Friday 8 November 2013

Blood of the Moon

There’s a love amongst many roleplayers for new playable races beyond the core dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings. Part of the point of roleplaying is to pretend to be something different and what better way than to play unusual creatures with new and interesting abilities. From aasimars and tieflings to traditionally monstrous races like goblins and kobolds, expanding the list of playable races allows for new experiences and new options. Pathfinder has certainly provided many possibilities for players, with the Advanced Race Guide being the ultimate source for various races to choose from—including a system for gamemasters to design their own.

There have also been several Pathfinder Player Companion books that look more closely at some of these options, at how they fit into the world of Golarion, and providing new options for people wanting to play characters of these races. Most of these books look at races that already exist in the game, but Blood of the Moon does something a little different. It introduces a brand new playable race, skinwalkers, who are descended from lycanthropes (essentially the lycanthropic equivalent of aasimars and tieflings), as well as a number of skinwalker variant races that are tied more specifically to each of the various kinds of lycanthrope.

One could argue that there are already more than enough playable races in the game, and to be honest, I sometimes feel this way myself. However, one could also argue that there are more than enough monsters, spells, feats, archetypes, etc. in the game already, and yet numerous books continue to introduce more of those. Why not more races? While there are certainly more options available than anyone could ever use in a single campaign, the presence of such a large variety allows for different choices in different campaigns, giving each campaign the potential to be unique. From this perspective, I really like the variety. So while the races of Blood of the Moon are certainly not needed in the game, they make for interesting options for future campaigns.

It also helps that Blood of the Moon is, overall, a pretty good book. It has a lot in common with Blood of the Night, in that it takes an iconic monster—the lycanthrope—and presents it from a player-centric point of view. However, it succeeds much better than the earlier book by being much more focused. Blood of the Night, while not a bad book, attempts to be three books in one: a guide to playing vampires, a guide to playing dhampirs (half-vampires), and a guide to playing vampire hunters. The fist and last of those things, in particular, are just too at odds with each other to work well in a short, 32-page book. A Player Companion book needs to pick one or the other and focus on that. While some recent Companion books have focused on the hunting side (Dragonslayer’s Handbook and Demon Hunter’s Handbook), Blood of the Moon focuses on the playable race side, and doesn’t get itself bogged down with options for people who hunt lycanthropes.

The majority of Blood of the Moon is focused on describing the various kinds of skinwalkers. There’s the generic skinwalker race, which allows for greater flexibility, as well as a variant skinwalker race for each of the major varieties of lycanthrope—werebat, werebear, wereboar, werecrocodile, wererat, wereshark, weretiger, werewolf. Each of these skinwalker varieties receive two pages of description covering their racial traits, how they fit into the world, and some additional mechanical options (new feats, rage powers, hexes, magus arcana, and so on). While Player Companions, by their nature, tend to be quite heavy on mechanical options, there is a nice balance here between these options and descriptive text. Players can read about these races and get a good, if fairly generic, feel for how they fit into the world. There is also a sidebar with each kind of skinwalker containing a sample of in-game writing about that race, helping aid the sense of immersion even more.

While the focus is definitely on the skinwalkers, the book does provide a small amount of information on full lycanthropes. There is a sidebar with each skinwalker description that talks about the associated lycanthrope and also generally contains one new mechanic (such as a feat or new magic item) associated with that lycanthrope. There’s also a section towards the end of the book that discusses contracting and curing lycanthropy. This section doesn’t contain a lot new, but it does nicely compile all the existing information into one spot, making a handy reference for players who either want to avoid contracting lycanthropy or want to get rid of the lycanthropy they’ve already been unfortunate enough to contract.

The central two pages of the book are on “The Transformation”, a description of what happens when a werewolf changes from human to bestial form. It looks specifically at the eyes, mouth, feet, ears, and hands. There is also a bit about skinwalker changes. The layout on these pages is a little unusual with some of the text wrapping across both pages. It makes for an interesting visual effect (especially as that text is laid over an illustration of the moon) in the actual printed book, but it does make reading from a pdf (which is how I read the book since my print copy had not yet arrived) rather difficult as you need to flip back and forth between the pages. Setting the pdf reader to show two pages side-by-side can solve the problem, but not all readers will do that (I can’t do that on my tablet, for example). It’s a minor nitpick, but one that can cause annoyance. Overall, however, these two pages make great added flavour.

Another section towards the end of the book deals with lycanthropes and the moon. It discusses theories on why the moon affects lycanthropic transformations, but there’s really not a lot of detail on that. The majority of the section contains a new oracle mystery: lunar. There is also an interesting sidebar containing suggestions on what to do if the campaign is set in a location with more than one moon. Unfortunately, it ignores the possibility of a setting with no moon at all, but the final suggestion of simply ignoring lunar cycles completely and establishing a “werewolf standard time” will work just as well in settings without a moon. The final section of the book, “Lycanthropic Gear”, contains new equipment and magic items that skinwalkers and lycanthrope may find particularly useful, although they could be of use to other characters as well.

On the whole, Blood of the Moon is not a book that will be useful for every campaign. It’s a niche product and many campaigns will likely have limited use for it. However, people who want to add a touch of lycanthropic flavour to their campaign or just want the option of playing new races will find the book adds a lot of useful options and more importantly, flavour.

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