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Genius Guide to the Death Mage RPG Review
Posted By Michael Brewer On January 27, 2010 @ 6:50 am In RPGs | 2 Comments
Necromancy and the undead are two of my favorite themes for roleplaying games. The undead have a strong presence in gaming and there are many interesting creatures that can be used in adventures. Unfortunately, there have not been many useful options for those that sit on the other side of the screen. As a player, I am always on the hunt for new and effective methods to harness the powers of death, the dead, and the undead.
Enter the Death Mage.
The Genius Guide to: the Death Mage  is a fourteen page supplement from Otherworld Productions & Super Genius Games for the Pathfinder RPG. The Death Mage is a new arcane spellcasting base class that provides players five paths to choose from: Corpse, Ghoul, Tomb, Reaper, and Shadow mages. The Death Mage also introduces some new spells and a new creature subtype, Unbreathing (a not quite undead creature).
The Death Mage is not merely a specialist wizard, bloodline sorcerer, or cleric with the death domain; it brings unique powers to the table. In addition, the class does not focus on pure necromancy, but also touches upon other themes associated with death (fog of graveyards, fear of dying, shadows). The class is built so that it may draw on the iconic powers of death without resorting to evil or undead, though those options are happily available as well.
The Death Mage uses Charisma as its key spellcasting ability (determines DCs, bonus spells, etc.) and prepares its spells much like a wizard (so no spontaneous casting). The spell list is naturally focused and short, but still gains a wizardly spell slot progression. The Death Mage does make up for its limited spell selection with original class abilities.
There are actually three major components of a Death Mage. The first are common abilities shared by all types of Death Mages which include the ability to understand spirits of the dead (regardless of their living language) at 2nd level, increased skill with Knowledge checks regarding information related to death (the dead, undead, necromancy, ceremonies, burial places) at 5th level, innate ability to use the speak with dead spell at 10th level, the ability to delay death in himself or allies at 15th level, and eventually the ability to return new dead to life as if he used the resurrection spell at 20th level.
The second component is the Death Mage’s Pale Road ability. At 1st level, a Death Mage must choose a path to walk that determines one or two (all but the Corpse Mage gets 2 abilities at 1st level) special abilities at 1st level and another at 8th level.
The Corpse Mage road gives the Death Mage the ability to command undead as well as the ability to gain zombie or skeletal minions similar to the Leadership feat. Minions develop into special undead like burning skeletons or fast zombies as the Death Mage increases in level (to the point of even being able to attract a vampire cohort).
The Ghoul Mage road imbues the Death Mage with the power to regain hit points and bonuses to attack rolls, saving throws, and skill check by feasting on the dead. That’s pretty sick (and right up my alley)! Ghoul Mages can also sicken or paralyze opponents with touch attacks.
The road of the Tomb Mage allows a Death Mage to control fear and pain. Tomb Mages are immune to pain and fear effects and have powers that inflict those conditions upon their enemies.
Death Mages opposed to the undead will probably take the road of the Reaper Mage. Reapers cannot create or command undead, but benefit from increased hit points and the uncanny ability to automatically stabilize when they reach negative hit points (as well as increasing the point of death by half their class level). They also gain additional melee damage (which is twice as effective against undead) as well as field that reduces the power of undead within its range.
The final path is the road of the Shadow Mage. Death Mages on the road of shadows benefit from persistent prestidigitation, unseen servant, and spectral hand spells. Additionally, they may use the shadow conjuration or shadow evocation spells to emulate any or bard conjuration or evocation spells in addition to wizard/sorcerer spells. Finally, Shadow Mages gain the ability to summon shadows.
The final component is the Death Bond. At 3rd level, a Death Mage may chose to gain an unbreathing companion, access to either the death or repose cleric domains, or to create a fetish. The unbreathing companion functions much like a druid’s animal companion; albeit as a magical beast of the unbreathing subtype and calculated as if the Death Mage were a druid of two levels lower. Domains are handled just like the Death Mage was a cleric of the same level and includes bonus domain spells.
The third option, fetishes, is an altogether new mechanic. A fetish contains a collection of powers (2 to start, then one additional power every odd level) that are only effective against creatures of a type it is attuned to. That being said, a fetish can be attuned to any number of types by attaching small trophies taken from the corpse of a freshly slain creature. Some example powers include imposing negatives to saves against your spells, dealing additional damage, making a melee weapon your fetish, transferring powers to allies, and using the fetish like a voodoo doll to inflict damage on enemies.
I have a few issues concerning how balanced each of the Pale Road paths and Death Bonds are, though I would really have to confirm my concerns by play testing a character from each road/bond to confirm my suspicions. I also have my doubts that this class is on par with the Pathfinder RPG base classes in terms of power and balance, but that is not necessarily a bad thing (I still like the base classes setting the bar for playability).
That being said, I think the Genius Guide to: the Death Mage  is a solid addition to anyone’s Pathfinder RPG game that is looking for that hard sought necromantic class that is still effective and fun to play.
|Mechanics:||4.0||Original concept and better than many other attempts, but I feel some of the class features (Pale Road & Fetishes) are not as elegant as they could be.|
|Illustration:||3.0||Though well rendered, the cover illustration invoked more an infernal feel and one of the interior illustrations did not match in style and it interrupts the consistency.|
|Layout:||4.0||Minimal, landscape format for screen, good design but could have used a hyperlinked table of contents or bookmarks (and the security prevents bookmarking).|
|Editing:||3.5||Found spelling and grammar mistakes, not huge, but it’s a short book.|
|Value:||4.9||An entire class for $1.99 is a pretty good deal.|
Note: Scores are out of a possible 5.0 points.
Review by Michael Brewer
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