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DNH3 - The City of Talos (5th Edition)
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/18/2018 06:30:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This combined settlement supplement/ecology and adventure clocks in at two times 32 pages – 28 pages each for the adventure and gazetteer booklets, if you take away cover/editorial/etc. My review is based primarily on the kickstarter premium print version of this adventure/supplement. The sturdy wrap-around cover has a massive, gorgeous full-color map of the eponymous city of Talos on the inside – and Justin Andrew Mason’s map is player-friendly! That’s a huge plus for the print version right there.

As you can glean from the above, I have received a print copy of the module/setting supplement for the purpose of a fair and unbiased review. The books have thus been moved up in my reviewing queue.

So, at the end of the last adventure in the series, the intriguing “The Buried Zikurat”, which could be solved sans a single combat (amazing!), we this time take a sojourn into a sandboxy scenario in the truest form; but in order to talk about the adventure, we have to acknowledge the unique two-book approach. You see, one book is an extensive gazetteer of the massive City of Talos as the PCs encounter it, while the second book depicts the changes that will now befall this unique area.

Before we dive into the SPOILERS themselves, let me comment a bit on the formal components: The gazetteer is VERY rules-lite and can be of use in pretty much any roleplaying game. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a plus for the type of scenario presented here. Anyhow, the gazetteer also reprints the destroy stone spell that justifies the presence of the underdark as presented here, reprinted from the previous adventure. Similarly, the three formene items that granted the PCs access to this otherwise shrouded part of the realms below have been reproduced here. The minor hiccups present in them in the former adventure are still here, though. The prose, an important component of such a book, for the most part, is really tight and engrossing, though a few paragraphs feel slightly rougher than others. Still, atmosphere-wise, this does achieve something – more on that in the conclusion of the review, below. One aspect that I sincerely hope will be remedied at one point, would pertain nomenclature: The books use “Formene” to refer to both the reagion after which the unique elven culture herein is named, and to the elves. While this shorthand makes perfect sense to me, it can act as a minor detractor regarding reading flow. You won’t stumble over these, and context makes getting what’s meant easy, but it’s something I felt obliged to mention.

It should also be noted that the adventure-booklet includes an alternate segue into the module that does not require the PCs to have finished “The Buried Zikurat” – including an encounter map by Dyson Logos! It’s a pretty detailed alternate introduction and goes above what one usually gets to see. Skill references are usually bolded and in all-caps, making it easy for the GM to determine rules-relevant text on the fly. I noticed an exception, where the skills were only in Allcaps, but since it’s still easily discernible, I chalk this up to negligible aesthetic nitpickery.

The adventure book does come with a brief bestiary-appendix that includes short-hand monster stats that do not note all attributes; I know this is probably due to page-count issues, but it’s an aspect that slightly detracts from the otherwise nice chapter. As before, alas, formatting here also deviates in the statblocks from 5e’s standards: Colons instead of full stops, “Hit:” not italicized…you get the drift. The material is, as a whole, functional, but these deviations make it feel less refined than it otherwise would be. We do get a brief random encounter table for the Formene, should you require one.

We do begin the gazetteer-booklet with a detailed history of the Formene Elves, their trade nexus network and self-imposed isolation…but those were components we could piece together before. The two books go much farther than that. But in order to discuss the content, I need to go into SPOILERS.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, beyond discussing the connections with Hastur, placing Trade Nexuses in the campaign world (SUPER useful when playing this in e.g. Golarion, Faerûn, Oerth, etc.), we get something I haven’t read in about 20 years; the discussion of Formene Elves goes beyond just throwing stats at you. In fact, that’s probably one of the best things about this book. Instead, we are told about the Dehava. These beings are basically elemental-like, rocky creatures that were afraid of the other Formene denizens for their propensity to steal their eggs as trinkets or decoration. In a surprisingly sensible twist, the dehava did not really consider cohabitation or true sentience possible prior to making magical contact with the Formene Elves. Considering how alien they are, this rang plausible to me – and their unique metabolism, which can excrete ingots of precious rock, has led to a surprisingly smart and unique form of cultural symbiosis. The Formene Elves can guard dehava young while the parents hibernate, and the dehava can provide a truly “elven” form of mining that feels both distinctly magical AND plausible.

The Formene Elves, hence, also have the ability to fabricate weaponry of mithril, adamant and similar materials, generating a type of resonance with the old concept of the “riddle of steel” from our own history, one often quoted in sword &sorcery contexts, but without requiring copious rewiring of your game-world. Indeed, the adventure book does note the type of weaponry that may be available. The culture of Talos’ Formene Elves and their first gaze upon surface-dwellers in ages, can yield an interesting roleplaying potential.

And more so than in pretty much any book I have read in a long time, culture is emphasized as a roleplaying catalyst and as a means to generate immersion and wonder. The culture of Formene Elves is focused on the 5 virtues of Efficiency, Grace, Knowledge, Harmony and Privacy. Notice something? While many of us may subscribe to these values being important, we do not place the same value upon them. The consequences of this clash of cultures between PCs (and players!) and Formene Elves is amazing to experience and see. Anyhow, the different quarters are assigned special things of note: For example, the focus on Knowledge means that the quarter houses transcriptions of books deemed long lost on the surface, while new books are cherished. Opinions of the locals regarding the reopening of trade relations with the surface, as well as potential problems, can yield here a treasure trove of intrigue, side-quests and unique encounters – probably enough to last you a whole campaign, should you choose to really dive into this section. I should also mention that we get a sample farm area map and discuss other humanoids living in the Lower Formene.

This gazetteer fits seamlessly with the adventure booklet; you see, the module takes a defiant stand in favor of capital letters ROLEPLAYING. If you disregard the alternate introduction to the adventure, we get a total of 12 side-quests of sorts that form the very sandboxy and open plot of this adventure. The PCs are basically ambassadors for the whole world above! The PCs will have to negotiate reopening the trade network with the surface, with key aspects of the surface and the Formene Elves provided in bullet points. No, there is no simple “roll to solve.” I love the adventure for that. ROLEPLAYING, not ROLLplaying. Discovering the archive of the Formene Elves, negotiating trade of mithril weapons (and whether or not to teach the skills to make them…) – this is utterly inspired!

If your players get antsy and want to do some exploring, we also get a deserted, similarly alien city of the Ryba-Wiek fish-people, rendered abandoned by a strange statue that still remains, with explorers haunted by flashbacks. The PCs may have to contend with a temporarily insane Dehava, look for the lost caravan, deal with potentially hostile human encroachment upon Formene Elf territory, explore an abandoned duergar temple, deal with a black dragon…and there is a mushroom cave, which can have really chaotic psychedelic spore-effects – in case you needed an angle to insert a Narcosa-module, there you go! Defeating a pair of medusas can allow the PCs to free no less than 23 beings! (Ages since petrified, looks and names provided…)

Well, all of that, plus any underworld sidetreks you may want to throw at your players! Each of these little sidequests on their own would not be more remarkable than e.g. a solid Mini-Dungeon or OSR-one-page dungeon sidetrek; but their contextualization and detail does elevate them. The whole is here, for once, truly greater than the sum of its parts. Oh, and if the like doesn’t fit the tastes of your PCs, you can easily run this as a series of combat-related issues and make the whole module go by quicker…whether or how you tie these scenario-components together lies within your purview as a GM – this is, in the truest sense of the word, a modular module.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level and rules-language level, are good, but remain the one aspect of the module where I can see some folks being less enamored by what’s presented. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard with copious amounts of high-quality cartography provided. Artworks range from compelling, original b/w-pieces to a few less amazing stock art pieces. As a whole, this is an aesthetically-pleasing module/supplement, though.

Okay, I have rarely been this glad to have been proven wrong. When I read the first adventure of this series, I filed the whole under “solid, but forgettable dark fantasy with obligatory Mythos reference”; I was dead wrong. “The Buried Zikurat” had a distinct voice, and so does this one. You see, L. Kevin Watson’s “The City of Talos” is an adventure unlike any you have probably read since the advent of d20. What do I mean by this?

Well, 3rd edition brought a focus on crunch, i.e. rules-relevant material. We’d get a gazillion of different elves with minor modification in racial stats. Fire elves, air elves…yeah, you’re probably as sick of them by now as I am. Rules-relevant material, from racial stats to archetypes, subtypes, weaponry and spells, began replacing what was once considered to be, you know, what made a race distinct. While the OSR-movement has somewhat flipped this, here, we often see an almost fetishized emphasis on really old-school dungeon-crawling and/or on immediate “gameability” – immediate hooks that affect the PCs on the personal level, that immediately segue into adventure.

This has cost us dearly, at least in my opinion. It took me a long time to formulate what exactly I loved so much about these two booklets; it’s not the presentation; neither the bite-sized quests/mini-adventures. It’s also not the emphasis on roleplaying over rollplaying, though I do like that. Still, we have seen all of these in recent years – not often, but we’ve seen them. Similarly, I have read and designed more races over the years that I could count, and the Formene Elves, while certainly distinct, also could not account for my fascination with these two booklets.

Then, it suddenly dawned on me. You know, when I started playing the game, and had NO IDEA what the difference between “gnomes” and “haflings” was, I read the books released in the boxed sets here in Germany. I read about gnomish ruby wine, and how it could render other races comatose, in strange psychedelic dreams; I read about elven poetry so haunting, it could break the hearts of mortals that witnessed it. I read about dwarven ales and bread. I learned why haflings wouldn’t usually want to go adventuring, about their agricultural (and pipe-weed growing) prowess, about the marriage customs of these races…and they came alive for me. Not because of rules, stats or immediate adventure hooks – but by virtue of their CULTURES.

Know what these things have in common? They are not immediately “gameable” and they are, what the low-attention-span, lowest common denominator demographics would consider “boring.” Now, it is my observation, that there, in some books, is merit to this observation. I know that plenty of racial books have bored me to tears with being uninspired twists/inversions on tired tropes. If I had to review one more “element + humanoid”-race (ice dwarf, fire elf, air halfling…blergh), I may smash my head against the table. I very much get how this type of writing got a bad reputation.

If anything “The City of Talos” represents a resounding rebuttal to the claims that only rules and immediate gameability matter; neither do you have to be weird to be interesting. Don’t get me wrong – there is PLENTY of material within this adventure that does offer immediate gaming; there are splices of things herein that can become atmospheric, weird, etc.

But that’s not where the soul of these booklets lies. The beauty, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word, was that this made me see elves, perhaps the most tired and exploited by various forms of media of the humanoid races, tarnished by a flood of good scimitar-wielding wanna-be Gary Stu drow Drizzt-clones and shield-surfing Legolases, in a fresh light. It showed me a magical culture that feels distinctly elven and yet, distinctly unique.

In a way, this module is an heir to an aspect of old-school gaming and aesthetics that is almost lost, that no one seems to give the proper due; an aspect that may, without folks realizing it, be responsible for a significant part of the fondness felt for those days long past. I couldn’t name a single adventure, or supplement for that matter, that takes this approach. This is very much conservative fantasy; it’s not weird, psychedelic or defiantly different – and yet, it proves in structure and presentation, in imaginative potential, that culture does not have to be boring; that it can engender, even nowadays, even among jaded veteran roleplayers, once more the sense of wonder that we all once felt upon exploring the first dwarven mine, the first elven town. Combined with the unconventional focus of the adventure and its open structure, we thus get an adventure that is wholly, utterly distinct in a surprisingly subtle way.

Is it perfect? No, as noted before, there are complaints regarding formatting to be fielded here, and when scavenged and divorced from the phenomenal flavor, this feels less compelling; the rules-components are simply not where the focus lies here. If these aspects truly irk you (they do irk me, don’t get me wrong), then detract a star from the rating. If you only want to murder-hobo everything, then this will not be for you.

However, otherwise, I can only wholeheartedly recommend you checking this out. L. Kevin Watson has found a distinct narrative voice and provides something within that is unlike anything you’re bound to find out there. This humble book has inspired me beyond anything I expected, even after module number #2- hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo…and this does get my seal of approval for managing the rare and tough feat of depicting a traditional fantasy culture that is wholly new. Highly recommended.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
DNH3 - The City of Talos (5th Edition)
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Hybrid Classes Vol.3: Heroes of Wonder
Publisher: Wayward Rogues Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/18/2018 06:26:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third compilation of hybrid classes by Wayward Rogues Publishing clocks in at 69 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 64 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

Now, as before, this represents a compilation of previously released hybrid classes, with new content added. I have previously discussed most of these in excessive detail, so I’m going to point you towards my reviews of the individual classes, should you be interested in them. Otherwise, I’m going to focus on whether or not they have improved, and new content, if any.

All right, so the Empath still suffers from formatting glitches and aesthetic rules-language hiccups galore, but e.g. the issue of the courage sensitivity for flying charges for allies has been resolved – it now sports the proper activation action. On the downside, the desire sensitivity still doesn’t work properly. Layout also has cut the letters of a sentence almost in half. The horror sensitivity’s capstone now also has a proper range. The OP 1st-level ability of euphoria hasn’t been nerfed, though. The central mind’s collective-style mental communication is still problematic. The emotive master is not included in the pdf. All in all, a very minor improvement of the class; not nearly as much change as I’d have loved to see, though, and the pdf, alas, has not improved the formatting hiccups or the often wobbly rules-language.

The orphic’s table seems to indicate that the class gets a fifth attack, which is not how PFRPG handles iterative attacks. Dark Half’s verbiage still is somewhat ambiguous. The utterly broken first level ability of the Dream orphic discipline is still here. Similarly, faith is still wobbly. Lore is still broken due to being too dippable. The pain discipline’s 16th level ability is still broken and doesn’t work as written. The drow FCO is still broken. The class has, unfortunately, not improved at all – the orphic could have been a 5-star class with proper fine-tuning. Oh well.

The prodigy’s base spellcasting still references spells that RAW don’t exist. Knacks still fail to specify from which class. Obvious missed bolding, the problematic wunderkind ability. Dead levels are still here. Formatting hasn’t improved…you get the idea. Once more, a per se promising concept could have been elevated to being good or even great with a bit of work and care.

The wonderworker still does not gain Handle Animal, a required skill to teach her pet. Bonded object plus domain, or pet are the options for the base class feature. Not even the heritage references to previous spells included in the one sample combo-spell have been cleaned up. The meddlesome magician in the archetype chamber fails to note that it is an archetype for the wonderworker – it’s not the only archetype that does not note the like. The spells of the wonderworker include a horribly broken, limitless item-recharger. There is a spell that, flavorwise, makes animals erupt in a dizzying cascade from an object, drawing upon cartoon-visuals. The rules for escaping the predicament suffer from false formatting and from deviating how the like works in PFRPG. Good indicator of how sloppy this pdf is at times: The spell is called miracle object. Like the completely different spell on the very next page. Which allows you to duplicate a magic item. Sans limit on CL and power. That should scale. Sequester Ribbon is nice, making a magic item temporarily a suppressed, harmless ribbon that may be drawn and placed on slots, etc. Temporary Wand generates a temporary receptacle wand. There is a spell that makes a token that prevents creatures from being aggressive. Pretty sure I’ve seen it before.

Cool: There is a spell that provides a badge with charges to a target: The target may, as an immediate action, expend charges when targeted by an attack, gaining a 10% miss chance per charge. This is pretty cool; seems familiar, though.

All right, so far, we have covered the previously-released classes – unfortunately, these do not come with sufficient improvements, which is particularly for orphic and prodigy, a pity.

The pdf also contains two new classes, the first of which would be the Comedian, a combo of bard and witch who gains d8 HD, 6 + Int skills, proficiency with simple weapons plus longsword, rapier, sap, shortsword, shortbow and whip as well as light armor and shields (excluding tower shields). Comedians may cast their class spells, which scale up to 6th level, unimpeded in light armor and with shields. Comedian spells must have verbal components, and spellcasting is spontaneous and governed by Charisma. The class gets ¾ BAB-progression, as well as good Ref- and Will-saves. The comedian may use Perform (act, comedy, etc.) in conjunction with countersong (Nice!). He gets +1/2 class level to Spellcraft checks made to identify spells when targeted by them. (I assume this extends to being one target among an area of effect.) The comedian gets an untyped +1 bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, Linguistics and Sense Motive, which further increases at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. This bonus also represents the number of edges at the begin of a verbal duel that the comedian receives. Considering how hard edges are usually to come by (requiring roleplaying etc.), this is most definitely overkill.

The class gets a variant of bardic performance, comedic performance, which may have audible or visual components. These include a scaling penalty on saves versus charm and fear effects as well as on attack and damage rolls. Fascinate and short-range nonlethal damage that scales (with negative conditions added) can also be found: The latter deserves being mentioned, for it does get rules-interaction right and prevents abuse of the high-level dazing. Kudos! Temporary condition alleviation, scaling Cha-based penalty and a sonic touch attack can also be found – and the latter is actually genuinely interesting, as it builds on previous performances, being more potent when targeting an opponent that has previously suffered from the comedian’s rhetoric barbs. There even is a high-level flurry or single target trick here that renders this one rather interesting. Gather crowd, making targets flat-footed (with an anti-abuse caveat), suggestion (italicization missing from spell-reference), soothing performance, inspire heroics…cool. Lame and rather disappointing: Song of discord has been rebranded “scandal” – without purging all references to the original ability. That’s just sloppy.

At 1st level, 2nd level, and every 2 levels thereafter, the comedian gains a heckle – basically, the witch hex-analogues of the class, which are governed by Charisma. Good news here: E.g. the charm heckle and the charm hex and cross-class interaction have been accounted for – kudos for catching that one! Indeed, in a positive, pleasant surprise, the heckles prevent abuse by combo’d comedian/witches, with such caveats included for every overlap. The heckles include fortune and misfortune, a rebranded cackle, using the nonlethal damage during the surprise round at the cost of a performance use, adding witch spells, a variant rebrand of the witch’s gas-negating trick…some nice ones. Problematic: “eating” spells on successful Will or Fort-saves show their origin as a cut-copy-pasted class ability, with the three heckles implying a linear ability-progression, when they should note each other as prerequisites. The major heckles are similar/identical to witch options as well.

Starting at 2nd level, the comedian may always act in a surprise round. At 5th level, the comedian may treat initiative as a natural 10 1/day, +1/day for every 6 levels thereafter. 20th level upgrades this to a natural 20. At 10th level, the comedian does not lose edges for being at an extreme disadvantage in verbal duels and may ask for +1 bias when using Sense Motive or automatically seed a bias discovered. 1/verbal duel, he may reassign one verbal duel skill to another tactic in which he didn’t assign skills. The original tactic becomes unprepared. The ventriloquist archetype replace comedic performance with puppet-based summoning. The spells at the back include cantrips for background soundtracks and canned laughter. Catchphrase nets you Signature Skill in “(Perform/comedy)” sigh and if you already have it, both Celebrity Discount AND Celebrity Perks, but only for one advantage in the next 24 hours. Not a fan – that’s two class exclusives for a paltry 2nd-level spell. Comic duo nets you a shadowy sidekick, which provides a +2 competence bonus to Perform and to saves to resist performances, masterpieces etc. – at 3rd level. Yeah, balance is a bit odd. Final punchline wants to do something cool: Affect targets of a performance with hideous laughter – I like such combos, simple though it may be.

You know, while certainly not perfect and rather redundant regarding heckles, this class does have a couple of nice angles. The minor combo-mechanic is something that could have been expanded further, and the verbal duel angle, while somewhat over the top, has also been executed in decent manner. Not a genius class, but one that I can see being fun for some.

The second new class herein would be the poacher. The poacher is a hybrid of unchained summoner and ranger and gets d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and all ranged martial weapons + bolas, nets, lassos, mancatcher, whips and light armor. No spell failure in light armor. The class gets its own custom, pretty potent 6-level spell-list and spontaneous, Charisma-based spellcasting. Chassis-wise, we get ¾ BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves. The class gets the “Draw Monster” extraordinary ability, which should be Sp, or at least, Su to account for level variables of the duplicated summon monster/nature’s ally spells, which btw. do scale. Fail. Poachers may study monsters for 10 minutes, getting an untyped +2 bonus on the type studied. To do so, they need to have a copy of a specific, mundane book ready. Speaking of items: There is a magic or technological item that can deploy traps, which is a good idea, but the rules presented for it make it opaque. There is a magical tripping bola, a mundane write-up for generic monster bait (which I did not like) and the +1 equivalent pelt-pelting special weapon quality, which allows for the sundering of natural armor, but also notes how such damage can be healed.

But back to the poacher: We also get track at first level, and the trap-lamp. This lamp can be used an infinite amount of times per day and may be used as a standard action with a “range increment” of 30 ft., but no maximum range noted. The lamp fires a ray, and a creature hit must make a Fort save versus DC 10 + ½ class level + poacher’s Charisma modifier – on a failure, they are sucked into the trap lamp. They can escape, and successful saves net a +2 bonus, but boy, the DC is WAY OP for a save-or-suck first level ability. Sure, the critters have a chance to escape and need to be negotiated/handled with, but the pdf fails to acknowledge the intricacies of these interactions. Oh, and guess what: Captured creatures can be KILLED INSTANTLY at the poacher’s choice when trapped. RAW NO SAVE. W-T-F. Sure, it can only carry creatures with HD equal to or less than the poacher, and only two times poacher level critters, but still. INFINITE INSTA-KILL RAYS. That are not even conjuration (teleportation) or the like. I'm only scratching the surface of the issues here.

Wanna hear something lulzy? At 2nd level, any creature summoned (not only those drawn!) get ¼ class level, minimum 1 evolution points! This is broken on so many levels, I am not going to dignify it but bothering to explain it. Oh, and 2nd level, we get basically a poacher’s pride creature that respawns in the trap lamp. You know, like a yellow…okay, I’m going to drop the pretense right now. This attempts to be a Pokémon class. 3rd level, 8th and every 5 levels thereafter yield favored terrains. 4th level makes creatures on the summon list not count towards the maximum. 4th level yields shield ally (12th the greater version), 5th and ever 5 thereafter a bonus feat. 6th, 12th and 19th level add more captured monsters (with evolutions), 8th level nets swift tracker, 9th evasion (16th improved evasion). 14th lets the lamp act as 1/day magnificent mansion. 20th level nets a variant of master hunter with a 1/day swift action draw monster added on top. No, the list of evolutions does not provide anything interesting/new. There are archetypes that replace the signature monster and evolution pool with an animal companion with a baked-in evolution pool, but retrained monsters gain no evolutions. Arcane Enslavers apply the chassis of the class to humanoids and are evil. Hellholders are basically the Hellraiser twist on that concept. Trophy Hunters grant themselves evolutions via fetishes, which is a cool idea; said fetishes take up item body slots, but lack concise rules and fail to take into account that different evolutions have different values, which should be reflected in slots and costs.

The feats allow you to choose what you draw when using your own bags of tricks (let me waste a feat on that…), +1 evolution point to ALL summoned monsters drawn with draw monster; electricity damage added to the lamp, +1 to CMB versus quadruped creatures (Yay?), +1 DC for spells targeting studied monster (double yay?), a ranger spell (verbiage super-confusing) and using a weaponized trap lamp.

…Oh dear…the poacher is horrible. Unbalanced, top-heavy, opaque. You know, you can say what you want about Kevin Glusing’s Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters; it’s not a perfect book. But oh boy does it blow this fellow to smithereens. The poacher is an overpowered mess. If you want Pokémon-PFRPG, get Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting…haven’t improved much on a formal or rules-language level. The compilation inherits most of the issues of the previous files. That being said, the rules-language pertaining quite a few of the comedian’s more complex components actually intrigued me. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with great, original full-color artworks, as well as a few stock pieces thrown in. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, though only to chapter/subchapter headers, not to individual feats, spells or archetypes. The book also sports a HUGE comfort detriment. You can’t highlight (or search) text within. Yep. Wanna play these? Well, you better like copying the content, for that’s the only way you’ll have the shorthand ready. Considering the vast amount of copied or slightly modified content within, which often barely manage to change the name of the ability of which they’re reskinned, I find this to be distasteful, to say the least.

Jarret Sigler, Robert Gresham, Aaron Hollingsowrth, Beth Breitmaier, Dave Breitmaier, and Margherita Tramontano, these authors have created hybrids within this tome that often deserved better than what they got in this compilation. Unlike the previous compilations in this series, the majority of the material herein has the spark of something unique and truly promising; particularly the Orphic and Prodigy, with a capable rules-developer, could have been 5-star hybrid classes. If you can live with formatting hiccups, the asinine inability to copy text and are willing to modify the rules along the lines I noted in my individual reviews of the classes, you’ll have fun with them. Empath and wonderworker are more problematic and less unique. The comedian has the glimmer of being on the cusp of becoming something unique; it has its issues, but with a bit more daring design and less scavenging from the parent classes, it could have been great. I mean it! It has potential and is my third favorite class in the book. The poacher just plain sucks and is the worst thing in the whole book.

Sooo, do you want this? Honestly? Probably no. Orphic and Prodigy may be worth checking out, and if the idea of the Comedian intrigues you and you don’t have these two already, then this may be worth a look. However, the lack of refinement since the original releases, the abundant verbiage and formatting hiccups, and the atrocious poacher, make it impossible for me to round up from my final verdict of 2.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Hybrid Classes Vol.3: Heroes of Wonder
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Hero's Blood
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2018 05:13:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 57 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 1/3 pages of SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 46 2/3 pages of content – all of which sport a surprising amount of material, as Legendary Games books have a pretty high word-per-page-density.

Okay, first things first: This adventure is intended for characters of 10th level and can thus fit pretty easily behind the 3rd adventure in the Curse of the Crimson Throne module, and before the 5th – the module provides a thematic continuation of the leitmotifs of colonial corruption that the first 3 modules sported, which are curiously absent from the otherwise intriguing and evocative 4th adventure. As such, theme-wise, this indeed enhances the AP. It should also be noted that this supplement includes a new corruption, making use of Horror Adventures’ rules. However, you do not necessarily need to have the Horror Adventure supplement to use this adventure.

Really cool: There are two new, properly codified occult rituals that feature in the plot of the adventure, both of which employ the themes and leitmotifs established in the adventure path. As always for supplements in the series, we have an adventure that seamlessly integrate with the AP, employing filed off serial numbers that still allow you to easily note what is going on. A huge plus would btw. be that the amazing full-color maps do come with player-friendly versions for your convenience. Big comfort-plus here! Inexperienced GMs will enjoy the fact that we have extensive read-aloud texts accompanying the module.

All right, as always, the following discussion contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the chaos in Korvosa has generated opportunity: The Shoanti (Sklar-Quah), have attacked a remote fort: Fort Hiraksos. When the PCs venture towards the fort, they find a massacre – the battlefield is littered with fallen Shoanti and members of the erstwhile garrison. All of the corpses show a specific pattern: Gaping chest-wounds. As the PCs explore the remnants of the fortress, they will have to contend with lethal undead, ranging from wights to callers in darkness and juvenile rukhs; there are deadly corpse flies and Hiraksos itself is a rather grim – the exploration of the grim keep is fantastic – even beyond the confines of the AP, the depiction of a haunted place of a true massacre is intriguing and flavorful, in both diverse enemy selection: We get unique haunts that add to the sense of decrepitude and metaphysical corruption – and the them of blood/flesh engendering fear is reinforced via, for example, ectoplasmic hungry flesh or a particularly nasty, unique wight.

Speaking of which: Said sub-boss ties in with the Onochtu, the ravenous ones, deadly and vile spirits of shoanti myth, adding some intriguing myth-weaving to the proceedings; said spirits and their dark powers are what fuels the corruption of the culprit and the potent powers of foes faced here. The sub-boss can inflict the corruption of these spirits on victims…

You see, Austan Mileswood, decorated Korvosan hero, driven insane, is working on a ritual to transcend his form, as an invisible timer is ticking away in the background, and dawdling may see him improve his darkened powers – and we btw. get a CR 10 and CR 11 statblock for this big boss as well as an extensive and well-written background story for this rather tragically flawed individual, who exemplifies so well that one people’s hero may be another people’s villain. Anyways, he has learned from the darksome shoanti spirits – that there lies strength in the hearts of the living, stealing the courage, metaphysically seated in the heart, from his victims. An addiction had formed, and what the PCs now witness, is the sad culmination of, what could be considered to be a fantastic take on a form of PTSD.

Thus, in order to truly “win” in this adventure, the PCs will have to venture down into the ancient Well of Bloody Hearts, sanctified to the wicked cannibal spirits of old, where mummified clerics and warriors loom…but beyond these, brimstone oozes and a unique creature dubbed “The Tongue” await – the latter btw. is a unique aberration with a twisted artwork, and a cool, superbly depicted athach is here as well – and stopping Austan’s ritual is NO trifle. With aether elementals and his own, significant combat prowess, the charismatic “hero” makes for a formidable foe – and yes, he is multiclass’d and has a cool mechanical angle. Here, I should definitely mention that the timeline noted before is not just cosmetic: throughout the adventure, the time elapsed always matters. Kudos for being consequent!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious guffaws on either a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to the “Curse of the Crimson Throne”-plugins series’ elegant 2-column full-color standard. Huge plus: We get quite a lot fantastic full-color artworks that I haven’t seen before, and the cartography is similarly impressive and full-color. As noted before, getting player-friendly maps is a big plus. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Tom Phillips does horror and dark fantasy really well; if you’ve been following his works, this will be no surprise to you. He is one of the authors whose adventures tend to offer meaningful challenges for the PCs, while still retaining a dense and evocative atmosphere. “Hero’s Blood” exemplifies these virtues. The adventure manages a feat that is impressive indeed: On one hand, it actually manages to carry a leitmotif that isn’t present in the otherwise fun “A History of Ashes” and thus strengthen the overall plot of Curse of the Crimson Throne – the emphasis on Korvosa affecting these lands adds to the plot.

In addition to that, though, this adventure manages to transcend the status as an adventure path plug-in: Its plot and ideas are sufficiently distinct to carry the adventure as a stand-alone supplement – if you like horror or dark fantasy, particularly themes that feature blood/vampiric elements in a cultural context that is a breath of fresh air, then consider this to be a success and well worth getting beyond the confines of the AP.

So yeah, regardless of within or without the associated AP, this is a success, no matter how you look at it. 5 stars + seal of approval – excellent job!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hero's Blood
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Advanced Adventures #6: The Chasm of the Damned
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2018 05:12:10

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my leisure.

As always with this series, we use OSRIC-rules as the default old-school system, with minor formal deviations from standard formatting, encompassing bolded spells and magic items, for example. The supplemental material includes a properly codified hand of glory magic item, and the pdf comes with 4 different, rival adventure groups that can be inserted as wild-cards into the game, particularly if the PCs have too easy a time. These groups are presented with basic stats noting magic items and spells, but no detailed write-ups of individual equipment. The module features three new monsters: A gargoyle variant that can, in groups, cause maddening winds that prevent actions of those affected; there would downy, small flying mammals with bat-like wings, poison and the ability to strangle targets on excellent hits. Finally, there would be the faceless ones, whom I will discuss below. Cartography is b/w, does its job, and the module sports 7 maps. Player-friendly maps, alas, are not included.

The following discussion contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great!

So, this adventure is a sandbox of sorts – a unique one! The number of competing groups noted before can also be determined randomly by the GM, and arrival sequence is similarly a kind of aspect that can be simulated with the help of the adventure. The adventure is intended for a well-rounded group of levels 6 – 10, though it should be noted that “winning” the adventure is probably left up to the higher levels. 12 rumors surrounding the chasm are provided for your convenience. The eponymous chasm is a “wandering” canyon of sorts – it magically pops up once every 37 years, for exactly 108 hours, before it vanishes once more. Its depths hold wonders, lost adventurers and stranger things – and as per the angle, the GM can easily integrate the module into pretty much any surrounding area. The predictability of the phenomenon also means that the “rush” for the chasm is very much justified. You could, in theory, even postulate a kind of chasm-micro-economy.

As you can determine from this unique set-up, the harsh and hard time limit of the chasm’s appearance and subsequent disappearance means that the PCs will have to hustle throughout the adventure. This, more so than anything, may be a limiting factor for the PCs exploring the chasm – in order to brave the trip, the PCs will have to conserve their resources, and there are two complexes, including the final one, which are linked caverns. The last one contains the potent secret at the heart of the strange behavior of the chasm – one that only PCs closer to the higher power-level will be capable of resolving.

As such, no two expeditions into the chasm will truly be alike: Lower level PCs will probably be exploring/looting, but not get to the bottom of the mystery; “Clearing” the location, though, will be an extremely difficult challenge. Anyhow, the chasm includes a total of 7 different mini-dungeons (as noted, caverns 5 and 6, and 7 and 8, are linked) spread out over three levels, and wandering monsters are provided for the dungeons. These range in themes: There is a cavern that contains orcs, one that houses svirfneblin (which may be allies of sorts); there is a cavern highlighting the aforementioned bogwings and one that houses deadly basilisks, petrified adventurers…and a frog that serves as a unique kind of oracle! Yeah, there is some nice weirdness herein, which never feels wrong or out of place, courtesy of the unique background of the chasm.

The faceless ones I mentioned before represent a healthy dose of weirdness, featuring the aforementioned variant gargoyles, with a birthing vat providing the respawning critters, and a weird mural can have unpleasant repercussions. There also would be the Gray Sultan, one of the fabled bosses here: A F12, Hp 90 monstrous bastard of a unique killer, whose attacks may instantly strangle targets…he can be one of the high-level bosses within: similarly, the entrapped godling within, Ar’Q-Ess, well-concealed, makes for one truly deadly final adversary – but to even get to the godling, the PCs will have to get past deadly demons and similarly potent foes.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are very good, provided you get past the formatting deviations. On a prose level, the module sports unique and interesting, concisely-written prose. Layout adheres to a classic, two-column b/w-standard, including artworks. Down to the fonts employed, this is pretty classic. The cartography, as noted, is b/w and functional, though we do not get player-friendly maps. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

James C. Boney’s “Chasm of the Damned” is a delight in the premise and idea underlying the complex. There are quite a few clever components here – the unconventional oracle is delightful, and similarly, some of the adversaries rock. The blend of the weird and “normal” makes sense and the strange microcosm presented is cool. That being said, compared to previous adventures the author has penned, e.g. looting a statue that may animate is basically a guessing game – no chance regarding magic or the like to discern a means to bypass the animation.

This could be taken as symptomatic for the whole adventure: While the location and narrative angle are absolutely inspired, while the ideas featured for the respective mini-dungeons contained in the chasms are intriguing, the module does suffer from its page-count and brevity – in a way, the adventure is too ambitious for the scant few pages available. The chasm connecting the mini-dungeons, interactions between the locales, remain afterthoughts and somewhat sketch-like. The potential interaction between groups, the potential, unique economy of the chasm, could have provided a thoroughly distinct, fun environment – one that the adventure, per se, does not manage to realize fully.

Don’t get me wrong. This module is still a very fun and distinct adventure that has plenty of replay-value; suffice to say, the module can be scavenged easily – you could hack this apart without any problems. At the same time, this could have been a true masterpiece with a couple more pages to develop the ideas. I found myself wishing that we’d got more weirdness for e.g. the Iron Sultan’s complex, for the faceless ones, etc. – the compressed nature of the presentation of these dungeon-vignettes acts as a major downside regarding the level of detail and imaginative depths the author can provide. In short: “Chasm of the Damned” is a good module; depending on what you’re looking for, a very good module, even; but it did have the chance to be something special and doesn’t realize this chance. I found myself wishing that this had received the page-count of the atrocious “Prison of Menptah” instead – with 32 pages, this could have been a masterpiece.

Oh well, as provided, this is certainly worth getting. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #6: The Chasm of the Damned
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Deep Carbon Observatory
Publisher: False Machine Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2018 05:19:25

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 90 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page blank, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 85 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (or A5), meaning that you can fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper.

So, this adventure assumes LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules and statblocks are provided – minimal ones for monsters (armor noted as analogue for armors, HD, HP, move and damage noted), and detailed ones for the Crows. Who or what are the Crows? Well, for that, I need to get into SPOILERS so please indulge me and wait a second.

Really cool: The adventure sports a timeline that spans multiple pages from 10.000 years in the past, up to the future – accounting for the horrific, surprisingly cataclysmic consequences that await, should the PCs fail herein. The module is intended for a low or mid level party – however, I’d strongly suggest running this with a group of approximately 3 – 4th level at the very least; 5 would also work; level 7 would probably make the module too easy. Anything below 5th level will result in copious amounts of PC deaths. A well-rounded party is pretty much required – this is NOT an easy module.

There is one component about the book, which, much like the prose, will be truly polarizing. This component would be the artwork. See that cover? I stumbled over it, and it haunted me. It basically demanded I buy this, creating a strange resonance. Scrap Princess has a unique aesthetic, and what some may consider doodles, I consider to be frantic and somewhat genius, vibrant and alive. The same goes for the isometric and sideview maps provided…which may also constitute one of the few detriments here.

I adore the maps, I really do – but they are hard to use at the table. While there are really cool fan maps (link at the bottom of my review on my site) provided, I cannot take these into account for my final verdict. This is not a module that you can run spontaneously. It requires careful deliberation and some map-drawing from the referee – unfortunately, we also get no key-less, player-friendly versions of the maps. In light of the unique style of these, this is a pity – I’d have loved to hand out progressively these as my PCs explore. Anyhow, if you’d need an analogue – where most LotFP-books, in aesthetics, hearken to Metal subcultures, this book, to me, reminded me of avant-garde, dark music – Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Thorofon and the like, before Industrial aesthetics were subsumed into mainstream; it’s a bit like one of Joel Lane’s (R.I.P.) more frantic slipstream weird fiction short stories turned to a module.

The artwork, btw., is so important here, for I have rarely seen an example where artworks and prose engage in such a suitable fusion; Scrap Princess’ artwork feels like a perfect externalized visualization of Patrick Stuart’s prose. One final note on the artwork: While suffused with color, the PoD print version, alas, is b/w – I did not consider this to be a detriment, as I focused on the print version.

The prose herein, for once, is worthy of the moniker. To give you an example: “Rainbow coloured weeds droop rotting from the littoral zone. They overhang rich bandings of many-shaded stone, making a psychedelic halo of the valley like a veil. Sunlight gleams oddly in the steep valley-sides. Snatches of bright reflection. The floor looks like blue-grey mud. The sight is without sound and stinks like an airless tomb burning in the light of an unwanted sun. But, in the silence, movement worms. The whole place has the feel of a terrible revealing. Like a black sheet pulled back from a naked corpse.” One can see why some readers consider this adventure to be “grimdark” – a palpable sense of finality, of decay and endings, suffuses this book; but at the same time, there is beauty, and even humor, to be found within. I have scarcely seen prose used this well in an adventure – even the brief, staccato-like interludes of sentences like those employed here in the example, are chosen deliberately.

The adventure indeed manages to generate utterly unique images, visuals and moods – it has been a long, long time since I was this engaged when reading anything regarding modules – in fact, I found myself compartmentalizing the reading experience, slowly digesting the visuals evoked. This is dark, but it is a resplendent, ephemeral darkness that stands, wholly, on its own.

All right, this much regarding formal categories. However, one should also note that this adventure is also pretty diverse regarding the challenges faced. We begin with a catastrophe of vast proportions….and to discuss it, we have to go into the SPOILERS.

Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion – you do NOT want to SPOIL this one.

..

.

All right, only referees around? We begin this module with a crash. Literally. The dam has burst. Carrowmere lies submerged, and a 1-page flow-chart of things that happen, that can happen…and they are a panopticon of the myriad tragedies that can accompany within the context of such a catastrophe. 18 diverse encounters set the stage for things that range from the tragic to the wondrous. Food and theft, covert cannibals – some of these come with read-aloud text, traumatized folks that can only speak in denial and third person…there is, indeed, darkness and despair here – but there is also a wealthy man, who offer a fortune for the one thing he doesn’t have – a narrative that provides closure for the catastrophe.

However, PCs can’t truly dawdle; they only ever get to see a slice of the true dimension of the catastrophe (which means that this module does have a replay value!) – unbeknown to the PCs, at least for a while, there are the Crows. The Crows are a truly wicked group of psychotic adventurers; these rivals come fully stated, with excessively discussed and unique background stories and magic items, make for fantastic foils and also can act as a kind of timer. Per default, their progress is swift and methodical, though referees can adjust this factor, somewhat akin to “Better than Any Man,” without much issues. Echo By Frosen, for example, believes she can smell distrust; a nasty dwarf who stole a bow from a soul of a traumatized thief, whose body he trapped in a box beneath a glacier…oh, and he has no less than 6 different signature poisons…including liquid dyslexia. Zolushika Von Der Linth, the groups magic-user, has a unique snakewood staff and a displacement doll…oh, and the group gets detailed notes on tactics and “principles,” with nasty tactics noted. One of the best rival adventuring groups I have ever read.

Beyond Carrowmere lie the Drowned Lands – a wilderness trek up the stream, where gigantic pikes, a cow-sized killer platypus, house-sized horseshoe crabs and worse loom – including the turbine golems, once in charge of the dam, with polyhedral dice-shaped heads. These guards are doomed to fall, though – sooner or later… Beyond the diverse encounters available and the small stories and surreal components that are introduced here, we move to the first dungeon – the damn. As the PCs make their way past the remnants of a culture long gone, they can meet things in jars, berserker library-golems and strange beings…and then, the PCs witness the glory of the profundal zone, the second wilderness area.

Once flooded by the watermasses kept in check by the dam, we enter a land of wonder, of sub-aqueous landscapes, wondrous and dying under the glare of the light and exposure to air, where semi-intelligent, child-sized newts roam and fiendish-black bogmen, carapace’d in crystallized gold await confrontation. Ultimately, a huge, manufactured wound in the earth looms – the eponymous Deep Carbon Observatory.

Now, I did note before that doom looms if the PCs dawdle – the item that will threaten to break asunder the nations is not the primary “treasure” – it’s but one item left here, which, in the wrong hands (read: Those of the Crows) can result in tremendous ills…but there is more to be found within: Shriveled, desiccated myconids, spells of use for slaves (not statted – but reduce scars, hide sorrow, ease grief…speak a specific language…), hydraulic ooze-prisons, weighting stations with impossible weights (souls, innocence years, minutes of fear…), ray-reflecting materials, chambers housing tox-men that can create toxins lethal to anything or everyone, salt dryads, a hall of shells…there is so much wonder within this dungeon, it exceeds the amount of unique rooms and ideas found in some series (!!) of adventures! There is so much creativity here, a simple description of a geological sample made me smile with glee…and come up with a whole campaign-angle. “Ultra-compressed and tectonically warped bones of billions of vampires. The space between vampires is actually more vampires.“ (Yes, these little flourishes, weird and humorous, are intentional. Told you that this has a sense of humor!)

How could they be sustained? How did they meet their doom? It’s just a throwaway line, but much like the majority of this book, it is inspired. But how does this observatory work? Azimoths (kudos for the pun!) – moths that use infinite fractal compressions that annihilate awareness of space around them, creating a blind spot – the direction in which the moth flaps, ceases to exist for the observer, as the mind simply edits out that slice of space. The observatory uses these moths to look through the infinity of rocks, focusing the perspective of the user on the space between the edited components. This concept is amazing. Strange structures that change your position in relation to reality, clocks of geological time and a 3-page “you see”-table for spontaneous weirdness, 10 odd books…and there is the Giant. Immortal, white, creepy – caked in dust, capable of compressing into smallest regions, this thing is horrid, extremely powerful, and adds a great survival-horror angle to the exploration of the observatory itself.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, it is a bit basic, but does unique and creative things with these components. Layout adheres to a smooth one-column b/w-standard. The artwork, as noted before, is amazing and just as polarizing as the prose. I love it. Do you like the cover? Then you’ll like the interior artwork. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I do own the PoD-version, which, while more grey than black, is a nice softcover…and this one is definitely worth owning in print. The maps, while aesthetically pleasing, are pretty tough on the GM – the excellent fan-made maps are highly-recommended for the final dungeon; still, as noted, I can’t include them in my rating. We do not get a proper player-friendly version of the maps, which is a tragedy of sorts as far as I’m concerned.

So, here’s the thing. To my knowledge, this is Patrick Stuart’s first book. Seriously, for this book alone, I’ll be eternally grateful to Zzarchov Kowolski, who btw. commissioned this module.

Let me spell it out, with abundant clarity:

Deep Carbon Observatory is a masterpiece. It is raw; it is not easy to run. It’s not convenient. I wouldn’t recommend this for novice referees. It’s also no happy-go-lucky fantasy, so if that’s your cup of tea, you probably won’t like it. The map support is absolutely not up to the ideal, aesthetics notwithstanding. This, alone, should cost this adventure a star.

Deep Carbon Observatory is, however, one of the best and most inspiring instances of incredibly concise, filler-less adventure-writing I have ever seen. There is more inspiration in some of the non-sequitur lines within than in a lot of whole adventure-series, heck, in whole mega-adventures. It is raw, but its unbridled creativity, its vast ambition, its, at the same time, nightmarish and gorgeous, funny and sad vistas stuck with me. They remain with me beyond reading, beyond playing. It delivers, in spades, a sense of jamais-vu, a distinct authorial (meant in the truest and most well-intentioned sense of the word), uncompromising vision of something that is wondrous, weird…alien, even…that is strange and UNIQUE. Much like the eponymous observatory, one almost feels like this book is a lens, like its pages are suffused with Azimoths, blending out the surroundings while allowing us a glimpse at a world that had me craving more.

There is no adventure like this in my vast collection of roleplaying modules.

If you haven’t already, get it. This is ART, yes, but it is also a MODULE; and these components, for once, are not in conflict with one another. Yes, this can polarize; perhaps you’ll hate it for its clunky rawness…but you won’t be left shrugging your shoulders. This demands being engaged, it can’t not elicit a response.

Deep Carbon Observatory belongs into the library of every ardent fan of RPGs; if you even remotely enjoy the unconventional and weird, if you even remotely like dark material, then consider this to be a top priority indeed. This module was released 2014, and had I known about it back then, it would have made my personal Top Ten list. I consider this to be one of the best adventures I have read in the last 10 years. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in old-school gaming, this is well worth getting for the incredible density of truly creative ideas – which, ultimately, no reviewer would be able to replicate and convey. I, at least, can’t – I have merely scratched the surface of what makes this fantastic in the truest sense of the word.

So yeah, 5 stars + seal of approval, in spite of the map-issue. I’d give it 6 if I could.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Carbon Observatory
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Castle Falkenstein: Variations on the Great Game
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/16/2018 05:12:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Ladies and gentlemen, I bid you once more welcome in my lounge! Please, do take a seat, as I want to show you a thing most intriguing; surely, you recall the little pieces of intangible ephemera that we tend to conjure to diversify the experience of engaging in the Great Game?

Well, this little booklet now, for the first time, compiles these ephemera, while, as I was told by my servants, also getting rid of some of the minor imperfections previously noted by astute dignitaries, personas and individuals of staunch character and stellar pedigree. At 48 pages, 4 less once you subtract covers and similar components, we have a rather hefty little tome.

Oh yes, I wholeheartedly concur, my dearest. As you can see after reading Tom Olam’s introductory text (which is situated, mind you, on the page denoting the contents), the entrepreneurs that so charmingly self-depreciatingly style themselves “Fat Goblins” have not simply stitched magically the contents of our beloved ephemera together; nay, I say! They, as befitting of the care and respect due our pastime, elected to redesign the formal presentation of materials within, employing a wide cornucopia of artistry, ranging from the thematically-suitable artworks (which, it should be added, could be at home in a proper salon such as this!) to the presentation of the pages themselves: Unobtrusive, yet gorgeous aesthetics render the book a balm for sore eyes, not unlike all those looking upon me and/or reading these lines right now.

But I digress; we begin our discussions within with a further look regarding specializations and their interactions with abilities; particularly useful for debutantes in the Great game would be the explanation of the lexicon employed by our most civilized of pastimes. It should also be explicitly mentioned that a previously slightly ambiguous component accompanying the implementations of specializations in the Great Game has been done away with: The booklet now explicitly notes that extraordinary abilities are exempt from specializations – a decision that rings as sensible to me, considering that they are already designated as extraordinary, n’est-ce pas?

A table of the most useful kind indeed is provided here, providing the tools to implement these in conjunction with all of our favorite elaborations and expansions of the Great game – criminally few though there may be.

Now, as all of you may well be aware, I am a staunch proponent of the notion that all ladies and gentlemen should be able to employ and use the specific implementation of the Great Game that best suits their respective taste, and as such, I am not opposed to seeing the notion of the Divorce Variation, a modification that removes the direct tie between suits and abilities – though I do have to say that the resulting potential bickering strikes me as unbecoming of a proper environment and something more suited to those newfangled, class-less new-money people babbling about FATE, as though shouting (most uncouth…)

More steeped in tradition, though not necessarily our tradition, but tradition nonetheless, would be the suggestion to employ “improvement points” to determine the growth of a dramatic character; as you all are well aware, this steeps the progress gained very much in a literary tradition regarding the journey and growth of a dramatic character. As the profane rabble would call it, “experience points” or some such nonsense, though they are still kept very much in service to the demands of proper etiquette and narrative sensibilities. As such, I have no qualms about recommending these to hosts to so inclined – there even are suggestions presented for various growth velocities.

Awareness of the, at times, almost incredulous feats accomplished in our Great Game, is expected at this point; but, as well all know, when paraphrasing an adage by Hardy, “there ought to be sympathy for the less fortunate.” Or at least, that’s what my maid used to tell me the other day. Anyways, as you are well aware, the experience of those less fortunate than ours, who are living a life less characterized by adventure and great deeds as providence foresaw for us, might well be intrigued to play when given the chance; heck, we might well want to step back ourselves and be immersed in a scenario or two where we are not as…impeccably extraordinary. As such, imposing a hard limit on cards played serves as a truly fantastic way to envision a world that is, at least slightly, more mundane than the at times tiringly wondrous lives we lead. What’s that, James? Ugh, tell the faerie I want the yard clean for the late afternoon tea.

Pardonnez-moi, mesdames et messieurs – good help is so hard to find these days. Now, when recalling, as individuals of such astute faculties undoubtedly can, the Half-Off variant is pretty self-explanatory, focusing on providing half the benefits when cards do not align…like that of my fate and that splendorous debutante last year…And yes, at this point, I should not be remiss to note that the variations presented within actually can be modified and tinkered with further. Think of them like the intricate wheels of a proper clock – they run just fine on their own, but depending on your joyous curiosity regarding experimentation, you’ll have different experiences.

Perhaps one of the most vital variations ever devised upon this wondrous world, though, would be the finer differentiation between Feats difficulties that one of these provides; this one, all on its own, should easily make the truly paltry price, respectfully asked, truly worth it, and it frees the host from the requirement to play cards to enhance difficulties – in short, it enhances the fair play at a table by taking a needlessly divisive burden off the host’s back, while also enhancing the gravity of the decisions made by dramatic characters.

Now…I’d ask those of faint dispositions, those of weak hearts, to leave the room. The fairer among us may want to take out there fans, for yes…it is my outraged duty to report that the most scandalous dice-based variation, devised by the mischievous, malignant Moriarty, is also included within this booklet! The criminal mastermind’s attempted subversion of our proper world order seems to be alive and kicking, and while obviously despicable and dastardly, one cannot help but find a sick genius in the implementation of these rules. While obviously worthy of shunning and prosecution, one must be able to look into the eye of savagery, even in the variations, imposed in this case, upon the Great Game. Now, unflinchingly, I have to concede that there is a well-based foundation underlying this, but now that I have determined this, none of you will have to. If I may, ladies and gentlemen – keep this variation out of the hands of savages, staff and similar beings of less firmly-grounded morals. We don’t want them to feel entitled to play in our grand pastime now, do we?

As you may know, this series of ephemera started with a humble little offering, highlighting how one of these decks, these Tarot cards, that are all the rage right now, may be employed with the Great Game; success bred…more success. Like our family trees, correct? We did, hence, get more than one of these ephemera, which have since been properly fitted with a more evocative nomenclature, namely that of the Fortunate and that of the Sorcerous Tarot Variation. If you, like me, love to regale your astute audiences as a host, then the following happenstance may well have occurred in your game as well: You have the Major Arcana…and its effects simply would not fit properly. Quel dommage!

Now, it seems like some distinguished individuals, who shall not be named for now, have observed this as well, and thus proceeded to alter the tables of the effects of these types of cards, making them more widely applicable. While it is my firm assertion that a host of the proper caliber would not require this modification, I couldn’t help but marvel at the simplicity of the modifications added to the material at hand. Speaking of which, this book does also note an option that can combine our classic deck with major arcana, and one that would allow for the discarding of a major arcana card to redraw – this one, ladies and gentlemen, obviously does vastly enhance the power and versatility of dramatic characters. If you want to weave a truly outlandish yarn, this may well be the way to go!

Now, as noted before, the aesthetics of this booklet do not leave anything to be desired; there are these little bookmarks included for ease of navigation in the ephemeral iteration of this booklet. The compilation and refinement exerted throughout combine to make sure that these variations, transcribed by the esteemed Mister J Gray, is a masterpiece, pure and simple; had it not been for the fact that I have already bestowed my highest accolades upon the components, this would have been a candidate for my list of best offerings of the year. Since this already has reached these heights, I am in the unfortunate position of not being able to bestow these honors once more.

This, however, should not be taken to mean that this is anything but a truly required purchase – this humble offering should be considered to be an EZG Essential, a required reading for any host of distinguished character and skill, a 5 star + seal of approval supplement.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castle Falkenstein: Variations on the Great Game
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Letters from the Flaming Crab: Imaginary Friends
Publisher: Flaming Crab Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/13/2018 13:49:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The, for now, final installment of the amazing „Letters from the Flaming Crab“-series clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The pdf, as always, begins with a nice in-character narrative of the exploits of the planes/world-hopping vessel that grants the series the in-prose name, as well as a brief commentary by the faithful scribe J Gray, who transcribes these letters. I still consider this framing device charming and hope that it will be retained once/if the series returns.

Anyway, the supplement’s base framework and idea is pretty cool: We have kids describing imaginary friends, which are then codified as proper entities. Rules-wise, the imaginary friends can be player-relevant, with a feat allowing you to take imaginary friends as familiars in a variant upgrade feat, with minimum level range spanning 7th to 11th level – yes, these are not exactly weak. The second feat, Wonder nets you one class skill chosen from a list of 4, 1/day see invisibility as a SP and +2 to Will-saves versus illusions, but also imposes a -1 penalty to saves vs. enchantment spells and effects.

So, this is one way to get in on the mechanics herein; the imaginary friends gained are built on a NB CR 2 base form. They defy detection and their presence bestows a bonus to saves versus fear effects to their ward – the ward, obviously, being the entity the imaginary friend guards. Unique: The younger the kid, the more potent the friend can be. Depending on the highest unaugmented/buffed attribute of the ward, they also gain a specific ability suite – as a minor nitpick, the pdf does not specify what happens when two attributes are equally high. Imaginary friends can’t truly be slain and rejuvenate a few hours after being vanquished, and they may 1/day manifest physically, but at great risk – when slain while manifested, they may permanently die!

Now, manifested forms can sometimes great deviate from the regular, incorporeal ones, which also means that we get separate stats if applicable (nice), and that these may even have a different CR! So, here is the adorable thing about this pdf: We get artworks either drawn by kids, or emulating kid-drawings at the very least pitch-perfectly for the imaginary friends!

So, what kind of imaginary friends do we get? Well, there would be CR 2 Animay, a sweet, Tiny girl that has limited bardic abilities and carries an oversized pencil as a “weapon” of sorts. Caloon Ready Freddy was a bit heart-rending, as the red creature has a frog-like head and red skin – it is truly good and, as the book notes, quoting, “When daddy died, he became Caloon Ready Freddy…” – I kinda gulped there. With jumpy legs, hypnotic eyes and a tentacle arm that can be turned into a sensory net, the CR 8 creature is inspiring.

Crocodile B, a CR 5 yellow crocodile that doesn’t like being touched due to a nasty scar, can change shapes and may grab targets regardless of size. Deaths, is CR 7, and came from a fear of dying. Creepy-looking and armed with an adamantine pitchfork, the drawing could have been taken from my own notepads when I was young. Rules-wise, this one is slightly less interesting, with a fear aura and suitable SPs, though. Ella is a Cr 3 classic: An under-stuffed, oversized Medium blue elephant, with an aura of friendship.

Lady Cimini, a motherly mini CR 5 imaginary friend, is vulnerable to air, and gets volcano mystery-based ability. She also is a shapeshifter that prefers hamster form – and while in hamster-form, she can’t cast, but she can assume the shape of a mini volcano! Cool! Magicus is slightly more conservative in rules, as the CN CR 4 floating ghost-like entity in tuxedo and top hat is primarily defined by spellcasting. Mister Bora, at CR 5, wields a massive sword of air and may assume panther form and use abilities in conjunction with this form. Rules-wise, this imaginary friend employs kineticist options, making the character feel different from many comparable creatures. Nice job.

Pat’chin (CR 4) is great regarding the imaginative potential the creature shows: A smiling, benevolent spider-pumpkin-looking thing with arms and a warm smile, capable of carrying immense loads. The pistol squidshark (CR 3) is a tiny shark’s body with a squid’s tentacles and head – they can only jet when moving backward, fly and swim, get the ink cloud – and the ward may grab them and use them as a nonlethal weapon! That is amazing! Damn, as someone who loves squid and octopodes, I wished I had one of these…

Secorit, a rather shy friend, carries a pink, heart-shaped bottle with liquid inside, and sports an aura of honestly. In combat, this CR 5 imaginary friend may use Diplomacy to buff versus foes. Minor nitpick: The rules here are not perfect, assuming (or at least looking like it) an opposed roll, which is not how this works in PFRPG. Shaper is a robot with a friendly face and triangular pieces stacked to form arms of sort , which can btw. be fired! Spotty reminded me of my own two imaginary friend when I was 3 – it’s a CR 3 Dalmatian, only 6 feet long, with spots that oscillate like the rainbow. For me, it was a spotted stallion, but yeah – I can relate. The spots change color, depending on Spotty’s mood, and spotty actually has a calming touch.

Trobot Espenzale, at CR 4, is a dancing robot whose arms extend and contract, represented in the SPs this fellow has, as well as the ability to become quicker. Waterwave, at CR 4, can short-range quasi-teleport and fire concussive blasts. Finally, there’d be Wobinar, swirling light manifesting in a chaotic, hovering mass – easily the most abstract of the friends, an interesting, since kids don’t often gravitate to abstract concepts: Composed of living light, this one has a really interesting angle, with color spray touch. Yes, CLs and DCs are properly noted!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level – I noticed no grievous snafus. Layout adheres to the relatively printer-friendly 2-column full-color standard of the series, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artworks, as noted, are kid’s drawings, and I really like this here – they emphasize the theme rather well.

The creative minds and sense of innocent wonder of the kids that contributed these friends, Charlie, Clara, Giorgio, Isaac, Kennedy, London, Lumi, Michele, and Oliver, are to be applauded – I bet few kids ever got a writing credit this soon! Anyways, developer J Gray and publisher Alex Shanks-Abel deliver a wonderful little tome that really oozes joy and warm-heartedness. It’s not something most adults could have come up with. I know I couldn’t have.

You see, I can do exciting, epic, dark, horrific, etc. – I’m a pretty adept and versatile designer and GM…but I can’t, for the life of me, do innocent wonder. Perhaps it’s all the cynicism of the age, perhaps it’s me…but true wonder is hard to convey, to replicate, to emulate. This pdf does manage to do just that. The material herein is wholesome, heartwarming, and a pleasure to read. Now, not all of the imaginary friends herein are necessarily, from a pure design-perspective, genius, but they had to conform to the visions of the authors, i.e. the kids…and, as a whole, they do so admirably.

As a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed this book – particularly in conjunction with Everyman Gaming’s excellent Childhood Adventures toolkit, it can make for an inspiring little offering and add some serious fun to a campaign featuring or for, children. As an aside: I could see e.g. a storyline centering on adult PCs researching missing imaginary friends as a unique and rewarding storyline to pursue.

As far as rating is concerned, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform. This pdf may not reinvent the wheel, but it is a great little supplement to read once you’re tired of darkness, grit, etc.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Letters from the Flaming Crab: Imaginary Friends
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Villains of Porphyra
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/13/2018 13:48:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the „...of Porphyra“-series clocks in at 52 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 8 pages of SRD, leaving us with 42 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’, pamphlet-style, which theoretically allows you to fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper, should you choose to print this supplement.

So, what do we get here? Well, basically what it says on the tin – this is no NPC Codex-style supplement that presents nameless adversaries and mook-fodder, but instead should be considered to be a collection of named and framed villains, ready to wreak havoc on your PCs. This obviously means that they all get their own piece of aptly-written prose, as well as statblocks, with the latter making use of Porphyra’s impressive cadre of creatures, races and content in general. Note that you do not need to own Porphyran books to use this, though! There is also a pretty neat Porphyra wiki, just fyi!

A total of 16 dastardly villains are provided within, so let’s take a look, shall we? For brevity’s sake, I am going to assume a degree of familiarity with Porphyra’s lore and races – should you be intrigued by the unique Patchwork plant, click on the “Porphyra”-tab of my review on my homepage, and you’ll have a list of files (and reviews) depicting more in terms of both crunch and lore.

We begin this supplement with Lady Daivona Scovalyx, a CR 17 inveigler erkunae investigator (mastermind) of the amazing erkunae race, still one of my all-time favorites of the setting for the cool, old-school non-Tolkien-ish vibe they have (Vance,Moorcock); anyways, she comes, as befitting of her stature, with her own pact creature (think: racial kinda-familiar), and is followed by Vsehnian, the Betrayer – a CR 11 dhosari rook; dhosari are btw. the servant race of the erkunae, but this clever individual, though aligned with Daivona, can make for a potent foe on his lonesome, clocking in at CR 10.

Brin is more straightforward, and is a CR 10 hobgoblin assassin (amking use of the Porphyran take of the class). Khorg the invincible would be a CR 19/MR 2 invincible half-ogre runereaper, and his damage output potential…well, let’s just say it’s nothing to sneeze at! Abil Copperborn would be a half-human (one further instance where Porphyra’s pretty cool…) skirmisher ranger at CR 15 – loyal and professional, he is actually LN and one of the most potent and skillful contract killers you’re bound to find. His writeup also features the scarf of camouflage item. Qippal Rillkeeper is a grippli hunter (primal companion) at CR 8, bonded to a dinosaur and victim of brutal and ruthless human “safaris” slaughtering all the once innocent frogfolk knew. Bad idea, humans. Bad idea…

Fhemish Darggun is a half-cyclops archaeologist bard at CR 16 – the most ruthless weapon’s fence and dealer of Giant’s Retreat – who, ironically, really likes civilization, even though his trade could potentially be considered to be contrasting with its establishment, or, more importantly, maintenance.

Fulgra the hungry would be a CR 10 wolf-shifter and we also learn about Bonebreaker Essrass, a CR 17 nagaji martial artist monk that can strike as a serpent… Ouch, all right, totally deserved that. ;)

Anyways, we also get to meet Kresta, a tengu unchained ninja seeking for the means to create conflagrations to starve and annihilate the land in favor to her divine master…Lady Gloam of Bhaal-aak made me smile, for here, Justin Sluder pulled out his skills: She is a stealthy creature plumekith assimar warpriest (CR 19), kidnapped and then raised and indoctrinated in the city of shadowy demon-worshipers…and yes, she sometimes visits her parents. Conversations are bound to be awkward, but that’d make for an interesting scene to roleplay…

Ursk the defiler would be a CR 9 skulk oracle, who champions, in a twisted way, freedom. Freedom from fear. Dignity. Reason. Life. With darkness-themed abilities and vampiric tricks, this fellow is twisted in a cool way. At CR 16, master Gyro is a boggle spell specialist arcanist, comes with notes of the uncommon elf lord’s battle armor spell from Kobold Press’ Deep Magic, as well as with bracers of defense item-class. I did grin when seeing the CR 10 augmented half-giant telekinesis/force specialist Brutus Half-forged and the CR 8 aberrant aegis/fighter multiclass from duergar stock Rosca Hatemonger. We end the supplement on a definite high note, with Ibuel the Frightlover, a fey creature xeph dread with 15 levels and CR 16.

The pdf comes with a bonus file depicting the Agropelter, penned by Mark Gedak and Perry Fehr, a CR 3 fearsome critter magical beast, a wiry apelike thing whose arms have no middle joints, capable of quick bursts of speed. Solid creature that makes for a nasty artillery at low levels.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no excessive accumulation of grievous glitches. Layout adheres to a 1-column standard, is pretty printer-friendly and sports the classic purple highlights. The pdf has no interior artwork. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience and ease of navigation, though the bookmarks don’t note the CRs, which, since the villains are listed in no order I could glean, represents a slight usability detriment when in a pinch.

Justin P. Sluder and Aaron Hollingsworth make for a good team, at least judging by this pdf. Justin has crafted some of my favorite NPCs/villains ever for the Faces of the Tarnished Souk-series, and his talents at making complex NPCs shows in quite a few of these villains, though not all of them. Still, the means by which this book employs Porphyra’s rich canon of options is nice to see indeed. The villain-motivations also are surprisingly diverse, the brief flavor texts lending depth to them. If anything, I did wish more than once that we had a tad bit more space per villain to further add to their myths. That being said, the use of diverse and interesting material herein and the obvious joy in some of the combinations does render this collection worthwhile – the enemies herein will be challenging for your group.

And hey, you can’t ever have enough adversary-statblocks, right? Right! In short: Totally worthwhile if you’re looking for some tough foes to throw at your players! My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Villains of Porphyra
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Vacant Ritual Assembly #3
Publisher: Red Moon Medicine Show
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/13/2018 13:46:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third installment of the Vacant Ritual Assembly ‚’zine clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial/ToC and notes on recommended files/media, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look. It should be noted that the pages are laid out in the standard 6’’ by 9’’ (A5) pamphlet style for many OSR-zines, which means you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper – in theory. In practice, printing this one out yielded issues for all printers I used, which may be relevant to your interest. I am not penalizing the pdf for that, though.

As before, the default OSR-rules assumed herein are the LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules.

The first article herein depicts the “Dragon trench”, inspired by a real life site in Missouri . the trench ostensibly was created by a dragon crashing down onto the earth with incredible force, The location features a brief introduction, a nice b/w-full-page artwork and a stylized hexcrawl map spanning two pages – the hexes use cut-outs of the cover art as a backdrop, for a weirdly artistic use of resources that I somehow ended up enjoying. A hex is noted to span 5 miles and 6 rumors and an event/weather table is provided for your convenience. The section includes a mini-bestiary of 6 creatures – fairies require that you make up effects, and there are 3 sample plants with supernatural effects, though annoyingly, no silver values for them are provided. This is particularly relevant, since one of them can prevent spell slot loss upon casting a spell, which can be super potent.

The region itself comes with 7 keyed locales noted, though these, as a whole, are pretty potent – some guy has boots of water walking, while an intelligent +3 longsword, sans drawbacks, just awaits being found. I consider this, magic-level wise, to be somewhat overkill, considering the dangers faced. Not a big fan. Furthermore, magic item formatting is inconsistent throughout the installment.

The area also contains the Dragon Clan, a legacy organization that fights the minions of The Sting, the big antagonist here. Their VERY brief write-up doesn’t tell me that much about them, and the map for the fortress they inhabit is solid. The section also introduces the falconry skill and notes stats for the critters and use in combat. Fun aspect. Stats for 4 notable knights/dames are provided, alongside stats for their squires, dubbed “The Lost Boys”, which got a chuckle out of me.

After this, we are introduced to the Thundercloud druids, the primary source the Ghoul Market (see VRA #1) has for fairy amber, an order of druids that wield a new type of flintlock musket. These druids also fabricate three types of flutes that act as spells in a can. Odd: The Play Wind skill used to activate them isn’t fully depicted, as the falconry skill is. My favorite aspect of this article would be the brief symbol language provided for Ogham. Notes for PC thundercloud druids are provided.

After this, we take a look at the timberwives, who get my favorite illustration herein – and no, the reason for this is not the exposed nipples featured here, but rather the badass, dynamic pose. They are horrific thralls to father Sycamore, neither fully human nor plant, and manage to evoke more atmosphere in their one page than any article herein before them. I liked them. Stats are provided.

The next article, based on a traumatic experience with stinging insects, includes the stats of the aforementioned lord of stinging creatures “The Sting” (not to be confused with the weird wrestler), and we get a nice map of a wilderness locale and an associated little dungeon themed around this adversary and the creatures and folks serving the being.

The final section of the pdf sports an interview with Rick Saada on the roguelike he wrote.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, but not as tight as in previous installments, formatting is simply not as tight. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard and artworks and maps are surprisingly copious for a humble little ‘zine; as a whole, aesthetics-wise, this is pleasant. The pdf has no bookmarks, which serves an unpleasant comfort detriment.

Honestly, after #1 and #2, I was rather disappointed by this installment of Vacant ritual Assembly. While Clint Krause’s imaginative potential shines through here and there, this is, as a whole, a rather vanilla experience. Now, don’t get me wrong – I do enjoy the idea of taking a childhood mythology and developing it into a location/module, but the supplement doesn’t do that compelling a job here; the innocent eyes widened in abject terror at the sight of stinging things is not truly conveyed; more hazards and terrain features/peculiarities would have done wonders there. The installment, in short, feels less refined – which can also be seen in the rules-language hiccups and omissions.

All in all, I did not get much out of this installment, though that may be different for you. However, if you do end up using this, be well aware of the rather powerful magic items littered throughout, which imho not only lack LotFP’s usually unique flavor, but which also are in no true relation to the challenges faced. As a whole, I consider this to be a rather sparse mixed bag, my final verdict clocking in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to the low price-point and appealing aesthetics.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #3
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Castle Falkenstein: The Six-Sided Variations
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/12/2018 10:21:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Gather round, ladies and gentlemen! I Am glad to serve once more as your host for this discussion of an ephemeral piece of media associated with the Great Game!

This installment of the Variation-rules for Castle Falkenstein clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

My dear ladies and gentlemen, it is with utmost concern that I have to express this warning; it is only with greatest hesitation that I even dare mention the existence of a pamphlet which may well shake the foundation of all that is right and proper to the core; were it not for the continuation of the exploits of master Tom Olam, which I did promise you at the last gathering, I would not tarnish the good graces and reputation of my house mentioning this sanctimonious, scandalous development.

I do advise those with a fairer disposition to leave the room, for, as the narrative provided makes clear with ample gratuity, the very soul of our cherished and proper Great Game is in danger! None other than the dastardly Professor Moriarty has found a way to, and I ask you once more to brace yourselves, employ DICE with the favorite pastimes of well-bred persons of proper pedigree!

Dice! The plebeian, profane gambling tools of the masses! Dice! My outrage, as that of my maids, butlers and angelic significant other, knew no bounds! Indeed, this horrifically deamonic pamphlet, undoubtedly planted by criminal elements of illest repute in the hands of the courteous Fat Goblin cadre of entrepreneurs, includes even more than the means to replace the tools of properly civilized folk – it also sports a means to replace the noble cards with CHITS. 52, divided into sets of 13. 4 are drawn, and spent chits are put back inside and a new is drawn. They are drawn from the same bowl! Scandalous! Preposterous! Imagine the moral decay – for the hand of a proper lady to touch the same chits as that of one of a male! In sequence! The outrage is, indeed, staggering! What next? Are we to take off our gloves?? Truly, this malignant Moriarty is trying to tear asunder the very values upon which our grand station is based!

Worse, special chits can be included, including so-called “royal chits”! The implications! As if being of royal blood was not the prerogative of the divinely ordained, as if it was bound to profane luck! Chaos reigns, even before Wild Chits are added – only the most malignant of malfeasants would contemplate this!

But…and here, I’d like to ask our faerie friends in particular to remain strong – this is not where Moriarty’s perfidious incursion ends; instead, we are faced with a blasphemy that attacks the very nature of our world-order, implying that sorcery can be similarly…modif. Modif…I can’ bring myself to use any other word that “tainted”; “perverted!”

Indeed, while this ephemeral text may adhere to a 2-column presentation and may look as aesthetically-pleasing as other offerings in our beloved series, I cannot recommended this abomination. So please, take a close look and memorize the contents of this pamphlet, so we may warn others of its corrupting nature, which surely only gracious characters of impeccable morals such as we may resist.

(5 stars + seal of approval – an amazing little file by J Gray! It's also a Candiate for my Top Ten of 2018, just fyi.)

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castle Falkenstein: The Six-Sided Variations
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Starfarer's Codex: Witch Legacy Class
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/12/2018 10:19:29

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adaption of the witch class to Starfinder clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The witch class as presented herein comes with 5 HP, 5 + Con mod Stamina and uses Intelligence as key ability score. The chassis yields ¾ BAB-progression and good Fort- and Will-saves. The class gets spontaneous spellcasting of up to 6th level, and may decipher magic text as a full action. The class gets 4 + Int skills per level, as well as proficiency in light armor, basic melee weapons, small arms and sniper weapons. The witch class uses its own spell list, which also incorporates spells from the Starfarer’s Companion tome – the class is not crippled by a lack of access to it, though.

Unsurprisingly, we get an empathic link with the first level familiar granted. At 5th level, the familiar can deliver touch spells for you; at 10th level, it can communicate with approximately familiar animals and you may talk to it in “code” – communication between familiar and witch can RAW not be deciphered. 15th level allows you to look through the familiar’s eyes, which, considering the sniping angle, can be rather nasty. Death, loss, etc. does carry no penalties apart from a grieving period. In addition to the first level familiar, the class also begins play with a patron: While within 60 ft. of the familiar, you get access to the patron’s specialized hex and spells granted by the patron, adding a decision here – scout ahead with the familiar or not? I like this.

We get a total of 14 patrons, ranging from vengeance over hyperspace to ancestors. These hexes include active and passive abilities and feature, for example, expanded class skills and and quicker tech dismantling, scaling ability to see through the dark or a nonlethal retributive pulse. Offensive abilities tend to feature a hex-caveat, i.e. that a single target can only be affected once per 24-hour interval. While this is a slight deviation from SFRPG’s default rest mechanic, I am sure that this is an intended departure to emphasize the somewhat eldritch nature of the witch – as such, I like this. Speaking of which – the rules, even when they are known to veterans from Pathfinder, do make use of e.g. fusions. This is not simply a lazy cut-copy-paste conversion.

While we’re on the subject of the class-defining hex ability: Regular, non-patron hexes, are gained at second level and every 2 levels thereafter, with Intelligence and ½ class level + 10 governing the save DC and activation action, unless otherwise noted, being a standard action. Important here: Unlike the patron hex bestowed by the patron class feature, regular hexes are not contingent of familiar proximity to use them. The hexes incorporate flight (with scaling), sharp nails, speak with animals, slowly sap away vitality – you will recognize a couple of these from PFRPG. There also is an option that lets you drain charges from nearby technological items…but as this one can already hint at, the internal balance of these hexes fluctuates quite a bit. The very powerful fortune hex makes a return, and while its limitations regarding number of times it can affect a target still remain, rolling twice and taking the higher result, i.e. the equivalent of 5e’s advantage, is VERY potent in SFRPG, compared to analogue abilities: The fortune hex is available as soon as second level and can be used infinite times per day, its limit based solely on target affected; compare that to the 2/day, self-only reroll of the star shaman’s 6th level ability, and you’ll note where I start having issues with the class.The same holds true for the debuff equivalent, twist fate. Lethargy inflicts a 30-yard (!) 1-round stagger, which is wildly better than the 6th level staggering shot exploit. Compare that with +1 to AC and saves until the target is hit or fails a save. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to note that something, somewhere, went horribly wrong with balancing here.

And yes, we’re still among the regular hexes. 10th and 18th level unlock the more potent major and grand hexes, respectively, and these are similarly oscillating between power levels. This is before the hex amplifications granted at 5th, 9th, 11th, 17th and 19th level, which allow for the delivery of hexes via melee and metamagic-like extensions of reach. As a saving grace, these all do cost Resolve and Split hex thankfully has its own caveats to prevent splitting mightier hexes until a certain level is gained. 3rd level nets weapon specialization.

The class comes with notes for use with archetypes – for most levels, this means losing hexes, with the exception of 9th level, where a hex amplification is lost instead. Familiar skills are improved in two categories, have 1 good and two poor saves and 8 types are provided. While their base engine makes them more fragile and less hardy than e.g. drones, the ability to deliver touch spells can make them rather devastating.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal and rules-language level,a re top-notch. I noticed no serious hiccups in that regard. Layout adheres to Rogue genius Games’ two-column full-color standard. The full color artworks are okay. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

The craftsmanship of Matt Morris’ class is excellent – we can see the experience of both designer and developer here, and the presentation is crisp as well. That being said, once you start to go into the nit and grit of the class and compare it to mystic, technomancer, etc., you’ll notice that it may have overshot its target, which was rather odd to witness in such a refined book. While the technomancer’s Extend Spell is e.g. better than the comparable hex amplification, hexes have no daily limit. Considering that SFRPG, quite consciously in my book, nerfed full casters in comparison to PFRPG, I am pretty damn sure that hexes should have further costs – I’d strongly advocate in favor of Resolve Point costs as further limiting factors for at least a couple of these base hex effects. Furthermore, while quite a few of these hexes do sport a power-level that is in line with SFRPG, others vastly outclass their peers and comparable options from other classes in the amount they can be used and potency.

In a way, this supplement buckles under its PFRPG-heritage; it attempts, and rather successfully, I might add, to transport the witch to the nova age. At the same time, it stumbles in the details, with rules-similarities breeding a degree of power-oscillation that is not wholly suitable for Starfinder as the system is right now. The craftsmanship is superb, but I am very weary of the power-level the witch has; as easy way to make this class more unique and well-rounded would be to further emphasize the uncommon sniping angle and familiar, while nerfing the hexes. While the limited spell-list can, in the long run, prove to be a balancing factor, for now, I can’t rate the class on potential developments to come. I certainly hope the class will get a whack or two with the handy ole’ laser-nerf-bat to bring it more in line with the classes featured in SFRPG’s core book. My final verdict, in spite of loving a lot about this pdf, can thus not exceed 3.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Starfarer's Codex: Witch Legacy Class
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Magitech Archetypes
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/10/2018 08:26:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Legendary Games‘ science-fantasy/Iron Gods-plug-in-series clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 3 pages introduction/how to use the book, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, though it should be noted that, as always for LG-books, there is quite a lot of content within these pages, courtesy of the consumer-friendly layout.

Now, as far as supplements are concerned, this book makes, obviously, use of Technology Guide’s engine and also provides new options for occult classes, core classes and offers some ACG love.

Today, I’d champion mention moving through the content from the back of the book, where the 7 new feats can be found. Technopath would be the first feat worth mentioning: This one is amazing and something I’d offer for solo-stealth missions as a bonus feat: The feat requires a means to use the ability to detect thoughts or mindlink and lets you expend such uses to cause erratic functions in computers etc., tightly codifying shutting down power etc. More important would be that, while it’s short range, it blends magic and tech in a cool way and has a very distinct, cool, espionage angle. This is really a more than rewarding one, which comes with a follow-up: Said follow-up feat, building on Technopath, allows you to use your mind to interface with computers in close range. This is pretty iconic and something I definitely liked to see here. Two really iconic winners here. Welker in Rust is a feat that is particularly suited for metal elementalists or urban druids, allowing for the use of a palm-sized metal object as arcane bonded object – minor complaint: For non-arcane casters, the “arcane” may seems slightly confusing here. Anyways, that’s nitpicking. The feat allows you to spontaneously convert summon spells into ones that call a distinct array of junk golems. Minor complaint: It’d have been nice to see the reference to Small sized junk golems sport more than just the HP modification. Similarly, no suggested burn cost for use in conjunction with the Necrotech (see below) material’s included. The object noted can btw. also be used in conjunction with shield guardians, if any, adding a cosmetic rust theme and a stored rusting grasp to the array.

Now, 4 of the new feats within deal with Necrotech: The Adept feat lets you use Charisma instead of Constitution to determine Fort-saves, but to make up for this power increase, you lower Constitution by 2. The feat must be taken at first level and influences the ability to take the Necrotech master archetype. Necrotech Genius also lowers your Con, but nets you a save-buff based on the Burn you currently possess. Necrotech Leader lets you accept burn to enslave undead nearby, which is a cool angle for necro-themes kineticists. Necrotech Transformation, finally, changes your type to undead. Since the feat requires a new archetype herein, the interactions are actually clear here.

Now, I already mentioned the necrotech master, so let’s start with this kineticist archetype, shall we? The archetype must be a construct or corporeal undead (or have the aforementioned Necrotech Adept feat) and is is locked into machine as primary element. The archetype does note that it makes use of Charisma instead of Constitution for the purpose of kineticist abilities, concentration for wild talents etc. The archetype takes a -1 penalty to Fort-saves per point of burn accepted, rather than taking lethal damage, with 3 + Cha-mod acting as the cap for the ability. This radically changes how the archetype plays, as opposed to the base class: The fragility of hit point dearth is replaced with a susceptibility for what we associate with those dabbling in necromancy – being sickly, easily subject to poisons and the like. This makes sense to me and also emphasizes these often somewhat overlooked components. Particularly for less experienced players that have an issue with the increasing fragility of the kineticist will welcome this rock-paper-scissors-y approach. The second tweak that enforces this notion, would be the unholy union ability: If the character is a construct, he gets + Cha-mod hit points per level, while undead necrotech masters gain fixed bonus hit points as though they were constructs. They are treated as both construct or undead when the like would be beneficial. They are only destroyed upon being reduced to Cha mod + class level hit points. These bonus hit points and type-based defenses replace the basic kinesis utility talents gained by selecting an elemental focus and defense. 4th level allows for the taking of machine’s elemental defense as a utility wild talent instead. Starting at 3rd level, the necrotech master may choose to gain a profane bonus to Charisma in place of a size bonus to a physical ability score, replacing elemental overflow.

Instead of 6th level’s utility wild talent, the archetype is locked into taking the construct creator utility wild talent, and may use the ability as though it was animat dead. Constructs created thus as treated as undead for the purposes of desecrate. Also at this level, the archetype may accept 1 point of burn to select a creature created or controlled (undead + constructs only) to grant them a single machine defense or utility wild talent with a burn cost of 0 or –; The level of the ability granted must be lower than class level, and the recipient creature is treated as though its HD were kineticist levels for the purpose of effects, using Cha instead of Con as governing attribute. Targets thus buffed may not accept burn. At 11th level and 16th level, the archetype may grant additional talents for increased burn costs; only one creature at a given time may be buffed thus, though. This replaces internal buffer. 7th level locks the archetype into void as expanded element and negative blast for simple blast. Undead or constructs created gain the aforementioned unholy union ability, with 15th level locking the archetype into machine as expanded element, and into void blast composite blast as composite blast, regardless of prerequisites. 8th level locks into construct hacker, and 9th level adds a negative level to living targets hit by a kinetic blast, replacing metakinesis (maximize); 12th level nets forced reboot, allowing the archetype to revive undead, causing them to return as undead – pretty sure the first reference should refer to “constructs or undead” instead. 14th level provides the means to use the Turing computation utility wild talent, as well as the ability to use it on undead.

Okay, so it only makes organically sense to move on to the new kineticist element while we’re at it, right? Machine nets Disable Device and Knowledge (engineering) as class skills, and basic technokinesis allows you to power machines via Burn and use mending on machines, constructs, etc. Junk blast would be the simple blast, and it sports all 3 physical damage types and is, no surprise there, a physical blast. (As an aside: Personally, I prefer damage mode changes, but that’s personal aesthetics.) As noted before, Diesel heart would be the defense wild talent, and it nets scaling DR, with accepted burn for machine talents temporarily increasing that. The talent also allows you to gain scaling percentile chances to ignore crits and sneak attack, based on burn accepted. I enjoy this one! The composite blasts provided and their options make sense and are, theme-wise, rather neat and make sense regarding damage types etc. 5 infusion wild talents are included, which feature causing Con damage via Bloodrust (damn cool name!), nanite-based sunder, soaking foes in oil, etc. – I really enjoyed these. Beyond the already noted basic utility wild talent, we get basically 30 utility wild talents to choose from; the aforementioned Turing computation awakens constructs, and similarly, the focus of quite a few of them, is on crafting and hacking constructs, on blindisght to note them (or metalsense…), on quicker repairs to keep them viable in battle (including tricks to use burn for a better action economy when doing so), on using nanites to duplicate ability score buffs on allies, a surge like auto-buff, a burn-based overclocking that hastes you and enhances your blast damage, subdermal plating…oh, and grafting weapons and upgrading grafts in 3 steps! It should be noted that the rather potent initiative buff twitch reflexes is associated with a cool elemental saturation.

…okay, I’ll say it right now: This is one of my favorite kineticist elements EVER. It really changes up playstyles and makes kineticists that take it go places where other elements don’t. This is inspired and may well be worth the asking price on its lonesome. Huge kudos!!

What do we have herein beyond kineticist options? Well, what about the robot fighter ranger, who replaces Knowledge (nature) + (geography) with Disable Device and Knowledge (engineering) and gets +1/2 class level to Perception and Disable Device checks to find and disarm traps, making the archetype, chassis-wise, a good rogue-substitute? Combat Style is replaced with basically a gunslinger lite array, while Endurance is swapped out with technologist. The first two favored terrains are locked and the archetype comes with a modified spell-list and must select a non-animal companion. Higher levels provide hardness ignoring and higher DCs to resist being stunned by crits, free movement through rubble and ruins and higher levels include swift action discharge or, at even higher levels, rebuke technology. Spell sacrifice for electromagnetic pulses and the ability to bypass sensors, penetrate force fields and the like further complement the archetype, culminating in an insta-construct-destruction trick. I’m generally not a big fan of nemesis-classes, but this one at least has its own array of tricks that make it play differently from the base class.

The Penumbral arcanist replaces 1st level’s exploit with the option to reduce illumination levels; exploits provided are shadow-themed, including adding new spells or granting creatures shadow fading. The archetype gets a custom capstone….and honestly, I don’t particularly like it. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but compared to Lost Spheres Publishing’s superb Shadow Weaver, it feels bland, and it also kinda feels like an odd man out in the supplement. Not very magitech-y.

Thankfully, the nanotech infuser sorcerer does fit: Loss of Bluff and Intimidate in favor of Disable Device and Knowledge (engineering), at-will mending and a touch that damages constructs at touch a limited amount of time, bypassing defenses. Higher levels see the nanites replace parts of the body, making the sorcerer automatically stabilize and take less damage from bleed and blood drain, but at the cost of becoming more inhuman. This transition further improves at 19th level. Cool: At 13th level, we have a nanovirus, which deals Wisdom and Con-damage, and which may make those that succumb to it rise as a nanite zombies.

The Astrologer mesmerist replaces consummate liar with skill bonuses related to the profession and benefits from the guiding star under the night sky, Adding Charisma in addition to Wisdom modifier to the checks of Wis-based checks, as well as 1/night free metamagic-modified tricks. This is theme-wise pretty cool. Higher levels provide the option to substitute components with less than 1K costs with astrolabe/telescope use – I Like this flavor-wise. Moment of prescience, which a target may benefit 1/week from, is cool, and getting a satellite of forceful hand that can work as clenched fist is similarly cool. These abilities tend to be used, resource-wise, via mesmerist tricks, and the capstone nets interplanetary teleport. I like the flavor here, but I can’t really see why this fellow is jammed on the mesmerist chassis. It does not interact in a meaningful way with the base-chassis and feels more like an option that’d make sense for the medium or psychic class.

The delver wizard replaces Blind-Fight with Scribe Scroll, and replaces arcane bond with favored terrain and at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter providing one of 9 talent-like abilities, which include tremorsense, Craft Technological Items, squeezing, etc. – the archetype basically represents the delving wizard…which is nice, but I wished the focus on tech would be slightly more pronounced. 10th level provides better divination below ground and also a nice, modified summon monster list.

The final archetype within would be the engram channeler spiritualist. Oddly, the ability headers here, throughout the whole class option haven’t been properly bolded, representing one of the couple of minor formatting glitches through out the pdf. The archetype comes with a modified spell list. Instead of a phantom, the archetype calls forth an engram, which can’t manifest in ectroplasmic form and is a construct, rather than an outsider, sporting concise modifications of the base engine here. Cool: The engram gets an intellectual, rather than an emotional focus, and sports different special abilities – I really like this, but wished we got more intellectual focuses to choose from. This feels, somewhat, cut-down by word-count. Anyway, taking 10 on Knowledge checks (and 1/day taking 20), at-will technomancy and tech-interacting abilities complement this archetype. This may be me just being a huge fan of Bruce R. Cordell’s 3.X-book “When the Sky Falls”, but I wished this one had had more room to shine; the concept is stronger than the space that it allotted to it.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, for the most part, are VERY good on a rules-language and formal level; however, there are slightly more guffaws here than usual for Legendary Games, though these tend to be cosmetic. Layout adheres to the smooth two-column full-color standard of the iron Gods plug-ins and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artworks should mostly be familiar for fans of legendary Games.

Jason Nelson, N. Jolly, Loren Sieg, Jeff Lee and Clinton J. Boomer provide an amazing book…when it actually focuses on the magitech/science-fantasy promise. It’s really odd – I even liked the nemesis-style ranger, and the tech-y options are inspired; Particularly if you’re enjoying the kineticist, this is a no-brainer book. The machine element is pure amazing. At the same time, there are three archetypes herein that have, at best, a somewhat tangential connection to magitech – the general themes of science-fantasy are kind of there, but feel a bit more like an afterthought; don’t get me wrong – they are cool, but ultimately, this means that the book is pretty strongly geared towards occult, in particular, kineticist, content. Now, I am very much happy with that, but if you expected a broader focus, you may end up slightly disappointed. Still, what does click, does so with the panache and experience we expect from Legendary Games! Kineticist fans in particular should consider this to be an absolute must-own tome – that part of the book is absolute genius and 5 star + seal material; as noted, ranking among my favorite kineticist options ever.

However, I have to rate the entirety of the book, and while never bland or mediocre, a few of the options fell slightly short of the promise of the rest. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Magitech Archetypes
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Vathak Terrors: Denizens of the Silver Tower
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/10/2018 08:24:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little bestiary clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The supplement begins with a brief, one-page run-down of the Silver Tower noted in the title, sketching the environment and noting some sample denizens that can be found within, taking creatures of up to Bestiary 6 into account. While no terrain features or concrete details are provided, this at least provides a nice contextualization for the creatures to come.

The first of these would be the CR 7 Riven, a plant that had me shudder and flash back in aesthetics to a certain game – a pair of humanoid legs splits to a body of a vast maw with a leaf-like interior and lashing vines. With grabbing bites, paralytic vines and the ability to consume identities of those it eats, as well as pheromones and the ability to blend into new environments, these lavishly-illustrated plants (kudos for the twisted full-color artwork!) made me flash back to the forgotten Dreamcast title D2 in the best of ways. Cool nightmare fodder!

At CR 12, skrianix are 4-armed aberrations of a vaguely insectile bent, making for horrid meat-grinders in close combat – but they are more than that. They have an acidic saliva and, when exposed to other acid (saliva doesn’t count…unless you’re a sadistic GM like I am and ignore this explicitly stated caveat…), they split. Like a frickin’ ooze. Yeah. Creepy as all hell. Yes, their defenses actually mean you won’t easily tear through them.

The final creature herein would be the zworoam swarm – at CR 4, we have a swarm of jelly-like flying creatures can engulf targets, hampering their movement…and turn acidic. Yes, you can basically use these to temporarily lock down escaping/fleeing PCs, while the big bad guys draw near… I know I’ll be using them, concept-wise beyond the borders of the system and extensively, particularly in modules like LotFP’s “The God That Crawls.” (Review forthcoming!)

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout is as beautiful as we’ve come to expect from Vathak supplements and the three full-color artworks provided for the monsters are amazing – and I haven’t seen them before. Considering the fair asking price, that’s a big plus indeed! Speaking of which: In spite of the brevity of the file, it’s fully bookmarked! Kudos!

Brian Duckwitz’ monsters are…surprisingly amazing. I mean it. I got this pretty much on a whim, since I wanted to show support for the criminally-underrated Vathak product line of Fat Goblin Games, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the monsters within engaging, fitting regarding the horror-tones of the setting, and mechanically challenging to face. I do have to say that I had hoped for the eponymous Silver Tower as a general framing environment to perhaps sport a sample hazard or a bit more context for the critters, though. Now, granted, none of the monsters reinvent the wheel, but this costs 1 buck. As in: One Dollar. The creatures herein are definitely worth more than this. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to the great bang for buck ratio.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vathak Terrors: Denizens of the Silver Tower
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Ultimate Covenant Magic
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/09/2018 12:38:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive supplement clocks in at 160 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with a massive 155 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, long, long before, back in 2013, before we even could conceive of Occult Adventures becoming such a great Paizo book, there was a humble pdf that fluttered on my digital shelves. It came with an unpretentious cover that read: Legendary Classes: Covenant Magic. It included a base class, then called “medium”, which proceeded to blow my mind, earning the supplement a spot among my Top Ten PFRPG products. Then, there were expansions, and these actually managed to retain the quality and imaginary vision of covenant magic.

In a way, this was an occult class, before “occult class” was a thing; you know, a class with a complex and rewarding action economy and player agency that does not simply escalate numbers, but instead has unobtrusive and rewarding ROLEplaying angles baked right into its very design. This may just be me, but with the release of Occult Adventures, I never stopped thinking of Covenant Magic as pretty much one of the origins of this rewarding school of class- and RPG- design.

Now, it should be noted that Ultimate Covenant Magic is NOT simply a rehash of the previously released material; Purple Duck Games have gone the extra mile here, which should be obvious from the get-go when simply comparing pagecount; moreover, the ducks have went through Covenant Magic with a finetooth-comb and reassessed all components herein, ironing out the very few rough patches the original files offered, while heaping new content galore on top – this is how compilations should be!

Fast forward to today and the issue of nomenclature: We get this – the ginormous, ultimate iteration of an already stellar system. With Occult Adventures’ release, this book renames its first class covenant mage. The covenant mage gets d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and light armor, ¾ BAB-progression and Charisma-governed spellcasting of up to 6th level – however, in a radical and daring departure from most classes, these are actually spell-like abilities, with all that entails. It is testament to the robustness of the engine and the skill of the designers involved that this never breaks the game. Covenant mages may not learn aligned spells, unless the covenant mage matches the alignment…OR has a covenant with a creature of that alignment! Yes, you can actually cast evil spells as the good guy here…with all that entails.

Now, as the name makes abundantly clear, the focus here are covenants. But wait, sounds familiar? Isn’t there the phenomenal “Grimoire of Lost Souls” already out there? Well, yes, but Purple Duck Games’ system has a radically different focus – covenants are themed around general themes, not necessarily individual spirits – you could have a covenant with a sidhe court, with qlippoths and the like, as opposed to pacts with singular entities. The focus sounds similar on paper, but in practice and roleplaying, actually is radically different. It should also be noted that the systems work remarkably smoothly and distinctly when used in the same game, and could allow for a covenant/pact-only game without much hassle. One of these days, that’s just the campaign I’m going to run!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I was talking about player agency before, and the class, from level one onward, and again at 3rd, 7th, 11th, 15th and 19th level, gets a spirit boon – basically the talent-list of the covenant mage: These are not simple “You get class feature xyz”-tricks, btw. Wanted to sap speed with a touch attack? You can do that. Conjure forth a shield of roiling spirits? Once more, you can do that! Of course, a better, detective-style speak with dead can be found here, and the basic themes you’d expect have representations, but the list brims with enthusiasm and design-glee – one that is based in the scaling guidance imparted on the covenant mage by virtue of their spirit guide; and yes, while intangible (so no phantom-like pet), this lone, humble ability can engender great roleplaying all on its own…and changes the system in exciting ways, for some abilities require that the spirit guide be sent away/used in a specific manner. If you’re familiar with shadow-usage in shadow magic-based systems, you’ll get what I’m talking about. This could have just been, mechanically, a cool-down timer. Instead, it has this nifty little narrative angle that you can take or leave. It should be noted that the already pretty impressive list of spirit boons is expanded on later levels – multiple times. These alone provide more options than many classes have.

Now, a central component of the covenant mage’s engine and perhaps one of the most impressive and concise rules-operations for a caster I know, would be their trance: 4 + Charisma modifier rounds, +2 rounds per class level after 1st; this trance may be entered as a move action, nets you rage-like bonuses to Constitution and Charisma as you channel entities, and allows the spirits to speak through you – which is a GREAT idea to explain why you can’t use spell completion/trigger items in a trance. It’s these little components, where even the tiniest thing makes sense from a narrative point of view, that set this apart…of, and then, there would be the covenants. Oh, and being knocked unconscious nets you +1 free, final round of trance. No, you can’t abuse it, but it does allow the respective entities to deliver threats etc. and corresponds with the classic and evocative tropes.

Now, a covenant mage selects an influence – these can, for example, be angelic choirs, abyssal hordes, draconic, the occult, the unity, etc. Here, we have a bloodline-ish ability suite that nets a bonus language and determines the capstone of the class. However, they ALSO govern special spell-like abilities while in trance (scaling with levels) and trance covenants, which also scale. Sounds a bit bland for you? Nothing could be further from the truth! Just take the qlippothic redeemer. Some qlippoths argue that extinction of mortal life may not be the way to go to reclaim the abyss – you just have to ensure that no more chaotic evil souls go down there! Hence, there is a qlippoth-sponsored influence with the goal of redeeming everyone! I ADORE this. Doing the right things, for horrifically wrong reasons can make for a fantastic character concept and interaction with an influence that is malign and alien and just wants everyone to get along. That’s the yarn great tales are spun from.

Covenants are grouped in 5 groups, which are progressively granted by the respective influence chosen: Least (1st level), minor (5th level), major (9th level), greater (13th level) and superior (17th level), just fyi. It should be noted that each influence notes a variety of creatures associated with the influence in question, and that such creatures may be called by the covenant mage with their séance ability. Did I mention that these fellows can deal with haunts (You really should take one along next time you go into that haunted mansion/ancient, haunted battlefield…), that the trance engine scales and that item activation etc. also follows a concise progression? The covenant mage is a class you have to play to truly appreciate, but oh boy. Ähem. Sorry. Did it sound like I might that class a wee bit? ;)

Anyways, this is NOT where the book stops; where, previously, we had but this one covenant-devoted class, we now get two: The book introduces the dervish, who gets d10 HD, 4+ Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weaponry and light armor and light shields, as well as fast movement, full BAB-progression and a good Ref-save 4th level nets the SPs of the covenant mage style, once more governed by Charisma, scaling up to 4th spell level. You may have deduced as much from the presence of fast movement, but uncanny dodge at 2nd level would be another good indicator what we have here – a hybrid class of covenant mage and barbarian.

And, I know what you’re thinking: “Now Endy will whip out the uninspired hybrid-bat.” Well, frankly, that’s not required. Quite the contrary, in fact. The class employs the trance engine; it has paths, which are the equivalent of influences (and yes, we get a ton of them, though not one for every single influence, only for those that make sense in the frame provided); it gets trance powers (kinda akin to rage powers and paths come with suggested trance powers) – oh, and the class is actually a solid skirmisher! I kid you not! Heck, path chosen influences, at high levels, the DR, with 8 different DRs noted, to account for thematic differences! This level of care is impressive; indeed, I’d like to state that the warrior-mystic angle has rarely been done this well; while the parent classes are obvious from the design choices made, the dervish manages to feel and play unique and exciting, rendering it one of the very rare examples of a hybrid class that deserves its name, that deserves being included in the game, that has its own identity and soul.

Now, here begin the 28 pages of archetypes – and while both covenant mage and dervish get AMPLE of choices here, it is my pleasure to mention that they are not alone: Wanted a covenant-using summoner? You can find that here. Inner Eye Fighters represent a rewarding covenant fighter option…oh, and did I mention that the book comes with full occult support, providing a means for Paizo’s often maligned medium class to become cooler via covenants? Or the death negotiator spiritualist? Does haggling with spirits for power sounds like a story that reminds you a cherished villain/hero in a comic book? Well, guess what: We even get a vigilante archetype here, with the spirit-chosen! Oh, and what about covenant-related hexes for both witch and shaman?? Want a covenant magic with anti-tech guide tricks? An engine-tweak by donning masks? Covenant mages with hexes, revelations or bloodlines? Yep, you’re covered. Similarly, if you want a divine dervish, unarmed mendicants or mounted dervishes, you’ll find what you’re looking for inside.

Now, beyond influences, covenant magic as a system is NOT hard-baked into classes; or, well, it kinda is in a way, but in theory, pretty much anyone could use it! Why? Well, the 5 different covenant ability strengths are concisely codified for Gm and players alike, with save DCs based on the patron’s Charisma and HD. This may come off as surprising, but the mere existence of this simple and easy to grasp component (with prices, assuring WBL-consistency) helps against the murder-hobo syndrome. Players are less likely to want to slaughter, for example, the fey over there, when coming to diplomatic terms with them could provide cool, unique powers…and from the GM’s perspective, that is a rewarding way to dish out treasure and segue into new adventures. The gp-value table makes this pretty much a no-brainer task – look at a table, done. It doesn’t get more comfortable than this. Now, if all this contract-stuff sounds dry or too wishy-washy for you, rest assured that you’re not left hanging: The details and components are discussed in a concise and helpful manner, including the consequences of breaking covenants, etc.

So, the covenants – the list of covenants included here, you know, the one that handily lists all the covenants alphabetically, ordered by power…is 4+ pages long. We’re talking about over 30 pages of such abilities, which allow you to breach through barriers, gain a kind of truespeech, a literally stunning voice, high level save-rerolls – they make sense! Want, for example, control of the strands of fate? Well, you better find a really potent being with mythic power or hero points…or a norn! Have a new buddy from the elemental plane of earth? Stone fists. Just sayin’! Know a potent undead or outsider with energy drain? Hej, when you get on with them, you may learn the art of the Soul Stealer… There also are a couple here, obviously, that are more limited, but you get the idea – this OOZES flavor. And yes, the classic restoration of youth can be bargained for… This is, in essence, a continuation of the design-paradigm that made the class options stand out – and it’s, in a way, the beating heart of the book; this is where we not only get material that can easily be integrated into any game, we have enough covenants provided and succinct, clear guidelines, that designing new ones should not prove too big a problem for anyone. This may sound dumb coming from me, with my love of fiddly, highly complex systems, but this level of accessibility is amazing. You could hand this to players and have them tinker with it. The system is that accessible. Oh, did I mention the page of mythic covenants that help if you’re playing mythic games? Oh yeah.

Now, I should note that, usually, only covenant mages and dervishes can strike covenants, but the 10-page character-options section provides the feat-basis for universal access, though higher-powered games can ostensibly ignore these; as a whole, this provides the grit and investment decision I love to see, while the aforementioned detailed explanation of the covenants themselves allows the system to be used without prescriptively requiring them. If you’re playing a regular game, use the feats; if you’re going for high-fantasy, go the direct route – simple. Oh, and guess what? Mythic feats AND rewarding Story-feats included! As an example, Spiritual Defiance allows you to enhance the numerical bonuses of trance sans gaining the usual abilities, as you defy your influence. You’re grinning right now, right? I know I am! Really cool: The pdf acknowledges modifying three feats from Pact Magic’s chassis – in the TEXT, not just the SRD. That bespeaks of integrity. Oh, and yes, we also get both traits and drawbacks – and yes, bonus types are TIGHT. There also are a couple of new spells to be found, and we even get two background tables, Ultimate Campaign style, for Covenant Mages and Dervishes. Want advice, and I mean EXTENSIVE advice on running covenants in your campaign, on negotiating contracts, a ton of sample potential patrons for covenant-users? Variant offerings that codify life force, souls and even integrate with Horror Adventure’s corruption-mechanics? This delivers. Heck, we even get two cool sample organizations! Oh, and guess what? Two templates, a ton of NPCs (yep, up to CR 19…), and we even get two ready-made PCs for the new classes, at level 1 and 7.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch. From bonus type to rules language integrity, this is an achievement of a tome. Layout adheres to a nice, printer-friendly 2-column standard with purple highlights. The pdf sports a significant amount of nice full-color artwork, though fans of Purple Duck games may be familiar with the pieces. The pdf comes with extensive, nested and detailed bookmarks, making the use of the material herein super simple. Oh, and this being Purple Duck games, the whole text is open content. Yes. This is too rarely mentioned, but it’s one of the things I adore about Purple Duck Games.

David N. Ross and Julian Neale, with additional writing by Mike Myler, provide a masterpiece. I mean it. This is the OG of the Occult design philosophy, and it is superbly impressive, more so than it ever was before – and that’s saying something!

You see, I am very much cognizant that my love for complex, fiddly systems à la Interjection Games’ tinker or Michael Sayre’s Akasha is no secret; at the same time, complex systems are not for everyone; while a new system may provide a unique playstyle, not every player enjoys trying to wrap their heads around, for example, an engine like the kineticists. This is where covenant magic comes in. The genius of the design employed here is twofold: For one, the book manages to provide a crunchy system that is rich in story and actual roleplaying potential, which is not something many books achieve. But more importantly, it marries this potential with a playing experience that is utterly distinct and different from all Paizo-classes…while not requiring that you learn one bit of new system! This book manages the impossible feat of having the cake and eating it, too – it teases, coaxes and persuades the d20-system underlying Pathfinder in new and exciting shapes and forms.

If you’ve read the Paizo-classes, you can play this. This is the most accessible subsystem I know, at least in this range of excellence; for, while it retains its superb accessibility, it also manages to do utterly unique things with its engine; it manages to carve out its own, distinct and design-as well as flavor-wise, unique identity.

This ranks among my favorite 3pp-crunch books out there. It deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as “Ultimate Psionics” or the “Grimoire of Lost Souls.” Yes. That good.

Let me put it differently: I have a policy regarding my Top Ten-list: If the components of a compilation have won a spot on my Top Ten, the compilation can’t be featured on it once more. I have never been this tempted to break this rule. I won’t, as that would be unfair. But oh boy, do I want to!

Ultimate Covenant Magic is a masterpiece that oozes passion, care and attention to details; it’s, as noted, the small things that add up, that elevate this book to the lofty place it occupies in my esteem. My final verdict for this masterpiece, unsurprisingly after my glowing review, will be 5 stars + seal of approval. This also gets my EZG-Essentials-tag as a book I wouldn’t want to miss in my games. Why? Think about it: You can use covenants to combat that Christmas Tree syndrome of PCs with too much gear…replace magic item-rewards with boons and blessings that come with obligations and your game will take on a whole new direction.

Anyways, while it can’t feature on this year’s Top Ten list, this does get the candidate for my Top Ten of 2018 tag as well – to mark it as a book that has number 1-contender qualities, in spite of not being eligible to win. Basically, any way to make this show up when browsing for excellence. ;)

One more thing: Purple Duck Games is currently designing their Porphyra RPG – they will carry the torch of Pathfinder’s first edition with their very own spin. Books like this are what this game needs, so if that sounds like something you’d love, support the Purple Ducks!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ultimate Covenant Magic
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Faiths of the Forgotten Realms
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/06/2018 03:59:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive supplement clocks in at 200 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with a massive 196 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons. I had access to the pre-release version to get this done so soon, but the review itself is based on the commercially-available version.

Now, first things first: Since this is a massive book with a ridiculous amount of content inside, I cannot provide my step-by-step analysis for every single piece of crunch, as that would bloat the review beyond any actual usefulness. As such, I am going to paint with somewhat broad strokes.

All right, got that? Great! We begin with a brief explanation of the Faerûnian calendar of Harptos, noting months and common names used as well as earth equivalents. General holidays like equinoxes, solstices or Greengrass are noted – Realms lore-enthusiasts should enjoy this brief recap. This, in a way, is a great indicator of the approach of the book.

A genuine enthusiasm for the Forgotten Realms completely suffuses this book: We begin with something I consider absolutely fun – the first chapter, deeper faith, provides a metric ton of faiths, ranging from Akadi to Bane, Bhaal and Cyric, the old version of Corellon Larenthian, up to Waukeen and e.g. Valkur. Public events and holy days are noted and every single deity gets 4 suggested background story events for PCs to integrate into their game. This chapter, over 20 pages long, thus, adds imho much-needed depth regarding a vast pantheon.

After this, we dive into the beating heart of this supplement: Archetypes of the faith. The colossal next chapter covers more than 160 pages and includes a METRIC TON of diverse class options to be employed by the respective characters believing in the deities. This, in short, translates to a cleric domain and a paladin oath provided for the respective followers of the deity. These are not simply soulless mechanics, mind, you, but feature edicts and prohibitions, adding narrative components to these options. There are a couple of options for other classes here as well, with e.g Talos offering access to the Circle of Storms for his druids, while Kossuth offers the Firewalker ranger archetype. As a whole, though, only clerics and paladins will get their true due here – rangers and druids or non-divine characters are pretty much left in the cold. This can be a bug or a feature, depending on your perspective – but personally, I’d have enjoyed rogue options for worshipers of Bhaal or Cyric, Gondian mage-tinkers…you get the idea. Much like the Midgard Heroes’ Handbook, this thus further cements clerics and palas as some of the best-supported 5e-classes, though here, e.g. a Deneir wizard-option, for example, would have made A LOT of sense. Neither do we get a Spellfire warlock for Mystra…oh well..

It should be noted that this book makes use of the Elemental Evil Player’s Guide and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything in its references and rules-components. The rules language employed by these, on a formal level, is remarkably good and precise. I mean it. Almost all, though not all, deities featured herein get their own array of sample spells, further adding a huge amount of mechanical content to this massive tome. Impressive here: The formatting is pretty damn meticulous and gets italicizations, bolding of material, etc. consistently right. Similarly, balancing of the components, for the most part, is impressive in its precision. The damage values and types correspond in meaningful ways with the established values – so yeah, execution-wise, this is pretty impressive as well.

That being said, I know that quite a few of my readers gravitate to dynamic character options and, this is where one could complain on a high level: The designs employed here, generally, play it very safe. If you’re expecting for example complexity à la maneuver dice-systems or the feeling of radically distinct playing experiences provided by e.g. the best of the Deep magic-pdfs by Kobold Press, then you won’t find that here. We get well-executed and flavorful domains and oaths in the traditional sense, set apart mostly be the lore and tenets provided and the abilities granted. In essence, the respective engines don’t change radically from deity to deity. Shar, for example, does not get a unique form of spellcasting of the like. This, once more, is not a detriment per se, but it is something important: Some folks out there will love the decision to focus on simpler designs, and some will be disappointed. Personally, I’m, no surprise there, in the latter category, but I do absolutely appreciate the impressive craftsmanship displayed here.

Now, the book does contain more than a metric ton of options for divine characters: We get information of the holy scriptures of the deities, and these brief entries ooze the wonder I expected to see: To give you an example: “Not a conventional book, the Glarathra is a large bronze flower with eight petals surrounding a spiral-shaped inner section of leaves bound together. It is a widely recognized symbol of the faith. When immersed in holy water and ‘planted’ in any depth of earth within a circle of seeds, the flower fully opens. This reveals the actual text, which is finely etched on the inner leaves.” Come on, how cool is that? Yes, this section makes perfect use of the vast canon of lore the Realms have established over the years, showing a deep understanding of what makes the respective themes work.

This also can be said of the magic items presented, which include the claws of Malar or the ring of Myrkul. The chapter also introduces the “overwhelming” artifact property, which represents artifacts that are simply not made to be wielded by mortals – loved that. In case you were wondering: The actual Claw of Malar, as opposed to the ritualistic hunting weaponry, is btw. also included here. Each artifact comes with properties and curse, and from Cyrinshad to Dawnstone, I found myself fondly reminiscing about campaigns of yore and books devoured. Oh, and usability is also retained – the book comes with a multi-page index.

It should also be noted that, as per the writing of this review, the book has a (VERY brief) errata file. Now, my practice as a reviewer is to never take these into account, since I’ve seen publishers point to obscure forum posts or FAQs one too many times to justify a lack of product-updates; only improvements actually implemented in the book count for the purpose of my review. That being said, I did a bit of research, and this book IS, at least so far, supported rather well – previous glitches brought to the attention of the authors have been swiftly implemented, which makes me hopeful that the very few glitches noted will similarly be implemented. Kudos for supporting the book and not simply calling it quits after release!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are extremely impressive for a rules-book of this size in both formal and rules-language criteria. The tome adheres to a 2-column full-color layout that is rather professional, and I noticed some of my favorite, old D&D- and stock-artworks herein. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with detailed nested bookmarks that make using the file a pleasure; similarly, the index and ability to cut-copy-paste text from the book help rendering this really consumer-friendly. Kudos!

Alex Clippinger, Scott Bean and Micah Watt, in the partnership between Dragon Rock Games and Pyromaniac Press, have created a massive and truly impressive tome. From Talona’s poison smite spell to Sune’s chivalrous paladins, this book is chock-full with Realms-lore and rules that make this a must-own tome for fans of Ed Greenwood’s legendary setting. If you’re playing in the Forgotten Realms, then you will want this book, simple as that. It offers an amazing bang-for-buck-ratio and tugs at the heart’s strings of anyone who ever played for an extended period of time in the Forgotten Realms. In a way, this could be considered to be a kind of homecoming for paladins and clerics; and while I bemoan the lack of support for all classes (hey, you can be a believer sans being a cleric/pala, right?), considering the size of this tome, the complaint feels petty.

The one thing that I honestly felt was lacking from this book, is the courage to tweak the design of the respective class options to make the worshipers of deities feel more distinct. For example, having Undine’s power alternate like ebb and flow, forcing alternating between channel options or effects; have Shar/Mystra, for example, sport some unique casting tricks – you get the idea. The experience of the systems the class options provide, are rather conservative and don’t provide a truly creative or distinct tweak on the system, where e.g. Deneir etc. would have very well warranted such an inclusion. This book, design-wise, plays it safe – but it does so remarkably well.

When all’s said and done, this means that I consider this to be an excellent tome, albeit a very focused and conservative one – my final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform. I’m excited to see more come out of this obviously fruitful collaboration.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Faiths of the Forgotten Realms
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Creator Reply:
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this detailed review. It should give people considering a purchase a good idea of the book's contents and how they could fit into their games.
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