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    Feb 2011

    Default Review: Life-Shaping Handbook (Athas.org's Dark Sun update)


    So, due in large part to my Fleshwarping list, I've been reading through Athas.org's Life-Shaping Handbook, but since the book has other stuff in it, and I'm reading all of it, I thought I'd do a full review.

    A few caveats:
    • I've never reviewed a book before. Be nice!
    • I never played TSR's Dark Sun, and I've only read a very little bit of the old Dark Sun books. The Life-Shaping Handbook references Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs, a book by TSR that's presumably related to the material contained herein, but I haven't read it. So I cannot judge the book on how well it sticks to Dark Sun lore.
    • Though I've created a few 3.5 Dark Sun characters for games, none of those games lasted very long, so thus I have only theoretical knowledge of Dark Sun.
    • I haven't read anything about 4E's Dark Sun, so I have absolutely no idea if any of what Athas.org wrote extended into 4E. I'm guessing not.


    Anyway, that said, I begin:

    Table of Contents
    • Introduction
      • Life-Shaped in Your Game
      • How to Use This Book
    • Chapter 1: The Jagged Cliffs
    • Chapter 2: Races
      • Rhulisti
      • Rhul-Thaun
    • Chapter 3: Supplemental Rules
      • New Skills
      • New Feats
      • New Spells
    • Chapter 4: Prestige Classes
      • Cliffclimber
      • Gahv-erahn
      • Graftwarrior
      • Life-Shaper
      • Life-Tender
      • Nature-Master
      • Windancer
      • Windrider
    • Chapter 5: Equipment
      • Weapons
      • Armor
      • Gear
      • Mounts
    • Chapter 6: Life-Shaped Items
      • Handling Life-shaped Items
      • Tools
      • Tissues
      • Creatures
      • Mutated Items
      • Artifacts
    • Chapter 7: Monsters
    • Chapter 8: Adventure Sites


    What Is It?
    Before I get into the actual sections of the book, my own introduction. The Life-Shaping Handbook focuses on an area of Athas called the Jagged Cliffs, an enormous fissure in the northern Tablelands filled with mists and jungle. By far the wettest region of Brown-Age Athas, water's abundance is far more dangerous than the lack thereof, contrasting nicely with every other region of the campaign setting.

    As their name implies, the Jagged Cliffs are extremely steep much of the region is more vertical than it is horizontal. They are inhabited by halfling-like creatures known as the Rhul-Thaun the most direct descendants of the Rhulisti, progenitors of all the races, on Athas. The Rhulisti themselves are long, long gone, vanished at the end of the Blue Age when both sorcery and psionics were unheard of, but the Rhul-Thaun carry on their most prized craft: Life-shaping.

    Life-shaping is the use of living forms in item creation. Mechanically, we're talking about Grafts and Symbionts, hence the inclusion on my Fleshwarping list. As the book's title indicates, life-shaping is the primary focus of the book.

    Introduction
    Pretty stock-standard: your usual italicized fluff intro (well written for the short blurb that it is, I suppose), followed by, well, an introduction. We get information on the region's history, specifically how the Rhulisti worked with living material "the way a smith works with iron".

    Life-Shaped in Your Game
    Interestingly, this section does not seem Dark Sun-specific. This is how you would introduce life-shaped items to any campaign. The book asserts that it poses an unusual challenge for a DM and that he must be careful, but I find their suggestions patently obvious: either life-shaped items show up in some far-flung region of the world that the PCs haven't been to yet (like, say, the Jagged Cliffs), or else you have a mysterious NPC show up with the strange items. Either works fine, of course, so there's nothing wrong with the advice, but it's not exactly genius-level ideas here.

    How to Use This Book
    Standard requirements (in terms of other books you need), summaries, and abbreviations. Nothing shocking here.

    Chapter 1: The Jagged Cliffs
    All about the environment of the Jagged Cliffs. Frankly, I'm sort of disappointed in this section. It gives you some rules for the new terrain types (Barren Rock and Vertical Forest), plus a smorgasbord of natural and supernatural hazards (the steams and mists are interesting, as are the "mutagenic areas"), but very little detail is offered on how one should play an environment that is vertical.

    My primary concern here is that when playing 3.5, you usually use a map, and maps are, by definition, two-dimensional. For the most part, that works just fine: there's not that much verticality that needs to be taken into account. You can usually get away with the higher-ground bonus, or if it's a tall wall, you simply can't make a melee attack to there. But an environment that might have an adjacent square, 5 ft. away, be 10-15 ft. above you, seems like it needs something new.

    I haven't attempted to run anything in this kind of environment, but I feel like I'd have to do quite a bit of creative thinking coming up with ways to map and run it, and the Life-Shaping Handbook doesn't provide those.


    Conclusion
    Should have had more information on the actual playing of a terrain that is so unusual.


    Chapter 2: Races
    OK, so on to more interesting stuff: the races that inhabit the Jagged Cliffs. There are two, sort of: in the Blue Age, there were Rhulisti; now, in the Brown Age, we have Rhul-Thaun. The races are actually the same people, just the thousands of years between the Blue and Brown Ages have changed things about so much that we get separate sections for each.

    Both share villages that are vertically oriented; the image I get is of adobe houses set into cliffs, as certain Native Americans do. Since the Jagged Cliffs themselves haven't changed much, both share ample supplies of water and almost complete isolation from the rest of Athas. Both races are described as fiercely xenophobic. Neither race is likely to have anyone who speaks Common.

    Rhulisti
    The Rhulisti look like somewhat-taller Halflings. They have an intense reverence for nature (despite warping all living things to serve their needs; apparently they "rarely did it in reckless ways, having several rules that guided their craft."

    The Rhulisti considered themselves the only sentient race on Athas. Everything else was an animal, and like all living things, animals were somewhere between "tools" and "raw material" to the Rhulisti.

    And they had a pretty good basis for this belief: they ruled all of Athas back in the day. Tyr actually stands atop the greatest Rhulisti city, Tyr'agi.

    Notably, all of the Rebirth races are descended from the Rhulisti. I'm not entirely clear on what races, then, the Rhulisti considered themselves superior to back in the Blue Age, but this is probably just my lack of knowledge about Dark Sun.

    Anyway, the Rhulisti worship Nature; occasionally they'll worship a particular element, especially Water, but mostly it's just Nature as a whole. They take Nature very seriously, which does seem incongruous with the whole "life-shaping" thing, but whatever. They do tend to be Lawful, so I guess those "rules" mentioned earlier have a lot of meaning.

    As for magic and power, the Rhulisti never knew arcane magic at all, since they disappeared long before Rajaat showed up. Considering their love of nature, they'd pretty obviously hate Defilers with a passion matched by few on Athas, but they'd probably also hate Preservers, calling them unnatural abominations even if they don't explicitly destroy nature. They certainly hated Psionics, and the Undead, and Divine magic was seen only rarely and then with confusion and horror.

    Mechanically, the Rhulisti are Small with +2 Wis/-2 Str, and get quite a few saving throw bonuses (as in, +1 to all saves, +2 if it's a spell, spell-like, psionic, or psi-like abilities).

    They also have bonuses to life-shaping (both Craft and Knowledge), and always treat Knowledge (Life-shaping) as a class skill. They don't get free training in it, though.

    Importantly, the Rhulisti have their own language as their only Automatic Language, and they have no Bonus Languages. The only way a Rhulisti character knows Common is if he spends the skill points; doing so would also be grossly out of character for the average Rhulisti.

    Their Favored Class, for those who care about such things, is Bard. Why, I have no idea. Nothing in their fluff says anything about music... Sydonai reminded me that the Dark Sun Bard is quite different from the 3.5 one; basically, the Bard is a social skillmonkey with lots of aptitude for poison, which starts looking quite appropriate for the Rhulisti.

    Overall, they're a rather weak race, mechanically. Small with bonus Wis and a penalty to Str means they make decent Wis-based casters if you can afford to not get a Bonus Feat, and the saving throw bonuses do cover a ton of material (though they don't stack, so no +3 vs. spells/powers), but the skill bonuses are pretty weak you only get +2 to two different skills, and they're not exactly the best of skills, and those are the only things you get.


    Rhul-Thaun
    The Rhul-Thaun are the only surviving Rhulisti in the Brown Age, though they've changed enough that they get a new name. Far from their planet-dominating ancestors, no Rhul-Thaun has left the Jagged Cliffs for a very, very long time. They're still Lawful (more so, actually; more on that below), and they still worship Nature.

    There is a new... saint, I suppose. High Lord Rhan Thes-onel is not a god, but a sort of cultural hero that the Rhul-Thaun expect to return to save them. Basically, he's Nerevar, and some of the Rhul-Thaun are looking for the Nerevarine.

    Psionics are more common with the Rhul-Thaun than the Way was with the Rhulisti, but they actually hate it more, since they associate the increased prevalence of Psionics with Rajaat's curse, thinking it some kind of new mutation. Rhul-Thaun born with Psionics may learn to use it, but only in the most completely subtle of ways if at all. None would use it openly, and no study of it exists.

    The Rhul-Thaun also do not really know anything about Arcane magic. Rajaat experimented and developed sorcery in Rajaat's Swamp at the bottom of the Jagged Cliffs, and the Rhul-Thaun know about that, but they don't know what he did, exactly, and they have remained ignorant of what sorcery has done to the rest of Athas. The blurb is silent on their opinion of Divine magic, but they probably still hate it.

    Anyway, the main thing with the Rhul-Thaun is that they are obsessively ritualistic. They have a nice, neat little ceremony for everything. This is what I meant about being even more Lawful than the Rhulisti: everything needs to have its own little place, with its own little ritual. They've gone beyond "Lawful" and into the "Obsessive Compulsive". They need these rituals in order to deal with the world, because it gives them the sense that they are in control of the world despite the fact that they haven't controlled it in a very long time.

    On the other hand, they're apparently "curious to discover what lies beyond the Misty Border." I have absolutely no idea how these things mesh. They're amusingly befuddled by the concept of horizontal life.

    They still do the whole life-shaping thing, but they're not even remotely as good at it as they used to be. At this point, they don't understand it, they just follow the rituals that have been passed down in order to make new life-shaped items.

    Mechanically, the Rhul-Thaun are doing much better than their forebears. +2 Dex joins the +2 Wis/-2 Str, bringing them up into positive net ability scores, which is nice.

    They get a new +4 to Climb thanks to living in the Cliffs (why didn't the Rhulisti have this?), plus a +2 to Move Silently because "Rhul-Thaun are sneaky". At this point, I also need to point out that the Rhul-Thaun's Favored Class is Rogue: What? This makes absolutely no sense. Why, on earth, would the lawful-turned-obsessive-compulsive society turn out Rogues of all things? I think someone forgot that these things were not Halflings.

    They keep the +2 to Knowledge (life-shaping) and keep it as a class skill, but lose the +2 to Craft (life-shaping). They do qualify as a Rhulisti for all effects related to race, though, which is nice.

    And thankfully, the Rhul-Thaun get some Bonus Languages (their Automatic is Rhul-Thaun which is distinct from Rhulisti). Frustratingly, this list does not include Common, and "most Rhul-Thaun do not speak any language but their own," but at least if you want you can a Rhul-Thaun who knows Pterran or something and hopefully someone else in the party can translate?


    Conclusion
    The races' fluff seems a bit contradictory in places, and for the Rhul-Thaun to have +2 Move Silently and Favored Class: Rogue is absurd, plus both races are mechanically on the lower end (though the Rhul-Thaun are much better, thanks to the +2/+2/-2 ability scores), so overall I don't think too highly of this chapter. I like the ideas behind these races, but I don't think the execution was too well done. I would probably, at the very least, redo their racial stats were I to use them in a campaign.


    Chapter 3: Supplemental Rules
    New skills, feats, etc.

    New Skills
    To start with, they add a couple of synergies to Knowledge (Architecture & Engineering) that have nothing to do with life-shaping or the Cliffs: +2 to Craft (Structure) and +2 to Profession (Mason). The latter assumes that your architecture and engineering is done in stone, which I'm not so sure about, but whatever; this was a previously nigh-useless skill that got a boost, and though that boost is minor in the extreme, I'm in favor of anything that improves it, so kudos there.

    There's also some synergy bonuses for Craft (life-shaped) and Knowledge (life-shaping), mostly between each other.

    Craft (Life-shaped) (Int, Trained Only)
    The only (to my knowledge) Trained Only Craft skill, this probably warrants it. Moreover, you need to be trained not only in Craft (Life-shaped), but also in Knowledge (Life-shaping). That kind of dependence is unheard of in the rules; I suppose it makes sense, but it is somewhat annoying, especially since the only classes that have Knowledge (Life-shaping) as a class skill are the ones who have all Knowledges in-class (Rhulisti and Rhul-Thaun always do, though, so there is that).

    You also need a Healer's Kit or Botanist's Kit (added by this book), or else you take a -2 penalty. A Shaper's Lab can give you a +2 bonus, though it costs 500 Cp (gp if not Dark Sun) and weighs 40 lbs. (note, the description of the skill claims this item is found on page 50; it's actually on page 45)

    Furthermore, the materials for life-shaped items are pretty much impossible to find outside of a Rhulisti or Rhul-Thaun settlement.

    Last but not least, you'll need a bunch of feats to do anything with this skill. More on that in Chapter 6: Life-Shaped Items.

    Heal (Wis)
    Life-shaped creatures have a higher DC for long-term care (18 rather than 15), and there's an additional use of Heal to repair life-shaped items (also DC 18) at a rate of 1d8 HP per hour.

    Knowledge (Life-Shaping) (Int, Trained Only)
    Pretty standard-issue Knowledge skill. DCs are pretty easy.


    New Feats
    There's a lot of these; nothing sticks out at me immediately (actually, a few do, namely feat taxes for crafting life-shaped items, but they're better brought up in the rules for creating life-shaped items). Several of them are more +2/+2 skill feats; blech.


    New Spells
    There's a handful. None of them are terribly impressive, but I don't see anything offensively weak. They're mostly just really specific to life-shaped items/creatures.


    Conclusion
    I don't really like Knowledge (Life-shaping), personally. It simply doesn't mesh well with the rest of 3.5, since there's so little class support for it. I'd probably roll it into Knowledge (Nature), maybe with a kind of "Skill Trick" (i.e. 2 point Skill tax) to extend it to life-shaping. Also, Craft (Life-shaped) requires a ton of stuff, which makes it unwieldy. It has several feat taxes, the Shaper's Lab is extremely expensive and heavy, plus it depends on the Knowledge skill. I know they're trying to make it special, but it's just too much.


    Chapter 4: Prestige Classes
    The intro blurb warns of "stringent entry requirements", which worried me greatly, but in reality these PrCs have extremely easy requirements, with all but two enterable before ECL 6 (rather rare in general 3.5). The problem is that only one can be taken by a non-Rhulisti/Rhul-Thaun.


    Cliffclimber
    A specialist in moving around the Jagged Cliffs. I have my concerns about this in 3.5 (seeing as such a mundane ability is not going to do well in later levels), but we'll see.

    Requirements:
    • BAB +2
    • Climb 5 ranks, Survival 4 ranks.
    • Cliff Combat, Endurance feats.
    • Rhul-Thaun race.

    Well, those are pretty nice. Cliff Combat's pretty meh (retain half Dex bonus while climbing, use a Buckler while climbing), but it is a Fighter feat, meaning a Fighter 2 that can get Survival in-class (there has to be an ACF for that) qualifies for this pretty trivially. A Rhul-Thaun can enter this class at 4th as long as they have Climb and Survival in-class and at least 3/4 BAB, which is also nicely flexible.

    Anyway, it's ten levels of full BAB, good Fort saves, d8 HD, and 4+Int skills. Sadly, that's about the best news we get.

    A bonus to Climb, minor bonuses to Attack and AC while on cliffs, the ability to ignore certain types of difficult terrain, Track and Swift Tracker, and a size category increase for the purpose of carrying loads are all pretty meaningless when spread out across 8 levels.

    Then you have a dead level, followed by Hide in the Mists, which allows you to hide while being observed in hilly or mountainous terrain. Whether or not this was intended to allow you to hide without cover and concealment is debatable; a claim that after you have it, "it becomes almost impossible to detect your approach, especially if you invest a few ranks in Move Silently" would seem to indicate that that was the designer's intent. Either way, RAW, you can't, which is incredibly annoying.

    Anyway, yeah. This is probably best used as an NPC Prestige Class: the fluff is that Cliffclimbers are crucial for Jagged Cliff villages to communicate with one another rapidly, since they're the only ones who can move freely among the cliffs. Entry is dead-easy, though the two feats are pretty meh (actually, Endurance is awful and Cliff Combat is pretty meh). My biggest problem with this class is that it's 10 levels long, rather than the 5 that would be all this concept deserves, and that at no point does it give an actual Climb speed. That would seem to be the most obvious thing in the world to give, but it doesn't.

    Conclusion
    Worthless for PCs; use for NPCs from the Jagged Cliffs. If made into a 5-level or even 3-level class, and it gave an actual Climb speed, it'd be a lot better.


    Gahv-erahn
    Basically, it's a physician. The Rhul-Thaun have little Divine and no Arcane magic, so disease, poison, and injury needs to be healed the old-fashioned way. Importantly, these guys actually know how to treat people, thanks to their mostly-forgotten lore regarding life-shaping.

    Requirements:
    • Heal 5 ranks, Knowledge (Nature) 3 ranks.
    • Combat Expertise, Skill Focus (Heal) feats.
    • Rhul-thaun or Rhulisti races.

    Another very easy entry, though Combat Expertise seems horribly out of place and feat-tax-y.

    Unlike the Cliffclimber, however, this class is actually pretty good. The chassis is meh (d6 HD's not terrible, but 1/2 BAB and no spellcasting/manifesting is pretty harsh), but at least there's decent class features:

    One, they gain the ability to heal actual HPs with First Aid, which is major (it's only 1d4, but still; provided you're allowed to use it on not-dying characters, it's unlimited healing at a rate better than Lesser Vigor), which is solid at ECL 4. The bonuses to Heal checks, ability to always take-10 on Heal checks, and improvements to the amount healed by Long-term Care are all extremely minor, but they're there.

    The main thing is, this class is 5 levels long. This is a very good thing, because it's short, focused, and allows you to move on to more important things as you get into the middle levels. That said, the only reason I'd take it is for the capstone, which has a serious editing mistake: It opens with "At 10th level". The class doesn't have 10 levels. RAW, text-trumps-table, which means... I don't even know what that means. RAW, you either can't get the capstone at all, or you have to slog through 5 dead levels to get it.

    RAI, obviously, you get it at 5th, which is ECL 7th, and it's a quite solid ability: with a DC 30 Heal check made within 3 minutes of someone dying, you can bring them back to life (0 HP, stabilized, any ability scores at 0 or lower get set to 1), and this costs no experience levels or Con drain. The character does have a 50% chance to lose any given spell slot for the day, and does lose all Power Points for the day, but still, it's non-magical, free Revivify with a much larger window of opportunity. This is a damn good class feature.

    Conclusion
    Quite solid if you don't mind the BAB loss and don't need the levels for, say, spellcasting. Excellent for a fast-progression PrC like War Mind or Ur-Priest (also goes a long way towards balancing the Ur-Priest out since you're not getting 9th level spells until 17th)


    Graftwarrior
    A warrior-type who uses weapons that have been permanently attached to his body; eventually, they become so much a part of it that they grow with him. A pretty cool idea.

    Requirements:
    • BAB +3.
    • Knowledge (Warcraft) 3 ranks.
    • Graft Awareness feat.
    • Special: Must have at least two grafts without receiving a negative level

    Very easy requirements here; don't even need to be a Rhul-Thaun here. Graft Awareness is a pretty good feat for someone focusing on using them in combat, since it protects them from Sundering and from other forms of damage.

    You get 5 free grafts that don't count towards the normal maximum (more on that in the Grafts chapter), which is pretty cool except that all told it only comes out to 6,000 gp worth of Grafts. Your Grafts get improved Hardness and HP, and you can heal them a bit each day, but those are both really minor features. Otherwise, you also get 3 Fighter Bonus Feats, and the chassis is decent enough with a d10 HD, full BAB, and good Fort and Ref (but only 2+Int skills on a weak skill list), but it's really not that impressive.

    Conclusion
    Is it worth 3 Fighter Bonus Feats (the two lost from levels and the pre-req)? Absolutely. Does that say very much? Not at all; the Fighter's a pretty awful class. This was clearly balanced against the Fighter, and as a result, it's pretty lacking. Would be much better if the free grafts could scale somehow. Would be pretty good in a Gestalt game with a sublime initiator on the other side, though, since it gives feats and free equipment.


    Life-Shaper
    Well, this is the point of the whole book. It interestingly gets a Craft Reserve a la the Artificer, though it's quite small.

    Requirements:
    • Craft (life-shaped) 6 ranks, Heal 4 ranks, Knowledge (life-shaping) 6 ranks.
    • Shape Tool feat.
    • Rhul-Thaun or Rhulisti race.
    • Special: Must have passed the "womb immersion".

    The requirements are pretty easy; Shape Tool's already a feat tax for life-shaping, but at least you're getting more benefit out of it. The Special requirement is a role-playing thing that shouldn't be any trouble for a Rhul-Thaun who satisfies the other requirements; you just need to undergo their initiation thingy.

    The class features, though, are pretty meh. You get 3 bonus feats, which can help some with the myriad feat taxes found in life-shaping, plus you can use life-shaping a bit faster (by 5th level, you take half as long as normal with ordinary and mastercraft life-shaped items). You also gain some improved use out of the Heal skill, but only with life-shaped items and creatures, which is less useful. As mentioned, you get a Craft Reserve, but it's quite small. The chassis is not awful, considering that this is the replacement "caster" (1/2 BAB, good Will), since it has a d6 HD and 6+Int skills on a half-way decent list. But overall, it's not giving you any combat ability you couldn't have just bought.

    Conclusion
    Mostly, it just doesn't seem worth it to a player character. It does reduce the costs of having life-shaped items, but I'd stick this on a cohort so I can go do real things. The class features just don't give you any combat ability aside from what the life-shaped items themselves can give you, and those you can always just buy or have someone else craft them for you.


    Life-Tender
    Basically, you care for animals. It's yet another healing class, this time focused on life-shaped creatures.

    Requirements:
    • Handle Animal 3 ranks, Heal 3 ranks, Knowledge (life-shaping) 4 ranks.
    • Rhul-Thaun or Rhulisti race.

    Well those couldn't be any easier.

    Five levels, d6, 4+Int with an OK list, but 1/2 BAB and only good Will. Pretty meh chassis, but at least you're done by ECL 6.

    Unfortunately, you get nothing of note. Improved ability to heal life-shaped creatures and items, take-10 on Heal, Wild Empathy but only with life-shaped creatures, and a mundane Remove Disease 1/week. Meh.

    Conclusion
    This one has trouble being worth it even for NPCs.


    Nature-Master
    Unlike the Life-Shaper, who are mostly just following the Rhul-Thaun's passed-down rituals for making life-shaped items, the Nature-Master actually understands how life-shaped items work, and has real skills in creating and warping life.

    Requirements:
    • Craft (life-shaped) 15 ranks, Knowledge (life-shaping) 15 ranks.
    • Skill Focus [Craft (life-shaped)], any two Shape feats.
    • Rhulisti race.

    Pretty trivial requirements, since Life-Shaper hits most of the feats; mostly you just need to be 12th level to get those 15 ranks in anything. The fact that you have to be Rhulisti is a problem, though; the intent seems to be that this PrC is available only if you go and play a Blue Age game...

    Five levels, poor BAB, only Will is good, d6 HD, and 2+Int skills. The chassis is not good. However, you do get another Craft Reserve, which is comparable to the Artificer's at the same ECL.

    This class is basically similar to the Archmage, I suppose: you get to choose one of several abilities at each of 5 levels. They each cost XP; how on earth you spend XP as you gain a level is not explained. The description also does not indicate whether or not you can take any of the options more than once.

    At any rate, the options are pretty meh.
    • +1 enhancement bonus to AC and reduction by 1 of ACP on life-shaped armor
    • +4 Str, +2 HP/HD on life-shaped creatures
    • Grafts that don't cause penalties to interaction skills
    • Tissues that don't require an adaptation period, and have 25% extra HP.
    • Take-10 on Craft (life-shaped) or Knowledge (life-shaping)
    • +1 enhancement bonus to attack and damage on life-shaped weapons.
    • Bonus Feat


    Conclusion
    Basically, another NPC class, I guess. I'd make my Life-shaper Cohort take levels in this, but I wouldn't take it myself.


    Windancer
    Basically, they're street performers who do all sorts of acrobatics on the Jagged Cliffs.

    Requirements:
    • Balance 5 ranks, Climb 5 ranks, Jump 5 ranks, Perform (dance) 8 ranks, Tumble 5 ranks.
    • Vertical Orientation feat.
    • Rhul-Thaun race.

    Aside from the Nature-Master, the highest ECL entry of any of these PrCs. I have strong doubts that it's worth it. Vertical Orientation is a +2 Climb, +2 Jump feat that gives you 6 feet of vertical reach...

    5 levels, 3/4 BAB, 6+Int skills, good Ref, d6 HD: Not awful, though certainly not too impressive. The Skill list is OK.

    The class features are meh as anything, though. Evasion is seriously the most powerful feature here. Being able to move normal speed while using Balance, Climb, and Tumble is OK, as is the avoidance of being Flat-footed while Climbing (it also lets you avoid that while Balancing, but you already have 5 ranks in order to enter the class so you already had that).

    The other major feature is that you can, once per day, use Perform (dance) in place of Diplomacy. I doubt you can pump Perform (dance) any better than you can Diplomacy itself, so I'm not sure this helps Diplomancers, but any interaction with Diplomacy is worth mentioning from an optimization standpoint.

    Conclusion
    Yet another NPC class, and this one requires that the NPC be fairly high level. I cannot imagine any reason for taking this class other than some weird form of Diplomacy cheese.


    Windrider
    Masters of strange life-shaped flying mounts.

    Requirements:
    • Handle Animal 4 ranks, Knowledge (Geography [Jagged Cliffs]) 2 ranks, Ride 8 ranks.
    • Mounted Combat, Weapon Focus (any ranged weapon) feats.
    • Rhul-Thaun race.
    • Special: Must have sworn the Windrider's Oath.

    Well... Weapon Focus is a blatant feat tax, and Knowledge (Geography [Jagged Cliffs]) is a skill tax, but otherwise not too bad. The Oath is incredibly minor, but if you accept a mission as a Windrider and betray it (note: you don't have to accept, and it's OK to fail, you just can't say you'll do it and then not), you do lose some class features, most notably the Mount.

    Ten levels, d8 HD, 3/4 BAB, good Ref, 4+Int skills but meh skill list. The main class feature is the life-shaped flying mount, which is apparently completely custom-designed. Anyway, it advances like a Druid's Animal Companion or Paladin's Mount does. The progression gives very few bonus HD (only +4 at 9th level, ECL 14), but relatively large bonuses to Natural Armor and Dexterity.

    The main issue here is, because it's completely custom-designed, it's almost impossible to judge this feature. Life-shaping a creature allows things that are up to Colossal in size with up to 64 HD and 44 Str are you allowed to have one of those when you take this class? There are no guidelines whatsoever. And seriously, the Life-shaped Creature rules are really imbalanced, so you're quite likely to get something very good here.

    Well, other than that, at 8th level (ECL 13), you get the ability to make a Full Attack provided your mount moves no more than one Move Action. That's pretty solid.

    You also have bonuses when dealing with Rhul-Thaun, including a 3%/class level discount on goods and services (30% off? That's... really good.) Finally, you get 3 Bonus Feats, though the list is small and the options meh (Ride-by Attack is pretty poor for an archer, and Spirited Charge is absolutely useless)

    Conclusion
    The discount on buying stuff from Rhul-Thaun is possibly the most powerful ability here; if you have some ability of your own with life-shaping, you should be able to buy the raw materials at 30% off, resulting in a total discount of 65% when you're crafting your own stuff. That's... rather good.

    The mounted full attack thing is also quite solid.

    Unfortunately, it's 10 class levels to get those things. Extraordinary Artisan would be a 25% discount and only on things you craft yourself, rather than 30% on everything, but it's just a feat. The full-attack thing is good but only because WotC made it stupidly hard to do that; it shouldn't have been so difficult in the first place. As a result, while this class is quite good for say, a Ranger or Fighter, those are terrible classes and it's a shame that this class found that balance level.

    Also, I worry about that mount. +4 HD over 10 levels means it's going to be very low on HP.


    Conclusion
    Way too many of these classes seem completely unfitting for a player character, and even those that do work for PCs are still rather weak. It's difficult to do anything powerful in 3.5 without access to non-OGL material and refusing to use spellcasting and psionics, but I seriously wouldn't be comfortable using these classes unless my entire party consisted of Fighters, Monks, and Paladins.


    Chapter 5: Equipment
    This is the non-life-shaped equipment; the life-shaped stuff comes next chapter. Several of these items are grafts, however.

    Importantly, the Rhul-Thaun don't trade with the rest of Athas, and have no use for Ceramic Pieces (Cp). They instead use "ghav-egoth", which has a value equal to 1 Cp, except there is no "foreign exchange" market. Thus, you need to sell things to Rhul-Thaun in order to get ghav-egoth, and then buy things from them with ghav-egoth. Unsurprisingly, ghav-egoth is worthless outside of the Jagged Cliffs.


    Weapons
    The vast majority of Rhul-Thaun weapons are grafts. There's a variety of those; they all share immunity to being disarmed (cuz that would involve actually removing your arm). All of them leave the hand free for other things, but you can't attack with a weapon in your hand in the same round as using a grafted weapon.

    The grafts basically mimic normal martial weapons otherwise (they are all martial, for the record). The Clawgraft is a cool image, at least; it basically turns you into that chick Wolverine from the second X-Men movie (the one with the claws that came from her fingertips instead of from the back of her hands).

    For non-grafts, there's a Life Leech Pole and a Life Leech Sword, which have an interesting property: the first time you attack a target in a given day, they take an extra 1d8 damage, and each time after that it's an extra 1d6 damage. That's pretty solid (the sword also has a Frighten effect, but it's low DC and only affects things with 3 HD or less). Sadly, they're both Exotic.

    Also, the Spinethrower (also exotic) can deal quite a bit of damage, at range (1d6 spines dealing 1d3 damage each), though its "ammunition" of spines is limited to a max of 40, regrowing 10/day.

    Finally, the Flashlance can spring outward (it actually grows rapidly at its target), for an extra 1d4 damage on the attack; it retracts by your next turn, so you get +1d4 damage 1/round. It's kind of nifty, anyway. At least this one's Martial (it's also Reach).

    There's a few others, but they don't interest me as much.


    Armor
    Rhul-Thaun armor's actually pretty cool: two of them are actually a kind of paste that you apply to your body, and it armors you. One of them is transparent until you get hit (but its AC is lower against that first attack), which is a nice affect. The Spineshield functions as a Spinethrower (which is some pretty hefty damage, as noted above), but doesn't say if it's Exotic or not it also increases your effective size for shield bash damage with it.

    The best thing here, though, is the Climber's Shield it's a Buckler that doesn't interfere with your hands, so you can attack with the hand that has it without losing its AC. Improved Buckler Defense was never a good feat, but now you don't need it. Plus the AC's +2, not the +1 of a Buckler.


    Gear
    There's some steel wire ("ironthread") that is, unsurprisingly, quite strong. I like that they have a mechanic where the wire can cut into things.

    There's a living grappling hook, which is neat: even cooler are the living locks, one of which has a DC 30 Open Lock check and the other which cannot be picked at all. The latter actually has no keyhole; it operates much like a fingerprint-scanner but requires the flesh in question to be alive and attached to the person it's keyed for, so none of that "cut off the thumb" stuff. There's also a living lockpick that shapes itself to any lock (aside from that one I just described), so it gives a +10 to Open Lock.

    Finally, we have Sleekoil. Sleekoil is basically mercury or quicksilver, based on the description, but the book actually claims that it is completely frictionless and will stick to nothing except Sovereign Glue. Well then. Many catgirls died bringing us this information, is all I can say.


    Special Substances and Items
    Apparently most of the alchemical items out there can also be made with Craft (life-shaped). Well that's nice. Most of the items here are raw material for life-shaping, or food for life-shaped creatures; not much of note except the Firetears and Spore Pods.

    Firetears are a splash weapon a la Alchemist's Fire, but deals 3d6 fire on a direct hit, 1d6 fire splash, and another 1d6 fire the following round to the one who got the direct hit. That's... pretty solid, at least as far as alchemical items go, and it's only 30 Cp. That sounds pretty good to me.

    The Spore Pods are kind of interesting: they're each a splash weapon that has some decent effects: one sickens targets and forces all splashed to take a 20% miss chance against targets for a minute (DC 15 Fort save negates both). Another has a DC 15 Fort save vs. 1d4 rounds of unconsciousness for a direct hit, dazed for 1 round if splashed. Finally, there's DC 18 against poison with 1d6 Con primary and secondary, which is pretty harsh. The splash effect on that is still 2d6 damage, too. These things range from 10 Cp to 30 Cp, making them surprisingly affordable, too. Suffers from the usual static DCs on alchemy, but the prices mean you can actually use them at the low levels where they're potent. They can even be made with Craft (life-shaped), which is a thought that does cut the price by a third.


    Tools and Skill Kits
    Botanist's Kit provides a +2 bonus on Heal checks related to plants, and only can be used 10 times. Laaaame.

    Shaper's Lab gives +2 to Craft (life-shaped), which is much better, but boy-oh-boy is it expensive at 500 Cp...


    Mounts
    Nothing shocking here; they can all fly aside from the Dhev-Sahr. The Yihn-eflan is the only one a PC will ever be using, since it's the only one trained for war. As noted in the Windrider section, and really emphasized below in the Life-shaped Creatures section, you are much better off getting a custom-shaped creature, either shaping it yourself or getting an NPC (or Cohort) Life-shaper to make one. Or actually, don't do that, because you'll break the game in half.


    Conclusion
    The weapons are interesting, and a few of the Exotic ones might even be worth a feat (well, probably not, but at the least they're not completely worthless), and the armors are actually quite good. The alchemy items are very good by 3.5 standards. The rest is pretty much as expected.



    Continued in Next Post
    Last edited by Veyr; 2011-03-20 at 08:42 PM.