This RPG may trigger some people.


posted by Cease to Hope Original SA post

It's time for some…


Fair warning: THIS IS A HORROR BOOK.

And not a very good one, either.

You know how being turned into a vampire is supposed to be about being cursed and having your soul stolen by an inhuman fiend, while in D&D 3rd Edition it mostly means you get a bunch of stat boosts and superpowers? Jason Buhlman, three additional designers, and another eighteen staff writers and freelancers at Paizo attempted to deliver a book about running scary games in Pathfinder, starting with that as the premise. Last August, they published Horror Adventures, a sequel to the pretty okay epic-level Mythic Adventures book and the terminally inconsistent Occult Adventures psionic book. How well does it pull off horror? Well, it has character kits for using magic to emotionally abuse people and feats that give you vomit-based combat maneuvers.

It made me nervous to see what they were going to do next. I'm not sure that was the goal.

Trigger warning

This book sucks and I'm going to spend a lot of time ragging on it. Credit where credit is due, it does do one necessary thing all books about horror games should do: it deals with consent in a mature way. Consent is very briefly mentioned on the first page of the first chapter, not especially well:


First and foremost, understand that horror games are meant to be creepy. If you don’t want to risk being actually frightened, you don’t have to play. If you do want to play, make sure you’re familiar with the Horror Games and Consent section on page 190.

...but once we get to page 190, there is lots of good advice. In particular, the very first sentence:


If the story’s objective is to unsettle the players rather than their characters, the GM needs something before even starting to seriously think about running such an adventure: the players’ consent.

There's a lot of good advice here. Consenting to a scary game "doesn’t in itself indicate to your players that scenes of torture, sexual violence, child endangerment, or other brutalities are on the table." Players deserve to have an idea of what's in store. GMs need to be up front, and not attempt to hide potentially sensitive topics to surprise the players. If a player does object to something, GMs shouldn't badger players to figure out why. If a player is uncomfortable - regardless of whether it's something they initially brought up or not - they deserve accommodation or space, depending on what they need.

That doesn't mean the advice is perfect. The author mostly talks around what people may or may not find acceptable. It would really help to be more explicit, especially since the introduction unhelpfully compares "a horror movie aimed at teenage audiences" to "one exclusively for adults", along with later mentions of "R-rated content." Sexual violence is called out specifically, but sexualized peril in general and intimate abuse - two especially common trigger topics - aren't mentioned otherwise, and there's no good advice on how to deal with specific phobias. It would help to be more explicit, especially if they did so in a way that acknowledges that more than just material from this book and its associated Bestiary might cause issues. Unless you already know the potential downfalls of horror in a mixed group, you may not have a good idea of what sorts of themes have the potential to cause problems.

This advice could always be better, and it could stand to be on page 1. It should probably be in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Even so, I'm glad it exists. It's the best part of this book.

It is all downhill from here.

Several Unique Things

Going back to chapter 1, there's some brief discussion about how to get into your character's head, as a hero who lives in a world full of terrifying things. There's a brief list of character hooks every character should have. One idea will be familiar to anyone who has played Burning Wheel or Mouse Guard: what does your character do reflexively when something startling happens? This is all good advice for getting attached to and immersed in a character in general, although it doesn't have much to do with horror per se. Unfortunately, Pathfinder is so fixated on placing players in a purely reactive role that it can't offer much advice on how to play in a horror game. The player's role is simply to be scared by whatever the GM offers. Beyond admonishing players that characters who no-sell shocking occurrences aren't any fun, I can't imagine any advice for players to become more involved in such a reactive game.

Special Guest Star Don Knotts

To begin, Horror Adventures needs to patch the fact that fear effects in Pathfinder are basically save-or-die. Vanilla fear is a stacking condition. First you're shaken, which is -2 to pretty much everything. If you're shaken and get shaken again by an effect that does not explicitly say it doesn't stack, you're then frightened. Frightened characters have to spend all of their actions fleeing from whatever scared them as best they can unless they're trapped. If something scares you again while you're frightened, then you're panicked, and have to flee anything that is vaguely scary, in a random direction if there's no obvious escape, and do nothing but cower in fear if they can't flee.

This isn't a working system. Shaken is a relatively minor debuff, but with two applications you're immediately hors de combat. If every group of moderately creepy monsters has a significant chance of sending half the party fleeing, then nobody ever gets to fight anything or half the party just gets murdered. (j/k casters all have good will saves.)

Horror Adventures attempts to solve this problem by splitting fear into a seven-step track, with a firebreak between "lesser fear" and "greater fear". Lesser fear has three steps, and includes everything that causes the shaken condition, as well as any moderately creepy thing the GM decides will inflict the lowest level of fear with no save. Greater fear is anything that causes frightened or worse, and has four steps, going from frightened to complete catatonic paralysis. No amount of lesser fear can stack up to a greater fear; instead, you're just staggered (you lose half your actions, an already-existing 3e/PF condition) for a turn if you'd rack up a fourth stack of lesser fear.

Old fear: shaken - frightened - panicked
New fear: spooked - shaken - scared - (staggered 1/rd), frightened - panicked - terrified - horrified

The greater fear track doesn't matter very much. You already probably can't play at frightened, and definitely can't play at panicked, so the fact that things are even worse above that doesn't matter very much. What matters is the lesser fear track.

Shaken isn't changed, but spooked and scared are new conditions. Scared is just shaken plus an additional -2 on fear saves. Spooked is an odd duck: it gives you -2 to fear saves and perception checks but +1 to initiative, which is apparently to make up for the fact that getting spooked happens without a save. There are a total of two examples of characters becoming spooked, both of them in this section:


For example, Merisiel is exploring a haunted graveyard. Her GM declares she is spooked by her surroundings. She falls into a sinkhole filled with rotting corpses, which would also make her spooked. If she fails her Will save, her fear level increases to shaken.


For example, entering an abandoned asylum during a moonless night might cause all the characters to gain the spooked condition, while discovering a cabinet filled with gnawed bones might cause a character to become scared for 1 minute after a failing a Will save.

These examples aren't ever elaborated upon, here or elsewhere in the book! Are spooky things automatically spooky, but have a DC (what DC?) for stacking into shaken? What happens when an already shaken or scared character encounters something that is merely spooky? Is literally anything and everything in this book going to cause PCs to suck up a near-constant -2 to fear saves? How long is someone spooked after the spooky thing goes away?

Most importantly, who can really keep a straight face after writing "spooky" on their character sheet in pencil?

Less Fearless

Paladins are immune to fear in Pathfinder. Given that paladins are already not very good at most things, you'd think that Pathfinder would just let them shine for once, and talk a bit about how to deal with fearless characters in a fearsome world. Failing that, you'd think they'd offer some sort of optional replacement ability for Aura of Courage, one that doesn't subvert the genre but still lets paladins be special and relevant for once.

If you thought that, you thought wrong.

In a sidebar, Horror Adventures suggests converting immunity to fear to "fear resistance". These characters should track fear normally, but reduce the effect by two stages on the track for how they actually behave. However, they also ignore effects that are merely spooky or cause shaken entirely: those effects don't stack up fear on them at all. So scared is spooked, frightened is shaken, panicked is (counts on fingers) scared, and... wait, how does this interact with the rule that lesser fears can't stack up into a greater fear? (It doesn't say.) Not only is this a bunch of annoying paperwork, it doesn't deal with the fact that "fear" is also a tag attached to spells and powers and attacks. Is a paladin in a Horror Adventures game immune to Cthulhu's DC 40 instant death fear aura? Who the fuck knows?

And I Can't He-elp Mahseeeeelf

Pathfinder has a bad record for dealing with mental illness in a sensitive way. GameMastery Guide has some pretty bad rules for randomly developing mental illnesses.

This is from the description of the Allip in Bestiary 3.

Horror Adventures tries to redeem GMG's lousy rules for (ugh) Insanities, but that's going to wait until Chapter 5. For now, we're replacing ability score damage with Sanity Points. But you don't just have a Sanity Score, like Call of Cthulhu. Instead, you have three different derived stats based on your mental stats: Sanity Score, Sanity Threshold, and Sanity Edge.

Sanity Score is all three mental stats added together. If this reaches zero - and you will stop having a functioning character long before it reaches zero - you are more or less permanently afflicted with Insanity, the spell from Pathfinder Core. What does that spell? It's the same as the Confusion spell, only permanent. Okay, what does Confusion do? It inflicts the confused condition! Why couldn't they just say going to zero sanity inflicts the confused condition permanently?

Much more important than your overall sanity score is your sanity threshold, which is all of your mental stat modifiers added together, minimum zero. Any time you take equal to or more than your sanity threshold in sanity damage from a single source, you develop a "madness", a permanent chronic mental illness.

"Cease," you interrupt. "Doesn't that mean that most martial classes will always develop a permanent mental illness any time they take any sanity damage at all?"

Correct. In fact, most sources of sanity damage are will save for half sanity damage. Most non-spellcasters will always develop a permanent mental illness the first time they see a gruesome death, and the first time they encounter a "horrifying creature", which includes "aberrations, evil or chaotic outsiders, and undead". Skeletons are highlighted as an example. Depending on how the GM wants to run it, this could mean each different sort of creature, so a character without at least a sanity threshold of 2 - including most non-spellcasters - will end up with multiple permanent mental illnesses after the first time they encounter a mixed group of demons or undead.

Sanity damage from seeing monsters is based on their CR. Meeting one of Pathfinder's Cthulhu-mythos-inspired monsters causes more sanity damage than your typical evil monster, and meeting the monsters taken directly from Lovecraft's work does even more than that. This isn't even covering class abilities, spells, and traps that cause sanity damage - we'll be seeing more of those later.

There are two different (ugh) "madness" tables, and which one you end up choosing from depends on whether you've exceeded your sanity edge. Sanity edge is the third derived stat, and it's half of your sanity score. If you develop a "madness" while above half max sanity score, it's from the Lesser table. If you're under half, it's from the Greater table. I'll deal with chapter 5 when I get to it, but the short version is that Lesser means your character has a nasty conditional debuff whenever it's active, and Greater means that your character probably needs to retire.

"Madnesses" (seriously, fuck that name) aren't always active. They all become dormant when your total sanity damage is zero. Some of them have effects while they're dormant, but they're at least reduced. After going dormant, lesser ones don't manifest again until you take more sanity damage than your sanity edge, while greater ones are always active as long as you have any sanity damage at all. While you can suppress them by healing up your sanity damage, whether lesser or greater, they're basically permanent: they can only be removed with wish and miracle.

Obviously, you're going to want to remove sanity damage. You can do that with magic: the restoration spell line, heal, and the wish/miracle variations can all remove sanity damage. Alternately, bed rest for an uninterrupted week will remove your CHA mod in damage. The only way to speed things along without magic is a surprisingly mature design decision: if you get the help of a counselor, like a mentor or priest, then they can roll an INT or WIS check to give you their INT or WIS mod in additional sanity healing per week. Of course, it's a naked INT/WIS check, not a Heal check, so it's a crapshoot for most characters who aren't...a wizard or cleric.

The only thing worse than death is these rules.

Next: Born With A Taaaaaaaaail

Born With A Tail

posted by Cease to Hope Original SA post

It's time for more...


I neglected to link the d20 Call of Cthulhu sanity rules, which in turn were the basis for the D&D 3.5e Unearthed Arcana sanity rules, both of which are released under the OGL (and, annoyingly, neither of which is credited in this book). It's worth looking at them whenever talking about sanity scores in d20, because while I don't have any way of knowing whether the authors of these books referenced and adapted those rules, they certainly had to be aware of them. I'm going to talk more about sanity when we get to chapter 5, because the difference between PF Horror Adventures' sanity rules and previous d20 efforts hinges on the difference between this book's Madnesses and those books' treatment of mental disorders.

Lick My Taint


Next up is Corruption, and unlike a lot of the Pathfinder systems that share a name with older d20/D&D 3e systems, it's not based on the Open Game Licensed Corruption/Taint rules (originally in 3e's Oriental Adventures, reprised in 3.5e's Unearthed Arcana). Instead, the Corruption system covers the rules for turning into a vampire, werewolf, deep one, etc.

If a PC is cursed by some sort of monster, they begin taking on aspects of that monster. They gain that monster's Corruption. There are about a dozen different types of corruption. Some correspond to either a notable D&D 3e template: Hellbound (half-fiend), Lich, Lycanthrope, Vampire. Others are the result of being infected by a monster that is basically a communicable disease: Ghoul, Shadowbound, and Hive, which resembles but is legally distinct from a certain memorable series of films directed by Ridley Scott. To round things out, Accursed were cursed by something that casts curses (it's kind of a catchall), Prometheans are cyborgs that are obviously based directly on Tetsuo the Iron Man without all of the phallic imagery (so what is even the point), and Possessed are either fighting with a possessing spirit or a split personality.

When a character first contracts corruption, they are now Corruption Stage 0, and may have some sort of inescapable compulsion to act out their monstrous nature. Every week, or month, or whenever a certain trigger happens, a PC has to make a fort or will save or gain a stage of corruption, probably because they gave in and did something horrible. (Voluntarily doing something horrible can also add a stage.) Gaining a stage of corruption is 100% bad - the PC probably shifts alignment and may get a stacking penalty. Stage 3 corruption is terminal for your character sheet, because the PC turns into an uncontrollable monster. The specific triggers and save types for corruption checks, as well as the penalties for stacking corruption, depend on the specific sort of corruption.

The rules for each corruption stage were obviously made by different people who weren't very well coordinated. Usually, corrupted PCs have to make a corruption save every month on the month, or have to feed some compulsion every week or face a saving throw. Some corruption tracks, like Lich and Promethean, instead use triggered effects that are likely to happen in combat, which, given Pathfinder's largely adversarial GM/player interaction, has the risk of making people feel picked on or favored by the GM. Deep Ones are the worst case: not only do they have combat triggers that can force a save, but they also have to bathe in the ocean or a saltwater sea every day or make a save.

The corruption tracks aren't in and of themselves bad ideas, even if they aren't anything like balanced. If you want crunchy rules for getting monsteritis and fending off full monsterization, they're passable, and work about as well as (but do not meaningfully interact with) Pathfinder's extant rules for disease progression. Unless you've minmaxed your appropriate fort or will save or initially contracted your corruption at a fairly high level, your PC is headed for evil NPC town in less than half a year, maybe much less.

The problem is that you're expected to level up with your corruption as well.

If I had a tail / I'd swat the flies

A character with corruption develops Manifestations of that corruption: one immediately, then an additional one for approximately every two character levels they gain while they are infected. (GMs are encouraged to "catch up" higher-level characters who contract Hepatitis type G with manifestations from story events.) It's up to the GM what sort of campaign you're playing: either corruption is useful, so the player gets to pick what manifestation they want, or they're a vile curse, in which case the GM picks the manifestations and the players can either accept them or trade their possibly-useful monster powers for a bonus on saves against increasing their corruption stage. Unhelpfully, both of these are presented as "variants", with no default rule for who chooses which manifestations.

Manifestations have two aspects: a gift, and a stain. Gifts are a superpower. You grow claws, or can so something magical, or... you get +2 to a couple skills under certain limited circumstances. Look, they can't all be winners. Stains are some sort of corresponding drawback, like behavioral taboos, skill penalties, attribute penalties, or becoming vulnerable to that monster's traditional weakness.

Not all manifestations are available right away. You have a manifestation level equal to the number of manifestations you have, roughly corresponding to half of your character level, and your current manifestation level is added to any saves your manifestations cause, same as spell level would be for a spell-like power. Some manifestations can only be chosen if you already have a high enough manifestation level, and some manifestations become more powerful as your manifestation level increases. Depending on the sort of game you're playing, some manifestations may or may not add to your manifestation level.

It's exactly as clear as it sounds.

These manifestations resemble feats or class talents, but they aren't, and you don't want them. Stains are vicious - the standard stain for the common starter gifts that give d4 damage claws is -2 to all ranged attacks and all attacks with manufactured weapons. If you're going to play a corrupted character, you will absolutely have to min-max to avoid immediately succumbing to corruption and setting your character sheet on fire, but the rewards for doing so are less "use your phenomenal cosmic power" and more "gain +2 to Knowledge (Itty Bitty Living Space) checks".

Complete Races of the Essential Clanbook: Gross Monster Person

Of course, being a monster doesn't suck so bad that we can't devote 21 pages to options for customizing being a monster! I'm not going to run down every single manifestation, but these are the eleven…

...oh, right. "Corruption" is used to refer to both this whole system and each individual strain of monsteritis.

If you have to pick a corruption and you choose to pick which one you can take, then your first concern is going to be what save you have to make. After that, some of the gifts aren't completely terrible, and may synergize with certain classes. I'll be covering that, because, yes, of course you're going to minmax the shit out of slowly turning into a CR 3 NPC. This is Pathfinder. A character with corruption probably isn't better off than one without, but because of a profusion of intentionally-designed trap options, minmaxing is extremely important to minimize the downsides.

A lot of the manifestations are copy-pasted. Once you've read one "you get claws but -2 to hit with weapons and ranged attacks" manifestation, you've read them all. Of course, they all have different names.

Accursed have been cursed by... you know, whoever, I guess... and are now turning into a magical being that curses other people. You have to make a will save to avoid gaining a corruption stage (and alignment shifting towards evil) any time you cast a magical curse on someone, any time you engage in disproportionate "brutal retaliation" against someone (GM's call, natch), and every month unless you already made a bunch of saves this month. I think the idea is that you're slowly turning into a vengeful faerie or something but mostly the curse turns you into a plain old asshole.

Accursed can get a 1/day reroll on a d20 roll as their first manifestation, and the stain isn't a huge problem unless your party has a bard. (Horror Adventures hates bards - "immunity to morale bonuses" comes up a lot.). They can also get DR X/cold iron at the cost of not touching cold iron ever - how often do you ever use cold iron for anything? Beyond that, their manifestations are traps to get you to curse people, or come with hilariously debilitating stains that no reasonable person would want. "You can never speak or otherwise communicate the truth" and "you must attempt saves against your allies' spells and spell-like abilities, even if they are harmless" might work as short-term gimmicks, but not permanent things you write on your character sheet.

Deep Ones are turning into a fish, in case you really liked that one Lovecraft story about the evils of miscegenation. Pathfinder doesn't even bother to do anything about the thinly veiled racism:


Less common means of contracting a deep one corruption include ritualistic transformation, curses, or - in extreme cases - willing copulation with a deep one.

Did I mention that deep ones don't actually appear in this book? They're in Pathfinder Bestiary 5, which also has rules for playing a deep one hybrid as a standard PC race. I'm not sure what purpose Official H.P. Lovecraft Deep Ones serve when D&D already has sahuagin, kuo-toa, skum, and locathah, but whatever, you could be turning into a really hardcore locathah, maybe that's a thing that happens.

Being a deep one corrupted adventurer means you are completely fucked. You have to make a will save to keep from gaining a corruption stage (and alignment shifting towards chaotic evil) every day that you don't spend at least an hour chilling in a body of salt water, plus every single time you are affected by...

...hold up. "You also need to attempt [a will save to keep from gaining a corruption stage] whenever you are a target of (or in the area of) a divine spell or spell-like ability with the evil descriptor." Does that mean any divine spell, or only evil divine spells? The latter is sort of playable, the former is absolutely not.

Either way, your PC can't really ever leave the ocean coast. The manifestations are all about swimming and breathing water and developing fishy claws. Unless swimming is a big part of your game - and I guess it would have to be, seeing as you permanently turn into a fish after about a week away from the water - the only good thing about becoming a deep one is that you can get claws and a bite without that nasty -2 to all non-claw/bite attacks. Be careful, though: several of the deep one manifestations can remove your ability to breathe air.

Ghouls are cannibals, or maybe they contracted ghoulfluenza from another ghoul. This is one of the most playable corruptions. You only have to make will saves if you don't eat the flesh of sentient creatures at least once a week. If you don't eat flesh and then fail your will save, you go into a cannibalistic frenzy where you can't tell friend from foe, and eating someone innocent (either willingly or because of this frenzy) advances your corruption a stage and shifts your alignment towards evil. However, your appetite isn't limited to sentient humanoids. A working adventurer spends most of their time fighting monsters, and the vast majority of those monsters have intelligence 3 or higher. Eating dragons or myconids or otyughs is weird, but it's not gruesome cannibalism in the same way as a human eating another human or an elf. If you take advantage of this, it's less "body horror" and more Dungeon Meshi. The manifestations involve gaining a ghoul's claws and paralyzing attacks, or tough skin and paralyzing stench, and as long as you're willing to give up manufactured weapons (and possibly socializing with anyone but the rest of the party), a ghoulified PC can be workable in the right sort of campaign.

Hellbound creatures made a deal with a devil, and got a handful of spell-like powers in exchange for selling their soul. Unfortunately, every time you are offered "an opportunity to carry out a significant action that matches the devil’s portfolio comes up, you are tempted to take it" and have to roll a will save against doing so and advancing your corruption and alignment shifting towards lawful evil. This is at least weekly, but could be as often as the GM feels like it. If the GM is a real dick, any significant voluntary action that matches the devil's portfolio increases your corruption stage - hopefully you didn't make a deal with the devil of getting in fights! I like the manifestations' themes of "asking devils for advice" and "bearing the devil's mark," but most hellbound PCs are going to end up as lawful evil NPCs in extremely short order, even with a very generous GM.

Hive creatures were infected by a definitely-not-a-chestburster hive mind monster from later in this book, but have formed a symbiotic relationship with it, and are turning into a definitely-not-a-xenomorph. Every month, they have to make a fort save - the first fort save corruption in the book! - or else they becoming increasingly buglike and evil. The manifestations all make them buglike, but in a sort-of-useful way instead of just an ugly way.

I say sort-of-useful, because most of these abilities aren't very good, especially considering how nasty their stains (or the stains of their prerequisites) are. About half of the manifestations require the Living Weapon manifestation, which is that copy-paste claws-that-give-you-minus-2-to-everything-but-clawing-people power. There's even some obnoxious anti-synergy: covering yourself in chitinous plates with Living Armor requires concentration checks, but having a Hive Mind connection gives a penalty to concentration. One standout useless manifestation: Acid Blood breaks everything and anything you wear or carry after eight hours, and destroys those items after another eight hours. That's definitely worth doing a token amount of acid damage to anyone who attacks you in melee!

There's another half dozen of these fuckin' things but I need a break.

Next: Book of Vile Dorks

Book of Vile Dorks

posted by Cease to Hope Original SA post

I'm as scared as you are of more...

HORRIBLE ADVENTURES Part 3: Book of Vile Dorks

Notably missing from the subchapter on Corruption - or any part of this book - is advice on playing evil characters. It's assumed in the corruption rules that an inhuman murderous monster is not a viable player character: once you go full vampire, you don't come back. On the other hand, corruption stages frequently inflict involuntary alignment switches to evil before setting the character sheet on fire. What does that mean? How do you incorporate those characters into a party that is presumably not already composed of compulsive murderers? This book doesn't have any ideas. There's no advice on how to integrate evil characters into a mixed party, nor any on how to deal with the inevitable inter-party conflict that may come of, say, the party discovering that a party member is a flesh-eating monster, or from a party member's magical compulsion to always lie. Since there's no way to reverse corruption stages or remove manifestations other than to cure the entire corruption, parties are going to face these problems.

I don't worry about how these rules affect NPCs because Paizo didn't, either. These are obviously player-facing rules, with no consideration for corrupted NPC characters at all. There's no rules for what happens when an NPC hits corruption stage 3: it's just handwaved that they're "consumed by their hatred" or whatnot. These corruption rules aren't useful for creating NPCs who are three-seventeenths demon. Unlike D&D 3e's ECL and monster class system in Savage Species, all of the manifestations added together don't add up to match the templates they're loosely based on.

Complete Races of the Essential Clanbook: Gross Monster Person 2: the rest of them

Six more corruptions!

Liches are turning into a lich against their will, or possibly they screwed up trying to make themselves into a lich. It's also a catchall for turning into skeletal or ghostly undead - in fact, it works better for that, because no spellcaster with any sense is ever going to want to put themselves through this.

First off, the base corruption stage check rules are savage for liches. Any time you are "exposed to 25 points of negative energy damage or more from a single source," or fail a saving throw against a necromancy effect, or are subject to Death Ward, or learn a spell, you have to make a fort save against gaining another stage of corruption. If you fail, not only do you gain a corruption stage and alignment shift towards evil, but your spirit is temporarily banished to the negative energy plane for hours, while your body lays there helpless, possibly in the middle of combat. A reasonably lucky non-spellcaster could go without ever having to make any corruption checks! Of course, if they do, and they fail one, corruption may be the least of their problems. Spellcasters, even evil ones, won't want to touch this nonsense: not only do corruption stages give a charisma penalty (which makes no sense, because liches get a charisma bonus), but the third stage of corruption isn't lichdom, but rather permanent, irreversible death.

The only lich manifestation that is even slightly interesting and isn't gated behind nonsense like "manifestation level 6th" is Necromantic Knowledge, a manifestation that grants you knowledge of a necromancy spell of your choice from outside your class's spell list. Unfortunately, since spellcasters are badly screwed if they end up with this corruption, it's not the sort of thing that comes up much.

Lycanthropy comes from being attacked by another lycanthrope. Every month during the full moon, you need to make a will save or… you've seen the Wolf Man, with Lon Cheney and Bela Lugosi, right? You turn into whatever animal and black out and wake up covered in blood and advance a corruption stage because you hunted and killed something that didn't deserve it. Lycanthropes don't change alignment when they advance corruption, but every stage adds an additional monthly will save.

Almost all of the manifestations are gated behind Shift Form, a manifestation that allows you to spend a full-round action to attempt a CON check to shift into a form that has a bite attack for one minute, which you can do (manifestation level) times per day. Much is made of the fact that you can also unwillingly turn into an animal-human hybrid if you're suddenly surprised, but turning into weird things is not at all uncommon for PCs. This whole manifestation chain exists in the shadow of the four other base classes in Pathfinder that can turn into an animal - and they're all better at it, even if you stack up all of the manifestations perfectly optimally. The manifestations are about on par with most other corruptions', it's just that the contrast with druids and polymorph spells is especially obvious here. Many parties are going to show up the lycanthrope in what is supposed to be their specialty, and the Wolf Man's plot doesn't work very well if turning into an animal when you get in a fight is relatively common.

Possessed are intensely metagame-y. You are possessed by an evil spirit or a second personality that is struggling for control of your body. Every time you go to sleep, every time you are subjected to a laundry list of combat conditions (confused, stunned, dazed, and major fears), every time you use one of about half of your manifestations, that spirit gains a point of influence over you. If you rack up five points, you have to make a will save or the spirit takes over for a day and advances your corruption a stage, shifting your alignment a step towards its own. (Not necessarily towards evil.) This is a daily tally, however - every sunrise your total resets back to 1.

This is both a crunchy, mechanic-focused corruption and fishmalk heaven. Half of your manifestations' gifts and stains get more powerful from more influence points or only kick in when your influence is high enough. Some even give you special powers at the cost of increasing influence. Some of them involve bonuses or penalties tied to ridiculous overacting. It's possibly playable if the player has a keen eye for metagaming out whether they're likely to face stunning enemies later in the day, but as a GM I can't imagine actually wanting the hassle of dealing with a possessed PC.

Prometheans are wasting away, and the only way they can stay alive is to cut off parts of their body and replace them with artificial parts, powered by magic or exotic technology. Going to zero HP or failing a fort save means you need to take a fort save against wasting away. If you're wasting away, you have three days to replace another part of your body with artificial parts (adding a corruption stage and shifting your alignment towards neutral) or you'll die.

They do offer reasons why normal healing magic isn't sufficient and how you ended up in this situation, but they land hollow for me. The idea that technology is inherently dehumanizing is hardly new. However, I can't buy that this vaguely described magical technology is dehumanizing when the clearly explained, rigidly defined magic that PCs deal with every day isn't. Again, this is trying to fit something out of genre for D&D: handwaving away disease and long-term physical harm is something spellcasters do with trivial effort at mid levels.

In any case, a promethean character is more machine now than man, twisted and... well... neutral, and both tougher and prone to lapsing into barely-controlled rages. This has an obvious minmaxing path: almost all of the manifestations are aimed at a melee character, and both the trigger for gaining corruption stages and the save to prevent getting them is based on fort. The main possible hangups are that there's nothing but GM mercy to prevent frequent fort saves, and the Berserk Fury manifestation often involves the never-fun, always-disruptive frenzied-berserker-style uncontrollable rage that makes no distinction between friend and foe.

I just can't take Shadowbound seriously.

Look at this shit. The gnome bard has carved a skull into his chest. He's wearing a spiked collar. The entire corruption is about losing all hope and making will saves to avoid the compulsion to destroy something beautiful or terrorize people (which adds corruption stages, of course). I guess it's supposed to be about turning into a shadow or something but the manifestations all have names like "Wretched Pain" and "Regretful Gaze" and "Emptiness of the Void". Basically you are supernaturally depressing and make other people scared and depressed. If you wanted rules for getting bitten by a member of Linkin Park, here they are.

Vampirism is caused by being bitten by a vampire. Obviously. Vampiric corruption is will save based and it's more or less a copy-paste of the rules for ghoul corruption progression only instead of flesh you need to drain blood, doing some CON damage. This copy-paste leaves out some important topics: chiefly, there's no discussion of whether you're okay to drain your party members or not. Both vampires and ghouls get a corruption stage (and in so doing, alignment shift towards evil) from feeding on someone innocent, but ghouls eat corpses. Vampires can safely drain other party members - lesser restoration can patch up blood loss - but it isn't clear if that counts as feeding on an "innocent sentient creature". There's also no discussion of whether or not you can drain blood from someone who's recently dead, whether you can store blood, etc. This is notable because ghoul corruption did discuss this, albeit briefly.

In any case, vampirism is about as manageable as ghoul corruption, and the manifestations have much more practical stains. They are inconvenient, but as long as you don't do something silly like taking the high-level manifestation that causes you to be staggered (or, later, burst into flames) when exposed to sunlight, you'll mostly end up stuck with vampire taboos, like holy water, garlic, and being invited to enter a home.

In the end, it doesn't even matter

There is, in theory, a neat design concept in corruption: players try to minmax their way out of the worst of turning into a horrible monster, mirroring their characters' struggle to cope with the same. I don't hate that idea. In practice, corruptions are undermined by the fact that the trap options are just too punishing. Some corruptions, like Deep One and Hellbound, are going to set their character sheets on fire before they even gain a level. Other corruptions, like Accursed and Hive, have manifestations with penalties that are so punishing that you might as well retire any character who ends up with a "bonus" that means they can't ever speak the truth or automatically destroy all of their equipment. Even relatively playable and well-conceived corruptions like Ghoul have at least one manifestation that cuts off the PC from a large number of possible adventures.

I can't help but sense a sort of punitive impulse behind this system. In vanilla Pathfinder, turning into a vampire or a lycanthrope isn't all that bad! You get a bunch of bonuses, and, yeah, you're an inhuman murderous monster, but lots of adventures involve wandering around and killing things anyway - who cares if you're furry while you do it? Savage Species and 3e's ECL system (IIRC introduced after the core rulebooks but before 3.5 and SS, I'm honestly not sure when) even attempted to present being a werewolf or half-demon as a balanced character option. 3e's ECL was deliberately underpowered to discourage monster squad play (and was not ever revived by Paizo for Pathfinder), and I feel like this system is too. Corruptions work as a curse the PCs want to get rid of ASAP, but, despite being presented similarly to class talents, feats, and other options players would want to choose for their characters, they are almost always bad. Nobody is going to want to play a lich corrupted character for the twelve levels it takes to earn Master of the Dead - and even if they do, Master of the Dead is going to be a huge disappointment unless they minmax the heck out of the skeleton or zombie monster templates. The back of this book promises, "Corruptions that can turn your character into a powerful monster," but instead delivers a system that is an almost wholly negative curse.

Some Good Ol'-Fashioned Racism

It seems like every single Pathfinder book has "alternate racial traits" and "favored class options." Alternate racial traits replace the +1 to basketweaving that you normally get from being a dwarf for +1 to macrame. Favored class options replace the +1 HP or skill point you'd get as a benny for not multiclassing with some equally trivial bonus, like "+1/2 bonus on Strength checks to break objects and on sunder combat maneuver checks when under the effects of a mutagen that increases the alchemist’s Strength or Constitution score." They're super fiddly nonsense that chews up pagecount and generates huge option paralysis in anyone who isn't totally onboard with Pathfinder's profusion of options for every tiny thing you might write on your character sheet. None of these criticisms are particular to Horror Adventures: this filler chaff is in pretty much every player-facing Pathfinder book.

What is worth criticizing is how little any of this has to do with horror. Some of the traits give bonuses related to monsters or spells the creators think are somehow especially creepy. Dwarves can hate undead instead of giants. Elves can get a bonus on fear spells. A depressing number of traits are related to having an ancestor who was something creepy. Humans can be descended from deep ones or trolls. Half-elves can be descended from space elves(???). When they do try to add "horrifying" traits, they are a mess. For example, halflings can take "creepy doll," which lets them pretend to be a creepy doll. It's impossibly even less useful than it sounds.

The absolute worst is "deep jungle", an alternate racial trait for halflings. Deep jungle halflings don't speak Common, but can use blowguns and poison. I don't want to know who thought publishing a racial stereotype of actual black people was a good idea, nor do I especially want to play with anyone who thinks it's a good idea. It would be easy to miss, if not for the fact that a deep jungle halfling is illustrated on the facing page.

It could be worse, but that doesn't make it better.

Next: That Isn't What Archetype Means

Not Actually Archetypical

posted by Cease to Hope Original SA post

HP Lovecraft and some very unfortunate fantasy racism, and they aren't even related to each other in this installment of...

HORRIBLE ADVENTURES Part 5: Not Actually Archetypical

Archetypes! This book's got 'em!

For those who aren't familiar with Pathfinder's later books, archetypes are an overlay for a class that replaces a bunch of that class's normal abilities with new ones, to suit a new theme. They're clearly inspired by the character kits from the later AD&D 2e Player's Option books and the Alternate Class Features of the later 3.5e splatbooks in the Complete, Races of, and environment (Frostburn, Cityscape, etc.) series. They have a role in character building similar to that of 3e/3.5e prestige classes - but while they dominate your character's "build" from level 1, they usually provide abilities starting then, instead of waiting until level 6 or 7.

They're also pagechewing filler of wildly varying quality. Horror Adventures has such a narrow niche that most of these archetypes are straitjackets. They take over the entire concept, and are written with one particular sort of character in mind. A gingerbread witch or a Cthulhu cultist is a fairly narrow concept, and the revisions to the class tend to be major ones. Most of the low-hanging fruit for minor tweaks or combo pieces are in generalist books or in the same book that introduces a class.

This is also a late Pathfinder book, so there's options for all sorts of random classes, not just core classes. In fact, Ultimate Intrigue's odd fighter/rogue hybrid Vigilante class gets three archetypes, while fighters and rogues themselves aren't covered. There's options for five core classes (Barbarian, Cleric, Druid, Paladin, Wizard), three classes from Advanced Player's Guide (Alchemist, Inquisitor, Witch), and two from the horrible hybrid class book Advanced Class Guide (Investigator and Slayer). All six classes from Occult Adventures have a section in this chapter, which isn't surprising given how close these two books came out together and that book's emphasis on spirits and possession.

Several classes are conspicuous in their absence. The Pathfinder sorcerer can get its magical power from various horrible creatures, and one of the original prestige classes going back to 3e core turns sorcerers into clawed, scaled monsters. Summoners summon otherworldly beings. rogues stalk and ambush people, occasionally draw on shadowy power, and had the original evil-only prestige class. The concepts in this book for the investigator, slayer, and vigilante could easily have been rewritten for the rogue, making its exclusion especially noticeable.

Getting Red, Nude, and Mad (Science) Online

Alchemists are first up. For those not familiar with alchemists, they throw magic grenades and cast spells by making "extracts", special potions that they can (usually) only use on themselves. They don't get any new discoveries, but they do get two archetypes.

Blood alchemists trade their bombs for the ability to use alchemical circles to cast spells that involve making or unmaking things, like characters in Full Metal Alchemist. It's interesting, but there's two problems preventing it from being very playable. First, it takes a full minute to draw a circle and you have to give up your bombs and mutagens, so it's not clear what it is you're supposed to do in combat. Second, the "blood" part comes an evil-only ability to use the lifeblood of a recently slain humanoid to power a free spell, which isn't useful to a PC and doesn't make for a particularly effective villainous NPC, given the generally weak power level of alchemist spells.

Mad alchemists are chaos mages that do sanity damage to themselves. Unsurprisingly, they're incredibly badly designed. In return for doing d6 sanity damage or d3 WIS damage to themselves, they can turn a single extract (an alchemist spell in potion form) into a random extract of one level higher. There's a problem with this, and Horror Adventures even points it out:


There are 29 potential 2nd-level extracts, 23 potential 3rd-level extracts, 18 potential 4th-level extracts, 15 potential 5th-level extracts, and 15 potential 6th-level extracts. ed: It's not clear what books are included in this count.

I don't really feel like rolling a d29 every goddamned turn. That's not playable at a table. Even if you play with a computer open, many extracts are useless garbage like ignoring penalties from aging or absorbing an object into your body for days/level, or extremely situational like Remove Disease or Water Breathing.

Sanity damage isn't a big deal on its own, especially since alchemists get Lesser Restoration and Restoration to heal it back up during downtime. However, until you can get your sanity threshold to 7 or higher (or 9 or higher for the useless Mad Mutagen ability I didn't bother to detail), you risk inflicting permanent mental illness on yourself every time you use the signature gimmick of this archetype. It's just not playable at low levels.

Last and probably least, this archetype replaces the discovery gained at 2nd level and the discovery gained at 4th level. Why is it presented as an archetype instead of a pair of discoveries?

This archetype is a fucking nightmare, but not the sort that you'd want in a horror RPG.

Wild Turkey Surprise
The surprise is trap options.

Technically, chapter 2 is the "Archetypes and Character Options" chapter, so in addition to archetypes, barbarians get new rage powers. Unfortunately, all but one of those rage powers are totem powers and aren't Beast Totem, so there's no reason to use them.

I kid, but not that much. Totem powers are power chains, with a Lesser power at level 1, an unlabeled power at level 6, and a Greater power at level 10. You don't have to take all three, but you can only have one totem power chain active at once. Since Advanced Players' Guide had Beast Totem, where the first two feats (claws and a little bit of scaling natural armor) are pretty good and the final feat is full attack at the end of a charge, all later totem powers chains live in its shadow. Horror Adventures' totem chains aren't very good, even if they weren't totem powers.

Cult Totem is two absolutely terrible choices and one passably interesting tanking ability that is hamstrung by the lesser power. Lesser Cult Totem turns the +2 to hit from flanking into a +2 damage, which is an absolutely terrible tradeoff against the vast majority of enemies. You can turn that off, but that means turning off all of the Cult Totem powers. Greater Cult Totem is that stupid "keep fighting under 0 HP" ability that makes NPCs super annoying but is totally useless to PCs. Regular Cult Totem lets you take an opportunity attack against any enemy in reach who attacks someone who isn't you, but it's once per target per 24 hours, which is both a bunch of fiddly tracking and not better than pounce charge. It might make for a moderately annoying NPC bodyguard, but it'd be a lot more useful to just make a monster block with that ability built in than to cram this into a section for PC options.

Daemon Totem is a salad of life draining abilities. (Daemons are Pathfinder Bestiary 2's neutral evil outsiders who represent the inevitability of death, as opposed to the chaotic evil sadist demons. There's a separate Fiend Totem in APG for demon-themed barbarians.) Lesser is +2 to to saving throws against a bunch of random shit, regular is inflicting temporary negative levels on a critical hit, and greater is healing 5 HP (at level 10!) when you kill an appropriately-leveled enemy. Inflicting negative levels on a crit is pretty neat, although it's not going to come up very much until the barbarian is high enough level to start stacking crit bonuses, at which point Greater Beast Totem rears its ugly head.

The last rage power is Fight Response, which lets you burn a bunch of turns of rage to activate it on someone else's turn when they hit your barbarian with a fear effect. It's one of those stupid hypersituational d20 abilities that both costs to take in the first place and to use. It's not even good: if you can't afford to rage all the time in any fight that matters, you can't afford the three turns of rage that this ability wastes to activate.

The archetypes aren't much better.

Dreadnaughts are calm barbarians instead of angry ones. They only get half the benefit from rage, but they don't get a penalty to AC and can use whatever abilities they want since they're not raging out. This isn't a good tradeoff, but there's more: they're so calm that they can't goddamned charge. It's a good thing nobody's ever going to take this stupid archetype, because remember how chapter 1 told us that immunity to fear is a big problem in a game that's supposed to be scary?


Fearless Killer (Su): Starting at 14th level, a dreadnought becomes implacable in her pursuit of slaughter. While in rage, she is immune to fear effects.

The fearsome defender gets some bonuses to intimidate and can apply CHA to initiative and act in the surprise round even if they're surprised. It's not very interesting or very scary.

Mooncursed turn into a specific animal, or later an animal-humanoid hybrid, when they rage. It's a better name than Bear Warrior, at least. You can choose a bunch of different forms but you're a sucker if you don't choose bear or tiger, because you're turning into an actual animal, albeit sometimes an animal with human hands. (I don't even know how that's supposed to work with a shark.) It's not a bad idea, but it's noticeably much stronger than Lycanthrope Corruption from chapter 1, while also getting stronger and larger animal forms much later than a regular druid. It's also not clear on where you're supposed to get stats for a huge boar, but since nobody's going to play a boar mooncursed, it's probably not a big deal.

It's about his deep and abiding fear of the Welsh

The cleric gets one archetype and a domain with a bunch of subdomains, but they're all aimed at playing a cultist who worships Lovecraft's Great Old Ones.

It doesn't actually say anywhere in this book who the Outer Gods or Great Old Ones are. If you don't already know, they're Azathoth, Cthulhu, Hastur, and the other various gods and godlings of the fiction of HP Lovecraft and his successors and imitators. Despite the fact that this is the book for running horror adventures and it includes a number of explicit references to including Lovecraft-based material in your game, there's no mention of who mythos cults are, what they want, how they're organized, what they might be doing, or how to incorporate them into your game. In fact, no Pathfinder book does this, despite borrowing heavily from Lovecraft! Pathfinder Bestiary 4 has stats for mythos creatures ranging from club-footed human hybrids who look a little fishy all the way up to Cthulhu himself, but little in the way of practical advice for running a mythos-based game.

Lots of archetypes later in this book are only available to evil characters, and it serves as a implicit disclaimer that this isn't an option for PCs in a typical game. For some reason no sane person was meant to know, Elder Mythos cultist isn't one of those archetypes: it's available to chaotic evil or chaotic neutral characters, despite the fact that "an Elder Mythos cultist must worship an Outer God or Great Old One". It does helpfully point out that anyone who follows them is "often quite insane."

In any event, Elder Mythos cultists are really boring. They use CHA instead of WIS for everything - because apparently that's one of the side effects of incurable insanity in d20 games - including spellcasting and will saving throws, but get -2 to save against mind-affecting effects and automatically fail saves against the confusion, nightmare, and insanity spells and similar effects based on them. Their channel negative energy is untyped damage and they get a WIS-damaging, save-or-confused attack in place of one of their domains. Their other domain has to be Void or one of its subdomains, on the facing page.

Void Domain is a headscratcher. It's a special domain that only Lovecraft cultists can take, although they don't necessarily have to be clerics with that particular archetype. It's not especially evil, though. The domain power is all about mind-affecting effects - you can lace your mind-affecting spells with an extra confusion effect for anyone who fails the save - and the spells are all about summoning and, for some reason, flying? I don't understand what the levitate and overland flight spells have to do with worshipping Hastur.

There are subdomains, which are like archetypes for domains. They replace part of a domain with some other part. Dark Tapestry summons extra-creepy versions of creatures that have the "advanced creature simple template", which takes up only slightly less space than just saying they get +2 on all rolls and save DCs, +4 on AC and CMD, and +2 HP per hit die. Isolation has an aura of being super depressing, which is so depressing that it's difficult terrain. Stars can spontaneously cast domains spells while under the stars. Just ask ur-goon Howard P. Lovecraft: nothing is as scary as being outside.

Starring the Righteous Brothers, Mothersbaugh Brothers, and Nicholas Cage

The druid gets three archetypes, and they are all weird as shit.

Death druids are a hybrid of the druid and Occult Adventure's spiritualist class. Spiritualists are an OA remake of summoners: they're haunted by a phantom, which is a fairly hardcore combat pet when leaves its usual home in the PC's head and turns solid. Druids get a spiritualist's pet phantom in place of wild shape and their usual pets, plus a handful of extremely situational spells related to haunting and exorcism, and immunity to negative energy and energy drain instead of immunity to poison. This makes a playable character, but one that is both weaker than a regular druid in a particular, frustrating way, and one which is just plain better than a spiritualist.

A phantom may be stronger and smarter and more capable than an animal companion, but it isn't so much stronger that it makes up for the loss of wild shape. Even for a druid that doesn't turn into a tiger to mix it up in melee, that means losing always-on flight and a host of other useful utility abilities. Druids don't get any of that utility back through their spells, either: in particular, druids are one of the few nine-level spellcasters who don't get magical flight or the ability to detect invisible creatures.

On the other hand, death druids are still better spellcasters than spiritualists. Spiritualists are spontaneous casters with a limited list of spells known, and only get six levels of spells. Druids get nine levels and know all of their spells. While you can argue that the spiritualist gets some useful key spells that druids don't, they just aren't as versatile or powerful at spellcasting as proper druids. The handful of class abilities druids don't poach, like teleporting your phantom to your side as a swift action, just doesn't make up for this.

There's also a bit of the dreaded ludonarrative dissonance in here. Death druids aren't haunted by a particular phantom like spiritualists are, but rather a succession of phantoms, each trying to deal with some unresolved business in the living world before moving on. This is an excellent story hook, but for some reason death druids who successfully help a phantom don't get another one for up to a week. Why does it take so long? Why aren't death druids just haunted by a bunch of spirits, with one dominant pet phantom at all times? It's easy to fix as a GM just by not being a dick, but it's a pointless opportunity to take away a death druid PC's main class feature for doing what they're supposed to do.

This archetype makes for a strong and capable character with odd blind spots in its ability set, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The only problem with the death druid comes from comparison to the core druid, who plays similarly but lacks those blind spots, and to the spiritualist, who is just overshadowed in both its thematic and mechanical specialty. Why would Paizo completely overshadow one of the few good classes from their last book like this, especially after the similar fiasco with the Exploiter Wizard archetype in Advanced Class Guide?

The devolutionist is... uncomfortable. Devolutionists want to undo human(oid) civilization, particularly the domestication of animals, and can transform domesticated animals into murderous savages. That's fine. At higher levels, they can also do this to humanoids, turning them into feral, subsentient (INT 2) creatures with a lengthy ritual. On top of all of this, a devolutionist's pet isn't an animal, but rather a devolved humanoid that uses the stats for an ape.

On its face, this is a genuinely creepy character concept that can work as both a PC and an NPC. Devolutionists are weird and scary without needing demons, undead, or tentacles. The devolution ritual has a lot of potential for body horror, but is easily matched to the tastes and tolerances of your particular group. They're a viable dark-tinged PC that is compatible with a group. In a vacuum, this is one of the best-designed archetypes in this book, and one of the few that is actually suited to a horror book.

But games don't exist in a vacuum. In the real world where we keep our dice, racists regularly describe black people as "feral apes", and fantasize about a time when they could keep personal slaves. A depressingly large number of real people think some actual humans are inherently less intelligent and prone to savagery, and justify that with extremely sketchy appeals to evolutionary science. I hope (and do believe) this synchronicity with racists is a coincidence! But actual racists' "race science" casts an ugly pall over what would otherwise be an interesting archetype.

Life channelers are overcomplicated and surprisingly boring. They trade in wild shape and their animal companion for the plant domain, including one additional extra spell slot per spell level (on top of the usual extra slot from a domain) that can only be filled with spells from the plant domain. (Core PF druids can already trade in their animal companion for one of several domains, including Plant.) The problem is that these spell slots are represented by wicker talismans that hold souls, and they can only be filled ritually sacrificing a sentient humanoid of an appropriate level. These rules are pointlessly overcomplicated for an NPC - you can just say the evil druid ritually sacrifices people without needing rules for it - but for some reason this archetype is clearly meant to be available to PCs. Life channeler druids are only limited to "nongood" despite the whole humanoid sacrifice part, and they even get the Leadership feat to have a steady stream of willing sacrifices. This archetype is a huge paperwork-heavy hassle in order to make a character functionally indistinguishable from a cleric with the plant domain.

+1 Thesaurus of Wyrm Chastening

Inquisitors, the sneaky, smitey rogue/paladin hybrid from Advanced Players' Guide, get two archetypes, both of which are further hybrids with other non-core classes.

Hexenhammers trade in a bunch of random crap for for hexes from APG's witch class, and can add witch spells to their spell list. The problem is that using witch abilities shuts down a random cross-section of their abilities until they take a minute to atone, which makes combat bookkeeping even more of a headache for this already-overcomplicated class. The idea of an inquisitor who uses dark power but feels bad about it is a decent concept, but the extra layer of conditional numeric adjustments is not a good addition to a class that already has three or four layers of limited-use combat bonuses to begin with.

Pathfinder newcomer Hugh Pindur did several illustrations in this book. He's a good match to Pathfinder longtimer Wayne Reynolds.

Living Grimoires are a bizarre combination of inquisitors, Advanced Class Guide's warpriests, and wizards. Instead of having the free-floating Judgement combat bonus of normal inquisitors, they have a metal-bound holy book. The holy book is a magic weapon, with level-based weapon damage and scaling magical abilities taken directly from the warpriest. The book also doubles as a spellbook: instead of using WIS-based spontaneous casting, living grimoires are prepared spellcasters that use INT and scribe spells in their holy book like a wizard's spellbook. The end result is a significantly worse melee (or ranged) combatant than a standard inquisitor, but somewhat more effective spellcaster. It's not a good tradeoff - inquisitors will never be as good as a primary spellcaster - but it's certainly still playable.

I like this concept a lot! You beat people to death with a magic holy book! That said, I'm not sure what it has to do with horror, and I'm not sure what it has to do with inquisitors. It's an embellishment of the warpriest's signature Sacred Weapon ability and removes all of the signature inquisitor abilities like Judgement and Bane. If you're going to replace all of the inquisitor's abilities with warpriest abilities, why not just make this a warpriest archetype instead?

There's eleven more classes of this to cover, in a 33 page chapter. I wasn't kidding when I said this was pagechewing filler.

Next: CSI Golarion

CSI Golarion

posted by Cease to Hope Original SA post

oh god it's coming, we can't stop the...


There's two more updates worth of archetypes to get through, and we've still got 135 pages or so worth of rules to dig through before we get any explicit advice on what characters in a horror campaign might actually do. So much of this chapter is useless to anyone who doesn't have a huge pile of Pathfinder books, unless you use one of the exhaustive Pathfinder SRD sites. This is late-stage D&D at its most sclerotic and self-referential, with extra options embroidering the extra options from previous books.

Don't ask me, I missed my check by 14 points

Investigators are the rogue/alchemist hybrid from Advanced Class Guide, and they specialize in making rogues feel bad.

Cult hunters study a cult during downtime, and increases their combat bonuses against that particular cult while decreasing them against everyone else. They get a bunch of defensive abilities against the things cults do, like brainwashing or poisoning people, too. There's some fuzziness about what it means to be a "follower of a cult" for the purpose of bonuses: does it include mercenaries? Summoned creatures? Created undead or constructs? It's atypically vague for Pathfinder.

Grave diggers hunt undead, similarly to the way cult hunters hunt cults. They're also a hybrid of investigator and Occult Adventures' occultist: they can use a bone as a necromancy implement and a lantern as a conjuration implement. Layering two different spellcasting systems over each other makes a terribly complicated character that doesn't say "grave digger" to me.

Profilers are supposed to be Sherlock Holmes types that can tell what happened at a crime scene and where the killer went next and what they were wearing. To do this, they have an extremely limited version of Track that only works on crime scenes and requires DC 40 or higher Sense Motive checks, once per hour. This is an ability they get at level 3! It's not like profilers give up anything of value compared to regular investigators, but it's bafflingly useless.

All three of these archetypes are pretty bad, but they all at least have a clear niche in a horror game. They suffer a bit from the problem that they are very focused on a specific situation or enemy, but at least they're situations and enemies that might reasonably appear in the sort of campaigns this book later suggests GMs run.

No cabbage vendor yet

Kineticists, from Occult Adventures, are Benders from Avatar the Last Airbender mixed with 3.5e/4e warlocks, plus a side of X-Men. They're spellcasters that mainly rely on element- or telekinesis-themed at-will powers.

Dark elementalists suck a whole lot. Instead of relying on high CON like other kineticists, they're INT-based, and fairly strictly restricted in how much burn they can take to power their abilities. However, if a sentient creature died in their presence during the last minute, they can offload their burn to that creature's lingering soul, which incidentally makes it harder to revive that creature. It's an evil-only archetype for a not-terribly-interesting one-shot villain.

Psychokineticists are WIS-based kineticists that take burn in the form of penalties to Will saves and WIS-based skill checks instead of as nonlethal damage. Most of the text is given over to covering the obvious resulting loopholes. They're worse than regular kineticists because of their smaller burn pool, but at least they don't suck quite as bad as the very similar overwhelming soul archetype from Occult Adventures. I'm also not clear what they have to do with horror - kineticists are the least spooky class from Occult Adventures.

Kineticists also get two new powers! It's a temporary elemental familiar you can upgrade to a permanent one with a second power choice. Spooky.

Bloody Rare

Mediums are Occult Adventures' take on the Binder from D&D 3.5e's Tome of Magic. They make pacts with legendary spirits to draw on their power. Each spirit is a collection of permanent class abilities, but mediums can switch spirits with some prep time.

These new spirits are modified versions of the base spirits, and to use them you have to give up access to the base spirit. For example, the Butcher is an archetype for the Champion, so the Butcher's abilities replace some of the Champion's. To summon one of these legendary spirits, the medium has to do some thematic task, then swear an oath, which varies depending on the spirit but always involves promising never to summon the regular vanilla spirit counterpart ever again. Breaking the oath means you can't ever summon that non-core spirit ever again.

I get that they don't want to give the medium a bunch of free power expansions, but this is really complicated to explain and the requirements to summon these special spirits are all some really ridiculous bullshit. On top of all of this, it really wouldn't be a big deal to make the medium stronger! It's not very strong to begin with, and plenty of classes automatically get more powerful whenever they get new options from a non-core book.

The Butcher replaces the fightmans Champion spirit, but I don't know how or why anyone would bother with it. First, to even summon it, you need to do a ton of bleed damage first - but mediums don't actually get any abilities that cause bleed damage. Even if you get over that hurdle, none of the Butcher's abilities are better than the Champion's extra attack per turn on a full attack anyway.

One Butcher ability is notable in how clearly it illustrates this book's navel-gazing emphasis on cross-referencing the rest of the line, no matter how inane. A medium channeling the Butcher grants all of his slashing weapons the Deadly ability, from Pathfinder Ultimate Equipment. That sounds useful, I wonder what it does!

Ultimate Equipment posted:

This special ability can only be placed on melee weapons that normally deal nonlethal damage, such as whips and saps.

All damage a deadly weapon deals is normal (lethal) damage. A whip (or similar weapon that is not normally able to damage creatures with armor or natural armor bonuses) with this special ability deals damage even to creatures with armor or natural armor. On command, the weapon suppresses this ability until the wielder commands it to resume.

Oh. That's terrible. Not only is that terrible, that only applies to whips. Not only does that only apply to whips, couldn't they have just said, "A Butcher always does lethal damage with a whip, and can damage creatures with a whip even if they have armor or natural armor"? Who the fuck cares about using a whip as a medium anyway?

The Deceiver replaces the sneaky Trickster's bonus to DEX checks with a bonus to CHA checks and Will saves to resist being spied on or told what to do. Summoning requires the medium to swear to "never make a truthful statement, except to answer a question whose answer is clearly already known to the asker" sothat shit's not playable for PCs. Even if the GM ignores that very stupid vow, its only new trick is a 11th level ability to redirect an attack of opportunity to another target in reach, once per attacker per day.

The Heretic is a more or less evil-only version of the clerical Hierophant spirit. To summon it, "you must first pervert the worship of a congregation of worshipers of a good deity to evil," so you can get the Heretic's ability to pretend to be a member of another religion and fool its followers. You don't have to be evil to do that, I suppose, but it's a pretty evil thing to do! This spirit could easily be rewritten to allow for infiltrating an evil cult, I guess, but that wasn't something the author felt like supporting for whatever reason. It's probably because they can spontaneously cast any cleric spell of a spell level they can normally cast at the cost of 1 influence, as long as a true believer of the infiltrated religion asks them to cast that spell.

The Lich is a variation on the Archmage spirit, and surprisingly playable! To channel the lich, you have to make a plan for making a phylactery, because it lets you make one-shot phylacteries for yourself for 10K gp a pop. The significant downside is that you can't choose which spells you want to learn from channeling the Archmage; you have to pick the pre-chosen list of necromancy spells. This means giving up half of one of the most powerful medium abilities: being able to grant yourself knowledge of any cleric or sorc/wiz spell whenever you have enough time to switch spirits.

The Terminator is a variation of the garbage Guardian spirit, and they didn't even bother filing the numbers off. Everyone here has seen that movie, right? It has that stupid useless Diehard ability where you don't fall unconscious at 0 HP, it shrugs off bleed effects, it's immune to morale bonuses because fuck bards, it's just generally useless. It's so lazy and bad that I almost missed that it's yet another option in this book that grants immunity to fear.

The Warmonger is a variation on the vanilla Marshal spirit that grants extra bonuses to attacks of opportunity. It's here for the sake of completeness I guess.

Improved Emotional Abuse (Ex)

The mesmerist is Occult Adventures' psychic bard variant that gives people the evil eye and implanting hypnotic triggers in their allies, rather than singing songs.

The Dreamstalker is a hybrid of the mesmerist and Advanced Players' Guide's witch class, which only makes sense if you remember that the witch hex everyone everywhere takes first is Slumber Hex, at-will save-or-sleep with no HD cap. The dreamstalker gets slumber hex but with limited uses, get some random sleep/dream/nightmare-flavored chaff, and can give up their mesmerist tricks to learn extra witch spells in addition to their regular spells.

The next two mesmerist archetypes are only available to evil characters. In fact, one of them isn't suited to any game and is a terrible fucking idea that should have been spiked at the pitch stage.

The gaslighter isn't quite what the name implies, but it's still an exceptionally bad idea. Their abilities are all focused on making their victims afraid of or repulsed by their own reflection. I think the idea is that the gaslighter is fooling enemies into thinking they've been transformed into something horrible, but that isn't well-communicated. Rather, it just comes off as magically inflicting body dysphoria on people, as well as eroding their sanity. (The latter ability is even named "Corrosion of Sanity".)

Take away "magic" and you're just describing real emotional abuse, in an archetype named after real emotional abuse. It can't even be defended with good intentions: "gaslighting" is a name for a specific kind of abuse, and there's no possible alternate meaning! The name doesn't even make any sense, since Pathfinder doesn't have gas lights. While Horror Adventures does give decent advice on being up front about possible emotional triggers for players, the gaslighter is so specific and targeted that I can't imagine it would ever be a good idea to roll the dice on it.

The Hatemonger is the other evil-only mesmerist archetype, and it's a little more reasonable. They gain a bunch of spells to encourage hate or manipulate people into hating each other, and can surreptitiously lace their "touch treatment" healing ability with these spells. Adding a single ranger-style favored enemy is a nice touch. I don't know many Pathfinder GMs who use these complicated player-style character options for NPCs, but even if you don't, the Insidious Hatred healing-mixed-with-enchantments ability is easy to steal for a variety of different sorts of villain.

Magic Murder Bag

Occultists, a class from Occult Adventures that really needs a better name, are psychic spellcasters who channel their spells through themed focuses. They're similar to Eberron's artificers or Magic of Incarnum's soulmeld classes. You would think a class that literally uses bell, book, and candle would be fertile material for horror-themed games, but the two occultist archetypes are incredibly complicated messes. Either of them could have been adapted for almost any spellcasting class in the game, and they both have the same gimmick.

Haunt collectors take a full page, nearly a thousand words, to say that a haunt collector occultist can set magical traps. The trap is a ghost that casts a spell on whoever the occultist specifies, under conditions specified by the occultist. Also, they get the most inconsequential ability from the medium class, just to make things confusing.

Talisman collectors scribe master talismans to use as focuses, which work exactly like normal focuses. All of their other abilities use spellbound talismans, which are spells scribed on a small object. They can throw spellbound talismans to apply touch spells at range or give spellbound talismans to allies to activate on their turn. Talisman collectors can also cast a spell as a triggerable magical trap, this time as a glyph contained in a magical circle instead of a ghost. It seems like a major missed opportunity that they didn't go full anime with this and take more inspiration from the various ways ofuda are used in Japanese pop fantasy - that's normally the kind of thing Paizo loves to do.

I'm surprised they didn't go with something more like this for the talisman collector illustration.

Jesus Was Way Cool

Now that we've gotten to paladins, you'd expect a straightforward swap to remove the immunity to fear and replace it with a comparable ability that doesn't cause as many problems in a horror game. So of course there's nothing like that.

Martyr paladins have bleeding stigmata, which for some reason inspires their allies exactly like bardic song. They can also use lay on hands at range and can use any paladin mercy they want on an ally, but whatever condition they remove from an ally they have to transfer to themselves. Martyr paladins also lose the immunity to fear as a tradeoff for making their auras wider, but it's tied up in an archetype with an extremely specific theme. They also lose divine grace for an extremely dumb "See No Evil, Hear No Evil" save bonus aura against bardic performances, language-dependent or sonic spells, and gaze attacks, so nobody's going to bother with this.

Soul sentinels get a mercy that removes confusion and a mercy that temporarily suppresses the corruptions from chapter 1 and I don't understand why this is presented as an archetype instead of just a pair of additions to the list of mercies that paladins can choose. They also get an aura that protects allies from curses and hexes. They're still immune to fear.

Tortured crusaders are selfish paladins. They don't benefit from CHA (and cast spells with WIS) and their to-hit and AC benefit from Smite Evil is fixed at +4. They can set a contingency where their lay on hands activates on themselves automatically, and trade in uses of lay on hands to get extra uses of smite evil. However, they can't heal allies with lay on hands, they don't have mercies, and their auras don't affect their allies. Of course, their auras do still affect themselves, so they're still immune to fear!

Setting aside the silliness with the immunity to fear, these archetypes do feel like they belong in this book, when so many others don't. Martyrs and tortured crusaders feel like reasonable modifications of the core paladin for a world of terrible, terrifying things, and soul sentinels interact with this book's new systems and presumed villains. Soul sentinels are the strongest,


James the Slash Enthusiast

posted by Cease to Hope Original SA post

Don't go upstairs! That noise has to be the...

HORRIBLE ADVENTURES Part 7: James the Slash Enthusiast

As we wrap up the archetypes, we finally get to the murderers. As the corruptions run into the problem that turning into monsters is a perfectly ordinary thing for a PC to do in D&D, these martial murderer archetypes run into the problem that stabbing people to death is a daily occurrence in most games.

And Business Is Good

The slayer is a ranger/rogue hybrid from Advanced Class Guide, and it very much resembles a player-friendly, full-BAB, 20-level adaptation of the original 3e assassin prestige class.

As a result, the Bloody Jake archetype doesn't have much to justify its "evil-only" restriction. Bloody Jakes are evil hillbillies who have a favored terrain and various special abilities to torment anyone who enters it and escape retaliation. Evil-only is a good note that this archetype makes a poor adventurer, since most of his abilities are focused on staying in a certain favored terrain and tormenting a single target outside of combat.

The face of horror.

However, they're even less physically threatening than a usual slayer, because they trade off their main damage ability and almost all of their slayer talents for abilities to escape combat. That makes them less scary and more just obnoxious. Why do we have all of these ticky-tacky PC-style tradeoffs for what is obviously intended to be an enemy-only archetype? Trading off combat utility to be able to show up for later sessions makes sense for PCs, who obviously want to live to fight another day, but makes no sense for an NPC opponent, who is still defeated if they get away.

The family hunter chooses a particular family as a ranger-style favored enemy. It's unusual in that it's about as good as a regular slayer even when they aren't hunting their favored family target: for some reason, having a nemesis family lets them spread their Studied Target from bonus on an enemy to their summoned/created/charmed minions, and makes them immune to being flanked by someone designated as a Studied Target. It's a little bit of an ability salad, but I appreciate that the author understood that "I am a sworn enemy of the von Carsteins" is too situational to try to have offsetting costs to get +X against von Carsteins.

Witch killers hunt arcane spellcasters, can take anti-arcane-spellcaster barbarian rage powers as slayer talents, and get +X against spellcasters and -X against everyone else. At high levels, they can magically enrage people who've been targeted with an arcane spell, which is cheesy and clunky and isn't an ability you'd ever actually use because it's too situational and really dumb. Their sneak attacks cause concentration checks for spellcasters in an extremely awkward way I can't properly parse.


When he makes a sneak attack against an arcane spellcaster, up to 1 point of sneak attack damage per slayer level counts as ongoing damage for the purpose of forcing the spellcaster to attempt concentration checks

When does this end? How long does it last? What's causing it? Does it stack? No answers.

This is the first "martial character who hunts spellcasters" I've ever seen who has an interesting, useful ability to defeat invisibility. They can smell arcane magic, as per the scent ability, and instantly pinpoint anyone who casts an arcane spell near them. That's a great, memorable gimmick, and the only memorable quality of this otherwise generic mage-hunting mundane kit.

Ooooooooooooooooh My Loooooooooove

Spiritualists, from Occult Adventures, are a variation on the summoner. They're middling spellcasters with an hardcore ghost pet who can turn solid. Technically, they can also have their ghost live in their head and attack enemies in melee with the spiritualist with ghostly tendrils, but you don't want to do that because spiritualists aren't much for melee.

Nothing says horror like hulk hands.

Exciters try to make that a viable playstyle. They give up the ability to let their phantoms operate as a separate pet, and instead go into a magic rage. They can poach magical rage abilities from the bloodrager's list, and later share their rage with allies, like a skald. (The bloodrage and skald are barbarian hybrid classes from Advanced Class Guide.) The end result is a bloodrager with extra ghost attacks but worse bloodraging, which makes me wonder both why this isn't a bloodrager archetype and why you wouldn't just play a bloodrager.

Necrologists are spiritualists whose abilities are necromancy instead of psychic power, and their ghosts are undead instead of outsiders. It's a boring search-replace of terms and evil only.

Not Even The First Strangling-Based Class Archetype

Vigilantes are an extremely boring and bad class from Ultimate Intrigue. They're meant to be Zorro or Batman but mostly they're another fiddly and underpowered rogue variant.

Experimenters give up all of their other useful combat abilities for alchemist mutagens. Not only is this comically underpowered, but they also risk giving away their secret identity every time they're confused, dazed, frightened, panicked, or stunned.

Hangmen specialize in grappling, but aren't full BAB and don't get any abilities that actually make them better at grappling until 11th level, so mostly they aren't good at anything at all. At 5th level, they get the ability to tell when someone they are currently strangling tells a lie. For one, I think the author is vague on how a noose works. For another, a bonus to identifying lies only when you are currently strangling the speaker is the most Pathfinder thing. This is going to come up between zero and one times per campaign, even if you are playing Noose-Man, Scourge of the Necked. PC abilities need to be a little more generally applicable than this.

Serial killers murder people, and have to be evil. They get some scene-setting abilities for when someone sees someone they've killed, and a bunch of abilities poached from the slayer and assassin. Vigilantes are so chock full of fiddly social abilities you'd never use on an NPC, so I find myself wondering why this is an archetype and not advice on how to run a serial killer of any class in the GM section. They also don't have any particular special protection from divination, and all this faffing about disguises and misdirection seems silly when a perfect illusory disguise is a first-level spell.

Remember that "murders people in a particularly gruesome way" is evil-only for a vigilante, because it's going to come up again.

The Better To Eat You With

Witches are a variation on wizards from Advanced Players' Guide. They get various at-will hexes that usually only work a given person once per day, and keep their spells in a spellcat instead of a spellbook.

Witches have patrons, which add spells to their class list and spells known. They have a similar thematic role to cleric domains, if not as significant a mechanical one. Horror Adventures adds a half-dozen new patrons, which are supposedly "associated with the Elder Mythos" but mostly are an excuse to come up with some new patrons that use spells from non-core Pathfinder books. They're just "Adjective" followed by nine random spells.

The gingerbread witch is completely off the wall. She starts off with the child-scent hex (which was introduced in Ultimate Magic and does exactly what you'd expect) and making muffin-shaped potions. Later, she moves on to a bite attack with Swallow Whole, with a special note that she can eat people the same size as her. I get that Wicked has a large, lingering cultural impact, but the archetype that specializes in eating people, especially children is not evil-only. This would make a fine weird villain (although her Swallow Whole is suicide except against an already-helpless enemy), but a campaign with a gingerbread witch PC is going to degenerate into silliness in short order.

Tatterdemalions conjure ropes to entangle people and can collapse into a heap of rags to teleport and have prehensile clothes. I like the visual - and the illustration for this section was wasted on the gingerbread witch - but it's a bad fit for an archetype: all of these things would be perfectly appropriate spells and/or hexes.

I Did It

I hope I don't need to explain what wizards are.

Elder Mythos Scholars are Doctor Strange. They protect reality from stuff HP Lovecraft made up. They resist mental attacks and have a talisman of revealing that can detect:


creatures associated with the Elder Mythos, such as the following (or similar creatures, at the GM’s discretion): bhole, colour out of space, deep one, deep one elder, denizen of Leng, elder thing, flying polyp, gug, hound of Tindalos, Leng ghoul, Leng spider, mi-go, nightgaunt, ratling, shantak, shoggoth, spawn of Yog-Sothoth, star-spawn of Cthulhu, voonith, wendigo, and yithian

Why is it only Lovecraft monsters? What do all of these disparate creatures have in common? What makes a deep one different from a sahuagin? What makes a nightgaunt different from a demon? They can also get high on a hallucinogen for a large INT bonus, but their spells will fail 20% of the time unless they only target a monster HP Lovecraft or his successors made up. Note that list specifically does not include Great Old Ones, so they're as screwed as everyone else if big C himself shows up.

Hallowed necromancers use necromancy to destroy undead and get a bunch of random useless crap abilities that are worse than just casting spells on undead. They can reroll death saves at 15th level, which is kind of cool.

Undead masters are evil only and get the cleric's ability to control undead to fix the fact that core clerics are better than core wizards at being necromancers. They're really, really good at creating and controlling undead, but who cares? If this is an NPC-only archetype, you can just give them whatever minions you want. They don't need an ability for that. One thing makes it worth the three quarters of a page: the capstone ability is named Lich-Loved, after the infamous necrophilia feat from 3e's Book of Vile Darkness.

Next time on HORRIBLE ADVENTURES: Feats. Pray for me.

Slush Pile

posted by Cease to Hope Original SA post

You thought it was abandoned, but now face the return of...


Feats were, in theory, an interesting idea for making characters of the same given class and race feel a little less like they were stamped from a template. The idea is that every feat would let a character do a new thing. This was sabotaged by many conflicting core decisions of D&D 3e, and Pathfinder initially seemed determined to make feats even weaker and less important, while giving many classes feat-like "talents" that could only be taken by that class.

The end result is that every Pathfinder book has a massive slush pile of feats that give +2 to some extremely situational ability. They're presented in a crammed yet rambling format that ensures only the most determined power gamers will ever go to the effort of mining them for the few choices that aren't +3 to Craft (macrame) checks while underwater.

I'm not going to be covering them all. Nobody reads all the feats in a d20 book. I'm going to pick on some as illustrations of how Paizo's feat design philosophy succeeds or fails, some because they're strong, some because they're funny, and some because they just plain suck even by the standards of a game with both "Improved Bull Rush" and "Greater Bull Rush."

Left Ones and Right Ones

Horror Adventures first introduces to the feat types Pathfinder has added over the years. Combat, (Magic) Item Creation, and Metamagic feats are all as old as D&D 3e, but other categories were introduced in later Pathfinder books.

Monster feats aren't quite a Paizo creation, but their a duplication of a tag 3e also later introduced in post-core books. They're feats meant specifically to interact with monster abilities, especially feats that affect spell-like abilities, natural attacks, or save DCs on inherent abilities that aren't spells. The feats from the original 3e Monster Manual (and Pathfinder Bestiary, which was mostly copy-paste with new art) are now Monster feats. Horror Adventures notes:


Most of these feats apply specifically to monsters and might grant abilities that could be disruptive in the hands of PCs, although with the GM’s permission PCs can take one of these feats if they meet the prerequisites.

That's kind of a lie - other than Ability Focus (in Bestiary), none of these feats are especially disruptive. Instead, this is supposed to be code for "we don't allow these feats in Pathfinder organized play," because their prerequisites and effects are often vague and left to individual GMs to adjudicate. This note's literal text is especially out of place in Horror Adventures, given how much of this book is about PCs gaining monstrous abilities.

For example, Blood Feast is a monster feat that gives the monster +1 to hit and damage for the rest of the turn after hitting a living creature with a bite attack. Considering how many sorts of PCs can get bite attacks (and the entire chapter of this book devoted to causing PCs to develop fanged maws), why is this so potentially disruptive that it needs a special tag to denote that only PCs can take it with their GM's permission?

There's a common sort of filler Monster feat that I'm not going to bother to describe: Adjective Spell-Like Ability, where Adjective Spell is a metamagic feat from that or a previous book. These are all paint-by-numbers filler and the prerequisite is always "You can only select a spell-like ability duplicating a spell with a level less than or equal to 1/2 your caster level (round down) – (metamagic feat's usual spell level adjustment)." This book has a bunch of these, and they should be a generic rule instead of reprinting every metamagic feat ever.

Style feats, from Ultimate Combat, are (usually three-feat-long) chains of mutually exclusive fighting styles, mostly aimed at monks or other unarmed fighters. They're best known for the Crane Wing nerf, where Sean K. Reynolds decided that a feat that negated one melee attack per turn if you were fighting defensively with one hand open was too powerful and errataed it after the original printing.

Horror Adventures has an extremely typical Pathfinder style feat chain. Brute Style, and the follow-ups Brute Stomp and Brute Assault, are all devoted to maximizing use of Vicious Stomp, a feat from a different book. They're only useful for a monk or brawler (from ACG) who specializes in trip attacks, and their ridiculously high prerequisites mean that they're only useful to an NPC. The only thing scary about them is dealing with combat maneuvers in Pathfinder.

Story Feats were introduced in Ultimate Campaign. They have two effects: one when you take the feat, and one when you meet certain story prerequisites, such as defeating a certain sort of foe. Story feats aren't new to Horror Adventures, but they are an example of one of the book's core problems. It's a good design idea for players to declare their own goals for their character's story to the GM, and have a way of clearly marking progress towards those goals. Unfortunately, trying to graft that idea onto d20 D&D requires more dedication than fitting lifegoals into the same spot on the character sheet that holds +1 to attacks with longswords. The benefits for story feats are insultingly tiny, and involve deferring half of the benefit of an already-small character building choice until an unspecified time in the future. Pathfinder's ruleset is already so complicated and smothering that there's no space for a new, properly-designed progression and reward track.

Crawling In My (Or Someone Else's) Skin

The feats are mostly about things that are creepy or gross, or effects tagged with "fear" or "sanity". That's completely different from being scary. Again, feats are so weak and small that they do a poor job of evoking images you could use for a horror game, either as a heroic adventurer in a hopelessly terrifying world or as a GM trying to craft that hopelessly terrifying world.

One of the few successful visual ideas is Aura Flare, a weak cleric/paladin feat. Once per day, when you channel energy (to heal living creatures and harm undead ones or vice versa, depending), you can make your aura flare outward and fatigue or stagger evil/good characters, depending. (The 1/day limit prevents it from being useful to a PC.) However, it's based on the strength of your aura. How strong is your alignment aura? The feat doesn't tell you where to find that. It isn't under the cleric's or paladin's "aura" class ability, but rather under the detect evil spell. Why does this use "aura strength" instead of just using levels in a class with the channel energy class feature?

Absorb Spirit is another neat concept, but it doesn't belong here in the feat section. It allows you to hold a ghost or a haunt (a ghost-powered trap - we'll get to those in detail later) in your body, at the cost of slowly stacking CON and WIS/sanity damage. It's not a bad system for handling someone trapping a spirit in their body, but it's not clear why you'd ever want to do that, let alone sacrifice both a feat and a ton of unhealable ability damage to do that. Spirit Speaker, a separate follow-up feat, lets you communicate and negotiate with that spirit, at the cost of even more WIS or sanity damage. These are things GMs should just let players do, without forcing them to buy the ability to do so. Stacking, unhealable CON/WIS damage is plenty enough of a cost!

Most of the imagery is about on par with Maddening Style. A Maddening Style user is a monk devoted to otherworldly creatures who drives their enemies mad with terrifying vistas, which he reveals by... punching them. Maddening Style users illustrate the problem of the d20-fication of sanity damage: it's now just another stat, something a particularly well-trained attacker can target without actually being scary in any way other than that they target a vulnerable stat. A fifth-level monk with these feats can inflict two permanent, incurable mental illnesses on a typical melee attacker character per turn, one of which can't be saved against (because it's save-for-reduced sanity damage but will still exceed most martial characters' sanity threshold). There's nothing maddening about this other than its tendency to set character sheets on fire.

There are a lot of silly feats related to cutting yourself. Blood Spurt lets you cut yourself as a standard action to fling blood in the eyes of an adjacent enemy. Clarity of Pain (which requires both Iron Will and Improved Iron Will, so nobody will ever take it) lets you cut yourself to reroll a save. There's even a follow-up for Clarity of Pain, Exorcising Mutilation. It's entirely useless: it only works on one particular sort of attack, does CON damage instead of HP damage, it takes the same sort of action so you can't use both this and Clarity, and even if it didn't you can't reroll any roll twice. Kyton Style is a three-feat chain devoted to using a spiked chain as a monk, and the capstone is cutting yourself with an attack so you do an additional d6 nonlethal damage. Mutilating Ritual lets you cut yourself to enhance a ritual from Occult Adventures. With the possible exception of the last, all of these are clearly intended for player use, turning HP into another resource players can spend for benefits. None of these have any more potential for horror than Power Attack; they range from mundane to extremely goofy.

There's also a lot of feats that leave a pool of something gross on the floor that someone can slip on like a banana peel, because nothing says horror like a Vaudeville pratfall. Gruesome Shapechanger leaves a splotch of viscera when a shapechanger changes shape. Purging Emesis lets anyone vomit on command, for a reroll on an ingested poison or just to leave a slippery patch.

Where do you keep your dead?

There's one half-good idea in here, one that hints at a better book. Skin Suit is a feat any intelligent undead can take. Once a day, they can cover themselves in a humanoid disguise that is not only visually indistinguishable - it's a transmutation based on alter self, not an illusion - but also protects them from both detect undead and alignment detection abilities. As long as they don't use their natural attacks or take damage, there's no way to tell the difference between a ghoul in a skin suit and a normal human.

This is half of an idea for making horror work as well as it can in Pathfinder. d20 D&D has extremely rigidly defined, very powerful abilities that are almost always accessible to players. By first establishing the rules of the setting - you can detect undead with detect undead - you can then make the players paranoid by breaking those rules, in a way that is shocks both their character and their players. Oh no, this new breed of ghoul can walk among living people undetected! This forces the characters to figure out the new rules, and the players to figure them out at the same time their characters do. This would work fine as an example of a mystery for players to solve, with a clear warning that the players have probably also read the book so you can't use this specific mystery!

Laying out the rules for the skin suit in the feat section ruins this. It tells the players all of the rules right away, and forces them to pretend like they don't know how things work, because their characters have never seen a skin suit mohrg before. It also generates tension when players expect that their undead-hunting expert characters already know what they themselves as players know about how skin suits work. You can't put surprises for PCs in the feat section then expect the players to act surprised. That's not practical and it's not fair.

If the players don't pretend to not know about this feat, it's just a magic bullet against an already-marginal spell. Detect undead is not an especially common or useful spell to begin with; if it doesn't work reliably, then nobody will bother to use it at all. If PCs need to test if someone is a hidden undead creature, there are plenty of ways to do that: skin suits dissolve in sunlight and don't offer any protection from spells or abilities that are dangerous to undead but harmless to living beings, like channeling positive energy, the command undead or halt undead spells, etc.

The spookiest ability tag

The "fear" tag isn't especially scary, but it is important for Pathfinder character optimization. There's a lot of feats that play into the Shatter Defenses combo, an original feat chain introduced in Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Shatter Defenses is a BAB +6 feat that makes a shaken enemy flat-footed for all of your attacks after the first hit. There's a lot of Pathfinder martial combos devoted to making an enemy shaken with your first attack or before attacking, then taking advantage of the fact that they're flat-footed with either sneak attack or Medusa's Wrath, a basically-monk-only feat that gives you two extra unarmed attacks against a flat-footed enemy. A lot of tricks hook into this combo: anything that makes enemies flat-footed, anything that takes advantage of flat-footed enemies, anything that allows out-of-turn intimidate checks, and anything else that can render enemies shaken without taking up an action. Since fear is a recurring theme in this book, a lot of feats are aimed at people exploiting Shatter Defenses.

Bully Breed lets an animal companion do your intimidating for you (and makes them more action-efficient in doing so to boot). Disconcerting Knowledge allows you to substitute a monster knowledge check in place of Intimidate for an Intimidate roll - I guess you're scaring them with your encyclopedic knowledge? There are several that are more or less NPC only, like a feat that causes fear checks when you perform a coup de grace and feats attaching fear checks to swallow whole or engulf.

Deadhand Style, the first of a three-feat chain of vaguely undead-themed attacks for monks, let you spend a swift action to burn ki to cause shaken in the target you're punching. While in theory, this would work as part of Shatter Defenses/Medusa's Wrath, it's subtly terrible. Without spending a feat, you could instead spend a swift action and a ki point to get an extra attack with no strings attached. Despite the non-good-only restriction, this isn't much for an interesting NPC: a monk that has a weak version of a vampire's attacks isn't very interesting when the GM can use a vampire's stats whenever they want.

There are two different feats for sacrificing people for magical power, right next to each other, and they don't interact with each other at all. One is for improving rituals from Occult Adventures (and doesn't require you to be evil despite the whole sacrificing an intelligent creature requirement), one gives a single spell a small bonus for 24 hours, and they're both terrible. Neither of these feats should exist: you don't want PCs sacrificing people for small boosts, and GMs should have much broader power to set up story events than the narrow restrictions of a feat. Even if you disagree with that, they're completely redundant with each other: this book does not need two different unrelated feats for sacrificing a person to power a magic ritual.

Next time on HORRIBLE ADVENTURES: I Put 53 Pages of Spells On You

I Put 53 Pages of Spells On You

posted by Cease to Hope Original SA post

You deliver a confusing but fascinating monologue, relaying conspiracies or metaphysical revelations that confound your audience, BUT ITS TOO LATE IM ALREADY HOLLERIN ABOUT THE

HORRIBLE ADVENTURES Part 9: I Put 53 Pages of Spells On You

Horror Adventures has a gigantic list of spells, and they are the same mix of random shit with the evil tag and so-gross-it's-silly nonsense as 3e's similar Book of Vile Darkness. There's also a list of "horror spells from other sources," but that list includes curse water, which turns a pint of water into unholy water. Something tells me it was mostly compiled by searching d20PFSRD for spells with "evil" or "curse" in their descriptions.

Something I forgot to mention before: remember that "spooked" condition that applies whenever you're in a spooky place and doesn't give a save? Psychic spellcasters - all of the classes from Occult Adventures plus a few archetypes from that book - can't cast spells with their equivalent of the somatic component while under the effect of any fear effect. The classes who specialize in dealing with ghosts and spirits can't cast a good two-thirds of their spell list while in the sorts of places ghosts and spirits tend to haunt.

Alignment vs Spell Lists 3D, coming to theaters this Halloween

There are fifty-three fucking pages of this bullshit. Nine pages of that is just the summary of which of nineteen different spellcasting classes get which spells. This is a giant pile of garbage and I know for certain that no single player will ever use even a tenth of this mess.

Before digging into the pile, let's talk about "evil" spells. Horror Adventures has plenty of evil-tagged spells, but unlike the archetypes, a fair few of them aren't unreasonable for a PC to use. Anything even tangentially related to undead is evil, which is consistent if not clearly explained anywhere that I'm aware of. The debate about whether animate dead should be evil when animate object is not is older than Pathfinder, and Paizo copy-pasted D&D 3.5e's decision on the matter and hasn't ever properly given any reason for it. Any spell that is a variation on a Core spell keeps that spell's tags or lack thereof: that's why giving people nightmares is evil but cursing them is not. There are also spells that attack with the power of evil, along the lines of Core's unholy blight, which are tagged evil for the same reason fireball is tagged fire.

However, much like Book of Vile Darkness, a bunch of spells in here are just especially gross or weird or awesome and tagged evil for no clear reason. Killing someone by desiccating them to death with Core's horrid wilting isn't evil, but apparently tearing out their heart or throwing screaming flaming skulls is. Pathfinder can't make up its mind if a spell is evil because it is powered by the evil element in the same way cone of cold is powered by ice, or if a spell is evil because it involves doing something no compassionate person could countenance. Pathfinder tries to have it both ways, which makes it unclear if it's okay to use an evil spell in a non-malevolent way.

Horror Adventures tries to solve that dilemma:

Horror Adventures posted:

This section includes a large number of evil spells. Casting an evil spell is an evil act, but for most characters simply casting such a spell once isn’t enough to change her alignment; this only occurs if the spell is used for a truly abhorrent act, or if the caster established a pattern of casting evil spells over a long period. A wizard who uses animate dead to create guardians for defenseless people won’t turn evil, but he will if he does it over and over again. The GM decides whether the character’s alignment changes, but typically casting two evil spells is enough to turn a good creature nongood, and three or more evils spells move the caster from nongood to evil. The greater the amount of time between castings, the less likely alignment will change. Some spells require sacrificing a sentient creature, a major evil act that makes the caster evil in almost every circumstance.

Those who are forbidden from casting spells with an opposed alignment might lose their divine abilities if they circumvent that restriction (via Use Magic Device, for example), depending on how strict their deities are.

Though this advice talks about evil spells, it also applies to spells with other alignment descriptors.

Bolding is mine.

This not only doesn't solve the problem of fighting about whether animate dead or the screaming flaming skull spell should be available to PCs - it says that it should, but not too much - it generates entirely new problems. No spellcaster ever needs to worry about alignment shifting, because they can just cast protection from evil a few times and fix up any alignment problems easy as pie! In fact, if you worship a neutral god but fight demons a little too often, maybe you'll just need to balance out your karma with some puppykicking.

Only one way out and that's through

I don't know how to organize this shit, so let's do this the good old-fashioned seat-of-the-pants way.

Absurdity is an appropriate place to start. It's a second-level spell that gives a fifty-fifty chance to ignore any lesser fear effect, at the cost of penalties to sense motive and initiative because you can't take anything seriously. Why would you put a spell about not taking scary things seriously in a book about taking horror seriously?

Alleviate Corruption is an expensive 6th-level spell that can roll back a stage of corruption or remove one corruption gift/stain, but requires a hard caster check. If the caster fails the check too hard, they get the corruption. Personally, I'd have written some rules for temporarily buying time for your corruption that kick in before 11th level and leave a little more room for creativity and specificity to each corruption's condition, but I guess that's why I'm not one of the twenty-two authors and designers credited for creating this book.

Appearance of Life is AOE disguise self but for undead only. It's third-level, a level higher than disguise other from Ultimate Magic, and it's evil for some reason.

Assume Appearance is third-level alter self except you can imitate a particular person but you need their fresh or well-preserved corpse(!). That's great and all but disguise self, a core first-level spell, already lets you assume the appearance of whoever or whatever you want. Greater Assume Appearance, at fourth level, removes the corpse requirement and lets you imitate their voice if you've heard it.

Barbed Chains is first-level Bigby's Single Mildly Scary Tentacle. It can poke people or trip people and it can scare them if it succeeds in doing that. You get more chains at higher levels.

Blood Ties is an evil fifth-level spell that allows you to do damage to a helpless hostage and duplicate that damage on a blood relative, with unlimited range. (There isn't even any mention of being on the same plane!) If a villain casts it with impunity and has access to magical healing, they can just quickly and efficiently murder everyone in a family who doesn't make the DC 20+ will save. It might make an interesting ability for a one-off special ritual or a major artifact, but as a spell it's so powerful and indiscriminate that it short-circuits intrigue stories badly.

Bloodbath is a second-level spell that let you cut yourself to cause AOE bleed.

Boneshaker is only middling for a second-level spell but has an amazing visual. You shake a skeleton marionette at someone to control their skeleton. If they're alive, they take some damage and you can shuffle them a five-foot step. If they're undead, you control them for a single move and basic attack. This owns bones, and is perfect for both a creepy NPC or a PC who wants a weird, situational spell that doesn't complete shut off against most enemies.

Borrow Corruption is a fourth-level spell that temporarily gives you a corruption gift and stain from a touched corrupted creature. Also it's evil and it causes you permanent sanity damage that can only be removed with greater restoration, miracle, or wish. Why would you ever cast this garbage?

Charnel House is a fifth-level shadow illusion that creates the illusion of rotting massacred flesh. The grossness can make people sick, and the illusion is semi-real and can make people slip and fall. It's like stinking cloud but two levels higher and with a ten minute casting time and also much worse. It's tagged evil, in a way that only raises further questions: the material component is a living creature, of Tiny size or larger. So... does that creature get a saving throw? Do you have to fight them to the death in the casting time? No GP cost is listed, so does that mean you have an arbitrary number of living creatures of arbitrary size in your material component pouch?

Compelling Rant is a fifth-level spell that builds on Core's first-level hypnotism, turning you into Alex Jones. Not only do you hold many more creatures' attention, but you do WIS/sanity damage to them and implant a permanent new notion in their head. The spell description is kind of vague about what sort of message you can implant: they can be "conspiracies or metaphysical revelations that confound your audience" even if those ideas would result in "contradictory beliefs", but "you can’t force beliefs on a target if such beliefs would be necessarily against the nature of its alignment and prior beliefs." Also this spell does WIS drain or super-hard-to-remove sanity damage to you as part of the casting. No details on whether it causes permanent rosacea or loss of custody of your children.

Contact Entity is a chain of spells that are like contact other plane but for creatures made up by HP Lovecraft. There's a whole chart, from using the second-level spell to contact a ratling to bholes or star-spawn of Cthulhu at seventh-level. I can understand why you'd want spells to contact horrible things from outside space - it's definitely in genre - but I'm not clear at all why Pathfinder can't just tack this onto the existing contact other plane spell. A sidebar even says that you can't use contact other plane because they aren't outsiders and sometimes they aren't on other planes, but it seems like it would be easier to handwave those details than to make a whole chain of spells that let you speak to a deep one but not a locathah. This list is also all-inclusive of Lovecraft creatures but isn't made with any sort of practical utility in mind: a ratling is a rat that smarter than an average person, a deep one is just a person who is a fish, a bhole is a barely-sentient giant worm. What are you even going to ask them?

Cruel Jaunt is a sixth level spell that lets you sense characters who are afraid and teleport to a random location near them. Why is this evil?

Curse of Fell Seasons is a ninth-level spell that permanently locks in the weather in a two-mile radius. Until you let it go, of course.

Curse of Night is the same deal but eighth level and blotting out sunlight instead. Maybe you're Montgomery Burns or nostalgic for Ravenloft. Both of these spells refer to the curse section in the next chapter, but "unnatural weather" and "endless night" are not some super confusing shit you need to cross-reference.

Curse Terrain, on the other hand, is four different evil spells, ranging from lesser at level 2 to supreme at level 8, does require you actually check the next chapter. Somewhere in a 300ft radius, a number of unnatural hazards appear, per the "perilous demense curse" on pg 144-145. The spell doesn't say what these hazards entail, just that you can't choose when the hazards appear or end or where they appear. Page 145 in turn tells you to check page 154 for the actual hazards, which are all like "evil tree" and "swarms of things." These spells are pointless. They're never, ever going to actually be cast in a game, and their narrative role - a spellcaster can blight the land with a magic ritual - can be handwaved in the same way that the origins of owlbears are handwaved. A wizard did it.

Damnation is, unexpectedly, a good-aligned spell! The concept is neat: it's a divine smite that damages anyone in the burst who can cast or is buffed with an evil spell. Unfortunately, it's d8 damage (will-save for half) per spell level of the highest level spell/spell-like/buff - that's garbage, even as an ally-friendly third-level cleric spell.

Death Clutch is a rehash of Book of Vile Darkness's heartclutch. It's a save or die that tears out the victim's heart, and it's evil even though horrid wilting and finger of death and disintegrate aren't. The main difference between this and BOVD's genuinely controversial heartclutch and stop heart is that nobody's going to want to cast death clutch - it's an 8th-level save-or-die with a HP cap. The BOVD spells were competitive with staples like hold monster or baleful polymorph; this, not so much.

Decapitate is a sixth-level spell that isn't evil. It isn't good, either, though. "You can cast this spell only as a response to a confirmed critical hit against the target that would deal slashing damage." The target takes 4d6 damage and, if they don't make a fort save, the crit modifier of the weapon is increased by 1. There's some flavor rules about decapitating the target if they're brought to zero HP or less but who cares.

Decollate is an extremely bizarre fifth-level buff. It allows you to remove your head for a day, giving you short-range blindsense (but no normal eyesight, even from your detached head) and DR 2/-. The visual is neat, but there's no reason you'd actually cast this other than to be a creepy guy with no head.

Dreadscape is an extremely stylish spell, but it's somewhat overcomplicated and not very good. It causes all of the targets to be scared (a new fear condition from chapter 1 - shaken with an extra -2 to saves on any new fear effects) and hostile towards any new creatures they see during the duration, and if they become frightened or panicked, they take WIS/sanity damage. The problem is that it's a fourth-level spell, same level as Core's fear, which causes panic in an AOE and still has an effect on targets that save. The longish duration makes me think it's intended to be cast by a villain who then runs away afterward, like Strahd in the original Castle Ravenloft module, but that's not ever made explicit.

I am only up to the letter F. Man, fuck spell lists in d20 books, honestly.



Spirit Bomb

posted by Cease to Hope Original SA post

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all the contents of the...


Time for more spells, starting with F. The scariest part of all of this bland chaff is having to actually read it.

Flesh Puppet is an evil third/fourth-level spell that animates a single zombie and disguises it as a living person. The puppet is tied to the caster with an invisible, sort-of-incorporeal string, which allows the caster to control the zombie and make it speak, but cutting or overextending the string ends the spell immediately. I like this! It has a neat visual, and its uses for a story are obvious. Flesh Puppet Horde (why not mass flesh puppet?) at fourth/fifth-level less so; it removes too many of flesh puppet's interesting qualities and leaves it redundant with animate dead.

Flesh Wall is an evil sixth-level spell that makes a wall of zombies that you can turn into actual zombies. It's ridiculously overcost: "sixth-level spells" and "human zombie" are not going to fit into the same encounter.

Flickering Lights is a spell that creates an area of random magical light or magical darkness, changing every turn based on a percentile table. Horror films have flickering lights, sure, but that doesn't translate into Pathfinder. Flickering light gives you flashes of view and is associated with the failure of reassuring, safe things like electric lights. Pathfinder is not only lit by firelight normally, but characters can often just see in the dark anyway. And why does this take a full round to cast?

Grasping Corpse is an evil first-level spell that makes a corpse animate temporarily to grapple or trip someone. This owns, and would be even better if Pathfinder's rules for grappling and tripping weren't godawful.

Green Caress, at sixth-level, slowly turns the target into an ordinary shrub, dealing STR/CON/DEX damage every day for seven days. If a stat hits zero, they turn into a mundane plant. Or a mushroom I guess. I get what this is going for, but it doesn't belong in the spell section. This book has chapters for corruptions and curses and weird magical diseases, while this is baleful polymorph except weaker and slower and one higher spell level.

Hedging Weapons is shield of faith except it's weaker and made up of floating weapons you can subsequently fling at enemies, consuming the AC buff. I am pretty sure it's only in this book because they have an illustration of the Pathfinder stock cleric using it on the facing page.

Holy Javelin is third-level divine acid arrow, only it does holy damage and slightly debuffs the target. Also they have a lit magical javelin sticking out of them. You could print this spell in any Pathfinder book ever.

Horrific Doubles, at fourth level, is mirror image but creepy. The doubles passively make anyone who sees them scared, and do WIS/sanity damage when popped. I like the imagery, but the reliance on ability damage makes this spell obnoxiously impractical for PC use, because tracking ability damage on NPCs is a pain.

Hunger For Flesh is a fourth-level evil reskin of confusion from Core, with a neat visual. (There's also a seventh-level Mass version.) The target is staggered, gets a bite attack, and has a chance each turn to be compelled to try to move and bite a creature of the same type and subtype.

This is a neat spell but it has three problems. The first, and largest, is that the big payoff - you're forced to bite your allies! - will almost never happen unless the target is already adjacent to a character of the exact same species, because the biter is staggered and thus can't move and attack. This mixes straight into the second problem, that unless there's another, friendly person of the exact same species nearby, this is a boring save-or-staggered effect. Lastly, since biting someone of the exact same species (willingly or otherwise) removes all of the penalties except for the compulsion to bite people, then you can just bite a friend every turn or so for fairly minor damage as part of a full attack action that is otherwise directed at enemies and mostly shrug off the whole spell.

Life Blast is a fourth-level druid/ranger/shaman spell that is either Goku's spirit bomb or that bizarre scene in Dark Knight Returns where Superman drains a field of flowers (or possibly a rainforest? It's not entirely clear) to dust in order to repower himself after being blasted to a withered husk by a nuclear missile. You drain all of the non-creature vegetation in a X' radius circle to dust to shoot a d6/level beam of positive energy damage at undead. The visual is cool and all, but why are druids allowed to cast a spell that literally blights the land? It's also garbage that's pretty much 100% worse than flame strike, which can affect anyone, has a more useful AOE, and doesn't require convenient vegetation to blight.

It's easy to forget how weird Dark Knight Returns (Miller/Janson/Varley) was.

Locate Gate is a fifth-level spell that locates gates. Interdimensional ones, not the kind that have a portcullis.

Mad Sultan's Melody is a fourth-level version of Core's fascinate, except it ignores immunity to mind-affecting effects but only works on "creatures with the ooze type, creatures with the amorphous special ability, and non-bipedal creatures with a special association with the Outer Gods." (What constitutes the last is left vague.) Casting it also does WIS/sanity damage to the user. This has to be some hyper-specific reference to a Lovecraft story I'm not familiar with because I can't see any reason any character in any game would ever have any occasion to have this spell.

Massacre is ninth-level circle of death, except it's a line and has a 17HD-per-creature cap instead of a 9HD, and also it explodes at the end of the line for damage that isn't especially impressive for a ninth-level spell.

Maze of Madness and Suffering is an evil ninth-level version of maze, except the maze traps the target in a randomly-chosen creepy environment with corresponding effects. Creepy circus, haunted forest, cyclopean ruins, etc. It solves the problem that getting mazed is an extremely boring way to sit out a combat, but each environment requires three or four rolls each turn in order to accomplish results varying from 3d6 damage to permanent mental illness, so it's a little fiddly.

Night Terrors is a sixth-level evil spell that prevents people from getting any rest and causes WIS/sanity damage every time they try. It also has an overcomplicated interaction where it intensifies other fear effects, which makes even weak fear effects crippling if you're playing with vanilla fear, but is negligible if you're playing with the (optional!) fear rules from this book.

This is just an absolute mess. For one, wisdom damage already intensifies fear: it lowers your will save. You don't need all of this extra template-breaking nonsense. For another, this interacts with two separate optional systems in this book, and depending on which rules you're using the effects range from incredibly crippling (sanity and vanilla fear) to worrying but manageable (vice versa). For a third, this is a dispellable effect instead of a curse, so it's trivial to remove when it should be in the curse section of the next chapter with all of the other long-lasting curses. Finally, why is this evil? Tormenting someone with visions of their misdeeds is just as reasonable a use for this spell as gratuitously tormenting someone. This spell is poorly conceived at every level and isn't practically usable for anything.

Pessimism is the negative counterpart to Core's (third-level) heroism. Why is save-or-minus-2-to-everything a fifth-level spell, though? The part where the enchanted character will catastrophize any natural one or roll that misses by 5 or more and increase the penalty to -3 for a round is fiddly but a nice touch on a dumb spell that is about two spell levels too high to bother with.

Phantasmal Asphyxiation is a fourth-level remake of Core's phantasmal killer. Instead of killer's save-twice-or-die, instead if the target fails the will save, they think they're suffocating and has to make a fort save every round. One fort failure means they're staggered for a round, and a second fort failure means they pass out (and resume breathing by reflex). Phantasmal killer is only okay to begin with, so I'm not sure why a save-three-times-or-die variant is something anyone would want. I like that it isn't as all-or-nothing as phantasmal killer, but it is much weaker and (annoyingly) doesn't use Pathfinder's standard rules for suffocation.

Phantasmal Putrefaction is sixth-level AOE phantasmal killer, although everyone who fails their check takes a gratuitous WIS/sanity damage hit, failing the fort save only causes unconsciousness, and the will save repeats for rounds/level until each victim succeeds on it or fails the fort save and pass out. This is a usable spell with an interesting visual, but it seems like Paizo could have sanded off some of the extraneous effects like the WIS damage or unaffected people giving bonuses to affected people.

Phobia is a sixth-level spell that gives a character a permanent phobia on a failed will save. It's comparable with Core's geas as an obvious plot device. No mention is made of how it interacts with the sanity/madness rules from elsewhere in this book, of course, and this phobia does not work like those phobias.

Plundered Power is an seventh-level spell that allows an evil spellcaster to sacrifice an intelligent creature to make a gem into temporary magic item that can cast one spell or spell-like ability the sacrificed creature could use once per day. Why can't this just use the rules for making magic items or the ritual rules elsewhere in this book?

Profane and Sacred Nimbus are evil and good (respectively) fifth-level spells that give you a shield that damages any good/evil character who attacks you in melee. They also reduce damage from good/evil spells by half and give evasion against such spells if they involve a reflex save (although I can't actually think of any aligned spells with a reflex save).

Pyrotechnic Eruption is a fourth-level d6/level blast, but it targets one single creature and repeats each round for [level] rounds. The spell is described as "jets of flame erupt[ing] from the ground" and there are some bizarrely complicated rules for one creature to displace the target and take over as the new target, but no explanation for what happens when the target of the spell is flying.

Okay. One more update of these.

Next time on HORRIBLE ADVENTURES: da skull zone

Image credit: DeviantArt user LucifericChrist