Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Blood of Fiends

I recently got a gift card for Amazon, and lacking anything specific that I wanted to buy, I decided on a whim to go see what I'd been missing by not having picked up any Paizo setting material in several months.  I got quite a few books (some of which are pre-orders that I won't have for a little while still) but the main box with the majority of the titles I ordered arrived today while I was at work.  Naturally, as soon as I had a free moment, I broke open the box, cracked open the books and started looking at them.

Blood of Fiends is of the shorter Player Companion series, and is part of an ongoing run of race specific books.  This one, as the title infers, is all about tieflings.  I had actually thought that tiefling was a word of Wizards of the Coast intellectual property, and that Paizo therefore couldn't use it.  In their earlier products, they seemed to be a bit wary of using it.  Then again, it is in the SRD, so I guess I should have known better.  Anyone who knows anything about my own DARK•HERITAGE setting would know that I'm a big fan of the concept of the tiefling, although I've taken it my own direction (and avoided using that specific word myself, too.)  My own splintered Baal Hamazi empire is conceptually based around the notion of Bael Turath, the implicit setting for 4e's past tiefling empire.  And while visually my "tieflings" are much less fleshy and weird than 4e's (being more a hybrid of Star Wars' Darth Maul and the X-Men's Nightcrawler) I also admit the possibility of more randomized and unusual hellspawn throughout the setting.  These guys, then, would be more like the 2e and 3e version of tieflings than the 4e version... and hence, this book that I just got would be in many ways applicable to them too.

One thing I've always loved about Pathfinder stuff is that it's highly compatible and useful to people who play other d20 family games, whether or not you've embraced the full-on Pathfinder revision of the system or not. Granted, this is more true of the setting stuff than the player companion stuff, but it's still largely true.  Much of the text in this book is really about the roleplaying concept of being a tiefling than anything else, as well as some advice on how to fit them into the Golarion setting specifically.  Although I don't use anyone else's settings besides my own (at least not without significant modification) I still find this kind of stuff very interesting and useful.  Much of it is setting neutral, of course, and what isn't is still nice and exemplary of how it could be applied.

There's also some nice houserules about variant tieflings.  Quite a lot of variants, actually, and much of it would be handy with a 3e or 3.5 tiefling, or even with my own hellspawn houserules.  Some of it is not, though.  I guess because I haven't really kept up with all the layered in add-ons of books like Ultimate Magic and whatnot, I found I was a little lost reading some of the other mechanical stuff.  Traits are something that I'm familiar with, but haven't really paid much attention to, and there's quite a few of them.  Similarly, I was scratching my  head a little bit at mechanical bits like Masterpieces, Bloodlines, Inquisitions, Curses, and more.  I mean, I mostly knew what they were, or at least could figure out immediately from context.  But I do have to admit that I was a little disappointed to see how much this supports specifically the Pathfinder game specifically... and how much that is starting to veer a bit further and further away from the 3.5 game that was its predecessor.  The notion of Pathfinder is that it was supposed to fix a few issues with 3.5, but otherwise provide a faithful continuation of that system for those who didn't want to move to 4e.  Ironically, Pathfinder is becoming more and more divergent from 3.5 itself the more I look at it.  And to its fans, that seems to mostly be a good thing.

But that's not really a comment on this book, its a comment on the ongoing design direction of Pathfinder overall.  The good news is that for someone like me, who still actually clings to 3.5 with a few minor houserules rather than needing an all new game, is that much of what is presented here is still very useful to me.  To an actual player of the Pathfinder system, everything will of course be potentially usable.  And, well, if you like the concept of tieflings, I've never seen a better treatment.  It hits pretty much all the right notes.  It gives lots of options to customize your tiefling.  It gives you big randomized charts of abilities and appearance variations.  It gives you options for devil vs. demon (vs daemon vs. oni vs. div vs. rakshasa, etc.) blooded tieflings.  And it gives a sensible and well-written approach to how they fit into a fairly typical (specifically Golarion, but in this regard, it can stand in for pretty much any "standard" D&D campaign) setting.  Paizo continues to provide excellent setting and flavor.

Since I don't play and am fairly indifferent to the specific changes that they made to 3.5 to evolve it into Pathfinder, I can't really comment too much on the mechanics, although my read-through was that they seemed pretty solid, and some of the mechanics were delightful in their flavor implications (the notion of "teleporting" through a battlefield to erupt from the fatal wounds of nearby corpses was a bit of a eye-brow raiser, for instance).  I still feel that 3.5 is a bit too fiddly and I have to ignore large chunks of the rules.  And since Pathfinder is even more prescriptive and fiddly than 3.5, I find that the system more and more evolves in the opposite direction of my personal tastes.  But you can't help but want to find ways to adapt stuff like that.

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