Monday 30 September 2013

Demon Hunter's Handbook

While demons have been prominent in a lot of recent Pathfinder products, those products are primarily for gamemasters to provide compelling and powerful villains for their campaigns. They don’t have a great deal for characters needing to fight demons. That’s where the Demon Hunter’s Handbook comes in. It’s a book full of equipment, feats, spells, and more, all to help characters face and overcome the hordes of the Abyss.

The Demon Hunter’s Handbook is certainly a bit of a niche book, in that it will only really be useful in a campaign where demons feature regularly. However, as demons do tend to show up a fair amount even in campaigns not focused on them (Paizo’s various adventure paths quite often have a demon or two show up at some point), players will likely be able to find a use for at least some of the abilities in this book in just about any campaign. As such, it’s not quite as niche as a book like the Dragonslayer’s Handbook.

This is very much a book of mechanical options (or “crunch”). What flavour text (“fluff”) there is, is generally short and fairly broad and generic in scope. While this is true of many books in the Player Companion line (to which this book also belongs), it’s a bit more so in this case. The opening chapter containing an overview of demons, demonology and demon hunters’ causes is entirely fluff, and there is some background information later on the Worldwound and the Abyss, but most of the rest of the book is pure crunch. This is, perhaps, not all that surprising. Player characters probably shouldn’t start their careers as experts in demons. That sort of information needs to be learned over time. However, they certainly will need equipment and abilities to help them fight demons.

In terms of equipment, the chapter “Preparing to Hunt a Demon”, has three new equipment kits, but the bulk of the new equipment comes later in the book in the chapters on “Innovations of the Crusades” and “Magic Items”. The “Innovations” chapter contains non-magical equipment, including several new alchemical items as well as cold iron caltrops and portable altars. Angel quill arrowheads are particularly interesting. There is also a very interesting sidebar giving background on crusader’s crosses, which are used as a form of identification by people in the Mendevian Crusades. Each crusader’s cross contains the family history of its owner, and crusaders are careful not to let these crosses fall into the wrong hands. It’s a great bit of flavour amidst the mechanics.

There are options for a variety of character classes and types throughout the book. Not every demon hunter is expected to be a crusader of shining virtue, and the book even provides a bit of information on evil demon hunters. Of course, the focus is on good and neutral hunters, but even within that, there is still a wide variety of character types accounted for. Along with various feats and traits for everyone, there are new rage powers for barbarians, ranger traps, an inquisitor archetype, and even a new story feat (story feats were first introduced in Ultimate Campaign). There is also a chapter with several new spells with the linking theme of being “Spells of Lost Sarkoris”. The odd thing here, though, is that these spells don’t really feel like spells from Sarkoris. As fits the theme of the book, they are all spells for use against demons, such as detect demon and protection from outsiders. However, Sarkoris wasn’t a demon-hunting land before it fell—and fell quickly—to the Worldwound. The implication is that these are spells that the people of Sarkoris developed in their final hours of desperation, which is plausible, I suppose, but I feel these spells would make much more sense as spells developed by the Mendevian Crusaders. After all, they’ve had a century to develop demon-hunting spells. They shouldn’t be reliant on finding such spells “among the ruins of Sarkorian bastions throughout the Worldwound.” This is one place where the fluff doesn’t really fit the crunch. That said, these spells are certainly appropriate for this book and there are some interesting ones amongst them, such as telepathic censure, which blocks telepathic communication, something demons make heavy use of.

The inside front cover contains a very useful table of Common Demonic Cults. The table lists various demon lords, their areas of concern, and typical worshippers and minions. It also contains an illustration of each demon lord’s symbol. At the opposite end of the book, the inside rear cover contains examples of anathemas for some of the most well know demon types. Anathemas are substances that aid spellcasters who conjure demons. The rules for anathemas first appeared in Ultimate Magic and the examples here expand on those rules. It’s always good to see support for various optional rules systems from other books.

Overall, the Demon Hunter’s Handbook is a very functional book. In terms of flavour, it doesn’t really add a whole lot to the gaming experience, but it does add useful mechanical options for player characters preparing to hunt demons. It’s not a captivating read by any means, but that’s not really its purpose. It does exactly what it says in its title.

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