Original SA post
More d20 supplements should be like this. Just, you know, less broken.
Well, 3rd Edition is pretty much the least balanced one out there, on account of being Caster Supremacy on steroids.
In the meantime, have another review as a late night present, Goons. This was part of something I did called Courtroom Reviews, where I took a D20 Product and judged its contents based on the promises it made. "A balanced yet versatile magic system, evil adventures done right," et cetera.
In this one, John Wick designed alternate humans for his campaign setting, advertising them as a fresh take on a bland and relatively featureless race.
No Gods, Only Man[
Ah, good ol’ humans. Aside from their versatility, short lifespans, and lack of a monoculture, they don’t really have any signifying traits which make them stand out in fantasy gaming. In a way, this is to be expected. Humans are a baseline species in Dungeons & Dragons defined more by their particular civilization or nation than their race as a whole. Attempts to make and define humanity in sourcebooks usually end up with vague characteristics which sound empty, usually some variation of “humans are too varied to make any sort of generalization, but they do have ambition.”
Additionally, players’ familiarity with humanity serves as a form of measuring stick to provide contrast to the more exotic civilizations. Many gamers feel that standard humans are bland, not possessing any distinct characteristics. John Wick is one of these people. As part of his “Wicked Fantasy” series where classic races are reinvented, the Reign of Men re-imagines humankind as an ancient and prosperous civilization which draws heavy inspiration from ancient Athens and Imperial Rome. Humans are the oldest race, and their cities are centers of learning and home to the oldest civilizations, and they have a fierce love for democracy.
The book opens up with a mantra espousing the values of the Reign of Men. It paints a picture of a glorious land, where people are free to choose their own destinies without lords or gods and the ability to succeed and fail upon their own merits.
Among the elves, dwarves, and others, humans are known as the Old Race, because they have existed for as long as they can remember. The ancient kingdom of humanity (now known as the Reign of Men) was once ruled by warlords and autocratic noble families with sharply drawn class distinctions. Within the last 500 years it underwent drastic social change as learned scholars and philosophers argued for greater autonomy and that the citizens should choose for themselves how to be ruled. The newly-crowned monarch, derisively called the “Philosopher-King” by critics, was inspired by this movement and chose to enact laws granting citizens the right to elect their leaders. And thus democracy was born.
Human culture hews closely to the ideals of individualist autonomy. Humans should not beholden themselves to gods, and have the right to elect new leaders who fail to represent their interests. Humans believe that latent potential comes from within, and external sources of empowerment are ultimately empty paths. Through training, education, and sheer willpower, a human can become more than they are and achieve their greatest dreams. Although this unlocked ‘potential’ commonly takes on traits which can only be described as magical, humans insist that it’s not supernatural but a form of power believed to be held within every member of their race. Human Clerics and Paladins (known as Philosophers and Palatines) draw their magic from this inner strength. The text contradicts itself in saying that Palatines are granted their special powers by the Senate (the Reign’s governing body), which would effectively make it an external power source.
Interestingly, the text tells us that to be human means to be part of something larger than oneself. Humans are expected serve the Reign, and that what’s good for the Reign is good for all because it provides them the happiness and freedom they so desire. This stands at odds with the individualist rhetoric of earlier, although the flavor text does not acknowledge this and says that too many humans today are selfish and have lost sight of this ideal. Honestly I don’t mind cultural contradictions, but it feels that the author is unaware of this.
What then follows is a brief overview of an average human’s life in the Reign. Every town has a local university to ensure that all its citizens are well-read. Most parents train their children to be either be a scholar, soldier, or tradesman, and the child is pretty much locked into learning the trade for 10-12 years. Scholars attend prestigious universities of the ten cities and spend years studying about various sorts of academic lore. Unfortunately, all but the wealthiest families can hope to afford a scholarship. Adults usually live with their parents in family homes which are passed from one generation to the next. The elderly are expected to leave home and join universities in order teach new generations, especially if their family cannot provide for them any longer. Universities often double as poor houses, hospitals, and nursing homes given the lack of churches in the Reign.
Care for senior citizens (or the lack of it) is a huge problem. Although earlier the text mentioned that the elderly are "taken care of in the most humane way possible" by universities, most of them do not have the resources to care for them and are overcrowded as a result, leaving many of the old and infirm to die in the streets (perhaps the author meant "most humane way possible given the limited resources"). Senators who propose increased funding are shouted down by the militarists who would much rather use the money to guard against supposed hostile foreign powers (even though the nation is enduring a time of peace and lacks significant foreign threats).
Afterwards we get a rundown on the government. The Senate is comprised of elected representatives from the ten major cities running on 10-year terms. The city-states are supposedly independent but must obey all laws passed by the Senate. Each of the ten cities also elect their own Governors on 6-year terms; in addition to maintenance of their cities, Governors have the power to recall Senators with a 50% popular vote. The Senate also controls the military and elects a General on a lifetime position. The Reign also has a King who is elected by a 10-year term (which makes me wonder why they still use the title), and he can veto Senate laws (which is overturned by a 3/5ths vote) and introduce laws to them, much like the role of a US President. The King also has the power to form his own knightly orders (which are not part of the military). Also, humans don't like it when the other races call their nation a Kingdom.
We get a brief run-down on some local currency, holidays, and the city’s guilds, which are corrupt as hell (pulling on the purse strings of elected officials and intimidating voters).
So far I find this revision of humans interesting, if a little contradictory in several areas. I find the idea of them being beholden to no deities interesting, a possible reason for why there’s no “God of humans” in most settings. The talk of ‘human potential’ initially came off as sort of the generic ill-defined ‘humans are special’ tripe, but making it a unique magical power source which leaves the other races in confusion is something I like a lot (we'll be getting into the game mechanics of this later).
Upon further review, the write-up does have a bit of Special Snowflake-itis, and I have to wonder if the civilization of the Reign is meant as some kind of Author Tract. The societal flaws and contradictions make me think otherwise, but it's possible.
Next Time: the City-States!
Wick's humans come off like Arrogant "Enlightened Elves" in places. What makes them different than the "Our Elves Are Better" trope is that their society has some genuine flaws (guilds can influence elections, no social safety net for the elderly, etc).
Food for thought:
John Wick (the author) is a Libertarian, and from what I've heard his works tend to have that political strain emerge at times. I can see this popping up in his human write-up, and I haven't read the whole thing yet. I can't tell if he's trying to make them idealized political clones or not (the nationalist collectivist angle of 'serving the Reign' throws that theory for a loop).
Some other minor things: I think that the human arrogance might be intentional. They don't like it when other races refer to the Reign as a Kingdom, and yet they elect a King (the text mentions that the term is "both accurate and misleading"). And their divine magic is obviously supernatural (still counts as spells by the game mechanics), yet they deny it.
In addition to the many small villages and towns, there are 10 major Cities in the Reign of Men. Each city has its own dialect, history, and customs. "To be human is also to be from a City," the text says. "Just as men are proud of their heritage, they are doubly proud of their native City."
Except that many humans live outside these cities. What about them? Do they not count?
Apparently not. Only the cities have the power to elect governors and senators, and the Senate laws do not extend to the towns.
Each city has two related Skills which represent the ideals and character of the city. For example, the merchant city of Tomkin has Handle Animal and Profession (Merchant). Humans who have an aptitude with these skills get in-game bonuses (which we'll discuss in the next chapter).
is the capital of the Reign and home to the Senate. The bureaucracy is choked with paperwork, and legal morass and government incompetence leads to loopholes, corruption, and urban decay. Most Senators are greedy politicians, which only adds to the problem.
is the Reign's center of learning, a cosmopolitan town with students traveling in from all corners. As a tradition, every weekend the teachers leave the universities to debate no-holds-barred "real philosophy" in the city's taverns, hoping to be challenged as equals outside the dry academic context of the classroom. This is probably the most complicated and roundabout excuse I've ever heard of getting smashed.
is nick-named the City of Shadows for its numerous assassinations and sinister sorcerer families.
is located in the Reign's geographic center and is little more than a glorified post office, as the city is used as a commerce hub and waypoint for messengers.
Wave hello to the Invisible Hand of the Free Market when stopping by in
Trade is managed all by women called "Aunties," and the woman in charge of them is also the city's governor. Governor Rose ran on a platform of getting rid of laws she saw as useless and over-regulatory until there was only one remaining: "protect each other." She won the election.
So Tomkin is supposedly a Libertarian paradise where people aren't overburdened by those dumb legal restrictions and home to happy merchants plying their trades! It's also the most free of all the cities. And yet the person in charge of the government is also in charge of the market, technically making it...
The "one law" idea is dumb on so many levels. What does "protect each other" mean? Does it apply to everyone within the city, or just its residents? If the former, does that mean that you forsake this right upon setting foot outside? If the latter, are people who are not citizens free pickings for the criminal element?
In contrast to the opening mantra and the incompetent government at the capital, I'm definitely seeing a pro-Libertarian bias crop its head up.
is a martial northern City where only soldiers are allowed to vote (everyone's required to be a soldier), and frequently fend off orcs, trolls, and other such "lesser races" across the border. They look down upon their southern neighbors for pursuing art and culture, and always elect the most hawkish officials. Wait a second, the text mentioned earlier that the Reign is largely peaceful and doesn't have to worry about hostile foreign neighbors!
is a spartan mountain City where all the Palatines are trained. The place is also home to a race of sapient horses known as the Uffred, who choose riders worthy enough to carry them (in other words, Paladin Mounts). The text mentions that the city is not suited to visitors, with "no elegant taverns for travelers, no theaters,
and no brothels
When I think of swinging tourist hot spots, I don't think about the destination's overall safety, its entertainment, or its climate; the prostitutes are where it's at.
stands in ruins, ravaged by the horrors of the wastes. Many citizens sought to reclaim it, and they're a hardy, tough lot.
is renowned for its fine wines and wizard's colleges. Most of the city's economy revolves around servicing arcane spellcasters and their needs, from magic item shops to apprenticeship training.
is a city of thieves, where organized crime syndicates run the show. The Governor's a figurehead, and it makes most of its money exporting drugs and illegal goods.
There is still a noble class in the traditional sense (rule by bloodline), but they have no real power beyond the small villages and hamlets they still control. Most humans who live outside the cities are pretty much living on their land, and they don't get to vote for representatives or who rules them. So much for its claims at liberty and democracy; "to be human is to belong to a city," indeed.
Thoughts so far:
Arguably the weakest part of the book. The Reign's vaulted ideals fall short in this part, and there's potential conflict in disenfranchisement of non-City dwellers. The antiquated nobility is a sharp contrast from democratic values, but is sadly underutilized here. This could be played straight as examples of flawed ideals, but the text does not come off that way. The town of Tomkin also left a bad taste in my mouth, too.
Next Time: Open Content, and a new, revised Human race!
Open Content: All material starting on page 22 to the end of the book is Open Content. All other material is ©2012 by John Wick. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission from the author. All characters and situations presented in this work are fictional. Except for John, Jess and Jill. They are as real as you. Aaron and Mauro, however, are entirely fictional and should be treated as such.
Now this is where we get into the real meat of game mechanics. From what I hear, it's typical in the Wicked Fantasy series to give the races a mechanical makeover with more distinctive advantages, such as Cleave as a bonus feat (as opposed to a "+1 to Diplomacy").
Here it is, the Wick-ified Human!
Human Racial Traits
• +2 to Strength, Constitution or Dexterity and +2 Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma
• Medium: Humans have no special bonuses or penalties due to their size.
• Movement: Base speed of 30ft.
• The Will of Men: Gain +1 racial bonus to all Will Saves. At 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th character level, gain an additional +1 bonus. Men are creatures of will; their will carries them through a harsh world of politics and physical dangers.
• Improved Teamwork: Humans count every member of their party as having the same Teamwork Feats they have. No matter size of the group, humans know how to work with others, even if they aren’t human.
• Rally: Whenever a human threatens a critical on an attack roll they can make a Charisma Check DC 10 + CR of target. If successful, all allies within 30ft gain a +1 rally bonus to attack and damage for the next round. For every consecutive threatened critical during the same combat, add +1 to the bonus. Humans can drive others to new heights of determination through shouts of inspiration and encouragement.
• Skillful: Choose one skill that permanently counts as a class skill. Additionally, gain a +2 racial bonus to that skill. The bonus gains an additional +1 every four character levels. Humans pursue a wide range of careers and live in a multitude of conditions, and as a result learn to excel in many different skills.
• Hometown: Humans pick one city in the Reign to be their hometown. Each hometown has two “city skills.” If a human has a bonus of at least +4 in one city skill, they gain one bonus feat. If they have a bonus of at least +4 in both city skills, they gain two bonus feats. Check sidebar for which skills are related to cities. Every city in the Reign is known for producing a certain kind of person. When a human matches up with the ideals of their hometown they start with a leg up.
• Hometown Advantage: When humans are in the city they were born in they gain a +2 racial bonus to all Social rolls. Additionally humans gain +2 Favored Terrain (Hometown). Humans know their hometown like the back of their hand. Every street, every common merchant and all of the people are easily recalled from days of childhood. Language: Humans begin play speaking Common and Human
(Hometown Dialect). Humans with high Intelligence scores can choose any languages they want (except secre languages, such as Druidic).
• Hometown : Humans pick one city in the Reign to be their hometown. Each hometown has two “city skills." (see pg. 15)
The standard Pathfinder Human has +2 to one ability score of the player's choice, an additional skill point at each level, and a bonus feat at 1st level. Wick-ified Humans get a net +4 to ability scores, an extra class skill which can get up a +7 racial bonus, and two potential bonus feats (which can be taken at any point and not just 1st level) for as little as a 2 skill point tax!
The Rally trait is way too weak to be worth it. Not only must you threaten a critical hit (30% at most with a specialized build and weapon), but you must roll a successful Charisma check (which you won't make against higher CR enemies unless you pump up the ability). And then the bonus lasts for only one round. An optimized character built around it can probably stack up bonuses in combat, but there are easier ways to make an "inspiring" character build.
In comparison to the Pathfinder Core races, this Human is powerful, really powerful. Overpowered, even.
Now for the feats:
Human Knowledge Feats
Love of Knowledge
You pursue philosophia, the love of knowledge.
Prerequisites: Human, any Knowledge skills 4 ranks total.
Benefit: You may make untrained Knowledge skill checks, even if you do not have any ranks in the Knowledge skill, regardless of the DC of the skill check. Once per day per four character levels (minimum of once per day), you may ruminate on a subject for 2 minutes in order to take 20 on a Knowledge skill check. As usual, you may only take 20 if you are not under stress or threat and have uninterrupted time to consider the question.
Normal: You may only make untrained Knowledge skill checks if the DC is 10 or less. You may not take 20 on Knowledge skill checks.
Flavorfull feat, but the Bard's class features make this ability superfluous.
Human Teamwork Feats
Humans know how to fight well with others, and in time, they can teach others to fight well with them.
Prerequisites: Human, Profession (Solider) 5 Ranks
Benefit: As a standard action, you can grant one teamwork feat to all allies within 30 feet who can see and hear you. Allies retain the use of this bonus feat for 3 rounds plus 1 round for every two character levels you possess. Allies do not need to meet the prerequisites of this bonus feat. You can do this a number of times a day equal to you Wisdom Bonus.
This is the only teamwork feat listed, but if there are others it would still be useless. Because Improved Teamwork effectively grants the character's teamwork feats as bonus feats to other party members. Human Tactics does the same thing, but on a limited duration. Maybe it's meant to be used for people not part of the party, although "party" is really broadly defined.
I misinterpreted the text.
The way teamwork feats work is you get a bonus if you fulfill a criteria with a person who also has the feat. The human racial trait just lets you act like your entire party has the feat, it doesn't actually give it to them.
On that note, I'm not experienced enough with said feats to give an accurate assessment.
Human Rally Feats
Some humans can inspire more than just inspire a better attack.
Prerequisites: Human, Diplomacy 6 Ranks or Intimidate 6 Ranks
Benefit: When you threaten a critical hit, instead of using the Rally ability you can use the Saving Rally ability. Saving Rally affects an ally who has failed a Will saving throw during the encounter and is still under the effects of the failure. Make either a Diplomacy or an Intimidate Check; the result counts as a new saving throw result for the ally against one effect; your choice of which effect to attempt the save against. This cannot be used on yourself.
The more intense your words the further they can reach.
Prerequisites: Human, Saving Rally, Base
Attack Bonus +10, Diplomacy 10 Ranks or Intimidate 10 Ranks
Benefit: You can extend the range of the Rally ability to 60ft. If you use the Saving Rally ability instead you can affect a number of extra targets equal to your Charisma Bonus.
Hearing the right words can help the magically gifted to new heights.
Prerequisites: Human, Extended Rally, Spellcraft 5 Ranks, Diplomacy 13 Ranks or Intimidate 13 Ranks
Benefit: When you threaten a critical hit, instead of using the Rally ability, you can use the Sorcerer’s Rally ability. Sorcerer’s Rally allows you to select one ally with caster levels and make a Spellcraft Check DC 10 + their Caster Level. If successful, add your current Rally Bonus * 2 to their caster level for the next round.
With the right words, people can be called to act.
Prerequisites: Human, Sorcerer’s Rally, Diplomacy 17 Ranks
Benefit: When you threaten a critical hit instead of using the Rally ability you can use the Inspirational Rally ability. Inspirational Rally allows you select one ally and one enemy they can attack without moving within 60ft of yourself. Make a Diplomacy Check DC 10 + CR of the selected enemy, if successful the ally makes an attack against the enemy. They gain a moral bonus to attack and damage equal to your current Rally Bonus * 3 for the attack. Melee, Ranged, Touch and Ranged Touch attacks can be used with the power.
The terror you can inspire in your enemies is frightful.
Prerequisites: Human, Sorcerer’s Rally, Intimidate 17 Ranks
Benefit: When you threaten a critical hit instead of using the Rally ability you can use the Menacing Rally ability. Menacing Rally allows you to make a Intimidation Check DC 10 + CR of your target, if successful all enemies within 60ft take a penalty to all attack and damage equal to your current Rally Bonus * 3 for the next round. Penalties from Menacing Rally do not stack; only use the highest current penalty.
The Triumph of Men
Men are Exceptional and do Exceptional Deeds.
Prerequisites: Human, Inspirational Rally or Menacing Rally, Diplomacy 20 Ranks or Intimidate 20 Ranks
Benefit: When you threaten a critical hit instead of using the Rally ability you can use The Triumph of Men ability. The Triumph of Men allows all humans, including yourself, who are allies to regain ¼ of their maximum hit points + your current Rally Bonus * 4 and removed any conditions that they wish to remove. This can only be used once per day.
The Sorcerer's Rally is potentially abuseable with its increased Caster Level, and Inspirational Rally can apply for some action economy shenanigans; the whole 'threaten a critical' makes the usage of Rally feats unreliable.
Human Hometown Feats
Home Away From Home
While a human may have been born in one city, it’s possible they grew up or have lived a long time in a different city.
Prerequisites: Human, Knowledge (Chosen City) 7 Ranks, own home in the Chosen City
Benefit: You gain the benefits of Hometown Advantage in the Chosen City. This feat can be taken multiple times but only Cities in the Reign of Man can be your Chosen City.
Next we get the alternate Cleric and Paladins.
Philosphers are like Clerics, only better. They have 5 skill points per level, and instead of using a holy symbol or radiating an alignment aura, they have an object of sentimental value known as a focus which grants +1 to DC of all spells cast as long as it's on their person.
Cleric loses holy symbol, can't cast spells. Philosopher loses Focus, and his +1 DC bonus to spells. Fair trade, I think not.
Philosophers can also select any two domains of their choice regardless of alignment restrictions. They also get two new domains, Humanity and Philosophy, which grant a bonus Orison per day per domain chosen.
Also, Philosophers and Palatines don't call their magic "spells;" they're "meditations," with Orisons being "Insights."
Palatines are focused on justice and honor and crusade against evil, yet they can be of any alignment. They also get two Knowledge skills not in Pathfinder (Law, and Senate), which sound way too specialized and can easily fall under Knowledge (Nobility & Royalty). They're pretty much the same as normal Paladins, albeit their heavy horse mounts (not warhorses) are treated as a Druid's animal companion, and their Divine Grace applies only to Will but affects allies close by as well. Divine Health is renamed Man's Vigor, they channel positive energy like a cleric instead of laying on hands, and their capstone ability grants bonuses to allies instead of banishing evil outsiders.
Our product ends with a list of approved classes for humans. They can be any class in the Core Rulebook except Cleric and Paladins (because they don't worship gods) or the Monk. I'm confused about this last ban, as the class is all about self-improvement and discipline. They can't be any of the Advanced Player's Guide classes except for the Cavalier. There are no explanations for these restrictions, either.
The verdict, for realsies:
The book does deliver on a reinvented human race, providing them with an overarching culture and unique traits and abilities. Unfortunately, its execution leaves much to be desired: the society feels too idealistic, and what flaws there are are either unintentional or played down. The hidden potential within all humanity is merely just class-based divine spellcasting, and it feels like a waste that only two of the classes can obtain it; I would've made it a series of human-only feats. It's also too connected to a specific setting and history, minimizing its applicability to other settings (although I guess this is to be expected when hyper-focusing humans).
In short, great idea, poor execution. It could have been a lot more.
Just realized until now that I'm not using 'acquitted' in its proper legal term. It's now "not guilty." Because it doesn't necessary imply innocence.