Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thoughts on Obsidian Twilight (LPJ Designs)

I told you guys I purchased Obsidian Twilight and I read through it yesterday. I feel uncomfortable posting an actual review because I've written for Louis in the past, am currently working on a project for him, and definitely want to write O.T. in the near future. But I want to talk about the setting.

Damn good. If I were giving it a starred review, I'd give it a 4/5. Everything that was there- with a couple of minor exceptions- was high quality. The comissioned artwork Louis arranged for O.T. was excellent- all the new racial and class illustrations rocked, and I like the fact the three biggest and most powerful NPC villains of the setting (Isa Magnor, Celix and Zedibiah) get big, pretty 3/4 page illustrations and full stats. All three of those fuckers, by the way top CR 30, which is great. They are as badass by the game rules as they are in the fiction, and I can see taking any of 'em out as the capstone for a campaign.

Plus, the stock art Louis used was really well displayed and fit visually with the paid-for stuff. The layout was really pretty- I like the curling page borders and layouts. I have to say though, that the gothic purple font Louis used for the paragraph headers and spell names got on my nerves very fast. It looked good, but for some of the spell names especially, was really hard to read.

The world itself is nice, and has a lot of possibilities. When he first told me about the setting, he said to think of it as Dark Sun meets Ravenloft, which it achieves. Not just a rip off, O.T. has got enough originality to stand on its own.

Things I liked about the setting: the big three baddies mentioned above. I liked their history, their plans and the fact that there is a good reason that Zedibiah (the closest thing the setting has to a hero or messiah) can't just solve everything on his own. Despite the fact that thing is CR 30, it's still geased and epic cursed into uselessness- it can be a backer or adviser for the heroes, but it can't be the dues ex machina.... unless the GM really, really wants it to be. Good planning.

The races with two exceptions, which I'll get to in a minute were uniformly excellent. I like the write ups detailing how the standard races fit into the setting (but where was the half-orc write up? I know they're similar to the Harrowed, but I still missed the tusky bastards). The gnomes were a personal favorite- they're cowardly collaborators with the undead lords- think the Vichy French or trusties in a hellhole prison. (And Louis, if you're reading this, as soon as I'm done with the gladiator book, I want a commission to write up a splatbook about the O.T. gnomes.) Halflings got screwed hard in the apocalypse- they're twichy, feral little monsters. But I like the fact they're not the badass cannibal headhunters from Dark Sun... O.T.'s halflings are more like abused, half starved feral children. Very creepy and cool... basically imagine an entire race that's like the Children Under the Stairs.

The new races were awesome- the Rajin were a personal favorite. They reminded me forcibly of Ghost Rider, in that they have a racial ability that is effectively the penance stare. Like Ghost Rider, they're assholes but they kill demons. So rock on. The Exalted and Osirians were also cool. The flavor fiction explaining the Exalted's birthmarks as their heavenly blood warring in their bodies with their sinful flesh is a bit too much of a Christian concept for me. I wouldn't have gone that route, but in the context of the fiction, this eerie and highly visual take on original sin works. If I run an O.T. campaign, I would play up the Exalted's birthmarks/tats- they'd constantly shift and give a clue to the Exalt's mood, like Rorschach's mask in Watchmen.

The Lycians.... points off for the kinda plain name. I can think of half dozen fictional works that call their big scary wolf men Lycians. Still, the culture and some of the racial feats for the big furballs was pretty good. However, I don't think Louis made the case they deserved to retain the shapeshifter subtype, even if these fixed-form wolfmen were originally descended from werewolves. If I'd written it, I'd of given them the plain Monstrous Humanoid type, kept their ancestral vulnerabilities because the flavor behind them is cool, and included a Lycian specific prestige class that gives them their shapeshifter talents back. To each their own, though.

The race I had the most problem with though was the Khymer. I think those guys were an excellent concept (the living blood of those killed by the great disaster that animates corpses as containment suits/temporary host bodies). I'm not sure if these guys should have been a PC race, though they are definitely interesting. The problem is their racial write up leaves too many holes. It's not specifically said in their write up, but is hinted at in other racial feats, that the Khymer turn the host body they possess into a duplicate of the creature they were in life. I would have rather made the Khymer a kind of template that can be added to any existing creature that takes over the mind, but uses the body as is- you've got more flexibility as a GM and can easily run scenarios like John Carpenter's The Thing.

On the heroic front, I would of also liked a feat or Khymer prestige class that would allow you to keep some or all of the body's abilties. Also, the racial write up mentions that when down to their last few HP, the Khymer can leave their old host body and try to jump into a new one. So how many HP does the Khymer have in it's new body? Is it still wounded, or does it heal some or all of its damage when body hopping? That's a BIG question that needs to be answered. If there's O.T. errata, that has got to be at the top of the list.

EDIT: I realized I'd missed the part in the racial description where they mentioned the Khymer did exactly what I expected: They turn their host bodies into a duplicate of their original form. Sorry, I just skipped that paragraph!

Feats and spells were amazingly sick. I liked the emphasis on the gross and the dangerous- most of the new spells were necromancy, and add alot of flavor to the campaign. Some of them are so hilariously broken I can't wait to use them. There are some GREAT damage dealing and curse spells in here. Crucify Foe(mass).... Sunfire Tomb, any new spell of 6th level or above. These things kick ass! Oh, and Vacate Bowels- you know back in my AD&D days, I misused Command (Me to GM: I yell out "SHIT!" ) to do the same thing, so I got a kick out of it.

The mini-monster manual in the back was dominated by the three big bads, and included a pair of other monsters, both of which were CR 8 with CR11 advanced versions. To all the monsters were either epic level or mid level, with nothing high but not epic, and nothing for starting characters to fight. I figure Louis is saving some content for a follow up release, but I would have liked to seen a more even distribution of monsters in the core book, especially at least 1-3 low level threats to start a campaign off right.

Something else I would have liked to of seen was more world info, though what was told explicitly and what was implied by the spells, feats and classes was excellent. Tell me a bit more about Celix' kingdom, it's laws, its cruel punishments, its peasant rebellions, ect. I'm hoping there's a gazetteer or atlas for the setting coming soon.

So I dropped 15 bucks on this beast of a core book, and I definately got my money's worth and more. A couple of problems with two of the new races, a desire for more, but other than a damn good book. Louis did good on this one.

Talk to you later,

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