Unbirthday Week 2014: Champions of Balance

Welcome to Product Reviews!

Day Three of my Unbirthday week continues, and with that I have another Product Review for you. This time, we’re looking at another one of my favorite installments in Paizo’s Player Companion line. Remember, if you have any questions about my reviewing style you need to check no farther than my Reviewing Products for Fun and … Fun article.

With that, ONWARD!

Champions of Balance

Champions of Balance is a player companion product published by Paizo that focuses on traits and abilities themed around neutral-aligned characters. This product runs the gambit of religion to atheism (somewhat) and most design. It’s a cool product with a lot of neat content, but you don’t have to take my word for it: see for yourself!

Crunch (Games Mechanics)

Champions of Balance is 32 page of nearly non-stop crunch. This little product is figuratively spilling over with fresh, new content for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. This product runs the whole nine yards with new archetypes, feats, class options, spells, magic items, and even a new Prestige Class. I could literally type for hours about this product, so I’m going to pick some of the best (and worst) from this product to talk about.

I like to start on a positive note, so I’ll begin with the Practiced Leadership feat. Wow, this feat is cool! My sources tell me that a similar feat exists in Champions of Purity (I don’t own this product at the time of writing). Regardless of whether it’s new or not, this feat is an awesome idea. In effect, you and your cohort receive bonuses if you both belong to the same Golarion organization. A list of five or six Neutral organizations are listed along with the feat, such as the Hellknights and the Pathfinders, and each organization includes a Leadership boon that affects how your Leadership score is calculated as well as a small number of spell-like abilities that your cohort acquires. Furthermore, you essentially gain the inquisitor’s solo tactics but only in regards to your cohort and only if your cohort belongs to your organization. That second part is VERY cool. There are also a couple of neat grit feats, plus a few cool new spells and most importantly, a “neutral” themed summon monster list which is accessed using a new Summon Neutral Monster feat.

This product isn’t so hot on magic items: most of the new items are designed more for aesthetics than practicality, such as a pair of gauntlets that lock your arms together until you decide to break them, gaining a temporary benefit but forever disempowering the magic item. Another underwhelming option is the Envoy of Balance prestige class. This prestige class is intended for full spellcasters, and like those presented in Paths of Prestige, the special abilities of this class are simply not interesting to read about. There’s a neat capstone that involves killing one foe to bring another one back to life, but this is a class that just feels strange and clunky. The class lacks an identity both mechanically and flavor-wise. It’s definitely my least favorite two pages in the book.

Even though there are some poor bits of crunch in this product, Champions of Balance is all-around solid and an enjoyable read. The new archetypes are cool and I especially love this book’s feats. I award this section 3 of 5 Stars.

Flavor (Lore and Setting Information)

This product goes a long way towards giving players information about the campaign setting. As I previously mentioned, I loved the connection between Practiced Leadership and the various organizations of Golarion; it is a trend that I hope to see continued in Champions of Corruption and beyond. As I mentioned before, the Envoy of Balance just feels out of place in this book, however. You don’t really get a feel for who these envoys are in the world of Golarion, and their powers are all-around generic. With the exception of the Practiced Leadership feat, most of this product feels generic and unattached to Golarion and even the concept of neutrality; you could easily move almost all of the content out of the book and into the Core Line. This is a common complaint with options based around Law, Chaos, and Neutrality throughout all editions of the game, and it’s one that isn’t easily solved. The flavor that is in this product is wonderful, but there isn’t a lot of it. For that, I award this product 3 of 5 Stars.

Texture (Layout and Artwork)

The artwork in this book is fabulously epic. This product is coated with pictures of Neutral outsiders and interesting character illustrations that are perfectly cued up to the subject matter on the page. Paizo’s layout is as good as ever and the book has a strong “Yellow” theme to it, which makes sense given our tendencies to paint Good as “Blue” and Evil as “Red.” This book is visually pleasing to look at and the artwork provides enough contrast to the background to pop out, yet oddly matches in a perfect chaos that I can’t quite describe. By far, this is visually one of my favorite Player Companions. I award this product 5 of 5 stars for it’s layout.

Final Score & Thoughts

Crunch: 3/5 Stars
Flavor: 3/5 Stars
Texture: 5/5 Stars
Final Score: 11/15 Stars, or 3.5 / 5 Stars, rounded up for it’s layout.

Champions of Balance is one of my favorite Paizo products because of it’s beautiful layout. The colors throughout the product complement themselves perfectly and it’s extremely pleasing to look at. While the flavor could be stronger, I felt that this product was worth it’s price by merit of the Practiced Leadership feat alone; it is a new mechanic that I would love to see expanded upon in the future. Note that most of the other options in this product are great, it’s just that nothing stands out as the iconic, quintessential Neutral character option. And honestly, that’s okay considering that Neutrality is much harder for us to quantify as players compared to something easily identifiable such as Good or Evil. Despite my critiques, this is an excellent book to check out and a worthy addition to your collection for the reasons I’ve noted.

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long over 90% of his colleagues. Affectionately called a “budding game designer” by his partner at Radiance House, Alexander is the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series (Radiance House) and a handful of other Third-Party Products. Before founding the Everyman Gaming blog, Alexander gained notoriety for writing the GM’s Guide to Challenging Encounters, which remains accessible to this day. His favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune envoy of balance, and his favorite pastime is philosophically wondering what the point of his class is.

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