Review – Occult Adventures (Pathfinder)

POAcoverOccult Adventures is a thematic supplement for the Pathfinder RPG. Occult Adventures presents classes, feats, items, magic and other crunch, along with GM guidance, that bring occult concepts and flavors to the Pathfinder RPG. In here you’ll find psychics, mediums, mesmerism, geomancy, psychics, sinister architecture, Victorian-esque spiritualists, stage magicians, ectoplasm, and did I mention physics? Occults Adventures is a 272-page full-color hardback, and retails for about $45.

Basics

The occult. The paranormal. Something that would be at home in a Cthulhu Mythos setting, or was something that the Ghostbusters or Fox Mulder might have been investigating. Things of pseudo-science or Victorian-era spiritualism. Things that don’t exist, but maybe you can find people on a late night radio show who think they do. Take those, make them real, and make them powerful – that’s what you’ll find in Occult Adventures.

Contents

Chapter 1: Occult Classes (~80 pages) – There are six new base classes introduced in Occult Adventures – Kineticist, Medium, Mesmerist, Occultist, Psychic, and Spiritualist. All of them except for the Kineticist use the new psychic magic, which is described later.

Iconic Lineup

  • Kineticist: I think the Kineticist is drawn on notions of the telekinetic, although the class ends up significantly broader than that. The Kineticist primarily uses a variety of kinetic blasts, gaining more power and options (such as combining blasts or metamagic-like modifications) as they level up. These are concentrated by an elemental focus, either one of the standard four or Aether, in which case the character is a straight-up telekinetic. A Kineticist’s powers are usually awakened by childhood trauma, and they are able to draw upon their inner strength to fuel their powers, inflicting “burn” on themselves to enhance their abilities. The Kineticst has a moderate base attack bonus, with good Fortitude and Reflex saves.
  • Medium: Although the title of this class syncs up with the mechanics in that they are about spirits, beyond that the medium may not bear much resemblance to the archetype. Reminiscent of the Thaumaturge from Thunderscape, the Medium channels archetypes and legends, rather than specific individuals’ spirits. Each archetype (archmage, guardian, trickster, champion, marshal, hierophant) imparts thematic abilities to the Medium. However, to appease the spirit the Medium must undertake certain taboos, and risks the spirit gaining too much influence if they draw on the spirit’s power too heavily. The Medium also learns a small number of psychic spells. The Medium has a moderate base attack bonus and a good Will save.

  • Mesmerist: Charmers and liars, mesmerists trick others into falling under their influence, imposing penalties on their actions – or, for allies, subconscious beneficial effects. As the Mesmerist levels up their hypnotic stare imposes harsher penalties, and they receive more beneficial options to implant with a mesmerist trick. The Mesmerist also has moderate psychic spellcasting ability, a moderate base attack bonus, and good Reflex and Will saves.
  • Occultist: The Occultist is reminiscent of a Cthulhu Mythos explorer of the mystical, although obviously with a lot more magical oomph than such a character would have. The Occultist wants to study and explore the history and magic of the objects and world. The Occultist is a moderately powered psychic spellcaster whose magic is focused through implements (the implements match up to the schools of magic). The Occultist begins with a limited selection of implements, but in exchange each implement can also provide focus powers in addition to enabling the applicable spellcasting. The Occultist further gets powers related to magic circles (such as binding circles) and contacting outsiders. The Occultist has a moderate base attack bonus and good Fortitude and Will saves.
  • Psychic: The Psychic is the primary spellcaster for psychic magic and the only class presented that can cast spells above level 6. In addition to raw spell power, the Psychic has a phrenic pool to fuel phrenic amplification of those psychic powers, and also choose a psychic discipline that will provide increasing power as the Psychic levels up. Each discipline provides access to a phrenic pool ability, a bonus spell of each level, and specific powers at levels 1, 5, and 13 (or example, the Tranquility discipline grants a bonus on Will saves, allows extra use of calm emotions, and eventually immunity to fear effects and other mental conditions). The Psychic has a poor base attack bonus progression and good Will saves.
  • Spiritualist: The Spiritualist is something of a ghost magnet (in a casual sense, not in foral game terms), drawing the attention of emotionally charged phantom who are still connected to the material plane. This phantom can manifest incorporeally, as an ectoplasmic creature, or bonded with the Spiritualist (thus directly enhancing the Spiritualist in various ways). The Spiritualist has moderate psychic spellcasting ability, moderate attack bonuses, and good Will and Fortitude saves.

PZO1132-EctoplasmicWallChapter 2: Archetypes (~25 pages) – Occult Adventures includes archetypes for the six new base classes, as well as archetypes for many existing classes. In total, there are around 27 archetypes for the new classes and around 20 archetypes for existing classes (covering Alchemists, Barbarian, Bard, Cavalier, Fighter, Inquisitor, Investigator, Magus, Monk, Paladin, Rogue, Sorcerer, and Witch). Archetypes that caught my eye included the Phrenologist (a Bard archetype specialized in phrenology, the practice of drawing conclusions about people based on their skulls), the Psychic Detective, the False Medium (a Rogue archetype), the Cult Master (a Mesmerist archetype), and the Haunted (a Spiritualist archetype where the phantom draws power from the character instead of the other way around).

Chapter 3: Feats (~15 pages) – There are around 70 new Feats contained in Occult Adventures, many of them focused around enhancing the abilities of the new character classes. Continuing the “shape of your head” theme, one of the more noteworthy of these is Elongated Cranium, which represents the character being subjected to cranial binding to distort the shape of their skull, thus modifying their Int/Wis/Cha in various ways. There is a Psychic Sensitivity chain for Feats for those who just want a smidge of psychic in their character, permitting use of psychic skill unlocks and 0/1 level psychic spells.

PZO1132-Bilocation

Chapter 4: Psychic Magic (~50 pages) – The rules for psychic magic are straightforward, and most of this chapter contains spells and spell lists (most of the spells can be cast by existing classes as well). Psychic magic is a distinct form of spellcasting power from arcane or divine, relying on aspects of the psychic’s being for power. In game terms, this basically boils down to using a different sort of spell component – emotion and thought. This means that (most) psychic spells are purely mental actions, unaffected by whether the spellcaster can move or has access to a component pouch. However, emotion components can be interfered with when the spellcaster is under some sort of effect that magically alters their emotions, and thought components mean higher DCs for concentration checks.

PZO1132-AutomaticWritingChapter 5: Occult Rules (~30 pages) – This chapter introduces six rules (or expansions of existing rules) for use with the occult and/or psychic matters. The most thematic, to me, are the occult skill unlocks (alternate uses for existing skills for those who have psychic magic or the appropriate feat). These unlocks will let characters engage in automatic writing, dowsing, faith healing, hypnotism, phrenology (again with the skull shapes!), psychometry, and aura reading. Speaking of aura reading, expanded aura rules to include emotions are the second rules introduction. The other rules options include chakra, psychic duels, and occult rituals (difficult ritual magic that you don’t need to be a spellcaster to use).

Chapter 6: Running an Occult Game (~30 pages) – The primary GM-focused chapter in Occult Adventures, this one contains about 5 pages of general advice on running an occult game (elements and themes of such a game, such as mysteries within mysteries, strange patterns, and fear of the unknown), then a few pages of adventure seeds, with the remainder devoted to occult locations. Locations on offer include loci spirits, more rules for haunts (first introduced in the GameMastery Guide), ley lines, mindscapes, and esoteric planes.

Chapter 7: Occult Items (~25 pages) – OK, this one is actually titled “Occult Rewards,” but it’s mostly the item chapter. Some of the items are mundane thematic equipment, such as that used in many of the occult skill unlocks (aura goggles, dowsing rod, phrenologist’s kit, etc.), plus a fraudulent medium’s kit, a spiritualist’s kit, a straightjacket, a Ouija board and, because really there’s nothing scarier, a ventriloquist’s dummy. Magic items (most of the chapter) include dreamcatchers, four-leaf clovers, voodoo dolls, lucky horseshoes, a working Ouija board, shrunken heads, and The Picture of Dorian Gray (OGL Edition) (the picture, not the novel).

Thoughts

The occult is usually something presented in an otherwise ‘normal’ setting – the magic and menace of the occult is hidden away from the mundane world, accessible only to a chosen few. It is unreliable, exotic, and knowledge of it sometimes comes at a cost to one’s sanity. So it is, to me, a bit of an odd fit for a high fantasy setting like Pathfinder, where multiple forms of magic and a plethora of mystical wonders are well-known, most characters wield some sort of magic from Day 1, and every PC ends up loaded down with magical accouterments by the time they retire. So Paizo has, I think, taken a bit of a leap with Occult Adventures, challenging themselves to push the game in a somewhat different direction. While I applaud the effort, I am not sure that it succeeded. I can get behind the notion of exploration and mysteries within a high fantasy setting. But for me, tying that to more mundane mystical/paranormal concepts introduces a disjoint of theme/vibe. This is, I think, emphasized by the content distribution of this book – most of it is about your own character’s occult power possibilities, and ultimately those are of the same power and presentation as any ‘normal’ class wielding magical might. There’s a section on running an occult game, but a lot of it is largely about mystery and layers of conspiracy rather than the specific thematic elements of the book, and (as noted above) this sort of GM material it is far overshadowed by not-exactly-mysterious character creation options.

PZO1132-ChargeObjectWith that said, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to use in Occult Adventures. While having a giant list of psychic spells may lot feel terribly occult (at least to me), the normalcy of the character options means they’re fully functional outside of an occult-themed game. Indeed, a single character drawing heavily on material from Occult Adventures may be able to play the theme up better than a whole party of them – if there’s just one character using psychic magic based on strange implements, while toting around a mess of equipment to use all of their occult skill unlocks that no one else has, then they can be played as a bit mysterious to the rest of the characters (and possibly the players, if they haven’t all memorized the new book already). The Occultist (aforementioned user of implements) is my favorite new class from Occult Adventures, although the Fighter’s Sensate archetype (supreme senses replacing a lot of the weapon and armor work) is pretty cool and can be dropped into a random campaign without pulling in any of the new rules.

In sum, while I like the notion of Pathfinder flexing its thematic muscles a bit, I think that the value of Occult Adventures for most groups is going to come as a character option resource, and in that regard it gets the job done of providing a stack of interesting new ones.


Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

Leave a Reply