Well, Christmas has come and gone, along with a variety of other holidays you might be celebrating, and while I wait for my shiny new copies of Starfinder and the Alien Achieve to arrive in the mail, I’ve been entertaining myself by delving into another great new d20 product, Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Wilderness.
For those of you who don’t know, Ultimate Wilderness is a new hardcover release from Paizo Publishing, put out for Pathfinder. Pathfinder, as previously noted, is my favourite d20 game by far, and I recently received a copy of Ultimate Wilderness for my birthday (thanks, Kris and Crystal!). Like most of Pathfinder’s hardcover releases, Ultimate Wilderness comes with new class options and some new mechanics for GMs to add to their games, all themed around, you got it, the wilderness. This book introduces one new base class, tons of new archetypes, some new feats and spells, and quite a few rules subsets. Unlike most hardcover releases, this book also drops three new player races, and a ton of new options for familiars and animal companions.
Now, this book’s not cheap. None of the hardcovers for Pathfinder are, so I thought it might be worthwhile to share my two cents about the book, what you’re getting, and whether it’s worth it.
Ultimate Wilderness starts by introducing us to three new race options for players, two of which were previously released in other books. The gathlain, a lovely little fey creature with wooden wings who first was released in the very back of another one of Pathfinder’s hardcovers, Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Advanced Race Guide. Found in the race builder section, gathlain originally had no details provided about their race other than the race entry itself. Now, these delightful little tricksters are given pages worth of information, including some special gear, feats and spells. There’s also a trio of archetypes, including one of my favourites from the entire book, the Season Sage, a druid archetype that got me desperately wanting to play a gathlain. Definitely a favourite of mine, you know you’re going to be producing some quirky characters with this race when the entry points out that ‘gnomes often find gathlains too flighty, foolish and undisciplined for their tastes’ (Ultimate Wilderness, page 9). Seriously. Gnomes think these guys are flighty. As a fan of the absurdity of Pathfinder’s gnomes, I’m going to have a blast with these little guys. I love it!
The second race to get some love in Ultimate Wilderness are the ghorans. Ghorans first appeared in one of Pathfinder’s skinny, softcover books, Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Inner Sea Bestiary. They entered the scene with a bang, tempting us with tales of the ghoran’s origins. Magically created as an fast-adapting food source, ghorans achieved sentience and became a race all their own. Now the secret of their creation has been lost, and ghorans have shaped their bodies into a humanoid form, in the hopes that people will be less inclined to consume them, despite how delicious they taste, if the ghoran’s look more like them. Yup. Delicious. Like the gathlain, ghoran’s also come with an array of options, including a few feats, a magic item and a spell. They introduce a new bloodrager bloodline and two new archetypes, including the delightful aromaphile–a mesmerist archetype.
This third and final race introduced in Ultimate Wilderness is brand new. At least as a player race. Although leshy’s were first introduced in Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Bestiary 3, they have only now entered the game as a player race. Vine leshy’s are what you’d come to expect from these adorable little plant spirits. Hardy and clever, with some quirky camouflage capabilities and the ability to speak with plants, vine leshy’s are a fun, colourful addition to the game. Like the gathlain, vine leshy’s have a lot of character options offered alongside them, including some new feats, spells, magical and mundane gear, three archetypes and the addition of the leshy subdomain for all those clerics and druids out there who wish they could summon these little fellows.
Following the races, Ultimate Wilderness gets into what I was most excited for: the Shifter. This new base class is a shapeshifter who can transform parts of their body–and later their entire body–into animal features. It has a full base attack bonus, but suffers from the same armour restrictions as the druid class does–a small price to pay for a chance to make yourself a chimera of animal parts. They gain a nice array of wilderness abilities that are familiar, in addition to unique abilities, including wild empathy, woodland stride, track, trackless step and wild shape–although their wild shape is a weaker version of the druids, allowing them to only transform into animals they have a connection with (you start with one, and can have four by the higher levels of the class progression). As far as new abilities go, it’s the shifter’s claws and shifter aspects abilities which are going to see the most use. Shifter’s claws gives you a claw attack with each hand, dealing 1d4 damage each to start, these claws increase in power as you level up. With an unlimited uses and the ability to extend them as a swift action, these claws are an awesome combat option for the shifter, making it unlikely you’ll need to invest in a melee weapon at low levels. The second major ability of the shifter is shifter aspects. Usable in one minute increments for a number of minutes per day equal to three plus your level, shifter aspects allow you to gain a physical benefit which changes depending upon which animals your shifter is spiritually attuned to. As with wild shape, you only start with one animal aspect, so you’ll need to choose wisely, but you gain more aspects as you level up and can later manifest more than one aspect at a time, making you a chimera of sorts. My personal favourite aspect is the bear, a sturdy choice which can improve your constitution at low levels and lets you transform into a dire bear with wild shape. Other gems include the bat, which grant you darkvision out to great distances and later blind sense, and the mouse, which grants you evasion and allows you to transform into a tiny mouse with wild shape–letting you sneak into tight spaces and the ability to climb, swim and sniff your way around the environment. All in all I really like the shifter class and I’m positively desperate to play one. Now if only I could convince my husband to play a few sessions with me…
After the new classes comes the archetypes, of which there are a TON. Now, not all of the archetypes presented in Ultimate Wilderness are brand new. Some are reprints from their line of softcover books, including the bold Thundercaller bard (originally published in Pathfinder Player Companion: Varisia, Birthplace of Legends) and my favourite witch archetype, the green-thumbed Herb Witch (originally published in one of my favourite player companions, Pathfinder Player Companion: Heroes of the Wild). Now, admittedly I was a little miffed at first, to discover some archetypes here that I’ve already been playing for a while, but after reflection, I’ve changed my tune. I like having the archetypes related to the wilderness that came from the skinny, softcovers collected in Ultimate Wilderness–presuming there are a lot of new archetypes alongside them. Which there are. Tons. Sixty pages of them, and at more than one archetype per page, that’s a lot of archetypes. I had quite a long list of favourites, but I’ll share a few with you.
Topping that list is the already mentioned gathlain archetype, the Season Sage which, thankfully, can be taken by other races with GM permission. Season Sage is a druid which gains the ability to change the seasons of the world around him, using his powers to make plants bloom, animal’s get their warm winter coats, and the weather to change. They can bring their companions the growth of spring (making them grow to twice their size), the might of summer (making them robust and healthy), and harm their enemies with the decay of autumn, and the icy cold of winter. They can literally change the world and the weather around them. And who doesn’t want to travel with a guy who can make it nice and warm in the middle of winter, or hide you in a blanket of fog? Far from over-powered, but filled with cool visuals and some neat new powers, Season Sage is my favourite archetype in the entire book.
My second favourite is a shifter archetype. Now, being a new class, shifter has quite a few cool archetypes going for it, including the elementalist shifter (which lets you harness different elements and fusions of them), the fiendflesh shifter (which lets you harness the power of evil outsiders), and the verdant shifter (which lets you take on the aspects of different plants). But, my personal favourite? The oozemorph. A shifter archetype that lets you become like the T-1000 from ‘Terminator 2’. Seriously. It’s awesome. You want to be made of shiny goo? Check! You want to transform your arms into different weapons? Check! You want to squeeze through tiny holes and compress your body? Check! You want to take on the appearances of different people? Check! How about a climb speed or damage resistance? Check and check! This archetype is awesome, super nostalgic, and has great visual potential. As long as you don’t mind being a protoplasmic blob…
There’s a ton of other awesome archetypes in the pages of this book, and if you pick it up be sure to give some of my favourites a read, including the horticulturist alchemist (who can create seeds that rapidly grow into summoned animals and plants, and who can alter his bombs to affect everything, only plants, or only things that aren’t plants), the saurian champion cavalier (who can ride gigantic dinosaurs: cause who doesn’t want to be a knight that rides a t-rex?), the viking fighter (it’s about time!), the star watcher investigator (who uses horoscopes and astrology to tell the future for his companions and make magical effects), the wood kineticist (blast away with vines, tree limbs and stinging leaves or flower petals), the geomancer occultist (who can use the terrain he’s in as an implement), the flamewarden ranger (who explodes in a burst of fire upon his death, damaging his enemies and healing his allies, and can rise from the ashes a round later), and the avenging beast vigilante (cause the only thing better than being a batman, is being a bat man who can also turn into a dire bat!).
Like all Pathfinder hardcovers, there’s a chapter for new feats and spells. These parts of the book aren’t as vast as some of the others. It’s certainly no Ultimate Combat where feats are concerned, nor does it have the spells of Ultimate Magic. Still, there’s some good options for both sections contained inside. Lots of the feats are very thematic, or specific. For shifters there’s extended aspects and extended animal focus, both of which are going to be staples for most shifters. There’s a new combat style that caught my fancy: beastmaster style, which lets you make handle animal checks to negate attacks that hit your animal companion–presuming you’re beside your beloved pet–much like mounted combat works for mounts. Continuing in this feat progression also lets you substitute your handle animal check in place of your companion’s saving throws. My choice for the best feat in here (that’s more universally useful) adds onto the Spring Attack feat progression. Yes, spring attack’s already an investment, but improved spring attack and greater spring attack add great value to this build by letting users gain an extra attack, or two, with each spring attack, as long as they target different enemies with each subsequent attack.
As for spells, there were a good array of nature based spells spread out among lots of classes. You won’t just find new spells for rangers and druids here, you’ll also find some neat new spell choices for arcane and psychic casters. A few of my favourites include tamer’s lash, a level one bard, bloodrager, magus and ranger spell that creates a sonic whip that damages your enemy and can cause animals to back down for a few rounds in fear. Explosion of rot is a nice level four damage dealing druid spell that makes everything around you rot and decay (living or otherwise!). Rounding out my favourite spells from this book are the various polymorph spells: magical beast shape, ooze form (one through three) and fey form (one through four), all of which allow a wide variety of classes to take on all kinds of new forms.
There are a lot of new mechanics and rules subsets introduced in Ultimate Wilderness, some of which will find more use than others. The new discovery and exploration rules are sure to find home in many exploration games, the new hazards are sure to trip up more than a few characters (look out for spellgorging plants!), and information on the Green Faith and the First World are always welcome. But, it’s the rules for foraging, harvesting poisons, harvesting trophies, herbalism, and wilderness traps that made me the most excited. Finally, a way to make a snare trap in the wild without a weeks worth of work and a sack of gold! (And there was much rejoicing).
The last section I want to touch on in Ultimate Wilderness is a huge part of the book and, in my opinion, a massive draw: familiars and animal companions. Taking up over forty pages of the book, this section collects stats for some of the more obscure animal options you may have missed in the many softcover releases they’ve been spread across, as well as new choices (including the anglerfish, archaeopteryx, dodo, koala, panda, sabre-toothed cat, plenty of plants and vermin, and my daughter’s personal favourite: the rabbit). It also provides a huge host of archetypes, tricks and feats for them to make use of. Most important for me? A nice concise listing of which animal forms have access to which magical item slots. Now, it’s worth noting, some of the information in this section was previously printed in some other softcover releases from Paizo, including Pathfinder Player Companion: Familiar Folio and Pathfinder Player Companion: Animal Archive. But, much of the content is new and, in all honesty, I like having it compiled into an easier to access source.
For my money, Ultimate Wilderness is worth it. It provides a lot of fun new options for players and some decent new mechanics for GMs to enrich their games. One of the biggest draws for this release is going to be the many new options for our furry (or scaly or feathered) friends, the familiars and animal companions. If you don’t have this book yet you can pick it up at the link below, and if you do, let me know in the comments what you’re most excited for from Ultimate Wilderness!
Until next time, get those dice rolling!
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Wilderness
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