An Endzeitgeist.com review
The revised and expanded version of the NeoExodus campaign setting clocks in at a massive 272 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC/KS-thanks and dedication, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 266 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Before we begin this review, let me mention that this book is more than just an expansion of the material we knew from the previous iteration; while, obviously, there are similarities between the previous iteration of the setting and this one, it is pretty apparent from the get-go that the very scope of this book exceeds what we got to know about NeoExodus; for one, the organization of the book makes more sense, at least to me. We begin with the troubled history of this planet and the leitmotifs of NeoExodus, which already set it apart.
You see, NeoExodus' history is one, ultimately, of emancipation, one where the struggle of actually establishing sovereignty for the races of the land was a hard-won process based in significant ways on the exertion of magical or psionic might. The assumption of the setting is that once, the mysterious and evil First Ones (over whom few know anything - and you shouldn't ever believe what anyone's saying), cloaked in mystery and malevolence, lorded as supreme lords over the races. Scientists and arcane theorists, slaving at the behest of these beings, managed to create perhaps one of the coolest concepts I have seen in a fantasy content: They basically made a humanity god-collective; a repository of the most brilliant minds of the age, which was destined to become the facilitator of the defeat of the First Ones and doubles as a kind of extranet, including avatars of its vast knowledge. Instead of lording over the world as a godking, the Kaga retreated - and an age of barbarism and sorceror kings began and battle they did with the psionic ratpeople named cavians. This war of mind and magic broke the backbones of the sorceror kings and Cavian alike, and in the aftermath of the titanic struggle, the seeds of vast nations were sown, as each region spawned different cultures that would develop further. The arrival of the Armans. the free folk, only exacerbated tensions after the khagan had returned and established the Dominion, to forge order out of chaos and similarly, from chaos and intrigue, the mighty Caneus Empire was born. Meanwhile the Sanguine Covenant, the dominant religion of the land, a uniquely cool blend of basically blood magic and Catholicism was on the rise and after the establishment of the Arman Protectorate, it was the Reis Confederacy as the final "super-power" of NeoExodus that forged disparate city states into a powerful nation.
The following years were ones wherein the very world sat on the precipice of disaster more than once, as the massive nations clashed again and again; it would only be a matter of time, before mutually assured destruction would be the only outcome of further feuds and ultimately, the organization of the janissaries and cooler heads ultimately prevailed, resulting in the calendar-changing event dubbed the Unification, creating the Imperial Alliance, basically a kind of United Nations, wherein everyone is eyeing the other nations with suspicion. Beyond a history of almost hot-flaring cold wars and posturing. Tragedies happened and the world continues to teeter back and forth towards full-blown war, as a current change in regents greatly destabilized major players; assassins are on the loose; the senate tried to impose martial law on the empires...and they declined to comply. Elite janissaries have been deployed. The scenario is unquestionably and nastily close to the events that led to WW I, through a lens both fantastic and creative. It's only 91 years AU (After Unification)...and the world needs heroes.
After the extensive history that generates sufficient awareness of the status-quo and what led to it, the book conveniently depicts the unique selling propositions of the setting, and if the above didn't provide ample clue, its general setup is radically different from pretty much every d20-based campaign setting I have ever seen. While NeoExodus is a high fantasy setting, it is not one in line with the traditional medieval status-quo; instead, the very state of the world hearkens closer to the complexities of modern life, the political zeitgeist reflecting more the highly volatile situation of the 20th century. As such, the politics of empires and the options of PCs to influence these introduce a different type of tone, one that also emphasizes espionage and deal-brokering. That being said, NeoExodus is at the same time a world that consequently applies the options that magic would bring to nations; so no, magic is not just a technology stand-in. In spite of it actually fulfilling similar functions, magic manages to retain its unique flavor. The existence of the Nexus Gateways, basically stargates as a means on inter- and extra-planetary travel also means that NeoExodus can, in fact accommodate a ton of home-brew races or uncommon races and influences without much tweaking; no other setting, perhaps apart from Purple Duck Games' Porphyra allows for such an easy and internally consistent way to introduce new races and creatures.
In short, NeoExodus, ultimately, is closer to a "new" type fantasy that gets rid of the traditional Tolkienesque tropes; the unique racial set-up of the world similarly emphasizes this, with none of the player races just reskinning tropes, providing for unique playing experiences beyond what you'd see in pretty much every comparable fantasy setting. The emphasis on consipracies, politics and intrigue is also reflected in the significant amount of information we receive pertaining the cabals of the world: From the brotherhood of the god of murder Khayne to the First Ones, the AMAZING Folding Circle (still one of my favorite NPC-books ever), the phoenix guard, the order of kaga, the sanguine covenant and beyond, there are a lot of movers and shakers to align with, to support or thwart. The return of the cavians with their psionic collective (and thus pretty alien thought-processes - think of Borg minus assimilation) also prompted the exceedingly cool Black Ops magic/psionics-suppressing task force of Section Omega...and have I mentioned the locari, basically Giger-aliens bred by the First Ones, currently thankfully quarantined to an island? Yeah, the massive section alone lets you add a ton of options beyond the respective empires.
And here, the book, beyond the cosmetic renditions of NeoExodus' movers and shakers and visual representations of the cabal's signs, expands significantly, introducing a selection of new government types and settlement qualities for settlements - racial enclaves, asylums...there are some nice expansions here. After this section, we begin taking a closer look at the respective regions, which are set apart by an easy way to establish a character hailing from the region, with character option- advice being provided for the respective regions. The areas actually also influences the proficiencies and languages of the character in question, which is a pretty cool and easy way of establishing a sense of cohesion.
These regions also sport unique threats and hazards - like exatar's shawl, mirage-like clouds of negative energy. Granite storms may ravage the land and in the right (or wrong) circumstances, the echoes of the long-vanquished sorceror kings may be found, feasting on the magical energies of those present. Important movers and shakers generally receive nice, flavorful write-ups and often, cool artworks. While some may be known to fans of NeoExodus, this still remains an art-heavy book, one that sports A LOT of new material. It should also be noted that the book sports several neat pieces of player-friendly, key-less full-color cartography for major cities within the respective regions - with obvious, cultural differences in how they are build and, more often than not, amazing full-color renditions of the cities in question - often highlighting a truly evocative flavor of the region, with obvious aesthetics of utopian science-fiction and post-apocalyptic settings being employed in creative and new manners, adapted and changed. As a whole, the setting ultimately feels fresh in tone and execution.
This uniqueness does extend to the racial options provided herein; if you've read my original review of NeoExodus' first iteration, you'll know that I really like several of the races the setting introduced; at the same time, I originally did complain about some races being more geared towards specific classes. This has been taken care of in a rather interesting manner - you see, each race features several alternate racial traits that often allow for less-specified builds to retain their viability. Power-level wise, the races presented here generally actually manage to hit a concise level, in spite of their unusual natures: There is no race that absolutely exceeds the power-level I'd be comfortable with and the races all fall in the same category, which is approximately on par with aasimar/tiefling - so powerful, but not to the point where they would hamper the mathematical assumptions of modules for the respective levels. This setting also introduces the Android race to NeoExodus, with a slew of new alternate racial options, so yeah, veterans get something novel here. The thought-sensing cavians with their hive mind and option to implant clairvoyance/audience in the targets of their bite via a cool alternate racial option still remain the only ratfolk-iteration I know that I consider on par in terms of coolness with Warhammer's Skaven...so yeah. I like these guys.
The crystalline Cyneans, powerfully build and balanced by susceptibility to force and sonic damage and higher costs for their armor and non-magic equipment do have some unique tricks as well: What about gaining Cha-mod as a deflection bonus to AC after casting a spell, for example? Yeah, powerful...no, can't be cheesed; you get nothing for casting orisons or cantrips...and since it's spell level cast, that also influences the strategy here. The options provided here are strong, yes, but the stronger ones do come with a price. The bestial Enuka are the one race that is lopsided, i.e., that has its racial bonuses solely on the physical side, but considering the flavor of the race, I can kinda live with that...also since their numerous mutations, of which you may choose 2 at character creation, would make for pretty nasty power-gaming options for casters, making that, at least as far as I can see, a conscious balancing decision. The humanoid plants called Dalreans, with their photosynthesis manage to avoid the pitfalls of plant-races and come with some really cool options: Beyond bioluminescence, those struck by lightning may get fire or electricity resistance or heal faster in sunlight (natural healing, mind you - thank the deities!), but as a balancing restrictions, they actually are more susceptible to environmental hazards. The half-giants presented here make for an interesting twist that emphasizes a clan-structure as well as druidism, changing what one would usually expect of them in a nice manner. The Kalisan, civilized versions of the calibans would be the orc-stand-in and are the second race that is lopsided towards the physical aspect of the attribute-array, though, considering the stigma attached to their blood, that ultimately makes the race non-problematic as well. The scholars and arcane polyglots called prymidians have had the benefits of their tentacles changed in an interesting manner - they now can begin play with Lunge, which renders the idea of a smart fighter more viable for a race otherwise more geared toward scholarly pursuits. The feline P'tan with their hatred for the First Ones and shadow-themed abilities are cool - but not even close to the insectoid Sasori: Information brokers, stigmatized by other races...and smart. These guys can analyze opponents and receive poisonous blood...and via alternate racial traits, they may call forth swarms of increasing power or emit a debuff/obscuring gas. They are one of my favorite races for Pathfinder - unique, flavorful and interesting from both a flavor- and a mechanical position.
Also interesting would be the ability sexual dimorphism for tieflings - females and males may choose different racial and alternate racial traits...and you can emphasize your dark heritage further to gain more of the alternate racial traits...which adds a more complex morality to the race. Why? Well, you may detect as a frickin' antipala...but you may also be so gorgeous you can Intimidate an attack to stop and get better healing capabilities...so playing a saint that detects as a malicious knave is indeed encouraged by the abilities provided. From a rules-precision point of view, I was positively surprised to see proper classifications for natural weapons herein, as well as an array of intriguing abilities that transcend in creativity what you usually see for races. The most grievous glitches you'll find here would be "electrical damage" instead of "electricity damage" and similar, mainly cosmetic hiccups. It should also be noted that, in spite of the power of these non-human races, the setting's dominance of humankind still makes it a rather enticing proposition to play humans of the various ethnicities - not only because of the kaga's focus on the race. It should also be noted that we do receive full age, height and weight tables for all races herein.
Beyond notes on the religions of NeoExodus (including domains and favored weapons, but sans obediences etc.), we do receive some nice class options: 8th level alchemists may pressurize splash weapons to increase their splash range; gunslingers not from the protectorate are marked for assassination...oh, and there is a healing alchemist, a dragon-themed barbarian, the arcane cleric of the kaga, Peacekeeper fighter (who replaces armor training and mastery with diligences like religious trances), at-will shield of faith and similar tricks. The Janissary monk would be a psionic monk who may actually stop fighting parties and make for a cool arbiter. The neat machinesmith base class has been integrated into the book (sans the expansions) and we receive a total of 6 PrCs:
-High Guard: Personal guard of the Emperor of Caneus, 5 levels, d10 HD, 4+ Int skills, good BAB, good Fort and Will-save; these are basically an elite bodyguard class.
-Imperial Man-at-arms: 5 levels, d10 HD, 4+ Int skills, good BAB, good Fort-save: Non-magical tougher-than-nails elite soldiers with armored Stealth capabilities.
-Khalid Asad: Eternal Lions, anti-spellcaster elite assassins of the Dominion. 5 levels, d8 HD, 4+ Int skills, moderate BAB, good Ref and Will-saves; 2 sneak attack progressions.
-Panther Warriors: Feline-affine wild-shaping elite of the Reis Confederacy. 5 levels, d10 HD, 2+Int skills per level, full BAB, good Fort and Will-saves. Pouncing death at the cost of spell progression.
-Protectorate Artillerist: 5 levels, d8 HD, 6+Int skills per level, medium BAB, good Fort-and Will-saves. Very cool PrC that is extremely deadly against constructs and can call down artillery fire when near a battery. Awesome idea - whip out the big guns without being over-powered.
-Wyrdcaster: Spellcasting elite of the Dominion, d6 HD, 2+ Int skills per level, non-standard-saves (with a minor hiccup - 10th level's Ref-save should be +3, not +2), 10 levels, full arcane spell progression, bad BAB. Learns kind of super-meta-magic via talents that is called wyrd and comes at a price.
The book also has, obviously, feats. A TON of them. The table for them alone spans more than 2.5 pages. It is here, that the races of the setting can gain a significant array of customization options; P'tan adding their shadowspark to their unarmed attacks, eat the brains of your vanquished foes to gain temporarily some of their skills, disrupting the use of spell-trigger items, storing spells within a cynean's body...or what about the option to wield spears as double weapons? Yeah, there are some flavorful, nice choices here - and disrupting spell-trigger items, for example is something I had feat-codified in my own game...so yeah, I like being able to do that.
After a massive assortment of spell-lists by level, we do get a bunch of...bingo, spells. This chapter begins with a bang, namely a spell that can, based on concentration, halve an existing non-instantaneous, non-permanent, non-concentration's spell's duration. A sphere that hampers communication, hampering both spellcasting and even item activation based on command words and the like. High-level annigilation of foes, locking shapechangers in their current shape...and there would be the super nasty bloodletting, which lets you execute an untyped damage-dealing attack that also causes nasty bleed...and said bleed accompanied by an effect that basically curses the target to have SR versus healing spells for the duration, making it tough to stop the damage...and cauterization a very real option. Specialist spells available only to specific clerics (or those that dabbled in the forbidden secrets of the First Ones), total sensory deprivation - there are some seriously cool ideas here. The editing of the spells, originally an issue in the previous iteration of the setting, has been improved. As a whole, the options here tend to be on the upper level of the power-scale, but considering the flavor-restrictions imposed n many, I'd generally consider the chapter to be a significant step forwards.
The book also contains a significant array of alchemical items, from smelling salts to stabilization-enhancing wines and instant ropes. Magic item properties alongside specific magic items can be found here as well...oh, and remember the Treasures of NeoExodus-series? Guess what: The items with their extensive back stories can also be found here: Grasscutter, Ichor Sting, Mordant Wrath, Peace & Tranquility, Raindrop and Rampager's Irons are included - for a reason, mind you: These are the gems of the series, the items that reflect the best and most creative it has to offer so far. So yeah, some really detailed gems here. The book also contains easy to use, fully described tomes, with detailed notes on languages employed, benefits gained, current status of the book, etc.
Now NeoExodus obviously also features some unique threats, and thus, the book goes on to depict just that: Arcanebloat template (CR +1) can detonate upon death and receive a chaotic, reactive retribution for being harmed. Alchemists can btw. learn to make these... At CR 4, arcaneslimes get a retributive splashback, emit noxious fumes and feature 2 variants. Aspic creatures ( At CR +1) are basically poisonous. Calibans and their nasty hounds (CR 1/3 and 2), 6-legged feline crystalline cynean-hunters, CR 8 draco-humanoids...some nice critters here. The holocaust and wrath conflict dragons from the excellent Dragons of NeoExodus-pdf are featured here as well. At CR 1, mebers are mischievous fey with a penchant for pyromania and protectorate golems...well, are badass. A total of 4 of them can be found. The Giger-Alien-like Locari and the CR 14 melted flesh ooze (!!!) are neat; the thermal vampires Necryos (CR 4), the needle-firing avians (CR 9) and the sonic-vulnerable CR 3 Razorfiends similarly are nice. The dreaded extraterrestial slave-making oozes called quickslavers get their representation, as do the scythians. A nice section of appropriate monster cohorts, inlcuding stats, complements the section.
After this, we take a look at the "influentials"-chapter - it is here we get the lowest level (and least impressive) iterations of the amazing Folding Circle as well as of the glorious threat that is Cyrix before gaining several helpful statblocks, NPC codex-style, for various beings. Now, I mentioned psionics before, and indeed, the powers of the mind have been an integral part of NEoExodus lore for some time; as such, I very much applaud the inclusion of the previously pretty obscure Psionic Cavian racial variant in the book...oh, and the chapter also features alternate racial traits that tie in with the psionic rules. Favored class options for cavians are included here as well. The Hive Mind Martyr archetype for the vitalist is pretty intriguing: Anyone within his established collective may instead be the recipient of any benevolent effect; granted, I am not a fan of using opposed Will-saves to settle the differences, if any here, but e.g. the option for members of the collective to heal the martyr by touching him, transforming effectively damage into nonlethal damage (you heal and then take nonlethal damage) is VERY interesting...and abuse-proof due to daily cap; indeed Health Sense, as a whole, is improved as well, with the collective gaining interesting options here. Here is the really cool component of the chapter, though: Know how people are suspicious and prejudiced towards powers? Well, in my campaigns, more often than not, people's reactions to magic tends to be pretty much getting the pitchforks ready...and psionics don't fare better. In NeoExodus, there are some nations that REALLY fear these gifts; as such, there are several feats to make the non-subtle tricks of psionics...well, more subtle. Glamered astral suits, nondescript astral constructs, redirecting displays...I love these options. Oh, and there is this one cool swift telepathy-power that allows you to erase one round's actions. Advice on handling psionics in your campaign and different ways to emphasize them can be found before a couple of powers that are linked to the racial flavor - like Dalrean Photosynthesis. 3 psychoactive skins and a the mindlink interrupter represent the items featured in the book.
The chapter's focus on Stealth and subtlety hearkens from the new cabal features herein, the Unseen Hand of the Seventh Order, who can best be envisioned as the anti-Section Omega. They also get a 5-level PrC with +3 Ref-and Will-save progression, moderate BAB, 6 + Int skills, d8 HD and full manifester progression. Basically, these would be the covert-ops psionics guys that try to shield the psionic beings from persecution. With means that emphasize getting away and smart playing, they make for a thematically concise little PrC well in line with the themes of NeoExodus. The psionic amalgam swarm (CR 7) may absorb other swarms, growing in size and potency (OUCH!) and we also receive a CR 12 imprint of the kaga. The phrenic scourge, in its CR 8 iteration, can also be found here.
This is not everything, however - the final chapter of the book is devoted to mythic power on NeoExodus - in the setting, there is a strong disparity between mythic monsters and characters, with only a precious few being chosen by the powers-that-be...or rather, branded, for in NeoExodus, deities brand those chosen. The deity most commonly associated with this practice would be the mysterious Lawgiver, whose Lazarus Brand provides the source of the mythic power of the character in question...but at the same time, this does mean that it can be suppressed...a noteworthy and required drawback, considering the significant powers the brand bestows. The pdf also features a significant assortment of mythic iterations of feats featured herein and we conclude the book with fluff-only notes on some known ascended as well as an array of mythic versions of spells featured within this book.
Editing and formatting are pretty good as far as I'm concerned - there are instances of a word missing here and there; you can find minor glitches like "electrical" instead of electricity and untyped damage that should be typed. That being said, these glitches do not, as a whole, botch the rules-language and don't wreck the generally evocative prose herein. Layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous two-column standard. The book's artworks are absolutely glorious; fans of NeoExodus may know some from previous books, but there are actually more new ones herein, some of which rank among the best the setting has featured. The pdf-version sports copious, nested bookmarks, making navigation simple. The cartography for the cities herein is excellent, though I wished we got 1-page-hand-out versions. I cannot comment on the physical version of the book, since I do not own it.
This is the work of a lot of people: Neal Bailey, Thomas Baumbach, Clinton Boomer, J.P. Chapleau, Joshua Cole, Richard Farrese, Lee Hammock, Marc D. Irvin, Jeff Lee, Owen K.C. Stephens, Christopher Alaniz, Andrew Balenko, Thomas Bell, Santiago Delgado, Richard Goulart, Marc Irvin, Kevin A. Shaw, Kary Williams and Louis Porter Jr. It is thus pretty surprising in how holistic the whole campaign setting feels; this is a very sensible, unique world steeped in high fantasy; a world that feels distinct.
Now the question for fans of NeoExodus, at least partially, will be whether to get this, in light of some overlap with previous publications. The reply to this inquiry would be a resounding "Yes" - the revised iteration of NeoExodus is superior in every way to the previous iteration, and it features a significant amount of new content, much of which is exceedingly evocative and fun. I was pretty positively surprised to note the fact that this is not just a compilation of previously released material; instead, we receive an impressive assortment of new information. More importantly, this version of NeoExodus feels more like a big, concise campaign setting - we simply have more information, more space to make the setting come alive.
There is another aspect I feel I should mention. I've been using NeoExodus files for several years now and they have a pervasive habit of creeping into my games; I often talk about idea-scavenging, but ultimately, more so than in many comparable settings, NeoExodus' concepts, organizations and critters have made their way into my game. Quite probably, this is at least partially due to the massive assortment of novel ideas and their execution. This book portrays a fantasy world that stretches the meaning of fantasy; a setting that is a breath of fresh air for everyone, regardless of system, who is tired of Tolkienesque fantasy. While the execution of rules-operations herein is significantly better than in the previous version of the setting, it is ultimately the ideas that represent the capital, the unique selling propositions of the setting.
After having read a ton of fantasy settings, I can attest to this being pretty much the antithesis of generic fantasy and, by virtue of its ideas, a book of great value, even if you do not intend to use the setting at all. In fact, the book contains several races I'd consider to rank among my favorites available. So yeah, this is well worth getting for the fair asking price, even if you already have all the other NeoExodus material. The campaign setting's increased page-count and expanded material help form this into a concise whole and I found myself pleasantly surprised to read the new psionic material, which provides a perfect counterbalance to Section Omega. How to rate this, then? While not perfect (no book of this size is), the campaign setting as presented here is an awesome book well worth having for the ideas alone. The original NeoExodus setting, in spite of its flaws, made my Top Ten at that year, in spite of its flaws and by virtue of its concepts...and this, while not perfect, is better in pretty much every way. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars + seal of approval -and I will round up for the purposes of the diverse platforms. With a caveat: If you go into this expecting mechanical perfection, you'll probably consider this more of a 4 or 4.5-star-book; as a reviewer, though, I rate this as a campaign setting and in this regard, it absolutely excels. There is one more aspect to note: Since the original iteration already made my Top Ten list, this one can't make the list again.