Review Grim Hollow Player's Guide - 3rd Party Review

Sparky McDibben

Alright, y'all! Sparky's back with a brand-new groove, which looks strikingly similar to several other grooves I've done recently. I promised everyone that I'd take a look at the Grim Hollow Player's Guide from Ghostfire Gaming. So I rolled up my sleeves, parted with some cash, and snagged a copy off DriveThru. It's not terrible, which is good, so I figured I'd do a full, in-depth review of the contents and see what we've got. My criteria for judging player-facing campaign setting material is:
  1. Does it do a good job selling players on the setting? Does it get them excited to play?
  2. Does it work well within the 5E standard game loop, or does it impose a unique burden on the DM?
  3. 'Does the content exceed what I could have come up with on my own?
I'm pleased to say that on most of these criteria, the Player's Guide rates between "decent" to "good." So just in case you needed the TL;DR, there it is. It's a solid supplement and I don't have any qualms about recommending it if you're planning on running a dark fantasy game.

I grabbed my copy for $24.99 (PDF only); no issues with bookmarks or layout. It's a solid product, and someone's clearly hired a copy editor (thank you!). The text opens with a very similar introduction to the Campaign Guide, although it rephrases them somewhat. Still, it's the same basic message, even if they added a couple of bullets. That's not much of a problem, as it's only two pages, and the message is a good one for players to hear. This chapter also starts the multi-part microfiction that's woven through the work. Personally, not a fan of this one; it's too overwrought, too dramatic, and just not doing it for me.

From there, we get the "Exotic Races of Etharis," a chapter on six unique races. There's the Weschelkind (a construct left behind by a fae so the parents won't know the fae stole their kid), which is a construct-person built to look like a kid. They're also eternal, and only look like a kid for a little bit each day before their true appearance shows through as a weird automaton. This is delightfully dark, and I love it. Next we get the Laneshi, who are aquatic people with some interesting lore (their mystic caste is made up of people who were born as twins, and then had their twin sacrificed and bound inside them to act as their spirit guide), and not much mechanics. Ogresh are probably the most mechanically powerful race in the book. They get a +2 to Charisma, and a +1 to Constitution and Wisdom, plus advantage to resist the charmed condition, two free skill proficiencies, and a once-per-short-rest charm ability. That's...a lot. The Downcast are this world's version of aasimar, but were actually angels cast out of the heavens when the gods died. They've got resistance to necrotic damage (always handy in Etharis), +2 to Wisdom, thaumaturgy, and free Religion proficiency. They also get a single once per day first level spell, depending on which god they were aligned with. You've also got the Dreamers who are a race that existed in the dim past of the setting, but decided to go into hibernation to avoid some kind of calamity. They're just now waking up. They've got some sleep-related bonuses, like the ability to remove exhaustion on a short rest and "touch the dreams" of anyone within a mile. The Disembodied are people who've been horribly messed up by being too near a Weird Wizard Ritual and now they're trying to come back to the Material Plane.

This is great and all, but you know what would have been really nice? Some pointers on this stuff in the Campaign Guide. Like, if I have a PC playing an Ogresh or a Dreamer, can I get some support on those societies? What's going on with the Disembodied? I could just make it all up, of course, but that's not why I bought the book.

Next up we have the Lands of Etharis, a quick (14-page) primer on key locations in the world. It's enough for a player to go, "Vikings? Dope, I'll be from the Valikan Clans." Not terrible, but not great, either. My feelings on the lore of the world have not changed, because the lore is unchanged. Also, this makes the coyness of the adventure hooks in the Campaign Guide even more maddening, since they've gone and published an entire work for just players. Oy ve.

The last chapter we're going to look at tonight is the Magic of Etharis. This mostly spends time laying out "where your character trained." So if you're a wizard, sorcerer, etc., you have a few specific mage colleges you could come from. If you're a ranger, there are a few natural traditions you might have trained under. This is very well done; it's never proscriptive ("Wizards are only trained here,") but gives enough detail that you don't need to come up with much more. The best part is where they lay out the metaphysics of magic, which is something that no one ever does and I really appreciate them thinking this part through! That's great! One less thing I need to worry about. This section also includes the various demons, seraphs, and elementals that PCs can draw on for power.

So that's the section that introduces the PCs to the world. It does so without drowning them in useless detail (much), boring them with unimaginative descriptions (often), or generally wasting them time (too badly). It's not perfect, but it's decent. But the real sales pitch comes in the next 41 pages. Join me next time and we'll start covering the subclasses in chapter five: New Subclasses!

See y'all then!

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Sparky McDibben

Alright friends, let's start breaking down these subclasses! Each core class gets two subclasses in this book (note that "core classes" excludes artificier, although there is a DM's Guild supplement for those), and we start with the barbarian.

Path of the Fractured: The fluff on this is that your rage is pure unadulterated id (this misunderstands what the id actually is, but I digress), and it somehow has physiological effects on the barbarian. It's an interested concept that has some interesting mechanics. For example, several of the features modify things when you are not raging, and when you are. The 6th level feature, Brains & Brawn, gives you resistance to psychic damage when you're not raging, and resistance to everything else when you are. That's better than the bear totem barbarian feature (widely considered one of the best options in the game) at 3rd level. The Fractured's 3rd level ability gives you a 1d8 magical damage on your unarmed attacks (eight levels before the monk gets it), and a bonus action unarmed strike when you use the attack action to make an unarmed strike. Also you can grapple up to Huge creatures and your get reach of 10 feet on your unarmed strikes.

I'm vacillating between "Neat idea!" and "NOPE."

Path of the Primal Spirit: This is a barbarian with a pet! Which you command with a bonus action! Was your DM already frustrated by action economy? Choose this to make them go prematurely bald! The actual creature stats are included in the subclass and follow mostly the Tasha's model of pets (scaling everything based on the player's proficiency bonus and/or level). The companion also has resistance to weapon damage while you're raging, which is neat. You can use animal friendship and speak with animals 1x/short rest, and you get the ability to possess any creature under your animal friendship spell. This is an interesting idea and doesn't immediately scare me, so it probably works fairly well, action economy concerns notwithstanding.

College of the Adventurer: Do you want to multiclass but you are waaaaay too lazy to actually multiclass? Well, does Ghostfire have a subclass for you! This bard college has the whole shtick of gaining other classes special abilities (in a watered-down way) and using them. This thing gives me cold sweats thinking of the Optimizer Brigade waiting in the wings, but there's nothing here you can't get with a multiclass, and several of them aren't that great anyway (choosing fighter gets you proficiency with martial weapons, shields, and a Fighting Style. Lame.).

College of Requiems: Hey, it's a necromancy bard! Love that idea. You get two necromancy cantrips at 3rd level, and your Bardic Inspiration can be used by the recipient to do necrotic damage equal to the Inspiration die's result. Oh, and if the creature with Bardic Inspiration is dropped to 0 hp, they instead drop to 1 hp (Yikes!). At 6th level, you get animate dead for free (good). You also get to give your undead minions Dirge dice (Bardic Inspiration dice). Notably, you can give out 1 BI die, and give [your proficiency bonus] of undead you control Dirge dice, so you're incentivized to give these things out like candy. Finally at 14th level, when you cast a necromancy spell that only targets one creature, you can have it target two creatures instead. My mind immediately goes to blight, but there are undoubtedly better options available. I really like this bard; it's a better take on the "edgy" bard than the College of Whispers, I think.

Alright friends, I have to run, but next time we're going to hit up the clerics!

Sparky McDibben

Eldritch Domain: Have you ever wanted to be the personal handmaiden of a dire Cthulhu-type entity from beyond the stars, acting to usher in their unknowable reign, and not be a warlock? Well, here you go!


Dread Cthulhu will see you now...

This subclass leans heavily on a random d8 table of Eldritch Effects that the cleric can inflict on enemies using their Channel Divinity feature, or by using a bonus action on the same turn they cast a leveled spell. It's an OK effect, except that one of the entries give the target creature advantage on all attack rolls (while all attack rolls against it also have advantage). Personally, not my jam.

Inquisition Domain: Didn't expect that one, did you? Well, what we've got here, friendos, is a gen-yoo-wine anti-wizard cleric. Your spell list includes dispel magic, identify, remove curse, etc. You get proficiency with martial weapons and heavy armor. And, whenever you hit someone in melee, you deal 1d8 force damage plus weapon damage. If the creature is concentrating on a spell, you deal 2d8 force damage instead. Your Channel Divinity option gives one creature resistance to all damage from spells, and advantage on all saving throws vs spells as long as they have temp hp (1d10 + your cleric level). Sadly, this cleric doesn't get counterspell, but at 6th level, as a reaction when you see someone cast a spell within 60 feet, you can force them to make a Con save. If they fail, they take 1d8 / level of the spell they just cast, plus your Wisdom modifier. That's deeply unpleasant; it would be better if the text clarified if the spell went off if the damage killed the caster. By my reading, the spell goes off initially (so a fireball or a dispel magic is unaffected), but something like spirit guardians that requires concentration ends as soon as the caster dies.

Personally, I'll stick with the Arcana cleric from SCAG, but this is a really good result.

Circle of Blood: Because some people just can't chill out for five minutes, man. These guys are flagged as being more "witchy" than "druidic;" the text talks about them performing "sacrificial rituals under a blood-red moon to appease the uncaring forces of nature." That personally just sounds like the Circle of the Moon with more emo branding, but OK. You get eight spells, six of which are in this book, ranging from 1st to 4th level. At 2nd level, when you see someone die, you can use a reaction to regain an HD and give someone within 60' of you temp hp equal to your druid level. While this is an almost classic "bag of rats" case, you can only do this a number of times per day up to your Wisdom modifier. You can also use your Wild Shape (at 6th level) to drive a willing creature into a rage, wherein they get a few benefits, including resistance to weapon damage, but they can still concentrate on spells (although they can't speak or cast spells). So use this on the warlock with armor of Agathys up and watch the games begin! There are a few other abilities, but mostly this subclass feels like it's not delivering on it's flavor to me. I'd want this to have the ability to trade hp for spell slots, sow terror among the enemies, and juice a fool like they got dropped in a blender. What I get here isn't quite giving me that.

Circle of Mutation: These guys can modify their druid shapes to do more cool stuff! Alright, heck yeah! So to start, you can use a bonus action to Wild Shape. Whenever you're in your Wild Shape, you can use a spell slot to generate "mutation points" equal to the level of the spell slot expended. These mutation points can be used to do everything from giving your shape a swim speed to darkvision, to multiattack. You also ignore the max CR rating on the Wild Shape table in the PHB. Gee, is it just me, or is most of this straight out of the Moon Druid? You know, one of the most-cited examples of a subclass that's so OP it's practically mandatory? And then they want to give it even more flexibility with mutations?

Guys. Read the room.

So far in this, I'm seeing a troubling trend of designers crossing class lines to hand out other class' special abilities like candy. I gotta say, I am not a fan of this so far. Let's see what happens as we continue onwards tomorrow with Fighters!


I made the mistake of buying this book first before the Campaign Guide and ended up stumped at the relative brevity when talking about the world at large or references to things in the main Setting Guide to which I didn't have access. "Oh, we're just jumping into races? Okay, but when are we getting to the fluff?" "Oh cool, rules for making vampire/lich PCs! But it feels like something's missing..."

When I initially read through this book, various balance issues jumped out to me. While I love a lot of the flavor text, quite a few are tempered by being way too good to not take over most other subclasses.

I'm quite fond of Path of the Primal Spirit; animal companions feel like they shouldn't just be the province of Rangers, and the Barbarian makes a worthy contender besides the Druid (who tbh already has enough stuff).

One thing I have noticed with Grim Hollow Player's Guide is that there's quite a few subclasses themed around gaining an ally/pet/helper type creature, be it an actual class feature or a summons: Primal Spirit was already mentioned, but College of Requiems Bard is an undead summoner, the Vermin Lord Ranger gets their own swarm companion, the Highway Rider Rogue can cast Find Steed, and the Haunted Sorcerer gets a familiar-like phantom companion. The Wretched Sorcerer gets a metamagic summonsing, although it's at 18th level so it won't see play in 99% of campaigns. And the Warlock with the Parasite patron doesn't exactly get a partner (unless they die at 14th level who is more "parasite finding new host") it begs to be roleplayed as having a second voice in your head.
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Sparky McDibben

When I initially read through this book, various balance issues jumped out to me. While I love a lot of the flavor text, quite a few are tempered by being way too good to not take over most other subclasses.

I'm quite fond of Path of the Primal Spirit; animal companions feel like they shouldn't just be the province of Rangers, and the Barbarian makes a worthy contender besides the Druid (who tbh already has enough stuff).
They are a little overtuned, though in line with something like Tasha's. That's normal in an edition as developers try to push the limits, but it's nice to know I'm not crazy. :)

Alright, folks, let's keep this going. After a wild Halloween in the McDibben household, we are back with...

Bulwark Warrior: A warrior that's all about protecting your allies. Your hit points are there to be spent, gosh darnit! And this subclass gives you two or three different ways to acquire temp hp to help you spend them. You gain the ability (3rd level) to, with a bonus action, gain temp hp at the end of each of your turns equal to your fighter level for a minute, recharge on a rest. That's really good! You also gain a taunt feature at 3rd level, allowing you to force enemies to attack you. Unfortunately this uses your reaction and only applies to enemies within 5 feet, but it's better than what we got in the core classes, so I'll give them credit on this one. The one problem I have with this fighter is that most of your subclass items are reactions, which slows down play, but the idea is quite interesting.

Living Crucible: It's a fighter that drinks compounds to give themselves abilities. I don't know where this idea could have come from. No idea at all.
witcher 3 GIF

Oh not this guy again...
Basically, this subclass is all about setting yourself up for a fight with just the right edges. So as you level up, you get the ability to drink more compounds, having more effects on you at any given time. I would have preferred for the "Toxicity" timer (the number of compounds you can safely drink) to reset on a short rest rather than a long one, but it's not that big of a deal, I think. The actual compounds are interesting, but poorly named. For example, there's one called "Liquid Rage" that just gives you an extra 1d4 weapon damage. Another one is called "Liquid Courage" and gives you temp hp. The only problem is that extra temp hp doesn't help with the frightened condition, which is what I'd expect Liquid Courage to do. It's an interesting idea, but I think the player-facing communication here needed a little work.

Way of the Leaden Crown: In John Locke-ian fashion, these monks want humanoids to govern themselves, not be enslaved by horrifying extraplanar creatures. So they train to fight these extraplanar creatures to enable folks to handle themselves. This monk is a little OP. For example, your unarmed attacks have a reach of 10 feet starting at 3rd level, and deal force damage. You gain a number of spells that you can cast with your ki, including hold person, which on a monk is incredibly powerful. You can also push or pull creatures around with your punches at higher levels (though there is a save), which is situationally very useful.

Way of Pride: Monk manscaping! These guys are all about honing themselves and having a lot of pride. Mechanically, it's a monk subclass that wants to have been damaged. You gain several incentives, including more temp hp, the worse off you are. The problem for me is that the incentives aren't nearly worth taking the damage in the first place, given my d8 HD. The 11th level feature is basically a ki-fueled version of Relentless Rage from barbarian. And the capstone kinda sucks (it lets you use two features that normally trigger when you're below half hp whenever you're below total hp). No thanks.

Paladin: (These are both effectively right out of 40K)
Oath of Pestilence: Because Grandfather Nurgle loves you! Not gonna lie, this one is not my bag. This is definitely a bad-guy subclass, all about spreading disease. Your aura sucks (you can give a d20 roll inside your aura disadvantage with a reaction), and your spells include acid arrow, which is garbage. No thanks. Your Channel Divinity is awesome, as you can incapacitate creatures with a melee weapon attack...once per short rest.

Oath of Zeal: Because who doesn't love playing a righteous douche? Your Oath tenets include "Purge the heretics," so....


Seriously go watch the Astartes short film; it's damn good

Again, the aura isn't great (you can't be blinded), but the Channel Divinity is OK (there's also a more investigative option for CD, which is great!). You get as oath spells hunters mark, detect thoughts, and fear, all of which are fantastic on paladins. Despite the crap I'm giving these guys for 40K-ing 5E, this is a solid subclass.

Green Reaper: It's a poisonous ranger! This bad boy gets a bunch of archetype spells (5 of them, including hold person, greater invisibility and cloudkill), which are mostly great. You can deal extra poison damage at 3rd level equal to 1d4, and you can manufacture a variety of poisons that range from "target cannot read, speak or write and has disadvantage on concentration" to "reduces them to 0 movement speed and disadvantage on Dex saves." Yikes! The one thing I am concerned about is that poison is one of the most immunized damage types and conditions in the Monster Manual, and this ranger is going to have a problem dealing with that. At 11th level, you can deal necrotic damage instead of poison, but all of your manufactured poisons still rely on the poisoned condition. Good idea, iffy execution.

Vermin Lord: I remember this from the Book of Vile Darkness! Man, I miss that supplement. Anyway, this ranger is basically the Swarmkeeper in concept, but with even more gross-ness! You can deal necrotic damage, have your cloud of pestilential friends attack on your off-turn, etc. It's an interesting approach and terribly icky. Decent execution, just turns my stomach. Sparky don't mess about with creepy crawlies, y'all.

Alright, guys, I'll continue this next time with rogues! See you then!

Sparky McDibben

Yay! Now we get to...

Highwayman Rider: This confused little chestnut is half-gunslinger, half-horseman and all sorts of weird. At 3rd level, you get proficiency with blackpowder weapons (detailed in a later chapter), and you can use your reaction on your turn to make an attack with advantage, or move your speed without opportunity attacks, or take the Dodge action, or interact with an object. That's roughly balanced, since you're giving up like half your damage potential (e.g., an off-turn Sneak Attack). You also get find steed, and you can Sneak Attack without advantage if you've moved 20' feet (technically, if you or your mount has moved 20 feet) this turn. Except, I can burn my reaction for free advantage, so what exactly is this doing for me? You can also give your horse temp hp and Cunning Action, and at 13th level, you basically get Evasion for Con saves. My problem here is that I'm not sure what this subclass is trying to be. Is it trying to be a desperado? Then make me really good with guns. Is it trying to be a horseman? Then make me really good with horses. Enough of this wishy-washy crap.

Misfortune Bringer: This is a great idea - it's a rogue that thrives on bringing bad luck to their enemies. You can curse an enemy (they get a Cha save) to be able to Sneak Attack that target as long as you don't have disadvantage. Then you get...sigh...Jinx Points. Oh great. Metacurrency. Someone thought the rogue "wasn't complicated enough." So basically you get between 4 - 6 Jinx points per short rest, and you can use these points to apply curses to targets. The curses themselves invoke combat-relevant effects, like extra damage, disadvantage, etc. That's OK, but the problem I have is that quite a few of them rely on reactions. This stuff tends to slow down play because they'll include language like "after the roll but before the result is declared." The entire rest of the subclass is focused on Jinx points. It's probably good for some tables, and with an on-the-ball player, I can see it working. But for players who don't pay attention? OOF.

Haunted Lineage: You've got ghosts, son! Basically, this character draws their power from a haunting by a loved one, and that lets them do magic. You get six additional spells, including find familiar (which can only be a spectre, but gets upgraded as we go). At 6th level, you get +CHA mod to Initiative, which doesn't seem ghostly to me, but OK. You also get resistance to necrotic damage, and the ability to change any damaging spell you cast to deal necrotic damage. That's actually pretty good - necrotic isn't resisted that often. At 14th level, you get the ability for your spectre to possess people and puppet them about. This is good, but each time the possessee takes damage, they have a new saving throw to chuck out the spectre. So this possession is going to last for maybe a round if the enemies figure that out. The capstone for this is pretty outstanding - at 18th level, when you are dropped to 0 hp, you instead drop to 1 hp, and gain temp hp equal to half your max. You have resistance to all damage, and you can fly. Each round, you lose 5 temp hp, and every creature of your choice within 30 feet takes 5 necrotic damage. That adds up quick. All in all, a decent subclass.

Wretched: Your ancestor broke an oath to an immortal being, and your entire bloodline got cursed as a result. Tough break! You gain a curse, and the ability to manipulate bad luck. The curse is not optional, nor is it small. You can be basically a leper, which means you have disadvantage on Persuasion checks but you are immune to disease and resistant to necrotic damage, for example. All three curses have this kind of trade-off aspect. This levels up with you, and you get some neat abilities from it. It's thematic, and fits the world. I like it!

Alright, y'all, we're almost through these gosh-darn subclasses! Next time we're going over warlocks and wizards!!!

Sparky McDibben

First Vampire Patron: You're somebody's Renfield. You gain a bunch of patron-specific spells (although, oddly, not vampiric touch), darkvision, and a singularly useful ability: Drain Life. You can, on the same turn you cast a spell or attack, use a bonus action to make a melee spell attack against a creature within 5 feet of you. If you hit, you deal 1d6 + Cha mod necrotic damage, and you can burn a spell slot to up the damage potential by 1d8 per spell level.'s a necrotic smite. OK, cool. If you burn a spell level, you regain hp equal to the total damage dealt. So you can essentially trade a spell slot to recover a bunch of hp. The only problem is that you're burning a spell slot that comes back on a short rest (which also replenishes hp). So the tradeoffs here don't make a ton of sense to me? At 6th level, you can turn into a bat or a wolf (thematic and neat), and at 10th level, when you use Drain Life, you recover the spell slot you spent (1x/long rest). At 14th level, you gain regeneration as a bonus action, resistance to necrotic damage, and you don't age.

Overall, this one is an interesting mix. It's tightly focused and thematic, but man, those bags o' rats be waiting!

Parasite Patron: Hey look, it's a cancer mage! You learn how to steal spells, augment your form with some minor but useful benefits (increased darkvision, +5 to movement speeds, etc), and at 6th level you gain a whopper of an ability. You cannot be surprised, have advantage on initiative checks, and have advantage on saving throws to avoid being charmed or frightened. That's a lot in one package. At 10th level, you gain dominate person (and damage can't break your concentration on it). At 14th level, you gain the ability to, if you die, attempt to parasitize other creatures. You can literally burrow your way into their skin like that thing from Stargate.

This is an interesting spin on an old classic!

Alright folks, next time we're finishing this off with wizards!

Sparky McDibben

And now, we start off with...

The best wizards theme song of all time
Plague Doctor: At second level, you can bottle your spells for up to one long rest (which is a damned good catch, because otherwise this is completely OP). This ability, Potion Craft, lets you cast a spell into a potion and then hand it off to a friend, unlocking all kinds of action economy benefits. In addition, if the spell requires concentration, the drinker of the potion is the one concentrating on it, so you free up your own concentration slot. Finally! The battlemaster fighter can concentrate on his own blur spell! In addition, you can just spend a spell slot to create a healing potion that heals 1d8 hp per spell level spent (try saying that three times fast). At 6th level, though, you can create Bad Medicine...

Look, we were all thinking it, I'm just saying it.
Bad Medicine lets you create some combat debuffs and chuck it at a point you can see within 30 feet of you. Anyone within 10 feet of that point has to make a Con save vs your spellcasting DC to resist. This can do damage, apply the poisoned condition, etc. At 10th level, whenever you take poison or necrotic damage, you gain temp hp equal to the damage taken. While I'm not a huge fan of temp hp and how freely it's given out, this is a great way to show off "I can resist diseases and stuff!" without going to "resistance to poison damage." Your level 14 feature simply makes Good and Bad Medicine more effective.

I really like this subclass - it's innovative in a couple interesting ways. Well done!

Sangromancy: This is all about blood magic, so Dragon Age fans beware. At 2nd level, all the sangromancy spells are added to your spell list (that's like 17 - 20 new spells in this book, on top of your normal wizard spell list). You also gain a pool of d12's you can use to cast sangromancy spells (which typically require burning your HD - using d12's tends to yield better results). At 6th level, you can extra max hp, and you regain hit points equal to the spell level of any sangromancy spell you cast, which is really good. Imagine healing yourself in combat by burning spell slots left and right. At 10th level, when a spell you cast deals damage, you can either add one of your d12's or one of your HD to the damage. Finally, at 14th level, you can regain expended HD (and d12's!) at the end of a short rest (up to half your wizard level, 1x/long rest), meaning that this wizard is about to be the monk / fighter / warlock's best friend!

This is a really good damage-focused subclass. I'll have to wait to see how good the sangromancy spells are, but the base kit here is really well done.

All right, y'all. So we got through all the subclasses. I think that the actual mechanics are all over the place, the "pet" focus Libertad called out is clear, and some of the subclasses are way too friggin good. But two-thirds of those complaints apply to the base PHB so I'm cutting Ghostfire some slack here. More importantly, any player who flips through this is going to go, "Oath of Pestilence? That sounds awesome!" and immediately want to play it. So these subclasses immediately sell players on this setting. They also (mostly) avoid extra work for the DM, although you might have to work a bit harder to challenge these players. And it definitely exceeds what I could have come up with on my own. So this part of the book hits all three criteria from me, and gets a "Well done!"

Next time, we'll go into the Transformations chapter! See y'all then!
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Sparky McDibben

Sorry about the delay there, friends. I've been getting into the grimdark headspace with the Magistratum Mundanus live play of Dark Heresy (link here), which at one point made me laugh so hard I fell off the elliptical at the gym. It was quite painful, but I'm OK now. And by OK, I mean heavily medicated.

Alright, friendos, tonight we're going over Transformations! For those of you that missed my Campaign Guide review, a Transformation is a way to make your character a monster. So there are ways to become a vampire, a lich, or a werewolf, for example. In the original campaign guide, these were very well done, and added some unique options if that was a path you wanted to go down. The Players Guide takes an interesting approach, in that it augments the Campaign Guide material by providing additional boons and flaws for the transformations presented in that book, but also provides three brand new Transformations. You can become a fey, a primordial, or a spectre. The primordial is a way to basically make your character an elemental, and the spectre is revenant-lite. The fey comes with a variety of tricks, focusing on enchantment, intrigue, or raw magical prowess.

These are all interesting, but lack the "classic movie monster" vibe of the campaign guide material. Still, it's solid, usable material, and the presence of augmentations to the original transformations makes this book valuable in its own right.

After that, we get to Backgrounds. The normal backgrounds are fine, including such thematic additions as the Taken (someone who survived a childhood abduction), or the Lapsed Inquisitor. I enjoy having options for these kinds of very specific roles, and hats off to the team for building those! However, the keen-eyed among you noted the use of the "normal" as an adjective to "backgrounds" there. Some of you already know that there are advanced backgrounds. Some of you are about to find this out for the first time, and I'm really sorry.

So, advanced backgrounds were introduced in the campaign guide, and they are one of my least favorite things about that book. They're fiddling, involving a proficiency die to only a couple of skills, and it levels up with you, so it's hard to track. The whole system is a bit of a mess. If you'd like to find out more about them, feel free to either purchase the book or see my Grim Hollow Campaign Guide (you're looking for post #8). In any event, the advanced backgrounds in the player's guide are still janky as hell, so no thanks.

And now we come to the final chapter I'm going to cover tonight: Archetypes! Archetypes is a chapter dedicated to RP. It basically gives templates to characters that are wholly lacking in mechanics, but that have some RP advice, and potential goals, as well as ideals and flaws for each archetype. The entire thing reminded me of the Nature / Demeanour bit from the old White Wolf games (I don't know if anyone else knows those games), but the idea is that you can pick an adjective, and wrap your character up in that. So my character is Ambitious, and you get about half a page of ideas for ambitious characters (including pop culture inspiration! Yes!).

These are really good for first-time players, and it's the kind of support WotC should have offered but didn't. I really like the Archetypes chapter, despite the fact that I probably won't use it ever.

Alright, kids. Sparky needs his medicine, and probably a new kidney. But when I get back from mugging the ice cream truck man* for that kidney, we're going to go over the 42 new spells in the book!!!!

*Where I live, the ice cream truck runs all year round!


One thing I hated about Grim Hollow's Transformations was how many of the drawbacks would be all but impossible to deal with in-universe.

As an example: The Lich's drawbacks (8 CR worth of souls every day at the highest level of the transformation) would mean a lich would swiftly depopulate any area they were in just to get enough souls to keep going. And they can't use commoners since they're CR 0.

The idea is the DM is going to ensure the lich player faces enough enemies each day to keep their soul cage filled, but it breaks suspension of disbelief and just feels silly. Liches in-universe would need to go on daily murder sprees to keep from burning out.

A character becomes a lich to obtain immortality and thus have all the time in the world to do whatever they want, having to constantly scramble to gather powerful souls defeats that purpose.

It turns the lich from "supremely powerful undead mage" to "water wheel robot from Futurama":

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