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13 Cleric Domains and Spells (13th Age Compatible)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/23/2018 05:00:21

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of class expansion-pdfs clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content – these include a gorgeous full-page full-color artwork and the introduction.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

The pdf begins with 3 new domains: The first of these would be Elements OR Weather – you choose one of the 5 base damage types, and may 3/session as a quick action to reduce damage of the chosen energy by d4 times Charisma modifier. As invocation, you may convert half damage of a holy damage-inflicting spell to the chosen energy type. The three tiered feats increase these damage reducing tricks in die size and net you additional energy types. The Epic feat allows you to provide 16+ resistance to a target protected and lets you use it offensively, making targets lose resistance or become vulnerable for Charisma modifier rounds.

The second domain would be Liberation OR Anarchy, which nets you a one-point positive relationship with an icon you don’t already have a relation with, once per incremental advance. The invocation lets a nearby ally pop free, which may, via the feats, be used as a free action even if it’s not your turn, also end the grabbed or stuck conditions and, via the epic feat, 1/day target all nearby allies with it. Cool! (And yes, the icon relationship angle does get a bit of GM-advice – kudos!)

The final domain presented would be Luck, which once per battle on respective turns as a free action, lets you or your allies adjust the natural value of a single d20 roll downward by 1. Allies need to be nearby. Cool! The pdf, alas, mirrors in layout one of the guffaws of the 13th Age Core book, namely that of the Love Or Beauty domain, which counter-intuitively put the invocation at the back end. I will not penalize the pdf for it, but it didn’t make any sense in the core book. That being said, the invocation allows for the reduction of a save difficulty, and the two feats (Champion and Epic tier) allow allies to not use these benefits and instead fuel a temporary increase to AC or PD based on escalation die, with Epic tier’s feat adding MD to the options. I like this one.

We get 3 new 1st level spells, the first of which would be the ranged divine opportunity, which targets yourself and an ally, allowing both to execute an interrupt action, which does count against the actions in the subsequent round. Higher levels yield longer duration and more targets as well as upgrading the interrupt to free. The adventurer feat speeds casting time up to a move action. The other two spells are both close-quarters, with martyr’s touch being a quick action spell with a 16+ recharge after battle. The spells allows for recovery transfer, with later levels allowing for immediate healing, hit point transfer of up to escalation die recoveries to multiple allies, capping at one per ally. The feats enhance recharge and make it 1/battle, via the Champion tier feat. Spark of hope is daily and you must be staggered to cast it; the spell targets a nearby foe and attacks via Wisdom + Charisma + level vs. MD, rendering the target vulnerable 18+ to the attacks of your allies until the end of your turn, as well as providing minor temporary hit points to nearby allies. The hit points granted and vulnerability improve over the levels. The Adventurer tier feat adds dazing, the Champion tier feat weakening.

The pdf includes two 3rd level spells: Compelling litany is a ranged, once per battle spell that targets up to 3 enemies and inflicts minor holy damage, but also allows you to prevent them from one type of action: disengage, intercept, making opportunity attacks. Higher levels improve damage and allow for more prohibited actions, with 9th level making enemies lose an action on their turn. The feats require that enemies save to end the spell and allow you to target less, but far away, enemies. Okay, do all enemies targeted have their own prohibited behavior, or do they have to share the same prohibited behavior? What does “lose an action” mean? Does the affected character get to choose which one to lose? This one needs clarification. The second spell, hallowed ground, is a close-quarters daily spell, and is really cool, offering holy damage based on escalation die, and alos allows you to mitigate environmental effects. The Adventurer feat makes this 16+ Rechargem the champion feat lets you cast it as a quick action.

The 5th level spells presented are both daily ranged spells: Castigation targets a nearby enemy with Wisdom + level vs. MD, causing holy damage and stuck on a hit, escalation die-based penalty to MD on a miss; Higher levels add stun and increase damage. The spell can be enhanced with a Champion tier feat, which adds a self-directed attack on a successful save versus the spell. Nice. March of saints can be cast for power or broad effects: This influences the damage and number of targets, and the spell targets PD. Odd: The cast for broad effect can be more potent than the power one, as allies may elect to target PD instead of AC in this variant. On a Miss, the target is treated as engaged, and when moving sans disengaging, takes half damage. The spell’s higher levels upgrade damage and targets. No feats for this one.

At 7th level, there are two more ranged spells: Divine dominion is daily and targets MD, inflicting either holy damage on demons, devils, etc. and hampers such beings, or assume temporary control over the target if its another type of creature. Miss adheres a roughly halved effectiveness. The Epic feat really rocks: Once per level, when hitting a staggered target, you can spend icon relationship points which came up as 5 or 6 to sway the target to your side! Really cool! Glimpse of perdition is a recharge 11+ one that can only target foes with 160 hit points (250 hp at 9th level – formatting is a bit awkward here) or less, targeting MD. On hits, the enemy targeted is temporarily helpless and must flee; on a miss, the enemy suffers from fear. Undead, devils et al. have a harder time ending the condition. The epic feat can banish such beings to their home plane or grave – neato. Foes thus sent away may return with a icon relationship to which you’re negative or conflicted. Nice angle!

Finally, there is one 9th level spell, the daily close-quarters deific weapon. The casting requires the cashing in of an icon relationship point for which you rolled 6, and you manifest the legendary weapon of your deity, overwriting any regular item chakra benefits. The weapon grants a +3 bonus and two epic powers. While escalation die is less than Charisma modifier, foes of your deity or icons you have positive relationships with, become vulnerable (16+) versus the weapon. When hitting such targets by 4+, you also ignore any resistances. Ouch!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though the aforementioned minor guffaw and some of the aesthetic formatting decisions slightly hamper the pdf. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with two great full-color pieces of artwork – kudos for such a small pdf! The pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity – once more, nice!

Richard Moore’s cleric options are my favorites among the 13th Age material he has so far released. There is more daring here – the pdf makes great use of the system’s escalation die and unique icon relations, rendering these effects really unique. While the minor guffaws noted slightly drag this down, it’s not by much – the pdf presents a well-designed array of tricks that dares to be creative: I’ll gladly take a minor glitch in an intriguing pdf over bland, but perfectly executed content. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13 Cleric Domains and Spells (13th Age Compatible)
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Legendary Treasures X
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/23/2018 04:53:08

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Legendary Item-series clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 41 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), which means you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper when printing this.

Now, in case you’re not familiar with the series: The Legendary Items pioneered by Purple Duck Games have influenced my own games to an extent that only very few series have achieved. The idea is simple: I don’t know a single player who really likes the throwaway magic economy; we know, from a ton of books, the notion that magic items slowly awaken with the power of the wielder, right? That’s basically legendary items – magic items that begin with a certain power-level, and then grow in power with characters, remaining relevant and often unlocking unique abilities.

Legendary items range in power-levels from 5 to 10, though most have 5 steps in advancement. These items do have base forms – for most beings, they act at their base capacity, but if you meet the prerequisites of the item, you can begin unlocking the powers. Saving throw DCs, if any, use the wielder’s highest mental ability score modifier to calculate save DCs. Non-SPs that allow for a save have a DC of 10 + ½ the wielder’s level + the wielder’s highest mental ability score modifier. For the purpose of CL of any effects, the wielder’s level is assumed to be the items CL. The pdf does suggest a variant rules for jealous items, which prevents hoarding of items.

We begin with the cloak of protection. Yes, exactly. No, not the ones you already know. The cloak presented here does indeed improve from +1 to +5, as expected – however, beyond that, the storied item also nets you endure elements and 1/day swift action resist energy (cold or fire) at 4th item level. These effects become an aura at higher level and the SP is upgraded to being communal. Scaling SR and, at highest level, resistance versus all elements are added. It’s interesting – a bit of story and some fun modifications and one of the most maligned and boring items ever suddenly is interesting.

At this point, it should be mentioned that we get gorgeous, often spanning a whole page, full-color artworks to accompany the background stories of these items! The construct bane scarab begins with detection of constructs; then gets the scaling ability to bypass hardness, and at higher levels, starts working as a golembane scarab and builds on that, enhancing the wearer’s attacks versus golems…and it learns to mitigate spell resistance of constructs, reduce their natural armor, 1/day negate a special attack of a golem (sans action – should probably be spelled out!) and even get a retaliatory aura. Cool!

The gauntlet of serpents comes with poison resistance, a fully statted clockwork snake (that works akin to a variant of the eminent iron cobra, improving over the levels) and the ability to get more of these deadly tools, add spit attacks to them, etc. Cool! Minor nitpick: It would have been easier for less experienced GMs and players to have an increase in die progression spelled out with an example, but that is nitpicking.

Mammoth boots enhance your overrun capabilities, but also make you louder, hampering Stealth somewhat. Gaining trample as though large, counting as a bigger size category for CMB and CMD and temperature adaption make sense – and yes, as a capstone, we get a mastodon form – which has its own hit point pool! I love this – it’s so simple, yet cool, and is something I wouldn’t object to seeing more often!

Neria’s Dreamsling is a sling staff that gets abundant ammunition and the ability to modify the enhancement granted to the weapon via a ritual into special weapon properties. Firing scaling boulder bullets that are actually phantasms and acting as a staff of slumber complement a well-written item that has its own, distinct identity.

The robes of the battlemonk come with a pretty powerful first level ability that has some issues regarding the rules-language: “When worn, it allows its wearer to make a 10-foot adjustment whenever she can normally make a 5 foot adjustment. This ability can be used to allow the wearer to make a 5 foot adjustment into rough terrain.” So, first of all, that should be 5-foot step. Secondly, 5-foot stepping in difficult terrain is really potent. That one should probably be relegated to its own ability. Changing base physical damage types with unarmed attacks. Weird: The prerequisites note flurry of blows or brawler’s flurry, but the 6th level ability grants you monk class features at 2 levels higher: AC bonus, speed or unarmed damage…so, what about brawlers? Do they get other benefits? Do they get the monk benefits at full character level +2? The item feels less refined than the others so far, extending to slightly cumbersome verbiage instances like “…gains the monster universal ability, pounce,…”, which would usually read “…gains the pounce (monster) universal ability…” – not bad, mind you, but it’s noticeable. This unrefined nature also extends to e.g. Sonic Kick, which can’t seem to decide on whether to inflict untyped bonus damage or force damage. (Why not, you know, inflict…sonic damage??)

The Robe of the Sovereign Mage is a combined robe of armor and robe of resistance. Minor CL-bonuses and SR are spinkled in, and two potent capstones are added on top. The capstones are interesting, but come imho too late – the item is pretty bland, particularly in contrast to the more versatile and organic cloak of resistance.

Witches and shamans can take a look at the Sack of a Thousand Fetishes, which enhances curses and nets cackle/chant, respectively, otherwise acting as a cackling hag’s blouse. Patron/spirit enhancement, additional curse spells, better cackling/chant hex enhancement…I liked this one!

Vailoaria’s Northstar Rose is mechanically interesting, in that it represents a wayfinder that gains additional ioun stone slots, apport-based sending SPs, dimension door, contingency-esque spell storing…and the item’s abilities tie in with the ioun stones in a unique manner. Mechanically, this is by far the coolest and most interesting item within – two thumbs up!

Finally, there would be Zaidyne’s Chaplet, an item intended for kineticists, allowing for the rough identification of kineticist wild talents via Spellcraft. Scaling kineticist’s diadem functionality, storing a blast (with metakinesis and infusions!) in the chaplet. Composite blasts, hollow rod functionality – the item shows that the authors knew what they were doing, accounting for the dense and complex rules-language of the kineticist’s engine – we end the pdf thus on a high note, with undoubtedly the item that highlights the most design skill within.

The pdf comes with a bonus pdf penned by Mark Gedak and Perry Fehr, depicting the owl-like Strigifal agathion at CR 9 – with wing and claw attacks, true seeing and the ability to generate blizzards, which, not unlike vrock dances, can be used cooperatively, these beings are a cool critter with a nifty artwork.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good – while I noticed a remnant [i] here and there, formatting and formal categories are generally tight. On a rules-language level, the pdf is precise for the most part. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ booklet-style 1-column standard, is printer-friendly and the pdf sports a surprising array of amazing full color artworks for the items. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Derek Blakely and Onyx Tanuki provide a neat selection of items within, though the imaginative potential and precision does oscillate a bit: Reading inspired pieces back to back with e.g. the bland robe of the sovereign mage felt a bit jarring to me. That being said, there are a couple of true gems within, with the final two items deserving special mention. As a whole, the pdf is very much worth getting for the fair asking price. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Treasures X
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Book of Magic: Patron Hexes (PFRPG)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/23/2018 04:48:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Book of Magic-series clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons.

Know what I really dislike about the base patron class feature? It’s not nearly as diversified and meaningful as it should be – as such, I have very much welcomed the introduction of patron-exclusive hexes, which btw. also help to potentially balance the power-levels of different patrons. This pdf then, provides a whole selection of such patron-specific hexes. After a brief introduction that also explains how to use this pdf, we begin with the hexes; we get two excludive hexes per patron covered, plus a major hex for each of the patrons. With over 25 patrons covered, that makes for quite a lot of hexes. Patrons from Advanced Player’s Guide and Ultimate Magic are covered. Where duration extension via cackle is possible, the pdf does note so explicitly. Let’s take a look!

We begin with Agility, which allows you to temporarily redistribute 10 ft. of movement to another character or decrease a target’s speed to 5 ft. for a round. The latter hey fails to specify how it works, though – does it require a touch attack? Has it a range? No idea. The major hex is really potent, allowing for move action short-range teleportation. The ancestors patron provide a fear-based short-range debuff and a brief, communion-based bonus to a Knowledge skill. The major hex is pretty potent, granting a wild-card hex from an ancestral witch. Personally, I’d put a hard limit of uses on this one to account for the superb flexibility. Not taking this hex would be insane RAW.

Animal is amazing: A target within 30 ft. sneezes a dire bat from the nose, which proceeds to attack the target, then turn into mucus that provides a brief atk debuff. Issues here: A Dire Bat is Large. What if it can’t fit in the space? Making this one an abstract effect instead of a quasi-summoning with all the issues that entails, would have been wise. The second hex allows for the temporary addition of the Giant Creature template to the familiar. The major hex, comparatively, is underwhelming. Become the same type of animal as the familiar? Okay. Death provides a fear-based, scaling debuff…that lacks the caveat that it’s a fear-based, mind-influencing effect. The second hex causes 1d8 + witch level negative energy damage with a touch, granting the same amount of temporary hit points. A target may only be affected once per 24 hours, but still – hand me my trusty bag of drain-fodder kittens to leech, I need my temporary hit points shield back. sigh The major hex imposes temporary negative levels on a failed save and continues to do so on subsequent rounds, capping at Int-mod.

Deception is interesting, but weird – it makes a target within 30 ft. look like the witch; allies must make a Will-save or be convinced that the ally is the witch, which is kinda odd, since the witch retains RAW her appearance. Glibness nets a Bluff skill boost with a daily cap. The major hex can make targets believe that its surrounded by endless copies of the witch. The hex should probably be codified as an illusion or mind-affecting effect. Elements nets either cold or fire resistance via eerie flames or relay short messages to targets, who may also reply at 5th level – discreetly, of course. The major hex allows for the witching of the 4 core energy types between prepared spells. I really liked this one!!

Enchantment is a save-or-suck that can force an enemy to attempt to help an adjacent foe. Instant friends is somewhat problematic, as it assumes Diplomacy to change attitudes to be quick – which it isn’t unless you take a huge penalty to the check. The major hex allows for the redirecting of enchantments. Endurance allows for the removal of fatigue and transfer of the condition to another target. This is broken. It allows for rage-cycling, provided the witch has a bag of kittens to transfer fatigue to. The second hex is a bland -2 to fort-saves for 1 round. On a failed Will-save. The major hex nets a scaling natural AC bonus and an Intimidate bonus due to warty skin. Healing provides a short-range stabilizing with minor healing (bad choice of your standard action…) and the second hex provides temporary hit points. The major hex can heal temporary ability damage or drain to one score.

Insanity lets you suppress fear effects or cause brief confusion. The major hex causes up to Int-mod creatures within 60 ft. to lock down and take nonlethal damage. No actions, though on a creature’s turn, this can be shaken off. This is very potent, as it can prevent immediate actions RAW. The hex-caveat prevents it from being broken, but I’d restrict this one to the highest levels due to a lack of initial saving throw. Light provides untyped damage versus undead, which stacks with channeling – interesting. As a nitpick – should probably be positive energy damage. The second hex nets zone of truth at touch range. The major hex causes reliable blindness – light sensitive targets take negative levels and on a failed save, the blindness is actually RAW permanent. Moon lets allies grow claws (damage type properly codified; I assume primary natural attacks as per default). The second hex lets you steal darkvision. The major hex provides a pseudo-lycanthropy buff.

The occult patron hexes comes with steal voice and turning undead. The major hex provides scaling undead anatomy for allies. Plague can fortify targets versus disease or cure them, or cause targets to become sickened – no save. The major hex lets an ally cause the sickened condition via attacks. Portents allows the witch to choose a target nearby and take the aid another action: The first ally to attempt an attack against the target gets the aid bonus. The second hex nets a skill bonus for a target. The major hex provides Int-mod forced rerolls, taking the worse result. This should probably have a 1/day per target caveat, analogue to misfortune.

The shadow patron can bestow a creature some control over its shadow, using it as a scout – this is tight and well-balanced. One of my favorites within. The second one is a ranged trip. The major hex deals major Strength damage, half on a successful save. The amount inflicted (1d6 + ½ witch levels) is overkill for save halves and the high save DC of hexes.

Spirits can provide a Perception bonus after communion, and a variant summon monster with the spirit creature template (included) added to the summon. The major hex provides an omni-magic circle that only true neutral folks can bypass. Stars provide a +1 luck bonus to attack, and may only a affect a target once per day, which is strangely underwhelming compared to e.g. fortune. Odd: Dazzling a target (weakest condition) is upgraded to dazed at 5th level…strange progression. The major hex adds +1d6 fire damage to ranged attacks for an ally, stacking with flaming et al.

Strength nets a short-range ranged bull rush governed by Intelligence (like all ranged combat maneuver hexes within) and may sap Strength from a target via touch. The major hex reduces a creature’s Strength to 1 on a failed save , by 1d6 on a successful one. While it can only be used Int-mod times per day, it should definitely have a caveat that it can’t affect a target twice per day. This is otherwise save or suck for brutes like giants, dragons, etc., and the damage on a successful save on its one can cripple most melee targets quickly otherwise. Time provides a physical attribute debuff…and has a super broken second hex: Touch a target, steal the next standard action and bestow an additional attack action (this could be a Vital Strike, you know…) on a target. Hand me my trusty bag of kittens! This time around, I won’t even have to kill them, just steal their time. This needs to die in a fiery blaze. Oh, major hex? 1 round TIME STOP. WTF.

Transformation nets enlarge person or an enhancement bonus for the weapon touched, with 7th level granting a +1 equivalent special weapon property. Okay, I assume in addition, right? The major hex temporarily transforms targets into harmless animals. It should specify being a polymorph effect. Trickery makes the target confuse friends and foes for Int-mod rounds – saves don’t end the effect and the hex lacks a range. The second hex allows for the touch-based reduction of AC bonuses granted by armor or shields. The major hex requires up to two saves – it fools the target to believe they’re covered in creepy-crawlies. If the first fails, the target is paralyzed; if the second fails, the target attacks itself. Should specify being a mind-affecting fear-effect.

Vengeance comes with a negative energy shield that can cause damage to targets hitting the witch in melee. The second hex forces a creature to attack an ally with the same attack that hurt the witch or her allies on a failed save. The major hex is a properly codified death effect, usable 1/day, that inflicts 10 times witch level damage. Oddly, still 1d10 per witch level, which is, comparatively, overkill. Water provides temporary swim speed plus water breathing and scaling DR. The major hex is odd, making the target gain an eel-like blessing: Electricity damage is halved (not how that usually works in PFRPG) and if the effect allows for a Reflex-save, the target is basically treated as having evasion. Additionally, hitting the target in melee causes electricity damage.

Winter provides save-less blindness lock-down within 30 range. This should have some form of limitation. The second hex slightly reduces speed, by 5 ft. Notice the power-discrepancy? The major hex provides a slow-causing blizzard (wind strength not noted, I assume blizzard standard) that the witch can move around. Wisdom, finally, can yield calm emotion or a debuff to Wisdom via touch. The major hex nets 12 + witch level SR – which can be misread to not have a fixed cap due to a verbiage guffaw.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level, are very good. On a rules-language level, the material is inconsistent, though. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and the pdf has stock interior artwork – I’ve seen all pieces used multiple times before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Dale McCoy Jr. usually does better. The patron hexes herein feature a couple of truly amazing visuals and cool ideas…but at the same time, their internal balancing is really, really odd. There are a couple of hexes that frankly suck, and some that are UTTERLY OP. Reliable, save-less enemy lockdowns, a bunch of failed kitten-tests (can you abuse the ability with a bag of kittens?) and inconsistently applied classifications for effect types that make interactions potentially odd mar what could have been a solid, enjoyable offering. There are some really cool tricks herein, but once you start to analyze the details and compare the patrons (yes, I took spells into account to judge viability of the hexes), you’ll still arrive at a flawed book. While this does contain a couple of gems, it also sports more than a few problematic hexes – and, when listed, the problematic ones exceeded the ones I really loved in number. Hence, I cannot round up from my final verdict of 2.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Magic: Patron Hexes (PFRPG)
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Thank you for taking the time to review. I'll do better next time.
Vacant Ritual Assembly #4
Publisher: Red Moon Medicine Show
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/20/2018 04:54:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth 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 content is suggested for mature audiences.

We begin this issue with an article on “The Abstract” – no, not the general notion, but rather an etablissement where dope-fiends, disgraced scholars and other patrons cavort in the hazy twilight. In short, this sounds like my kind of place. Here, you can meet Albertus Crowe, leader of the esoteric Severn Circle, Gretchen Silt, the rather wealthy “whore of Sable Priory”, a man caught in the lotus-dreams of Narcosa (nice nod to Rafael Chandler et al.’s massive community project) and the dope-victim Vole, ever stumbling around on errands for his fugue masters. 8 esoteric discussion subjects and a nice artwork kinda made me actually want the place and its eclectic crowd to be real. For one pace, this is an impressive little section.

Speaking of Narcosa – we get a mini-adventure in the setting next, namely “The Lotus Eater” – to briefly discuss it, I need to go into SPOILERS. Players should skip to the Spoiler-end.

..

.

Only referees reading this? Great! So, Francolo Pennington is a young and privileged dilettante, escaping his rather overbearing family with Amber Lotus – however, his dreams have become persistent between highs, and so he fashioned himself Czar in his own narcotic dream. If you’ve played “What Remains of Edith Finch” – it’s that type of scenario, only that his physical body remains comatose and alive. In order to “free” the lad, the PCs will have to physically kill his avatar in Narcosa! We get a one-page handout (well-crafted!) and a 1-page hex-map, as the PCs explore this part of the ephemeral drug-vision land! Strange villagers, sporest of the smoke wolf (yes, with stats) and weirder things (particularly if you have the FREE Narcosa-book!) await, and we even get some rumors! The PCs, ultimately, will make their way to the Godhead Citadel, the symmetrical, head-shaped (smoke billowing from the eyes) lair of the Czar, where he makes for a nice boss. Really cool mini-adventure! While the maps don’t come with a player-friendly, key-less version, I still was rather happy with this one.

/SPOILERS.

A guest joint venture with Anxious P is up next, with the Oolai Cloth-Skins and Blackhides as two cultural traditions, where alligator priests sew magical cloth in strange rites to select few; 6 different magical effects are presented alongside 4 different drawbacks; where regular cloth-skinning leaves parts of the body exposed, Black-hiding essentially creates a warrior/killer-caste of folks sewn, from head to toe, into magical black alligator hides… 4 different prices demanded by the Oolai sewers are included. INSPIRED! I adored this grim and twisted little article. My one complaint here would be that it’d have been nice to get a suggested approximate SP-value for these…services.

After this, we take a look at another mini-hex environment, the barbarian territories, where three dreaded barbarian tribes loom; Glacierhorde, Skiverhorn and Gnashmaws. The first worship mighty Ghosthide (lavishly depicted in a great b/w-artwork!)…and much like the other tribes, we get multiple stats for members and “gods” of the tribes; for the sSkiverhorn, that would be Impalor, the Armored Death, a triceratops-y godbeast. Gaining favors from these titans is noted, as are mechanically-relevant benefits from doing so. If you’re playing e.g. “Wolf Packs and Winter Snow”, then this should be a must-have section; even if you don’t, it’s very much worth getting, ending the content section of this issue with a summa summarum verdict of all killer, no filler.

The interview this time around is with none other than David McGrogan.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are back to a more precise standard than previously. 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 indeed. The pdf has no bookmarks, however, which serves an unpleasant comfort detriment.

After the disappointing third issue, Vacant Ritual Assembly is back with a bang! Clint Krause and Anxious P deliver one amazing little ‘zine that oozes ideas and cool things in every single component. The Narcosa-adventure is suitably weird and does not suffer from last issue’s magic item inflation; stats are precise and the writing is smart – this is by far the best Vacant ritual Assembly installment I’ve covered so far, and is definitely worth checking out if the weird and outré are even remotely to your tastes. Considering that this pdf is super-inexpensive, I feel justified in rounding up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars. Were it not for the lack of player-friendly versions of the maps (srsly – this has really nice ones for a ‘zine!) and bookmarks, this’d have received my seal of approval sans hesitation. Definitely recommended!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #4
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Crisis of the World Eater Delta: Devourer of a Thousand Worlds (PFRPG)
Publisher: LPJ Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/20/2018 04:52:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second adventure in the Crisis of the World-Eater campaign serial clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The second part of the “Crisis of the World-Eater”-serial begins at 12th level, which means you’ll have to slot in some modules between the Alpha adventure and this one – some adventure-ideas are briefly touched upon before we begin the module proper. The adventure does contain two player-friendly maps – one half a page-sized, one full-page sized. I wished the former got its own page. Anyhow, the adventure also depicts another faith of the implied setting of the campaign-serial, namely a religion worshiping the 4 central tenets, the physical entities, that drive the complex metaplot of universal struggle – in a way, these are overgods, not akin to how Io worked; whether you like this or not is up to personal tastes.

The pdf also introduces a brief notoriety system, which uses it as an alternate form of currency, and 6 feats provided to capitalize on it…and once more, I have to say that, while I do get why the system is here…we already have a reputation system for Pathfinder. Why not expand on that one? Heck, why is this even here? I get the idea regarding “survival is worth something, we’re fighting for you” – but ultimately, this section is, essentially, a brief, but also somewhat superfluous system that requires significant pay-in via feats by the players…and while this may make sense in a setting book (with more room to develop the system!), as an appendix of sorts in an adventure, it’s ultimately wasted space. If the like is something a GM wants, they’ll already have one in place that conflicts with this one.

The pdf also introduces two new drones: The CR 10 security drone and the CR 6 telescopic drone; the former is missing the (robot) subtype that it clearly should have, and much like the Chronicler (properly statted in this adventure), the statblocks like referencing the “laser” damage type. Guess what does not exist? Bingo. There is no such thing as “laser damage” –a simple look at the Tech Guide (thanks to my friend Chad, who got this book for me!) will show you that laser weapons inflict frickin’ fire damage. The statblocks otherwise are pretty interesting, but could have used a closer look. Once more, the esoteric plasma damage type is not explained. (Half fire, half electricity) – this is frustrating, for I do like the unique abilities these critters have.

This being an adventure review, the following will contain SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

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All right, only GMs around? Great!

The Confederate is in chaos; the skies darken, as the planet-sized vessel of the Deliverer of Omega, the Final Moon, arrives! The PCs are hailed by the Chronicler, and when they arrive, they will get two bags of dust of instant repair (oddly, not using Technology Guide rules) and then be introduced to the Chariot, the Chronicler’s space ship. While the Chronicler will attempt to create a last-ditch ship that can save a couple of folks, the PCs are tasked to fly to the Final Moon and establish contact with the Deliverer of Omega.

The Chariot represents a per se cool mini-game, wherein 4 PCs take control of the vessel. Smaller groups are accounted for, but larger groups have a slightly less cool solution. You see, beyond the dangers faced without, there also are saboteurs on board – The Onyx Cabal has infiltrated the vessel. Here’s the thing, though. The vessel is pretty small. The module says that the saboteurs “used magic” to stowaway. Yeah, don’t know about you, but my players would never embark on such a journey without THOROUGHLY checking the vessel. This feels, to me, like fiat and railroading – no chance to find them prior to embarking, and we don’t really know where they hid on the small vessel. At this level, any group of PCs that doesn’t use see invisibility, arcane sight, etc. and thoroughly checks the place deserves punishment. So yeah, unnecessary railroading there.

Anyways, I like how the ship is presented – somewhat akin to mecha-rules, each PC manning a station determines the attacks and defenses, which is pretty cool and makes this rewarding. That being said, the rough editing that plagues this module also rears its ugly head here: We have a spell-reference that is not properly italicized, and the respective stations that the PCs can man don’t specify the actions they require to activate. The section also refers to defense” when AC is meant, and the ship’s AC is very swingy, based on Strength or Constitution checks, which made no sense to me. This is also evident with air-cycling – I like the idea that it needs to be taken care of and the multi-step consequences of bad air…but the section does not comment on whether exhaustion incurred by bad air is alleviated or not upon air becoming fresh again. So yeah, mechanically, this section could have really used some critical editing to polish the amazing concept – particularly since the encounters en route to the Final Moon manage to drive home the stakes perfectly: The prose did send a shiver down my spine, highlighting Michael McCarthy’s talent as a narrator.

This excellent atmosphere also is represented in the exploration of the Final Moon itself – a desolate place, it is home to robots and automatic defenses, and the PCs may explore, for example, the museum of dead worlds, battle a child of saitan in the Biosphere (racial traits included – they’re lopsided and not suitable for PC use). I loved this section and how desolate, eerie, silent it felt. However, the respective rooms don’t come with big versions and, oddly, we get no big versions of most of them. A downside of this section, though, would be that the connections of the rooms via the respective Plexus makes the moon feel less grandiose than it could – a kind of travel-mini-game or the like would have added the icing on the cake here.

Once the PCs reach the throne room, they can talk to the Deliverer of Omega (yep, I’m still refusing to use the name given to this fellow), who also promptly resurrects Asa…I guess the poor armageddon angel hasn’t been humiliated enough yet. The Deliverer’s room also sports an increasing, deadly vortex and activation of the Seed of Change, ostensibly the trump card here, is unreliable, oddly requiring Will- and Fort-saves. The activation is a bit opaque, since it doesn’t work via UMD (which is illogical) and fails to specify the activation action. The Seed can generate wish or limited wish (not properly italicized) and lacks a CL. The battle is a sham of sorts, as the Deliverer can 1/day cast mythic wish, which ostensibly suffices to tear the PCs asunder. You see…offensive use of (mythic) wish, while not unprecedented, is NOT RAW covered in the spell. As such, some proper guidance here would have been very much appreciated. When recalling e.g. the finale of Legacy of Fire, saves would certainly have made sense. Similarly, some trouble-shooting regarding the Seed’s wish-powers would have been very much appreciated here.

Anyhow, as the PCs fall as preordained by the script, the Seed draws them inside itself: And here, things become odd: A titanic scarecrow, the body farmer, may help the PCs, and they proceed to travel through the infinite expanses within the Seed: Here, they can witness unlikely changes be destroyed, traverse the infinite highways of direction, gain a surprising lame regalia of an empire that never was, walk the infinite graveyard of all things…and each region has a d10 roll, which determines whether there’ll be combat or not…potentially pitting the PCs against entropic reapers. As before, formatting is inconsistent. In the end of this trip through infinite expanses, the PCs will meet Change.

Yep, the over-deity thing. It has a gift for the PCs, beyond a mass of XP: Mythic power. Or, well, kinda. You see, the benefit is just temporary. And it’s pretty obvious that the author has no significant experience with mythic design. You see, while the base system is flawed (seriously, NEVER play Mythic without Legendary Games’ amazing supplements. Mythic Solutions and the Path of…pdfs for mythic adversaries are pretty much required!), it still is pretty deftly codified. Mythic, in essence, exacerbates the rocket launcher tag syndrome that high-level PFRPG-gameplay often boils down to; the reason why you need Justin Sluder-style super-optimized mega-bosses to provide a decent challenge for the PCs. Here’s the thing: Mythic power, as granted by Change, will only last until the end of the adventure. I get why, but it still feels somewhat cheap to me. More than that, though, mythic design has very specific requirements: When Legendary Games began designing mythic content, they first fell into the trap that regular Mythic Adventures fell into – an escalation of numbers that quickly proceeds to make PFRPG fray at the seams. The Legendary Games crew realized this pretty quickly and changed the design paradigm, emphasizing breadth and unique narrative angles, creating an astonishing series of master-class supplements that really drive home the potential of mythic gameplay. Beyond that, mythic design requires immaculate precision in rules-verbiage.

Guess what this pdf does not have. Bingo. The Deliverer of Omega has no Mythic Tiers or Ranks noted, doesn’t have the mythic subtype – the deliverer is considered to be a mythic or non-mythic entity, whichever is more beneficial. Guess what? It’s always more beneficial to be mythic. Anyway, the PCs get mythic power, right? Well, how much? No idea. The pdf fails to specify the tier achieved, so even if you do want to go full-blown mythic at this point, you’re only left with question marks.

But what if you don’t have Mythic Adventures? Well, then we come to the default solution this pdf obviously champions: Instead of real mythic gameplay, we get basically mythic power sets. All characters get +10 to one attribute, or +5 to two. All plusses of equipment etc. are increased by one, beyond the +5 limit. Auto-stabilizing and living until twice negative Constitution (invalidating some build-choices) and 20 (!!) mythic surges. Know what’s missing? Yep. Mythic power. Or tier. Those are the base benefits. On top of these, every PC chooses one of 4 mythic power set templates, which yield basically superhero powers. Fly speed, more hp, multiple mythic spells, etc. Once more, these invalidate build choices and player agenda…and their formatting is sloppy, active ability action economy is not specified and power goes beyond what even tier 10 mythic gameplay usually offers.

I get why. I love the idea, in fact. The Deliverer of Omega is a CR 25 monstrosity and basically a world-ender. Why damage types aren’t concise…that may actually not matter. Does your group include a playable outsider or has such an ally of sufficiently high level? Well, you’re RAW, quite possibly, F****D. In allcaps. “Saitan is protected against the direct intervention of deities, outsiders, and other immortals. When acted upon by any immortal entity whose CR is 21 or higher, Saitan gains 10 mythic ranks for a year and a day. During this time, when she is slain, she is resurrected by her Omega resurrection after 1d4 rounds.“ I get the reasoning here – it’s why the deities and super-powerful fiends and angels don’t intervene, right? Okay, throw a metric ton of CR 20 outsiders at the being. Problem solved. ;) But how do the PCs with their super-duper-Mythic powers feature here? The surge die-size, at d12, suggests tier 10, which translates to +5 CR, but that’s WITHOUT the massive power set or the potent base ability gain. CR +2 for these benefits would be very much underrated, which would catapult the PCs, potentially, to CR 21 and beyond. I am not dragging this out of my behind, mind you: The module considers the showdown to be the equivalent of CR 18 – that’s 7 CRs difference, and the +2 thus implied is actually not enough in my opinion!

And yes, I am theorycrafting here, I know. I just wanted to use this example as one highlight to show how, beyond formal oversights like damage-types and a ton of missed italicizations, the adventure feels unfinished, unpolished. The Deliverer of Omega’s Omega Barrage’s second use, for example, fails to specify its damage types…and I could go on. Is the Deliverer of Omega hard to kill? Yes. Epic? Yes. Can she stand against a properly optimized group that has just received a super-buff par excellence? Nope. You see, instead of enhancing the survivability and options the PCs have, the final fight boils down to rocket launcher tag – who can hit harder faster. This is a huge wasted potential. Where are the counter abilities for the Deliverer’s super-attacks? This is, alas, much like most parts of the book, a lost chance.

Big plus: The pdf comes with a bonus file (included in all individual modules): Adversaries of Crisis. This book, penned by Matt Medeiros with Louis Porter Jr., provides 12 pages of statblocks for high-level gameplay: ranging from CR 17 to 22, the NPCs depicted within this bonus pdf have unique super-power-like tricks, are fearsome to behold…and sport a couple of odd glitches like incorrect ranged BAB, missing gear-lines, italicizations that start in the middle of words where they shouldn’t…which is a pity, for per se, the ideas here are cool: We have a Green Goblin type of character, a super-deadly robot (30d6 force damage infinite gravimetric pulses, range: line of effect…) and similar beings. Per se, I liked these, but even the best designer can stumble with high-level statblocks, and these could have used a second set of eyes. As far as bonus content is concerned, I liked the NPCs herein very much, though. The bonus pdf has no bookmarks.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not good. I wouldn’t consider them okay anymore. Rules-language is often woefully opaque, more italicizations are missed than properly formatted and the whole file feels like it really required both a firm editor and a proper content-development. Layout adheres to the per se nice two-column standard of the series, with amazing full-color artworks. Cartography is solid, though oddly, we don’t get battle-map-style big maps of most places. The presence of player-friendly versions for the Chariot and one locale are nice, though. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, but the bonus file has no bookmarks.

Michael McCarthy and Louis Porter Jr.’s second installment in this series suffers from a wholly different set of problems than the first. Where the first module suffered from being under the delusion that we should know the implicit setting and care about stuff we know nothing about, and from logic bugs galore, this one instead is wrecked by rules-language being really sloppy and imprecise.

The lack of experience with Mythic Adventures rules is painfully evident and shows that, alas, the really cool and versatile gambits and stratagems that you can pull off with it, have not really been taken into account.

Damn, this series breaks my heart. It really does. I so want to like this…but once more, the GM is basically forced to redesign the whole space-craft section (presentation of the rules there also isn’t exactly streamlined) and while there are less logic bugs here, the book also is really, really railroady, and not in a good way. More so than the Alpha adventure, though, this has all the makings of a phenomenal adventure.

It just needed this one pass by a really crunch-savvy, nitpicky developer/rules-editor. If Stephen Rowe, for example, had gotten a hold of this, if Jason Nelson had went through this, we’d have a masterpiece on our hands. What we get instead are amazing ideas, bogged down by issues in the execution, pacing and rules. This feels like a rough draft that hasn’t been edited, like someone said “This’ll do.” and went on.

No. It does not suffice.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore the ideas here. I really do. But they feel crammed into a brief module, and the inspired vistas don’t get to breathe properly. And, whenever rules come up, we falter. The one parallel between the first adventure and this, is that the module disregards what’s already established for PFRPG, in favor of its own solutions. If these alternate solutions worked, I’d be happy. They don’t.

If you’re willing to invest A LOT of work into this, and if you’re REALLY good at high-level number-crunching, then you can have a masterpiece. If not, though, you will be left like I am – disappointed at the squandering of such inspired potential. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Crisis of the World Eater Delta: Devourer of a Thousand Worlds (PFRPG)
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Roleplaying Game Dictionary
Publisher: Straight Path Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/19/2018 06:02:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 53 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover leaving us with 49 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

“So, the other day while the GM had almost TPK’d us, he told me off as I was above character, describing how I’d be able to RAW Take 20, and then he’d suddenly argue my character build’s baseline, without which I could have never gotten to this level of being able to tank DPR, right? Which I btw. only did to make the cleric-guy less of a heal-bot, and then, suddenly, this whole thing became the tired old RAI-discussion…”

If you’re reading this review, then chances are you understood the entirety of the above, which you may very well overhear at a table. Once we take a step back, though, we’ll realize that, for non-gamers, this sounds like gobbledygook.

Every hobby, every science, every component of our lives does have its own terminology, its technical terms. Roleplaying games, as a medium, have more than most, as the hobby is wholly contingent on language and the associations you can conjure forth. As such, we have developed quite a set of terms, and while some, like THAC0 have gone on towards more obscure old-school games, the more rules-heavy recent games have added a copious amount of terms, while also borrowing heavily from video games.

This, surprisingly, can present a quite distinct entry barrier for new gamers. Enter this book.

What we have here, is basically a dictionary of game- and gamer-lingo, focused on Pathfinder.

We begin with the very basics that include shorthands like RPG and describe roleplaying games; Game Master and player, level-ranges, mechanics, dice and their notation – we move, in a sensible manner, from the large categories and frame to the smaller components: The book categories the sections from Rules and Game Mechanics to terms denoting adventures etc,, gaming materials, etc. SRD, 3PP, difficult terrain, light, planar basics, conditions – and we even get explanations of pure slang in the end – from GMPCs to TPKs, from rollplayer to roleplayer…

Oh, and we even get a detailed Index!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious hiccups or omissions. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf features nice stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and comes with an EPUB-version.

Michael McCarthy’s Roleplaying Game Dictionary for Pathfinder is amazing. It is a godsend for new players and really handy as a starting point for people wanting to understand gamer-lingo. This book, in short, is a really great supplement that achieves its goal remarkably well. Organization is excellent…and it’s PWYW (pay what you want)! This must have been a ton of work, and frankly, I wholeheartedly suggest dropping the author a tip for this book – any supplement that helps new folks get into our hobby should be applauded. 5 stars + seal of approval, highly recommended for new players!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Roleplaying Game Dictionary
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How Do I... Rest
Publisher: Straight Path Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/19/2018 05:59:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the PWYW-series of rules-explanations clocks is for Starfinder and clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 3 pages of content. The pdf comes with a second version optimized for e-readers, which clocks in at 12 pages and is presented in a landscape layout. Content-wise, the two versions are identical.

So, resting in SFRPG is more complex than it was previously, so I found myself somewhat surprised that the rules pertaining rests never were truly collated in one place in the SFRPG-core rules. This pdf remedies that oversight.

First of all: A character does not necessarily have to be asleep to rest, but the precise restrictions are presented. 10-minute rests and how they work, as well as the means to mitigate the exhausted condition to fatigued via a 1-hour rest, are noted.

The pdf then concisely lists the differences between a full night’s rest and a full day’s rest. How and what constitutes interruptions, the interaction with rings of sustenance…and the limit of “full night’s rest” in a universe where a night may be rather brief or agonizingly long, are presented and acknowledged – in short, only one 8-hour rest per 24-hour period. Medicine’s long-term treatment is also noted in this context.

The pdf then concludes with noting effects that are not necessarily healed by resting, or unaffected entirely.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no hiccups. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity – kudos!

Michael McCarthy’s summary of resting mechanics is handy to have and should prevent some book-flipping. What more can you ask from such a humble little game-aid pdf, particularly from one that comes as PWYW? This is very much worth leaving a tip for and makes playing more smooth. No complaints. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
How Do I... Rest
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How Do I Polymorph
Publisher: Straight Path Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/19/2018 05:57:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little pdf clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD/editorial/ToC, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look! It should be noted that the pdf comes with a second version, one optimized for e-readers that is landscape format – it#s 12 pages long and otherwise, content-wise, identical.

Now, as we all know, previous editions of the game often had…let’s say, rather byzanthine rules for shapechanging. In Pathfinder, this is easier. Comparatively. The pdf first explains, newbie-friendly, that polymorph denotes a spell – as well as a subschool of transmutation.

The pdf then lists the more common, specialized transformation spells for shapechanging (handy!) and the general ones – this explains, concisely, what type of spell you’d use for what…and then, the issue of speech is addressed. Nice: The pdf does correctly note how parrot’s won’t suddenly be able to speak and takes familiars into account; it also points towards the Expressive Pantomime solution for specialists. The ways to get past the casting limitations a new form may impose are also clearly stated.

The pdf then presents a handy bullet-point list of what you always gain and what you always lose upon shapeshifting – and we get a list of what you probably get. It is important to note that e.g. special movement or senses are not automatically bestowed, which can be awkward…having that spelled out makes sense for newer players. Similarly, having a list of what you never get is handy indeed. A minor correction here: While it is correct that a polymorph spell costs you natural attacks of a previous form, sorcerers and similar characters that can grow e.g. claws and the like as a class feature may do so in the polymorphed form! This little tidbit should probably be added.

Anyways, the pdf helpfully notes that the lesser one of special movement rates granted (base form vs. spell) is gained in an often overlooked component of the rules. Interaction between polymorph spells on a target and a handy little attribute modifier table for targets smaller than Small or larger than Large helps as well – though an additional table for size modifiers and special size modifiers would have improved this further.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious flaws. Layout adheres to a nice two-column standard and is easy to read. The pdf comes bookmarked, in spite of its brevity and has no artworks inside.

Michael McCarthy’s handy little guide is great for novices of the game. Since polymorph, while simpler than before, is still a pretty complex collection of rules, it’s nice to have such a pdf and the option to point towards it. Now, while not 100% exhaustive, it does its intended job rather well – which is why my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up due to the PWYW nature of this handy little helper.

On another note: If you enjoy shapeshifting and want to get deeper into size-changes and the like, there’s no way past Everyman Gaming’s superb Microsized Adventures-book and the corresponding template-mini…

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
How Do I Polymorph
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Crisis of the World Eater Alpha: Immortal Wrath of the Armaggedon Angel (PFRPG)
Publisher: LPJ Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/19/2018 05:55:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second part (if you count the prologue) and first act of the Crisis of the World-Eater saga clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2.5 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 32.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Well, before we do, let us briefly discuss what this is: “Crisis of the World-Eater” represents, depending on how you look at it, either a mega-adventure in 3 parts (plus Prologue) or an adventure arc. It is inspired, as the name notes, by the much beloved comic book event “Crisis of Infinite Earths”, with a healthy dose of Ultimate Galactus-shenanigens thrown in for good measure. (If you’re not familiar with these events: Crisis of Infinite Earths was a story that basically streamlined the myriad different worlds in the DC-universe; Galactus is a being of nigh-infinite power in the Marvel universe, a consumer of worlds. You know. A World-Eater. Galactus also has an immortal herald who scours the multiverse for suitable planets to consume, the “original emo”, perpetually angsty superhero/villain silver surfer.)

As you can glean, I am very much a comic-book guy; they were one of the reasons I learned English at a very young age…but I won’t drown the review in all the references I find and only note the most obvious ones and explain them, if possible. You don’t have to be into comic-books to enjoy this series….but there’s one aspect herein where the comic-book heritage of concepts becomes important.

You see, the module includes a brief discussion of “non-vancian work days”; as probably most of my readers know, the “limited uses per day” type of spellcasting, often termed “vancian”, is named after Jack Vance’s writing. It’s different from the magic assumed in comic book universes. And the adventure actually has suggestions on how to get rid of these limitations. On a grand total of slightly less than two pages. If the lack of scope didn’t make that abundantly clear: This doesn’t work. AT ALL. But due to more reasons than you’d expect. PFRPG’s mechanics are based on limiting powerful abilities to ensure at least a modicum of balance, and the book basically tries to jam a hackneyed, half-baked attempt of introducing 5e/Starfinder-ish short rests into a system not designed for it. Disaster ensues.

The guidelines are sketch-like at best, lack any form of proper depth and are basically wasted space. They also are somewhat insulting, insinuating: “While this functions reasonably well as a means of keeping your physics-defying wizards somewhat more in line with melee warriors, it’s less good when it comes to letting players feel heroic for more than ten minutes into the day.” This is condescension in its purest form; it did D&D 4th edition no good to talk smack about a system that the fanbase enjoyed; it does a 3pp-module even less good to do so for the system for which it was designed, particularly in light of the absence of any feasible alternative – which, granted, would require a 100+ page book of revisions and detailed guidelines. Instead of working with the system, the module basically tells you that you may be playing the game wrong if you want “heroic” fantasy.

I don’t know about you, but if PFRPG does one thing well, it’s heroic high-fantasy. And vancian magic, while not for everyone, certainly is not alone as a spellcasting option – psionics, akasha, ethermagic, kineticists, etc. In spite of its detractors, there are plenty of folks that love vancian magic.

Novaing, the phenomenon of PCs blowing out all steam and then resting, is both the result of a too lenient GM, immature players and sucky class design. None of which are remedied by the solutions offered. Warrior-characters get even less power in the system proposed? Behold the brilliant solution proposed within: Replenishing hero points (oh boy…), plusses and faster XP gain. Yeah, my unbelieving chuckle pretty much drowned in bile right there.

In short: These 2 pages are a very ill-conceived notion that could be taken as insulting, doesn’t work or address the problems resulting from implementation, and is an all-out bad idea of working against the system for which you design, rather than with it.

You know, there is something out there for over-the-top superhero-style escapades for PFRPG. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s called Mythic frickin’ Adventures.

I apologize. This section really made me angry, as it misleads less experienced GMs into making modifications to their game, potentially destroying it utterly. It’s the worst type of half-baked alternate rules you can imagine and lacks the foresight and detail to achieve what it tries to do. Steer clear of these suggestions.

Okay, here’s a brief history lesson on the genesis of the series:

The idea underlying the series was pretty amazing and a cool, unique selling proposition: Have one event that affects a variety of different 3rd party publishing worlds! Damn cool, right? Here’s the catch, though: The KS, back then, blocked this unique selling proposition behind stretchgoals, which robbed the series of its…unique selling proposition. The KS still funded, but it fell, in scope, flat of what it was supposed to be, as a result of not funding tie-ins into many beloved worlds. Making the project an all or nothing high-end goal or making all tie-ins one stretch-goal would have probably been more enticing for backers. (Why back a series in the hopes that it may tie in with the world you’re invested in?) I believed in the project, and LPJDesign did create the series, but I still had to take a step back from it and let some time pass, so that my own expectations would not color my reviews of the saga.

The following discussion contains notes on the assumptions of the series. These contain SPOILERS. Mild ones, but SPOILERS nonetheless.

Now, the first thing you’ll notice upon opening this book and reading about it, is that it does assume quite a lot. Where the prologue’s assumptions were pretty unobtrusive, this adventure does reference a cadre of pretty specific details about both the planet the series starts on, and the cosmology underlying the campaign. Let me elaborate: The PCs are assumed to be professional soldiers of the Confederate of Nations, the mightiest empire of the world, with 41 nations under its banner. This quasi-UNO/NATO-like scenario is bound to be different from the realities of pretty much any other setting. Even in NeoExodus, which is pretty close to the starting scenario, that won’t go over without a hitch. The adventure also introduces the “Faith of Maroen”, a new religion, which is roughly based on Christian ideas, with halos bestowed upon worshipers, a concept of an immaculate conception, etc. Both of these receive brief summaries, and both could have used a proper setting book to adequately shine.

These are also not tangential components, but more on that later. The plot suggests that Beginning, Ending, Change and Continuation, as personified physical entities, predated the gods, with Continuation having a cadre of agents called “Entropy,” a race hailing from the shadow plane (I’d have expected negative energy plane…), one that consists of energy. The greatest among these beings would be Omega, and it can grant basically super-powers via the Omega Force. Comicbook aficionados may knowingly nod here – parallels to Darkseid’s Anti-life Equation and Omega Beams are certainly intentional. Omega’s herald of sorts would be the astral titan Saitan.

I usually don’t comment on nomenclature. But really? This sounds either like Satan, you know, the devil, or like the tofu-ish wheat gluten, “seitan.” Either way is not really ideal and either cheesy or unintentionally hilarious. I’d strongly recommend renaming this poor fellow when running the series.

The herald of what gluten, pardon, Saitan, is the entity called Asa – the eponymous Armageddon Angel. Much like the silver surfer, Asa looks for worlds to destroy…and a survivor of one such world, the Chronicler, rendered comatose by Asa in a battle over the implicit world, attempted to warn the nations…but the predictions of doom fell on deaf ears. Only the Onyx Cabal and the PCs that tracked down the warning of the Chronicler seem to grasp how dire the situation is…until it was too late. In the aftermath of the prologue, the PCs are invited to a summit of the Confederate.

And this is why I felt the need to note that this module is NOT campaign-setting agnostic. Adaption to a given setting will require some work on behalf of the GM, also to explain why, in face of global annihilation, mass exoduses via interplanetary teleport or plane shift are no options; the heritage of the comic-book storyline does collide somewhat with the planar cosmology assumed by pretty much any setting in Pathfinder – a global effect, akin to those posited in 3.X’s brilliant “Elder Evils” book, would have gone a long way in explaining why paltry level 6 folks suddenly fight for survival of the whole planet.

So yeah, at this point, you can probably see some of my issues with contextualizing the adventure in a given world…but let’s move on to the module itself, shall we? It should be noted that the module sports well-written read-loud text and comes with 5 campaign traits of sorts.

From here on out, the SPOILERS reign! Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, we begin with a bang as the PCs are en route to the summit: The carriage crashes, and a mental scream briefs them that Asa has arrived and must be stopped, before the “Deliverer of Omega” is called – we get some suggested random encounters, and the PCs have to make their way past Entropy-possessed beings towards Fort Nero. En route, the PCs can find the marble building called “Voice of the People” – with some minor encounters thrown in. The place is not mapped, but like many locales herein, does come with snippets of information for the players – a plus, as it foreshadows some foes faced later. (One of the founders mentioned by name, Saul Silver, will later be faced as a vampire…) I like this, but it once more assumes a depth of lore that implies a very specific setting – if you attempted to ignore the whole Confederate-angle, you’ll stumble over the like time and again.

A new monster, so-called entropy pods, herald the arrival of Asa, though their page references are “see page @@” – they are not the only ones, fyi; glitches like this and missed italicizations and similar formatting hiccups, alas, do haunt the otherwise professional presentation. Fort Nero comes mapped in full-color, but like the other maps, we do not get player-friendly versions sans key.

As the PCs make their way through the mook-y adversaries, they will arrive at the ruined Capitol building. Here, the PCs will have to fight Asa, and while the Armageddon Angel can’t be truly slain, an indistinct amount of soldiers will be firing and providing infinite healing for the PCs. Considering they’re level 6…that stretches the imagination somewhat. Asa’s artwork and statblock are btw. pretty cool and impressive, though a damage type that is untyped should be classified and some minor formatting and verbiage stuff may be complained about. After the first defeat, the PCs have two hours before Asa returns to life, fully healed. Okay. That was, kinda, expected after all the hubbub, right? However, know what Asa doesn’t have? Means to counter pretty much any sort of imprisonment. It’s almost sad. You don’t even need a proper imprisonment. You can pretty much render the much maligned armageddon angel utterly impotent via frickin’ resilient spheres. Forcecage. I could go on. At no Escape Artist ranks and CMB +18 and a Strength of 14, you could bind him with mundane tools.

But surely PCs never would think of double-tap-ing the frickin’ Armageddon Angel that heralds doom for the whole world…right? I can suspend my disbelief for the sake of the narrative, but this module asks us to accept a ridiculous amount of railroading. During the second combat with Asa (because, you know, PCs surely won’t do something to restrain him…), a silvery disk starts firing plasma upon Asa, helping the PCs. (No, plasma as a damage type is not defined – it should be noted that it’s traditionally half fire, half electricity. Not every GM is familiar with this esoteric energy admixture.)

The PCs are told that the only thing capable of saving the world now would be the Seed of Change, conveniently located beneath the very feet of the PCs in Vault II, as Major DePompa (what’s up with names here?) tells the PCs. Thus, the so far rather cinematic module becomes a dungeon-crawl through three levels of Vault II, wherein the PCs face undead guardians of the Seed, who once have been heroes of the Confederate. This is per se a really cool set-up and the encounter versus aforementioned Saul Silver has a unique hazard (though why chain-links on the floor require Strength to move and can’t be navigated via Acrobatics is anyone’s guess); indeed, this should have shocking consequences on the PCs. The beloved, legendary founding fathers/heroes of ages long gone, reduced to undead that can’t be bargained with? This could have had a ton of gravitas.

Only, it doesn’t. Because we know nothing about those heroes. The pdf does a valiant job at trying to foreshadow them, but for the proper payoff, these guys should have been household names for the PCs from the very start of their career. As provided, the impact is somewhat lost – same goes for the legendary gear the PCs get from defeating these bosses. The items are okay, though not exactly mind-boggling.

Ultimately, the PCs will get the seed; hereafter, Asa breaks free of the combat with the Chronicler (if he hasn’t already) or instantly revives, for a final showdown with the PCs, as he crashes through, suddenly, to the PC’s locale. Oddly, without getting a power-upgrade, which is a bit of a let-down and a pretty severe clash between flavor and crunch. The seed can destroy his omega blade, Asa falls and the PCs have a vision of things to come.

The module concludes with the chronicler opening a gateway to sidequests on 3pp worlds…that were never funded, as 5e-conversions (should have been part of the deal from the get-go) and sourcebooks were put as stretch-goals before them, diluting the focus of the series.

Big plus: The pdf comes with a bonus file: Adversaries of Crisis. This book, penned by Matt Medeiros with Louis Porter Jr., provides 12 pages of statblocks for high-level gameplay: ranging from CR 17 to 22, the NPCs depicted within this bonus pdf have unique super-power-like tricks, are fearsome to behold…and sport a couple of odd glitches like incorrect ranged BAB, missing gear-lines, italicizations that start in the middle of words where they shouldn’t…which is a pity, for per se, the ideas here are cool: We have a Green Goblin type of character, a super-deadly robot (30d6 force damage infinite gravimetric pulses, range: line of effect…) and similar beings. Per se, I liked these, but even the best designer can stumble with high-level statblocks, and these could have used a second set of eyes. As far as bonus content is concerned, I liked the NPCs herein very much, though. The bonus pdf has no bookmarks.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay; while I noticed several avoidable formatting hiccups, and while the rules-verbiage isn’t always as tight as it should be, the module remains playable. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the artworks deserve special mention: The original pieces are downright gorgeous and impressive. Cartography is full-color and solid, but the lack of player-friendly versions is, at this point, a pretty sad state of affairs and detracts from the usefulness of the module. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, though that does not extend to the bonus-pdf, alas.

This was depressing. Michael McCarthy has written a ton of vastly superior modules, and Louis Porter Jr.’s influence can’t either be faulted for how this turned out, or the Gatekeeper-serial provided by the same team-up, turned out much better.

The issues of this module can be boiled down to one problem: It tries to make Pathfinder feel more like a comic-book-storyline, but attempts to do so in the most unfortunate way. The adventure suffers tremendously, more so than any module I’ve reviewed before, from the lack of context. We ultimately don’t care about the world, about the founders and legendary tools, because we have no idea about the setting.

Secondly, the adventure tries to be cinematic, and it can run that way – provided the PCs don’t try to jump off the VERY narrow rails – pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Asa, as a adversary, is amazing and deserved better; heck, the combats per se have this sense of cataclysmic events that is a joy to behold. But the module does not really seem to know how to negotiate the different realities of comic book storylines and PFRPG’s heavily codified rules.

It’s hard to suspend your disbelief, when the world-ending armageddon angel clocks in at a paltry CR 10 and has no means to escape bonds. Thing is: This storyline could have worked without those issues! Easily! If the module, instead of suggesting half-baked alternate rules, had focused on actually utilizing the wealth of materials that is here! If the PCs had the option to play as soldiers from level 1 onwards, build relationships, the payoff could have been EPIC:

As the PCs arrive at the Capitol, they rendez-vous with their NPC-friends. They are then given armies or troops to command – Asa fights as a super-powerful one-man-army and kills hundreds of soldiers; each hit Asa takes during the army-combat will bring down the angel a notch; then, have the PCs and their NPC allies fight the weakened angel, preferably as Asa mows down the troops the PCs command, cherished NPCs, etc. – make the victory, even with the chronicler’s disk, nigh impossible. And THEN encapsulate Asa in omega force, telling the PCs that the thing will respawn. As they look around, mourn their foes and see the carnage, the PCs will realize that they have no chance of bringing down Asa a second time, putting a hard timer on the Vault II exploration…instead of the almost comical, multiple defeats Asa faces in the module RAW.

Then, as the PCs get the seed, don’t have the angel suddenly dues ex machine into the complex; have an emergency broadcast hurry the PCs to the surface as the complex collapses around them. Why can they now defeat Asa? Simple. The seed made them mythic. (Come on, if the seed can’t make you mythic, what could??) Now, they can actually bypass the custom DRs that made the angel nigh-impervious before. Asa’s defenses obviously include immunities to being trapped and stopped, etc. There, done. I fixed the plot. How? Simple. I worked with what Pathfinder offers, instead of trying to half-heartedly change the system into something it’s not.

This same methodology could have been used to make the whole plot work better; global effects, perhaps even a cataclysmic death of all folks beyond a certain HD limit (the strong are consumed first…) and the like – Pathfinder has all the means to make this exact story work, without the glaring logic holes that this module suffers from. If you provide the set-up and rewrite the majority of the module, you can make this a truly glorious masterpiece of an adventure…but as presented, it became a depressing dud for me, mired in logic bugs and narrative conveniences that disregard basic in-game logic and potential power-structures. I have rarely been this crestfallen about a final verdict, but I can’t go higher than 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Crisis of the World Eater Alpha: Immortal Wrath of the Armaggedon Angel (PFRPG)
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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.

..

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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.

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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.

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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.

..

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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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