Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Product Review: Kobold Press' Demon Cults #5: Servants of the White Ape

Kobold Press is out with their latest Demon Cult book, Servants of the White Ape.  I backed Kobold's Southlands Kickstarter, so I've been receiving these as they come out.  I did a review of Demon Cults #1, The Emerald Order, which was a fantastic little sourcebook. I'm even more excited about this book than I was after reading The Emerald Order.

First of all, the background here takes place in the "southern jungles."  That's a part of the Southlands that we haven't heard much about or explored as of yet.  Since this gets dropped in there basically tabula rasa, the most fantastic options that I can dream of get to populate the rest of the jungle.  Also, because there's not a lot of detail here, it's easily ported away from it's intended Midgard setting to wherever else I might like to take the Servants of the White Ape.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  It's short (less than 15 pages) but it does have some very strong art.  In fact, when you find out what the giant white ape on the cover actually is, you'll want to use this even more!

Also, our climactic bad guy is a summoner.  In general, I hate the summoner class.  But, I love this character.  The fact that Kobold Press has designed a summoner that I not only like but actively want to use in my game is mind blowing.  They have completely revisioned the way the class can work and I'm pumped--I actually want to use a summoner at the table.  Admittedly, our villain here has some pretty vanilla motivations and back story, but there's a lot that can be done with where he is aiming.

The Servants of the White Ape is not a highly detailed organization.  Unlike some of the other Demon Cults, there's really only NPC who is detailed and who plays a roll.  This can be helpful for setting up a climactic battle, but it means that there aren't as many pre-generated middle of the story.  There are other monsters of course--we have the stats for a CR 5 White Ape Warrior, which is a modified dire ape.  The cult also has some allied tribes.  There are seeds for making up a larger organization to oppose here, they're just planed deeper than normal.  But, when they, this group has some potential!

I like the White Ape Warrior.  Since they are the addition of class levels and a few other things to a dire ape, you have to do a little bit of deconstruction to get down to some base level stats, well beyond the dire ape part.  But, once you do that, there are options for an endless number of white apes to fill any NPC role that you'd like them to.  I like this--it means that you can also customize the CRs on white apes very easily.

There are a couple of magic items in the book.  The Father's Staff is a necessary addition of mechanics to some flavor.  But, honestly, there's nothing that makes the Father's Staff anything more than a run of the mill spell in a can staff.  That's a shame because there was another quarter of a page on the magic items page that could have been used with something to make the Father's Staff unique.  So, it's not that the mechanics that make this thing unique got cut, they just never existed in the first place.  Fortunately, the White Ape Hide Armor completely makes up for this.  This magical armor has both cool mechanics and is tied into the overall story with some great fluff about how, exactly, the armor gets made and who it's given to.  I'd take it one step further--I'd add a requirement that the first time a PC tries to don it without the blessing of the [creature whose blessing would be necessary redacted for awesomeness], the PC would have to save or contact spellscourge fever.  That lets the item be amazing, but ups its risk and its flavor.

Finally, let's talk about spellscourge fever itself.  If you ever want to play in this, stop reading RIGHT NOW.  This is awesome--we have a disease that only targets spellcasters and which is particularly deadly against them.  The DCs to save against it are high--especially if it's contracted directly from a white ape.

And if you die from spellscourge fever?  You might come back as a spellscourged creature, which is, frankly, a terrifying template.  Avoiding spoilers, they've chosen a fantastic weakness for these creatures.  I would probably nerf their touch attack a bit--a former seventh level caster picking up a 7d6 touch attack is pretty powerful.  The template is new and weird enough that tying it to a monster will make for a great encounter the first time the PCs cross swords with a spellscourged creature.  One of these would make a fantastic boss to a major arc as the PCs make their way to find out what's really going on with the leaders of the Cult...

Overall, fantastic product with some great innovative ideas and seeds for other developments.  Unfortunately, the seeds are buried pretty deep and will require spending a lot of time creating your own material to support the ideas that are here.  Since I'm pressed for time (hello full time job and night school), I prefer that my books have a little more crunch to them.  The ideas here are really interesting though and all of the improvements that I've suggested are really just how I'd want to customize this product for my own table.  For $3, I recommend checking this out.

Three out of five stars.