Review of Grimoire Viperian by Magic Skull Games

For those gamers out there who are also fans of what might be called Appendix N fantasy novels, they will probably all agree that there is one creature type seems to show up as the foe of the heroic protagonist time and time again: Serpents. Whether it’s a horrid spawn of Set threatening to devour Conan, or a snake-headed demon man threatening Elric of Melnibonea in his quest after Stormbringer, or the white-furred warm-blooded serpents Fafrd and Grey Mouser encountered as they climbed the peak called Stardock, fantasy literature is filled with all manner of serpents, half-serpents, and serpent-like abominations. They lie in wait, lurking, ready to leap out of the pages to kill the favored hero with crushing coils and insidious venoms.

Thankfully, heroes in fantasy stories are always fairly hardy, and have a good track record dealing with foul serpent-ish creatures. But that’s not always the case for heroes of Fantasy RPGs, and there are plenty of players out there with horrific stories of how their favorite character was slain by a ferocious giant snake - or something even worse!

Magic Skull Games definitely noticed the trend of serpents in fantasy literature, and have created a tome of exotic lore themed around all things snake-like. Grimoire Viperian has content touching all facets of the Pathfinder RPG system, with material for both players and game masters that’s waiting to slither into your campaign.

Grimoire Viperian
  • Designer: Steven F. Johnson
  • Illustrations: Steven F. Johnson (cover); Bradley K McDevitt (Postmortem Studios Clipart Critters), Go Media Vector Art, Robert Anderson, Steven F. Johnson, Vintage Clipart, V. Shane Arcane Artifacts
  • Publisher: Magic Skull Games
  • Year: 2012
  • Media: PDF (171 pages)
  • Price: $6.99 (PDF available from RPGNow)

Grimoire Viperian is a third-party supplement for the Pathfinder RPG system, and offers a wide range of serpent/snake-themed content for players and game masters. The supplement offers two new Base Classes and more than thirty new Prestige Classes available for creating unique PCs and NPCs. There are a dozen new specialized feats called Eldritch Paths and a new type of character template called Supernatural Signs which can be used to reward player-controlled heroes, or to empower villains with strange and unexpected powers. There are more than a hundred new spells in Grimoire Viperian, many of them serpent-themed, to add new dynamics to spellcasters of all types. And finally, the supplement contains seventeen new monsters and ten new monster templates, most with very snake-like qualities, to provide new surprises for heroes in encounters of all levels.

Production Quality

Overall, the production quality of Grimoire Viperian is excellent, with a layout reminiscent of Pathfinder Core books, and with very good writing throughout the content. There were a couple of layout issues here and there, particularly in the “spells” chapter where the title of a spell would end up at the end of a page without anything else, but it’s nothing overtly damaging to the reading process. The supplement contains both a table of contents and PDF bookmarks, the latter finely tuned to major headings, which makes navigating through the book very easy.

The cover art and interior illustrations are quite good, and definitely enhance the reading experience of the Grimoire Viperian. However, the number of illustrations is quite low for a book of this length, which leave the reader’s eyes a bit boggled by the sheer mass of unrelieved text.

Snakes! Why is it always snakes?!

The Grimoire Viperian (subtitled A Tome of Exotic Lore) is broken up into nine chapters of content, along with an introduction which contains a cosmological mythological tale. The story is a nice bit of army of light versus army of dark fiction revealing how this demonic godling named Sarkuroth and his serpent- creature horde was defeated by the forces of good.

The first chapter of the supplement introduces two new Base Classes: the Shapeshifter class, which fills a melee/secondary fighter role and bases its class powers on effects similar to the beast change I-IV spell family; and the Pyro class, which fills a rogue-like roll, and uses an off-hand torch and alchemical fire effects for attacks. While the Shapeshifter is pretty interesting and offers players the chance to play a metamorph character, it might be considered overpowered in some campaigns. It exceeds the power progression of the beast change I-IV spells, and then adds power selections for the characters alternate forms straight from the powers listed for monsters. Conversely, the Pyro is a bit of an odd-ball class, and feels a touch underpowered, as some there are a few of their powers which can be mimicked by any character with access to alchemical compounds. But it is a different sort of rogue-like character that might appeal to players who like a bit of flash-and-bang. However, it was hard not to see that neither of these classes seemed very serpent themed, and felt a bit out of place in the Grimoire Viperian.

In Chapter 2, there are more than thirty new Prestige Classes, and many of these have a definite serpent-style theme, such as the Serpent Druid and, Serpent Warlock, and Viper Assassin. But there were several other Prestige Classes which focused on very non-snake themes, from the Barbarian-class themes of the Panther Clan Chief and Wolf Clan Chief. In addition, I was a bit perplexed with a majority of the Prestige Classes having pre-requisites demanding a certain number of levels in a particular class, which is quite different than the typical skill, feat, BAB, or caster level requirements found in the Pathfinder RPG. And like the Base Classes, I question whether the powers of the Prestige Classes are reasonably balanced for Pathfinder, and there are certainly some game masters which are likely to feel they are too potent for their campaigns.

The third chapter provides a list of sixteen unique NPCs which utilize the content in the Grimoire Viperian, particularly the Base Classes and Prestige Classes. However, I was quite disappointed that NPCs are just characters in the raw – just a block of stats and powers. They are completely lacking their background stories, their motivations, or their fighting styles – and many are lacking in any snake-ish theme.

Chapter 4 introduces a new type of feat called an Eldritch Path. These dozen Paths are designed to lend a thematic edge to spell-casters, and give them unique augmentations to their spells. Like some feats, Eldritch Paths require that the character meet certain requirements. For instance, the Secrets of Terror Path is open to a caster who has the necromancy spell focus feat, and can cast at least two spells from a list which include bane, cause fear, crushing despair, doom, and other spells with terrorizing effects. The rewards for following the Path grants enhanced effects for fear-based spells, such as causing minor damage to targets of the fear-like spells, forcing a second save on targets who have succeeded in their initial save against fear spells, and even gaining temporary hit points from their fear-spell, whenever targets fail a save. Overall, these Paths are a very cool idea, and a really interesting innovation on standard feat types. But again, while I like the Eldritch Path Feats quite a bit, none are particularly snake-related.

Chapter 5 provides new magic items for the Pathfinder RPG, including Armor, Weapons, and a range of Miscellaneous item types. Like the previous chapters, there are snake-themed items like the Black Mamba Scale Armor and Snake Flail mixed in amongst items which are snake-free, such as the Angelic Brass Breastplate, Hellreaver Battleaxe, and Barbarian Warpaints. The items are listed in standard formats, and have a wide range of potency, but they do provide game masters with new and interesting items to reward their players.

The sixth chapter of the Grimoire Viperian features more than 100 new spells for Bards, Clerics, Druids, Paladins, and Sorcerer/Wizards. There were notably a number of new spells with a snake or serpent theme, but quite a few more that had nothing at all to do with snakes. Like other spells which appear in other 3rd Party Publications, some of them are innovative, while others are simply derivative of existing spells. And some are over-powered, some under-powered, and some are just right. Game Masters will have to go through these spell lists pretty thoroughly to decide which ones they want to sanction them for use by their players.
Chapter 7 of the supplement introduces us to another innovation by the author: Supernatural Signs. He provides ten thematic templates for characters and NPCs which represent a special destiny, and a link to a powerful outsider force such as a god, angel, demon or devil – or something better left alone and unknown. In the case of NPCs and monsters, adding a Supernatural Sign increases their Challenge Rating. In appearance, a supernatural sign can appear as unobtrusive as a birthmark, or can be born openly on armor, shields or weapons. There are five good (Celestial) and five bad (Evil) signs, and each comes in both lesser and greater forms. The lesser form of a sign grants the bearer the ability to cast two spells or two powers; the greater version grants access to a clerical domain, sorcerous bloodline, or wizard arcane school, and the powers granted by those class features.

For example, the Supernatural Sign of Kings is a Crown symbol which is borne by good kings, heirs to a throne, or heroes who would lead others to defeat some great evil. The lesser version could grant spells such as align weapon, heroism, and shield, or powers like Immunity to Fear, the Paladin Aura of Courage, or Resistance 10 to one energy type. There are a couple dozen different lesser abilities to choose from, offering considerable variety to characters and NPCs alike. The greater sign of Kings offers a choice of powers such as the sorcerer bloodline: destined, the arcane schools of abjuration and enchantment, and a number of clerical domains, like law, knowledge, and nobility, to name but a few.

Overall, I really like these signs, and despite their lack of snake concepts, make for very interesting templates with a cool thematic. And although potent, it should be noted that each of these signs comes with a price tag – a supernatural patron who must be continuously appeased, lest the power of the sign be rescinded!

There are seventeen new monsters in Chapter 8, and the majority of these are, indeed, snakes! The author provides new versions of deadly vipers (and dire versions), along with rules on harvesting and using venom after dispatching the vicious retiles. In addition, the Grimoire Viperian includes the new slitherers on monster/animal summoning tables in case a NPC of PC wants to grab some cold-blooded assistance. And the reason these new versions of vipers are called “deadly” is due to the nasty nature of their poisons, which have been updated to include new effects which debilitate a character suffering from the toxin. The author did a very good job of researching the poisons of rare venomous snakes, and interpreting their neurotoxic or hemotoxic effects into Pathfinder game terms. Characters can now come face to face with cobras, rattlesnakes, and mambas, and find that their failed saving throw not only begins to destroy their Con, but causes the hero to lose their sight, be partially paralyzed, and reductions in other ability scores while the venom works them over. Some very good and innovative content for creating a real trepidation among player-characters when a serpent rears up its head and strikes!

Finally, there are ten new templates for monsters to be found in Chapter 9, and most of them have serpent/snake themes. The new templates include such beasties as an Amphisbaena Serpent, a Half-Serpent, a Vampiric Serpent, and even a Viperian Dragon! The author details all the alterations that the template makes to the base monster or animal, as well as its new additional powers and abilities, and its increased Challenge Rating. In most cases, there was also a sample creature with the templates’ entry, so really there are even more monsters in the Grimoire Viperian to be used in almost any style campaign. The templates definitely create some surprising creatures for the player-characters to stumble upon, and I think there will be a bit of pause at the gaming table when facing down a Half-Serpent Dire Bat or a Vampiric Black Mamba.

Overall Score: 3.25 out of 5.0

Conclusions

I have mixed feelings about what I found in the Grimoire Viperian, but overall, I’d have to say the good impressions outweigh the bad – but only narrowly! This felt like it was really two books – one that had a great serpent theme running through it, and one that was a mish-mash of Pathfinder concepts that didn’t really have anything to do with serpents at all. I think the publisher would have served their target audience better by releasing two 85-page supplements, with one of them strictly adhering to the snake/serpent theme!

On one hand, some of the “crunch” is questionably balanced, and I can see Pathfinder GMs having to sort through a lot of content to decide what they want to allow in their campaigns. On the other hand, the Eldritch Paths and Supernatural Signs are innovative and very “crunchy”, and offer some really cool character and NPC options to the Pathfinder RPG. The same goes with “fluff” and illustrations – on one hand, most of it was great, but on the other, it just made it all the more noticeable when there was a significant lack of “fluff” and art in the book.

Overall, it’s definitely worth taking a look at, as there is a massive amount of content for only a few bucks. Even if one only used half of the material in Grimoire Viperian, there is definitely some gold mixed in with the dross.

So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)
  • Presentation: 3.25
  • - Design: 3.0 (Excellent writing; a logical layout; good presentation of rules and concepts)
  • - Illustrations: 3.5 (Good cover; excellent interior art - but very sparse for 171 pages!)
  • Content: 3.0
  • - Crunch: 3.0 (Mix of solid and not so solid crunch; not all innovations here were successful)
  • - Fluff: 3.0 (Tons of fluff; setting adheres marvelously to Golden Age sci-fi themes)
  • Value: 3.5 (There’s a ton of stuff in here for the price, but not all of it will be useful.)

Author’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.
 

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