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Saturday, 19th May, 2012, 06:50 AM #1
The Great Druid (Lvl 17)
Pathfinder Review: Blood of Fiends
One thing I've noticed as a gamer over the years is that the racial options that have come with each new edition of the game can often provoke strong and -- let's face it -- highly irrational and plainly visceral reactions from players.
Humans, elves, and dwarves? If you can't go there, D&D is not for you as those races come with the territory. Halflings? Personally, I'm often hostile towards others including them in my adventuring party, but I can hardly take issue with the underlying premise in a FRPG.
Like editions, some settings have their own iconic player character races. What's Krynn without Kender? (Answer: a welcomed change of pace!) Or what's a Dark Sun campaign without Thrikreen, or Eberron without the Warforged? They belong there, it seems to me.
And so it goes. When it came to 4E, some people hated the Dragonborn; others thought they were amazingly cool. Eladrin? I never got those guys at all; many 4E fans, I'm sure, think Eladrin rock mightily.
And then there are the Tieflings. I'm sure that a lot of you are pretty iffy on Tieflings as player characters, but most readers can at least agree that they are a fine race for villainous NPCs. After all, Cambions were pretty cool for Old Skool bad guys, so what's the problem with a Tiefling villain in Pathfinder? Sounds like a fine premise for a great BBEG.
Advocating Tieflings as player characters, on the other hand, can provoke a profound division among Pathfinder players and GMs alike. Some love 'em and many just don't.
Regrettably, I'm not able to resolve that schism in this review. Gamers like the play styles and PC races as each may prefer. When you get right down to it, there just isn't a "right" or "wrong" to a gamer's likes and preferences. You like what you like.
That said, there ARE "good" and "bad" books which explore those options.
Which brings us to the subject of this week's review, the new Pathfinder Player Companion Blood of Fiends, the first of three "Blood of" racially focused Companions to be released this year by Paizo.
Haven't We Seen these Bastages before...?
For those of you familiar with the Pathfinder line, you will probably recall that there has already been an extensive article on Tieflings published previously. When Pathfinder RPG was released nearly three years ago at Gencon 2009, Pathfinder Adventure Path # 25: The Bastards of Erebus (Council of Thieves, Vol. 1) was also released at the same time. The Bastards of Erebus featured an 8 page article on Tieflings and Tiefling variants which has been a go-to reference for creating Tiefling PCs and NPCs ever since.
For the most part, it would be fair to describe Blood of Fiends as an expansion upon the original Tiefling article in Pathfinder #25. Quadrupling in size in terms of the overall treatment, Blood of Fiends preserves almost all of the original material and builds and expands on those themes, variants, options and feats. If you were a fan of the original article -- you will find a great deal in Blood of Fiends that you will find interesting. If you are like most players of Pathfinder RPG and have never had access to Bastards of Erebus (it's an Adventure Path book intended for GMs, after all) then Blood of Fiends puts all of that information at your fingertips in a far more player centric and cheaper book and turns up the Tiefling volume to a solid "10".
What Makes a Tiefling Tick
Part 1 of the book, also titled "Blood of Fiends" examines the origin of Tieflings, their physiology, their place in Golarion society, Tiefling classes, pets and so forth. All in all, it's 15 pages of extensive commentary which covers all the bases and most of the material is new. While the social prejudice towards Tieflings in Cheliax was the subject of commentary in Bastards of Erebus, Blood of Fiends expands on this treatment with a capsule tour around the regions of the Inner Sea and examines how Tieflings are treated by each of those major societies and regions.
Three new Tiefling specific sub domain variants are included in this section as a sidebar. Another sidebar provides a smattering of seven (in)famous "NPC" Tieflings individuals or groups throughout Golarion.
The last part of Section 1 of the book goes over material that we have seen before. The Variant Tiefling Ability chart which appeared in Bastards of Erebus is included without any additions or subtractions. It's a great chart and provides for highly customizable Tiefling characters -- be they PCs or NPCs. I thought the original chart was excellent and I'm glad they chose not to pare it down.
Overall, I found this section of the book to be a handy article for both players and GMs alike. Even those GMs who don't like the idea of Tieflings as player characters will find much here that will assist them in creating interesting Tiefling NPCs.
Devil, Demon, or Daemon: Who's Your Daddy?
Section 2 of the book, "Tiefling Heritages", presents 10 variant Tieflings races. Just as Tieflings are notionally the mortal by-product of a coupling between an outsider (typically a devil) and a mortal human, the variant races are broken down further: Asura-Spawn; Daemon-Spawn; Demodand-Spawn; Demon-Spawn; Devil-Spawn; Div-Spawn; Kyton-Spawn; Oni-Spawn; Qlippoth-Spawn; and Rakshasa-Spawn Tieflings.
Each variant race was briefly described before in Bastards of Erebus, with a name and different stat modifiers listed for each with a once sentence description. That passage from the original article, which was presented in 1/4 of a page originally, is expanded to five pages, with each variant getting new art, new variant abilities and a greatly expanded description in how the variant differs and what makes each tick. I thought the flavor in these new variants was excellent and I enjoyed the concept of the Qlippoth-spawn Tieflings in particular. For most purchasers of Blood of Fiends who already have Bastards of Erebus, these new variants write-ups will be the most appreciated aspect of the new book.
The balance of Section 2 is a buffet-style approach: 14 new feats (only 2 repeats from Bastards of Erebus), new Oracle curses, Inquisitions, Sorcerous Bloodlines, new Bardic Masterpieces, and racial traits as well. Finally, section 2 ends with a slightly altered version of the random Tiefling physical feature/appearances chart that appeared in Bastards of Erebus.
I think typical GMs and players will get the most use out of the new feats, while specific class builds may take advantage of the more focused material in Section 2. While the buffet-style approach is necessarily less intensive in its treatment, it is appreciated material all the same and rounds out the second half of the book very nicely indeed.
Taken together as a whole, the book provides a great one-stop shop for creating any Tiefling based character in the game. The implementation of Blood of Fiends in Herolab is also nicely done as well (for those who purchase it as an option for that character creation software.) For those who don't, the option to add Council of Thieves to Herolab as a free resource adds all the racial abilities, but leaves out the new traits, feats, sub-domains, bloodlines and so forth.
By now, you probably can guess that I enjoy Tieflings, both as a player and as a GM. Just so. I have always found the Tieflings fascinating as villains and as anti-heroes -- and even as non-traditional outcast heroes as well. Many of the tropes that drew fans of the game initially to the Drow are present within the Tieflings -- and to date, their role has not (yet) become entirely clichÚ. While I am sure that it will become over-used in the future as well, for the time being, the Tiefling still presents interesting and varied options -- and Blood of Fiends expands those options for players and GMs alike.
The overall art presentation in the book is up to most of the usual standards of Paizo, though I far preferred the portrait art used to illustrate the new variant Tieflings over the large posed images throughout most of the text.
In terms of the overall utility of the book, I think a few examples are in order. I used a variant Tiefling based upon the Qlippoth-Spawn as an inspiration to create an evil-aligned PC in Paizo's new Skull and Shackles campaign. My Qlippoth-spawn was a specific salty-archetype, loosely based off of Davey Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean. Without much tweaking at all, the Qlippoth-spawn Tiefling produced a very satisfactory tentacle-faced pirate to inspire terror and infamy throughout the Shackles and I used the Tiefling Racial Ability Chart to select the ability to be healed by both negative and positive channeled energy. As a base for a unique cleric character -- that wasn't a bad start.
Similarly, a player in my Age of Worms campaign (converted to Pathfinder RPG) has used Blood of Fiends to create his own bug-eyed and socially challenged Tiefling rogue character whose shtick is natural Spell Resistance. The player seems to be enjoying the Tiefling character immensely and he found using Blood of Fiends to be quite inspirational. Before he looked at the book, I don't think he had ever considered playing a Tiefling based character. After he looked through it, he couldn't imagine playing anything else. He had to try one.
Which I think summarizes the review of Blood of Fiends rather nicely: If you are inclined to want to use Tiefling PCs in your campaign, either as a player or as a GM, you are going to find Blood of Fiends to be an immensely useful and rewarding book. If the only role that Blood of Fiends will have in your campaign is for infrequent use when creating NPCs? In that event, the book will still be useful, though perhaps with a value more commensurate with the number of times you choose to resort to it.
While the scope of a 32 page Player Companion is necessarily brief, there are certain subjects which lend themselves ideally to this sort of treatment, Certainly I have found previous "race" books that present a bevy of new options and crunch to be perfect topics for this sort of small-scope format. As I will share you with next month, the next book in the "Blood of..." series, Blood of Angels approaches the same topic from the perspective of celestial Aasimar characters on Golarion in a similar manner, albeit, not quite as successfully as Blood of Fiends.
Overall, for those who don't have much use for this character race or its ten variants, then there is little in Blood of Fiends you will find useful. While the book provides a vast number of options for creating and detailing Tiefling characters -- if you have no interest in using it for that purpose, the feats, abilities and new options will not be of much use. Sure, you could reskin some of the new sub-domains for use with non-Tiefling characters. And yes, there are some feats which might be deployed for use with a non-Tiefling character, too. However, these are clearly the exceptions to the general rule. If you don't like Tieflings, you aren't going to like Blood of Fiends.
So we end as we began: the question of the use of Tiefling characters in a game is a highly personal preference and it is likely that your views on that have already been well-shaped by now. If you don't like the idea, then you don't. Nothing much contained in Blood of Fiends is likely to sway your opinion on that.
However, if you are interested in Tieflings either as PCs or as NPCs in your campaign? Then in my opinion, you are going to enjoy Blood of Fiends immensely. I happen to enjoy them and I found Blood of Fiends to be my favorite Player Companion that has been released by Paizo since Adventurer's Armory.
Highly Recommended: To all Pathfinder GMs and Players who enjoy -- or are at least open to -- the idea of Tiefling based PCs and NPCs.
Title: Blood of Fiends (32 pages)
Authors: Hal Maclean and Colin McComb
Price: $10.99 (PRINT) $7.99 (PDF)
Last edited by Morrus; Wednesday, 6th June, 2012 at 12:19 PM..Robert
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Saturday, 19th May, 2012, 11:43 AM #2
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Solid review. I am still ambivalent about tieflings, but I might give the book a change to change my mind.
They suffer, in part, from a lack of thematic balance in the game - there really is no "children of angels" player suitable race.
Saturday, 19th May, 2012, 02:11 PM #3
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
Thank you for the review. I might have to pick this up for the div-spawn alone. And I know at least one of my players will love me for it. Hmmm...
got you covered.
Saturday, 19th May, 2012, 04:41 PM #4
Lama (Lvl 13)
I like tieflings. I have no problem with them. Nice review.
Saturday, 19th May, 2012, 05:11 PM #5
Magsman (Lvl 14)
Did they also include or update the power-nerfing trait from the Council of Thieves AP? I like tieflings but their power level is a tad high.
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Saturday, 19th May, 2012, 06:06 PM #6
Novice (Lvl 1)
Saturday, 19th May, 2012, 06:31 PM #7
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
Saturday, 19th May, 2012, 06:55 PM #8
Orcus on an Off-Day (Lvl 22)
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Saturday, 19th May, 2012, 07:27 PM #9
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
Saturday, 19th May, 2012, 09:25 PM #10
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Evil is some varying combination of destructive, nihilistic, and domineering. Unless the DM is willing to run an all-evil campaign, fitting tiefling PCs into a party and having them stay true to form is often a big stretch. In my experience a significant portion of players want to enjoy "the glamour of evil", but they never really live up to their billing as upcoming BBEGs. They're all image and pose, not much in the way of wickedness and cruelty because earnestly roleplaying a foul fiendling eventually gives one what C.S. Lewis termed "a spiritual cramp" and would soon ostracize the tiefling from the party and/or the party from society.
Then there are those tieflings from diluted bloodlines who hang on to some of the physical features (glamour of evil, again), but are Drizzt-ish in their opposition to the ways and mores of their Lower Planar ancestor. Those PCs can go either way--well played or cheesy. Nisha, a Chaotic Good tiefling NPC in Shemeska's Story Hour is a humerous, loony rogue/wizard he used for comic relief in a very dark campaign. Realistically, though, any reasonable consideration of their lineage precludes very many Nishas from populating the multiverse.
As an NPC ally for a one-shot adventure or a larger but limited portion of an enduring campaign, however, tieflings offer great potential to enhance your gaming. Redeemed evil is always more uplifting and satisfying than fallen good. Being redeemed requires starting out in a fallen state, though, and in this role I find tieflings have the potential to excell as meaningful sidestories.
I might just have to check this one out.