Friday, June 17, 2016

A Review Rises from the Ashes

Pelgrane Press's February 13th Age Monthly release is all about the phoenix and has some interesting ways to make the birds unique in use in your game.  Here are a few highlights of how phoenixes are different in the Dragon Empire...

  • Phoenixes can't speak, but are intelligent and communicate non-verbally;
  • Phoenixes aren't any smarter than most PC races;
  • Phoenixes place a premium on loyalty above all else;
  • Some phoenixes might go insane after too many self-immolations;
  • Phoenixes' duties may call them to the land, but they're far more interested in the Overworld in the sky
That said, let's investigate the 10-page monthly release, not quite ten months after it's been released...There's a title page, a credits/OGL page, an intro page, a page listing phoenixes' connections to the icons, 2.5 pages of stats for various types of phoenixes, .75 pages of phoenix-related items, .75 pages of phoenix-related adventure hooks, and two interior pages of art.  Since I can't reproduce the art, I'll just say that it's on par with the title page and, if you want to feature phoenixes or their eggs in your campaign, you'll likely draw inspiration from it and show it to your players.

Phoenixes 101

I recently reread Terry Pratchett's Carpe Jugulum, which features a phoenix, also adapting the bird in some interesting ways.  Pratchett chose that the phoenixes should look like some other bird, until they needed to burst into flame and become phoenixes.  After doing their duty, they'd return to the form of the other bird.  And, the other bird form would be the first bird the newly-hatched phoenix saw, whether it was a deadly hawk or a doddering dodo.  Anyone fancy a flamingo-cum-phoenix?

Phoenix Iconography
One thing that the supplement goes on about is that phoenixes and dragons just don't get along.  Not that either party really seems to care, but each knows that it's the most beautiful and special...so why would you be paying attention to anything else.  This surface-level "oh everything's fine; those guys are great" turning into active conflict could be a lot of fun to roleplay out.  In general, I was pleased with the way Ash Law & Rob Heinsoo connected phoenixes to the icons, but here are a few thoughts:
  • Crusader: Instead of having no phoenixes associated with the Crusader ever, give the Crusader some method to bring them under his wing, so to speak.  Depending on the PCs' loyalties, they're either questing to get the Crusader the keys to a new cadre of aerial shock troops or to keep the phoenixes free.
  • Lich King: These ideas are fantastic.  I've never drawn the connections between the phoenix's rebirth and the concept of undeath.  The idea that they could be combined in interesting ways is one of the coolest things this supplement raises.
  • Prince of Shadows: Given the value placed on loyalty in the criminal underworld, I was hoping for a little more here.  There's a suggestion that it could happen, but nothing concrete.  On the other hand, flaming birds mixed with folks who operate in the shadows...could draw a lot of attention.  Maybe these phoenixes are better as con-birds?

Monster Stats

The supplement presents stats for four monsters:
  • Flamebird Phoenix, Double-strength 3rd level wrecker [elemental], a youngish phoenix;
  • Resurgent Phoenix, Large 5th level leader [elemental], an older phoenix, usually dedicated to serving a cause or a person;
  • Void Phoenix, Large 8th level spoiler [elemental], a phoenix that's drawn all its heat into itself--for whatever nefarious reasons the GM might choose; and
  • Solar Phoenix, Large 12th level caster [elemental], the largest and most powerful of the phoenixes
The progression between stats is nice.  However, two really interesting details.  First of all, the void phoenix works with negative energy, rather than in fire (though it retains some fire aspects from the phoenix "archetype.")  This is a really neat concept on a lot of different levels.  Secondly, for all phoenixes is the Reborn in X ability -- essentially, when the phoenix takes a critical hit or drops to 0 hit points, you roll a d20 and various results from total rebirth to instant immolation, to simple flight occurs.  There are suggestions about when/if a phoenix might return looking for the party.  This is a really, really cool way to inject some random awesomeness into the story.

Magic Items
The supplement has three magic items.  First, the Phoenix Tears potion, which is basically an amped-up healing potion.  Secondly, the Phoenix Cloak is presented, though without a quirk.  Here's my suggestion.

Phoenix Cloak
Quirk: Paranoid that friends aren't actually friends at all

The supplement also talks about phoenix eggs, which it suggests are best handled as artifacts.  aka, They should be awesome, the should be difficult, and they should have basically undefined effects and limits.  The supplement also states that there's in-world debate as to whether phoenix eggs exist at all.  So...maybe they don't!


Hooked on a Feelin'...High on Believin'...That You're a Phoenix

Finally, there are adventure hooks.  Without giving spoilers, there are several interesting ideas in here useful as inspiration for one-shots all the way up to campaign seeds.  The Dark Omens seed is one of the more interesting and intricate campaign seeds I've seen in awhile.  The Return of the Phoenix King could be nice for a fun turnaround on a usual night of adventure.  Finally, The Crown of Phoenix Claws could easily be run as a high intrigue scenario where even the good Icons have grown suspicious of the PCs.  Who do the PCs turn to when no one is safe?  How hard does the GM laugh when the PC tries to use a 5 on an Icon roll in this scenario???

Conclusion

This is a GREAT supplement!  I want to use it immediately.  Get it.