The most intriguing part of Ultimate Intrigue is whether Paizo intended for GMs to decide upon their own mechanics or save it for another book.
When it comes to Chapter 3: Mastering Intrigue, the reader meets pages and pages of advice on how to handle different elements of intrigue: heists, social and political influence, a reoccurring nemesis, etc. This is all great, and we do get the start of some real sound mechanics, but then… well… take the section on Pursuit. The section starts off great. We read the set-up for a new way to accomplish a long-term pursuit instead of a quick chase. Quickly, however, the reader is left wondering if Paizo lost their quarry in the pursuit from too many failed advantage checks. The sample advantages listed are great ideas, but kind of just hand wave the DCs for the GM to determine. Not a big deal for an experienced GM, but a newer GM is going to be left as a clueless as most of the min/maxed fighters and paladins you find at your weekly society sessions.
Getting into some of more pressing features…
The vigilante is not your normal class. The features of this class are not directed towards many of the premade modules a GM is going to come across. With that said, there are some adventure paths that could make wonderful use of the class (some with great timing of the releases). The vigilante finds many opportunities to exercise both the social and vigilante talents and class features in adventure paths like Kingmaker, Hell’s Rebels, and Hell’s Vengeance (the latter two being newer releases).
Any adventure with no social setting and little to no downtime, is going to be difficult to make full extent of the class. You are better off with other classes in these types of adventures.
The type adventures for which the vigilante was designed to fit, players find many excellent options on both sets of identity talents to meet their goals. The archetypes for vigilante allow for an entire party of vigilantes to group up with different sets of backgrounds. Any game with a good mix of social interactions and obstacles beyond just combat give the vigilante time to shine.
The archetypes a reader finds in this book are just as you would expect. There are plenty of roguish agents, bandits, bandit hunters, and tactical/subterfuge style options. Even paladin sees an archetype expanding her code of conduct and alignment options. Outside of the vigilante archetypes, some gems found are Alchemical Sapper (Alchemist), Urushiol (Druid), and Sharper (Rogue). There are many others with great options, so I suggest you take a look.
Chapter 2 gives us the first insight of many as to something not quite hitting the mark. Many of the feats found in this section run into two main problem areas: feat tax and old feats rehashed for a different option.
Some examples of what I mean are:
Feat Tax (needing 1 or more feats you would normally not take): Circuitous Shot, Cutting Humiliation, and Ready for Anything. These feats might have served better with the removal of a feat prerequisite or just changed to class features for archetypes. These are not the only offenders, just some that stood out the most.
Rehashed (feats that are an alternative option to an already published feat): Though there aren’t many, you do find a couple feats do what other feats already accomplish, but with a different direction and use. Compare Brilliant Spell Preparation with Fast Study. These fulfill the same goal, but each has their own pros and cons. BSP is great for mid-fight or when you are short on time, while Fast Study allows you to multiple spells when needed. Also, Brilliant Spell Preparation is open to all classes that prepare spells (Fast study is exclusive to wizards). Anyone that has played a halfling might catch the feat previous to BSP, Brilliant Planner. Brilliant Planner is a scalable version of the halfling’s Well-Prepared, but with the drawback of needing to be 5th level and be able to add 20 pounds of carried equipment that isn’t actually there. For those of you, that hate more things to keep track of, note that you need to track price and weight of the items you withdraw. The feat does go hand in hand with the Magical Child vigilante archetype for anyone wanting to make an anime character (nothing wrong with that, just stating a fact).
Mastering Intrigue and Social Combat
Chapters 3 and 4 go fairly hand-in-hand. Just as I started in this post, each section has a great start. Just before you get to the answers you seek for your questions, you are met with hand-waves and open-ended mechanics. Again, not a problem with experienced GMs, but newer GMs are going to struggle with adding these options into play. As for hand-waving, time to do some of my own…
Spells and Gear
These sections bring plenty of “scan, turn, scan, Oh here is something, turn.” Most of the spells and items contained within the sections are more necessary evils made to fulfill the purpose of this book: offer new options and aid for more socially inclined encounters. There are good picks that do exactly what is asked of, but only good. Other spells, while the designers mean well (I hope), are going to be the bane of many GM plans.
Greater detect magic is just one of those spells. Being able to detect magical auras for a longer period of time, useful, but no player would waste a slot if that is all it did (most of the time). Luckily for the player, there is more. With greater detect magic, a player can now attempt to analyze the spell and match it to the caster. Very handy, and seems pretty harmless. Great. Or is it? A GM may soon find that certain plot twists and storylines start to unravel. PCs might now learn too soon the identity of the real puppet-master pulling the strings. Though this may save some trouble for the PCs (or create new ones if the party is too low to face off against their nemesis), some players avoid social media for days on end just so the newest episode of their favorite shows are not ruined. Then again, there are those players that fly drones over shooting areas to find out which character died from The Walking Dead season finale.
GMs are going to need to include a few extra careful points to their plans if they wish to keep some secrets hidden until the right moment. Sadly, greater detect magic isn’t the only spell on the list removing the intrigue from the plot.
A few winners in terms of items (among a few pages of meh), accuracy lozenge, night stalker’s tonic, diviner’s blight, and swarmwalker’s ring. Other magic and alchemical, while useful for carrying out heists and improving social encounters are nothing to write home about; they do their job and that’s really are there is to say.
Cost vs Value — I would say the class section and about half of the feats section are well worth tossing money at. The downside is that at $45 this is the second most expensive Ultimate Guide. Ultimate Intrigue comes with tons of character options, but a lot of pages that I forsee being ignored. Heavily. I think either a rewrite for more definitely mechanics in Chapters 3 and 4 are in order, or half of this book isn’t worth spending money for the hardcover. 10 points (15 if you buy the pdf instead)
Art — As is the case with most of the Paizo products, the artwork is amazing and helps a reader to envision the elements contained within. I know two people that collect books solely for the artwork, but that do not actually play tabletop RPGs. Both would enjoy these. 10 points
Readability — Paizo tends to do a wonderful job writing clear language throughout most of their products (excluding the grandfathered elements of 3.5). Ultimate Intrigue is no exception. There is a little bit of an issue in the middle chapters to suddenly come to an end of a topic when there feels to be more information needed. 18 points
Mechanics — The classes, feats, spells, and items sections are fully put together and ready to rock for players. If we were only to have those sections to cover, this book would get a 15. However, we are given two very hand-wavy sections in the middle. These sections tend to blur whether they are meant for GMs or players. These two reasons more than anything else cut away from an otherwise stellar book. Then there is also the “I like spoilers” spells… 8 points
Stand-alone-ability — Beyond the core rules, Ultimate Intriguecan easily stand-alone for a majority of the new elements the book presents. As is the case with Pathfinder books, each new release expands the options presented in previous titles. These expansions upon other works are meaningless without the rest of the series. 12 Points
Originality — The vigilante class is one I really was looking forward to. Getting to face the same problem as many superheroes was a big draw for me. Rogues and sneaky characters tend to take my third slot in favorite styles, so that was a big plus. The rehashing of some feats is a tad hurtful, and some of the new archetypes do not have much of a “new” take on them. 7 points
Overall Score — 65 out of 100 points (70 if you go with a pdf). Ultimate Intrigue is not an awful resource. There are many great options in this book for PCs (as is the case for most of the Ultimate line of books). The only real trip up is the sections to expand options and mechanics for GMs. If value is a big thing for you, then I suggest just picking up the pdf only. Otherwise, this installment for the Ultimate line is worth picking up, though it falls short of previous titles.
I will be posting some elements of the book in a later post highlighting some underrated elements of this book. Keep an eye out!
The next 4-5 reviews will be covering some Third-Party Products. I will be reviewing some adventures and class archetype books.