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    Feb 2011

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

    Chapter 6: Life-Shaped Items
    Aha, the point of this book, finally. Life-shaped items come in three forms:
    • Tools non-living items created through life-shaping. I'm guessing these are organic by-products or the dead husks of creatures they create? Sort of unclear.
    • Tissues grafts and symbionts, basically. These are alive and need to be attached to a host to stay that way.
    • Creatures fully independent creatures, that can even breed true.

    Using Items
    Life-shaped items are non-magical/psionic in nature, and are unaffected by dispel magic or a null psionics field or what have you. Life-shaped tissues do take up body slots like magical items, however.

    Also, Blue Age life-shaped items can go dormant, surviving, inactively, without nutrients for centuries or millenia. Other Blue Age life-shaped creatures have been living, reproducing, and dying for all this time; designed to breed true, only the slightest of mutations have blemished the Rhulisti's work.

    Size and Life-Shaped Items
    Life-shaped items don't (usually) resize to fit a new owner, unlike magical/psionic gear. Thus, almost all existing life-shaped items are Small, as the Rhulisti and Rhul-Thaun are.

    Tools require the Shape Tool feat (prereq: 5 ranks each in Craft (life-shaped) and Knowledge (life-shaping)), Tissues require Shape Tissue (10 ranks in each), and Creatures require Shape Creature (15 ranks in each).

    Nourishment and Rest
    Living life-shaped items (tissues and creatures, that is, not tools) require food, water, oxygen, as well as rest in the case of creatures. Creatures eat one dose of "cam-rahn" (10 Cp) per HD per day, while tissues must be soaked in "lor-rahn" (10 Cp) for 30 minutes per day, or they begin to starve. Creatures can last 1d4+1 days without; tissues only 1d2+1 days.

    I'm only going to mention the really interesting tools here.

    Ranged touch attack to stick to anything. You can make Grappled checks with it, and you can Trip grappled creatures. This thing is awesome.

    Malleable Tool
    Putty you can shape into any tool weighing 10 lbs or less. It's a one-shot deal, though; it retains that shape forever.

    Mysk, False
    his is apparently indistinguishable from a mysk which, for the record, is a Life-shaped Tissue that goes over your face and gives you a +1 enhancement bonus to Cha. At any rate, this doesn't do that, instead it makes your face look absolutely identical to the last face it was placed on. As a nonmagical effect. RAW, it's "just" +10 to Disguise, but still, this is awesome.

    Some cool stuff, nothing shocking. The Clingrope, though, is awesome.

    In addition to needing feed (which apparently Rhulisti tissues did not need), Rhul-Thaun tissues only last 3d8 months... this dramatically reduces their usefulness.

    Grafting and Removal
    Rhulisti grafts, apparently, could be removed and reattached at will, but Rhul-Thaun grafts, no so much. Removing one without a DC 15 Heal check causes 1d4 Constitution damage.

    Further, while grafts will always work for Rhulisti and by extension Rhul-Thaun, they have a % chance to fail when grafted to any other race. Halflings are the highest after the Rhuls, with a 95%; Pterrans are the worst off with only a 10% chance of it working. There... are not any rules for what happens when you fail one of these rolls...

    Number of Grafts
    You can have 1 + Con mod grafts at a time without issue; for each graft you have in excess of this number, however, you take a negative level that cannot be avoided and cannot be healed until the number of grafts is reduced.

    As if there weren't enough already. You take a -1 circumstance penalty to Bluff, Diplomacy, Gather Information, and Handle Animal checks per external graft. If you're living in the Jagged Cliffs among the Rhul-Thaun where life-shaped items are a sign of wealth and prestige... this makes no sense whatsoever. Moreover, that's a typed penalty; 3.5 does not have many those. If I have a circumstance bonus to those skills, does it "not stack" with the penalty and therefore I only take the highest value (by default, the positive one)?

    You also suffer double penalties from being around a defiler while he's defiling.

    An interesting case of "drawback" here is that if you fail a Fort save vs. Massive Damage (i.e. you're going to die), you have a 40% chance of it instead disabling a single Graft, basically killing it but allowing it to be repaired with the Heal skill. There's also a 40% chance of you just dying, and a 20% chance of you and the Graft dying, but seriously, a 40% chance to ignore a failed Massive Damage save is a rather nice benefit rather than drawback.

    Not mentioned in the drawback section, but I figure I will: many of the tissues do something to you when they're attached. For the most part, it's just some damage, but worth mentioning.

    Body and Graft Slots
    You have 2 feet slots (one per), 2 hand slots (one per), 1 head slot, 2 torso slots, 4 arm slots (two per), and 4 leg slots (two per). That's a total of 15 slots for grafts; plenty of room, really. But anyway, there's no way around these limits.

    Tissue Descriptions
    And here are the items themselves. Again, only mentioning items of particular

    First, we have the weapon grafts. A really important note that was left off of the descriptions in the Weapons section earlier: they can be considered both a manufactured and a natural weapon for the purposes of effects that distinguish between them. Thus, both Magic Fang and Magic Weapon work, but also things like a Necklace of Natural Attacks would work on them, which is kind of a very interesting idea. Otherwise, I've already discussed those grafts.

    The Breathermask is continuous, nonmagical Water Breathing for 300 Cp (100 Cp if you shape it yourself). That's a nice deal.

    Similar thing, the Chameleon Cloak gives +10 to Hide (+20 if you're not moving). The base price is 9,000 Cp, but if you shape it yourself, 3,000 Cp is a steal for that much.

    Detoxifier is nonmagical Neutralize Poison plus 1 hour of poison immunity for 35 Cp. It's a one-shot, but looks a lot better than Antitoxin.

    75 Cp for the Directional Sensor (always know North) is pretty solid.

    Eyestalks are interesting; they're 150 Cp, and they replace your eyes with eyes that can leave the eye socket on a stalk, extending one foot away from you. The exact rules for how this works are not there, but it's suggested that you can look around corners, through small openings, etc. Interesting.

    The Healing Pod is an awesome image (it's basically a tree that you go cocoon yourself in to get healed), but it's preposterously expensive, takes a full year to grow, and has a random chance of doing terrible things to you. Why did they think a rejuvenation chamber was so powerful?

    OK, Flexars, Ingenies, Mysks, Soolmons, Tendonils, and Vigrons are weird. They each give a +1 enhancement bonus to an Ability (Dex, Int, Cha, Wis, Str, and Con, respectively). Excepting the Mysk, which you can only have one of, you can have three of each of these things (it doesn't explicitly say so, which it should, but we can assume RAI was that they stack). Since they cost 2,000 Cp each, a +2 bonus to an ability score costs the same as a magic or psionic item would; a +3 is cheaper (6,000 Cp versus 9,000 Cp for the same, following custom magic item creation rules).

    However, you can't go past +3, which is an issue. The book should have included +2 versions that cost 8,000 Cp; then when you had two you'd have +4 for 16,000 Cp (same as a +4 magic item), and you could reap the benefit of a +6 item for a decent discount (24,000 Cp vs. 36,000 Cp), though you take interaction penalties and you have to feed the thing, plus it takes up more slots, etc etc.

    And of course, you should be able to wear all three Mysks at once. There are three different types of Mysks that do different things, it just says you can only have one for some reason.

    Mimicskin gives you the Changeling's signature racial feature, for 180 Cp.

    Platons are kind of like the enhancement bonus items: you can wear up to three, they give you a +1 Natural Armor bonus each. Not awful, considering there's absolutely no ACP/ASF/Max Dex, they stack with real armor, and they cost only 120 Cp each.

    Gladiator Tail gives you a tail slap natural weapon for 700 Cp; not bad. Grasping Tail has a Str of 12 and can pick stuff up, plus a (weaker) tail slap, all for 500 Cp; much better.

    The last I'll mention is the Velocet; it gives +5 ft of move speed, and the leg it's attached to gets +1 damage when used in unarmed strikes. It's not so amazing (and 2,000 Cp's kind of expensive for the effect), but I like the image of it. You can have one in both legs; speed should stack by RAW, I think.

    Some pretty solid stuff in here, especially for the price. The awkwardness of using tissues, however, is problematic, since they need to be fed, and they only live 3d8 months. Not to mention that you need ranks in two different skills plus a feat to make these.

    OK, so... it's a build-a-monster workshop. You choose a body size, you pick your movement type(s), manipulator(s) (which double as natural weapons and for holding stuff), hide/shell/armor type, and accessory(ies).

    The monsters end up as Construct (Life-shaped) creatures, which are pretty similar to Living Constructs a la Warforged.

    Anyway.... these don't seem terribly well balanced. I'm going to just build a flying mount for a Windrider to show you what I mean.

    1st: Body no real reason not to take the biggest thing we can, so Colossal. It comes with 32 HD, but we can up that pretty cheaply, to a max of 64 HD, so let's do that. Our monster now has the following stats:
    {table=head]HP | BAB | Size | AC | Str | Dex | Con | Int | Wis | Cha | Price
    64d8+704 (avg. 996) | +48 | Colossal | 5 (5 T, 6 FF) | 44 | 8 | 22 | 1 | 11 | 5 | 6,200 Cp[/table]Nearly 1,000 HP for less than the price of a +2 weapon.

    Still, it currently can't move, and this is for a Windrider, so we'll give a Fly (average) speed; the base is 40 ft., but that's kinda slow, so we'll improve it. The base cost is 1/8 of the body's cost, so 800 Cp, plus 10 Cp per +5 ft. of speed, max double. We'll take the 80 ft., so we're at +880 Cp, or 7,080 Cp. Still cheaper than a +2 weapon.

    For manipulators, there's a limit of 8 for a Huge or larger creature; lucky us, we have one. Since these are natural weapons and make for sick natural weapons, I see little reason not to have 8. Four claws, each dealing 2d8 damage, cost another 6,200 Cp (1/4 the body's cost each); a Jaw manipulator costs another quarter, for another 1,550 Cp. A Sting is another 1,550 Cp; to round things out, we'll include a pair of "Special-Use Gripplers" these do nonlethal damage and less of it than the others, but they're also only 620 Cp each, and we can presumably do something interesting with them since they're special use (the rules don't really say what, though but holding a weapon or using a graft-weapon doesn't seem out of the question).

    That's a total cost of 10,740 Cp for the manipulators, bringing our total to 17,080 Cp; a bit less than a +3 weapon now. For a full attack routine that goes something like this: +65/+65/+60/+60/+60/+60/+60/+60, for 2d8+17, 2d8+17, 2d8+17, 2d8+17, 2d8+17, 2d8+17, 2d6+17, 2d6+17. On a creature with very nearly 1,000 HP. And can fly. And we're not done yet.

    A sort of glaring problem that we have is that the creature's AC's pretty low. Luckily, we can give it Natural Armor. We could go all the way up to a +12, but it's expensive and costs us some of that movement speed we bought, so I'm going to stick with the Tough Hide; a +4 bonus to Natural Armor at 1,575 Cp. We're now at 18,655 Cp, breaking the +3 weapon mark.

    Senses are next; currently our creature can not see, hear, or even feel, though the basics are just 12 Cp. Anyway, the "Ultimate Sensory Package" is just 650 Cp, and it gives: Low-light Vision, Darkvision 60 ft., Blindsight 80 ft., Scent, +8 to Listen and Spot, +4 to Search, and the Improved Initiative feat. Tack 650 Cp onto the creature for all of this; we're now at 19,305 Cp.

    Ability enhancements are up next; they cost either 100 Cp (physical scores) or 150 Cp (mental scores), times the old modifier (minimum 1, thank god), to get a +2 bonus to the score. You can do it as much as you want.

    First up is that Int; I don't want this thing going down to the first spellcaster who can cast Touch of Idiocy. Going from Int 1 to Int 15 is a paltry 1,050 Cp; that seems like buffer enough. Plus it gets us skill points; yay, skill points! With 2+Int per HD... and 64 HD... you have 268 skill points, with a cap of 67. Cha's next; same deal, but we start at Cha 5 so it only costs 750 Cp. Wis is 11; decent, but there's almost no reason not to bump it to 15 for 300 Cp. Those enhancements were all at the minimum rate (since they're all being done with a +1 effective modifier), and I don't see any reason to improve them more.

    Now is Dex. Our touch AC is still 5, and even our regular AC is only 9. So, this needs fixing. Going from Dex 8 to Dex 14 is all at the minimum rate, plus it's only 100 Cp for being physical, so that's just 300 Cp. AC is now 12. I want Dex to at least counter-act size penalties, so that's an 18 800 Cp. AC is 14, FF is 9, Touch is 10. Another 22 Dex would make a lot of spellcasters cry; that costs another 9,900 Cp. We're now at AC 25, Touch 21, Flat-footed 9. Respectable. You could keep pumping this, but I'm satisfied with that.

    The total cost of our ability scores bonuses is 12,800 Cp; our creature is now costing 32,105 Cp; that's just under a +4 weapon (the +4 bonus is 32,000, but even a Quarterstaff needs to be Masterwork for 32,300).

    And now we get to Accessories. These are little things you can add for extra bonuses. Many of them are quire cheap. A bonus feat is 1,000 Cp; I'm not sure what I'm doing with my 22 feats from HD as it is, so I'm not going to bother with that. But Camouflage (as the Ranger class feature) for 500 Cp? Done. Another +2 to Initiative (on top of the +4 from Imp. Initiative and the +11 from Dex) is 250 Cp. For 500 Cp + half the body's price (so 3,600 Cp), we can get: +10 feet of move speed, Resistance 10 each to Acid, Cold, Electricity, and Fire, and +30 ft. to Darkvision. I'll take that.

    OK, final monster, 35,705 Cp:
    {table]Size/Type | Colossal Construct (Life-shaped Construct)
    Hit Dice | 64d8+704 (996 hp)
    Initiative | +17
    Speed | Fly 90 ft. (average)
    Armor Class | 25 (-4 size, +25 Dex, +4 natural), touch 21, flat-footed 10
    Base Attack/Grapple | +48 / +81
    Attack | Bite +65 melee (2d8+17) or
    Attack | Claw +65 melee (2d8+17) or
    Attack | Special-Use Grippler +65 melee (2d6+17 nonlethal) or
    Attack | Sting +65 melee (2d8+17)
    Full Attack | 2 claws +65 melee (2d8+17), 2 claws +60 melee (2d8+17), bite +60 melee (2d8+17), 2 special-use gripplers +60 melee (2d6+17 nonlethal), sting +60 melee (2d8+17)
    Space/Reach | 30 ft./20 ft.
    Special Attacks |
    Special Qualities | Acid Resistance 10, Blindsight 80 ft., Camouflage, Cold Resistance 10, Darkvision 90 ft., Electricity Resistance 10, Fire Resistance 10, Life-shaped Construct traits, Low-light Vision, Scent
    Saves | Fort +38, Ref +36, Will +23
    Abilities | Str 44, Dex 40, Con 22, Int 15, Wis 15, Cha 15
    Feats | (22 open feats)
    Market Price | 32,705 Cp
    Cost to Shape | 10,901 Cp and 67 bits[/table]

    Absurdly cheap for the power of creatures you can make with it. The only real limitation is that you need 15 ranks in Craft (life-shaped) and Knowledge (life-shaping) to qualify for Shape Creature.

    The tools are neat, and the tissues are OK but awkward. The creatures are broken, full-stop.

    Mutated Items
    Basically, Rhulisti life-shaped creatures have been around for a looong time, hundreds of generations at the least. Some mutations have crept in, despite their best efforts.

    These are basically Cursed Items, but for life-shaped items. Not really that interesting.

    Apparently, at the end of the Blue Age, the Rhulisti began to experiment with intelligent life-shaped creations (I guess my Int 15 death-bird doesn't count?), called Rhul-Tal. These are treated as intelligent items and artifacts.

    These are pretty much all plot points; they're pretty interesting, but I don't think I can summarize them in a way that's meaningful without just rewriting what's in the book.

    Solid plot-points here; worth reading if you're looking for life-shaped related plot hooks in a Dark Sun game. Not all of them are strictly Rhulisti/Rhul-Thaun related, either.

    Chapter 7: Monsters
    I'm going to be honest: monsters don't interest me much and I don't know a lot about CRs. I don't DM often and when I do I tend to stick to humanoid enemies with class levels. I'm not going to go through this chapter and figure out what's under or over CRed. I'm just going to point out monsters I think sound interesting.

    The "Experiment Bav-rem" is a life-shaped creature gone wrong: it's just a mass of constantly-changing organic tissue, consuming and assimilating all in its path. It's CR 15, and it's a doozy: every single attack is a DC 23 save-or-die that gives the Experiment Bav-rem an additional 1d4 Constitution. It lurks around the village Bav-rem, where the experiment originally took place, occasionally reaching out in search of food.

    The Farspeaker is a bird whose wings are replaced by enormous ears, and apparently every Farspeaker has a unique name and knows every other Farspeaker's unique name. If you speak a Farspeaker's name to another Farspeaker, the named Farspeaker will speak aloud everything that is said to the one you are speaking to. In other words, they're a great communications device.

    The Mother, a type of life-shaped lizard, can "eat" life-shaped tissues, keeping them safe and nourished until they're requested again, at which point the tissue is spat back up. This just amuses me.

    A Ban-enos secretes a resin that can make items that are automatically masterwork with a DC 12 Craft (life-shaped) check, and some of them have a mutation where applying negative energy to the shaped item turns it into deep crystal, which is pretty sweet.

    Shieldswarms are a swarm of life-shaped creatures that actually will fly around their owner, granting them concealment. I like this.

    The Watchpack is a living backpack that can store and retrieve items for the owner automatically (free action).

    I like that they went with humor on a lot of these; several are quite silly.

    Chapter 8: Adventure Sites
    A series of locations, complete with inhabitants and the like, but no quests or anything; they're free to be used as you like. There are no maps, but they are otherwise pretty detailed. Again, not really a whole lot I can do to summarize without just telling you about all of them. They look interesting enough.

    OK, wow, that was long. I don't think I'll be doing this again any time soon.

    Anyway... eh, I'm not terribly impressed. The fluff on the two races is OK but pretty basic, and their racial stats are mediocre and in the case of the Rhul-Thaun, completely nonsensical based on the fluff. The skills are unwieldy, the PrCs are largely useless, and the biggest part of the book, the life-shaped creatures, are not even remotely balanced.

    On the other hand, the grafts and other items are pretty interesting, and I didn't see any glaring problems with those. Several of the pre-made monsters were interesting and amusing, and you kind of get a sense of the bizarre environment of the Jagged Cliffs when you read about the behaviors of the wild life-shaped creatures.

    Overall, though, I wouldn't really recommend this book too highly, except maybe as inspiration for doing it better yourself.
    Last edited by Veyr; 2011-03-20 at 08:59 PM.