I was disappointed to see that little of this new material was directly related to aasimars.  I've noticed a tendency for source books like this one to include new feats, spells, skills, and class options simply because (apparently) people expect them.  The material is fine for what it is, but I see it more as rules bloat fodder than what I paid for in a book specifically on aasimars.

The book finishes up with some traits (Pathfinder's "half feats"), which do actually work well for aasimar characters, and another d100 list of random features which have no game mechanic effects, such as "hair: metallic" or "hands: always cool and dry".  I definitely like these features a lot, much more so than the variant abilities list above.  Since they don't have any effects they support character design over "optimizing".  The variants list is likely to appeal to optimizer type players looking for the best character "build".

So, overall I was pleased with Blood of Angels and am glad I bought it.

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