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Suzerain (Pathfinder)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/21/2016 07:57:36

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive book clocks in at 186 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 2 pages of advertisement and 1 page of back cover, leaving us with a massive 177 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Well, this book has two sections - one for players and one for GMs - it should be noted that the player's version, the Suzerain Continuum Guide, can be considered a massive teaser for this book - and it's FREE! So yeah, you can take a look at what this book offers by downloading that one.


But back to what this book offers, shall we? Suzerain, in a nut-shell, can be described as a kind of meta-campaign setting template; it denotes a massive collective of worlds and plains. Campaign settings are described as realms - so both Golarion and Athas could, potentially, exist within the confines of this meta-setting. Suzerain assumes that you use the hero point mechanics introduced in the APG...but goes one step further: For one, the maximum of 3 hero points is not in effect. Secondly, escaping death only takes one hero point and returns to play with starting hero points if their rank is high enough.


A given Suzerain character has a Telesma, a special kind of gem set in jewelry, weapons or the like - but more on Telesma later. Suzerain Sports 10 ranks in 6 categories that denote how much you're touched by "greatness" - even rank 2 classifies you as god-touched, while 10+ means you qualify as a demigod. Each rank provides its own benefits: Hero Points, bonus feats, ability score increases, save bonuses...and later even a pulse pool (equal to 1/4 character level + highest ability score modifier)...but again, more on that later. Rules for cohorts, new followers in a given realm and similar interactions are covered.


Upon reaching demigod rank, characters can "flex a nexus" - a nexus denotes an important historic anchor. You flex a nexus by paying 1 pulse and 1 hero point, 2 for a major flex - these allow for the modification of the setting; consider them narrative wild-cards: Whether you manage to find a fully functional hovertank in a post-apocalyptic desert or make a bridge disappear - the effects are basically massive narrative components that are deliberately loose in their wording...with one exception: They last about 5 minutes and generally can affect an area of about 150 ft. Creatures with a pulse pool can resist...that's it. Gods (and ONLY true gods) can use 3-point godlike flexes...which brings me to an important motif: The characters may become demigods here...but they sure are no deities...to quote to old Shadowrun/WoD-wisdom: There are always bigger fish in the tank...Character creation wise, 6+2d6 or 25-point-buy are recommended for this high fantasy romp.


Okay, so what do these Pulse-feat-tricks do? Well, once your PCs have reached demigod-hood...they'll have some impressive tricks at their disposal: Via the right pulse feat, you can e.g. mitigate critical hits down to regular hits or even force them to reroll the original attack (NOT the confirmation roll) or rearrange initiative order as you see fit immediately after initiative is rolled. 3/day SPs, reduced falling damage (plus means to stop nearly any fall), temporarily ignoring fear conditions (upgradeable to immunity while you have at least 1 pulse) or partially breaking through resistances. Choosing an attribute and using pulse as constantly consecutive means to retroactively add bonuses to the related check on a 1 pulse:+2-basis, extended number of targets for spells, using pulse as a +5 bonus to any d20 check (not even an action), causing a sickening pain-aura to form around you - the pulse-feats themselves are powerful, but well within the confines of what can be deemed as something a GM can handle - it should be noted that their general feeling is less that of hyper-specialization or escalation that mythic rules sport, instead focusing on a broader, more general means of usefulness. If you need a comparison: Mythic rules are more about playing guys like Hercules, where these seem to champion a playstyle that is more reminiscent of Dr.Who - you're basically better, stronger, more resilient and have reality-bending powers, but still retain a certain fragility...though it's hard to kill you. Really hard.


Interesting: Once the group has achieved an average of folk hero on the ranking system, their telesmae resonate and they receive their very own pocket dimension. Telesmae are basically semi-sentient, very powerful artifacts with a divine spirit - while it's impossible to lose them per se, they do have a catch - in the spirit world (the ethereal plane), they are easily distinguished; they act as beacons to gods and outsiders alike and mean that you'll have a lot potential issues on your hand...and finally, while not too smart, they do have a will of their own...which can also lead to troubles. Telesmae are considered to be CL 20 items with an aura of moderate abjuration, divination, illusion and have 30 ft senses. Starting at 11th level, they increase their Int by +1 per level, with Wis/Cha adhering to a 1/2-progression and 11th level + every 3 levels thereafter, they gain a telesma growth, basically an ability you choose from a set of different ones. Basic telesma personalities also grant a skill bonus - yeah, they are kind of like psycrystals. On a nitpicky side, the table of these personalities and the header have been integrated in a less than superb manner on the page - the text from the previous page continues under the table, while the table's header-section adheres to the same formatting as said previous page, which makes this page, at first glance, slightly confusing.


So that's the basics.


After that, a sample world is mentioned - Relic, in the year 298, where Egyptian-style sea elves rule the waves and huge Greco-Roman empires loom - think of it as a blending of classical antiquity with your basic fantasy tropes. Unique-crunch-wise, there are a couple of Planar feats - the base feat of these must be taken at first level, with further feats allowing the character to enhance his/her/its tricks; The feats closely reflect the politics of the setting, with prerequisites featuring "may not be an elf" or "may not be bestial" - Fury, as a feat-tree, is for example a means to play a quasi-lycanthropic shapechanger that starts the game with full claw and bite-attack array, while Living Rock reduces your speed by 5 ft., but grants DR 2/bludgeoning...and yes, these feats often have additional, Pulse-based effects that obviously come into play later. Considering that this is a sample and teaser, it's hard to judge whether these kind-of-racial feats end up as balanced in the context of the overall world -for a default high-fantasy world they sure as hell are potent.


The second part of this massive book would be the GM-section - so what do we get here? Well, we begin with a discussion of the spirit world, Suzerain's iteration of the ethereal plane and what is has to offer; how religion can shape the place and the pulse-touched CR+2 template that allows the GM to make creatures that can employ some of the PC-tricks. Native creatures of the ethereal plane, the spirits of feral glee and their variants, the spirits of feral empathy are featured alongside the Mael-born - at the end of the spirit world, the veil lies...and beyond it, terra incognita: Very little solid ground, all held aloft by pure pulse - here space and time become fluid and some gods have their realms in this weird place - and there are a lot: Whether Yggdrasil's realm, that of the archangels or Mount Olympus or the more strange realm of pure mages, where raw mathematics and genius reign supreme are concerned - the places depicted sound fantastical and sufficiently familiar and weird to be considered interesting.


The section discussing travels in time and space via portals and other means deserves special mention: Unlike many a bad movie or series-episode, it establishes a concise background that subscribes to the elastic history approach and explains its tenets and consequences in detail - while this section may be fluff-centric, ultimately, it is useful - more so than quite a few more rules-heavy takes on the concept I've seen.


Now one of the most pronounced goals of Suzerain is to make gameplay beyond 10th level more interesting, more fulfilling - thus, the discussion and advice regarding games at folk-hero rank (rank 6 - 7) cover a significant array of themes to ponder - whether to restrict yourself to one world, how to make multiple themes and campaign settings fluidly interact. Similarly, extensive pieces of advice for player/character types...and demigod games are provided: With themes like massive glory, end-times, alternate realities and similar high-concept ideas, the contemplations and themes change here once again. There also is the idea of the plot-point campaign - which is then exemplified via a massively detailed sample campaign in Relic - while each chapter sports just a couple of scenes, there is a lot of crunchy material herein: Nanobot pseudo-swarms, various NPCs (often with complex class arrangements), a new vehicle...and a suitably cataclysmic final fight.


Sure, it's basically a skeleton set-up...but if you're time-starved or if the creative juices have run dry, this is great. Similarly, for scavenging purposes, there is quite a bit to find here. Similarly, multiple encounter/adventure-sketches follow suit, providing a pretty wide and diverse accumulation of ideas to scavenge and peruse -and yes, several of them take place in different epochs of our very own world, while others assume diverse realms within the maelstrom - whether they want to pit themselves against the desolation engine or stave off an invasion of bipedal, evolved saurians and their titanosaur from an alternate earth. What if priests tried to manipulate the Olympian gods to bring about the end of the multi-verse? Or a quasi-sentient protocol infects and converts people? ...well, and of course, the obligatory throw-down between aforementioned arch-angels and dread forces of darkness - including multiple, fully statted high-level foes. Basically, the majority of this section of the book can be considered a sketch-book of stories, encounters and adversaries that make for a rather superb scavenging-ground, even when not playing Suzerain directly.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - I noticed no significant accumulations of glitches. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard. People with extensive collections of obscure 3.X-supplements may recognize some of the gorgeous full-color artworks herein, though I have seen the vast majority never before. The book is art-heavy and beautiful. The pdf is fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks. I can't comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the print edition.


Miles M. Kantir, Zach Wellhouse, Alan Bundock, Clyde Clark, Richard Mendenhall, Aaron Rosenberg, George "Loki" Williams, Pastor Allan Hoffmann, Richard Moore and Matt Medeiros have done an impressive job in this huge book. Suzerain endeavors to be basically a campaign-template for high-level gaming and themes - and it succeeds in several interesting regards: The decision to emphasize the narrative component without drifting off into the, pardon my French, competitive bullshitting of FATE, works surprisingly well in the Pathfinder-context. The demigod-rules are sufficiently different from mythic rules to fit a different playstyle and themes, which is a BIG plus in my book - I love mythic rules (provided I can use all those Legendary Games-supplements; I hate vanilla mythic with a fiery passion...)...and I can see myself growing to love these rules as well, perhaps even combining them for some particularly brutal foes.


Theme-wise, Suzerain is basically the planewalker's toolkit as opposed to mythic's superhero-flair. Toolkit...that's what describes this book best. There are crunchier books out there, sure - but the ideas and observations regarding often problematic themes, setting-switching etc. make this a handy tome to have. The crunchy statblocks and adventure/campaign-sketches also illustrate rather well how to utilize these rules....or rather, concepts. The true treasure herein lies in the concepts and yes, this book makes it significantly easier to come up with a justification for the jumping between worlds.


Suzerain is an intriguing book, that has two minor flaws, which I still feel obliged to mention: In the player-section in particular, a cleaner division between fluff and crunch would be appreciated - the size of the Pulse Pool, for example, is neither its own paragraph, nor bolded or the like - it's hidden in the flow of text, something you can observe regarding other components as well. The second component would pertain the fact that the numerous, rather awesome-sounding realms that Savage Mojo has hinted at in Palace of the Lich Queen (and/or already released for their Savage Worlds-rules-set) have not yet been converted to PFRPG; while I e.g. am truly intrigued in this fantasy take on Norse or Greek mythology, the antique/scifi-blend of Set Rising and similar settings, this book, by necessity, is a bit opaque regarding the respective places. Personally, I would have loved to see more on the Spirit World and the Maelstrom, the meta-world, if you will - perhaps with mechanical repercussions, unique hazards or planar traits.


As it stands on its own, Suzerain is a captivating, massive book somewhere between campaign template, DM-advice book and meta-setting - and it fulfills these roles rather well for the most part. Still, in the end, I found myself wishing for more material regarding the meta-realm, if you will - something you can chalk up to a) the excellent prose that made reading this book a rather pleasant experience and b) the amount of space devoted to the high-concept campaign/adventure/encounter-seeds. In the end, I consider Suzerain a worthwhile, high-quality book that will continue to grow in usefulness with the release of subsequent settings and books in the continuum; as a stand-alone book, for now I will settle on a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Suzerain (Pathfinder)
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Shaintar Guidebook: Galea
by Ruben R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/30/2016 02:42:38

This piece was a longtime coming considering the signifiance behind Galea for the world. The brillant history behind the kingdom packaged with decent edges this time around and knowledge around its traditions, pretiged knighthoods, and even details pertaining to magic. My only real cristism leaving out a 5 star rating is stating new gear tied behind the new edge. The Danataran Combat Whip was detailed in Legends Unleashed already, even if there now exists an edge that compliments it........ that just feels falsified for me personally. Otherwise one of the better Guidebooks that has come out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shaintar Guidebook: Galea
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Dungeonlands: Consort of the Lich Queen (Pathfinder)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/02/2016 03:18:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This optional side-quest module for the Dungeonlands-saga clocks in at 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1/2 page advertisement, 1 page RD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 31 1/2 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This module is basically a sidequest in the fight against the legendary Lich-Queen - but one that can have serious repercussions in Part III of the saga - hence, I'd advise the GM to use this module either during the trip through the Machine of the Lich Queen or as part of the journey towards her Palace in book III of the saga.


This being an adventure-review, the following review, unsurprisingly, features copious SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


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..


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All right, still here? Only GMs around? Good! Once, even the fabled Lich-Queen Ayrawn was mortal and, as mortals are wont to do, she had a companion, a lover, a consort - an anchor, a chance for redemption, a man who would recoil from the darkened paths she embarked upon - this man was Horarion. When the angel Anat was sundered from the heavens and bound, the psyche of the lich-queen sundered Horarion's mansion on Paxcetel, sending it spiraling towards the eternal Maelstrom, leaving, in spite of his arcane prowess, but a single portal, a tenuous connection to the lich-queen's realm, a shining portal you can place at your leisure within the Dungeonlands-saga.


Thus, Horarion remained in his isolated mansion - a place where arcane magic has its own weight, potentially inducing fatigue in casters and thus adding a nasty additional difficulty - and no, there is no means of escaping Pacetel here either - though the mansion's challenges are pronounced indeed - when the stable master has a CR of 12 and a unique variant chimera has taken up roost in the stables, you're in for a treat...and yes, there also is the Shalguath, a unique spirit ox to be found here. Death lurks at every corner here - Horarion has, for example, invested a part of his soul into a tapestry within his sanctum - and yes, the PCs may actually be eaten by the RUG in this room. Killer rug...explain that to your deity once you stand before them in the after-life...funny...and lethal.


A storm of feral spirits locked away, a bathhouse containing a truly disturbing, unique aberration (including powers-granting waters) - lethal. Speaking of which - the empowered waste-disposal disintegrate trap is brutal indeed. The PCs can also do battle with spawning, supreme swordsmen and test their mettle against a unique taiga linnorm...And the vault of Horarion is no less lethal...and contains, among deadly adversaries, an unlikely item: A loom. This item is what makes the tapestry-versions of Horarion basically immortal and maintains the stasis of the islet - destroying the loom makes millennia catch up with the strange inhabitants of Horarion's refuge - which btw. also include odd bark mummies and peris...and the destruction also makes it possible to defeat the three tapestry-bound Horarions, with each destruction providing a new power for a hero, though the types of said powers and their wordings have minor glitches - it's e.g. "mind-affecting", not "mind-effecting" and proper EX, SU, SP-codification would have been in order. Destroying the final tapestry unleashed what has become of Horarion - an undead baneful Noumenon, accompanied by unique hazards, as the house itself creates stony arms, weird roof-beam elementals animated by his power - a brutal boss fight that ends either in death or by learning what Horarion knew, gaining perhaps the most potent weapon against the lich queen...for the destruction sends the PCs back to where their journey to Horarion's domain began. Still, it should be noted that the non-statblock elements, i.e. the hazards and precise presentation o the combat-relevant rules herein could have used a slightly tighter wording - as written, these components require some work from the GM.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting on a formal level are very good, though, on a rules-level, there are a tad bit more glitches to be found herein than in the revised editions of the machine and place installments. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf sports numerous artworks in color and b/w, all of which are neat. The biggest surprise for me was the cartography: Horarion's domain receives a beautiful, print-out-ready map that is player-friendly and thus offsets the largest point of criticism that plagued the dungeonlands saga - kudos for including that one! The pdf is a layered pdf that can easily be customized and also sports extensive bookmarks.


Miles M. Kantir, with rules by Allan Hoffman and George "Loki" Williams, has created a truly interesting sidetrek for the main adventures of the Dungeonlands saga that actually is worth playing - beyond the delightfully twisted and diverse combat-challenges herein, this little module offers some truly interesting ideas and brims with creativity. Moreover, this adds a further dimension to the epic struggle against the dread lich-queen, one that is fun to partake in - though this module also makes for a great stand-alone module; you could conceivably run this simply on its own without a hassle and just some cosmetic reskins - and some of the brutal battles, including the climactic boss fight, definitely would warrant that.


All in all, this is a great, fun sub-level of the epic journey through Ayrawn's dungeonlands and one I'd certainly suggest getting, in spite of minor rules-language hiccups here and there - while some components in this module may frankly be more precise, the good components still stand out - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeonlands: Consort of the Lich Queen (Pathfinder)
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Dungeonlands: Machine of the Lich Queen (Pathfinder)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/14/2016 04:36:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The second mega-adventure in the Dungeonlands trilogy clocks in at 120 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 113 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This being an adventure-review, the following obviously contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, only GMs left? Great! We begin this second part of the epic high-level module, once again, with a massive short-story, the legend of the rat king, which, with its neat prose, manages to set the mood for the things to come. Having braved the Tomb of the Lich Queen, the PCs now have entered the massive machinery that guides the endlessly recombining rooms of the tomb - and thus, while movement and a lack of a unified map of the overall dungeon still are in here (whether you treat them as bug or feature), the machine of the lich queen is ultimately more plot-driven than its predecessor.


While wandering monster tables and the like still can be found here and while the sequence of encounters is still pretty much left for the GM to customize for his/her individual campaign, there is a tighter story-sequence woven into the encounters that makes the respective challenges feel more concise, fitting - let's for example take the first part of the dungeon: Beyond truly interesting traps like webs of shadows and eclipse engines, we meet the first construct maintenance staff...but the interesting component here would be the exceedingly interesting combination of environmental peculiarities, monsters and the maps themselves - when the devastating winds of time trap unleashes one of its effects, for example, you'll be gulping...and yes, the PCs may actually meet a young iteration of the lich queen...but ultimately, the first part of this part of the dungeon is all about finding and meeting the aforementioned Rat King - former familiar of the Lich Queen, abandoned and torn between love and hate...but how the audience goes...well, I'm not going to spoil that component.


In part 2 of this massive module, the PCs are trying to make their way towards the heart of the grand machinery - either hindered or helped by the Rat King's elite, to potentially find an unlikely ally in a demon, mighty Mulcimber who they may have faced before...What if the grouchy mechanics of the machine actually need the PCs to deal with a complex series of deadly hazards right within the jumbled intestines of the machinery? Well, simple - awesomeness, that's what happens! Even cooler - the task to stop the eternal reconfiguration of the machine itself is a similarly epic array of hazards, challenges.


It actually gets better - you see, the demon wants to take the Angel Anats' place in the heart of the machine - but the machine of the lich queen will not be foiled easily: As waves upon waves of foes are thrown at the PCs, as its vessel rises for a truly exceedingly epic finale!


Wait, what? Finale? Well, not really, for, you know, I barely even grazed the surface of the story-encounters that you need to run - Part III is all about optional encounters, and if you thought they'd be standard random encounters, you couldn't be more wrong - for one, small maps of the rooms help envision them (though, again, like in the first part, I think one-page player-friendly maps would have been a must from a comfort perspective...) and from oscillating pistons to auxiliary power chambers, lightning gestalts, molten golems and avalanche elementals to upgradeable alchemical golems, the challenges here are in no way B-side material, if you excuse the analogue - in fact, e.g. the corpse processing faculty and the resurrection room, to name two, have the chops of being potential final areas of less lethal dungeons.


Like the previous installment, this massive book also features what amounts to a lethal high-level bestiary, containing new creatures like the deadly coldfingers, gas trolls, living madness, the aforementioned avatar-style vessels, quicksilver panthers and profane shells and e.g. sticky blob swarms! (Which, coincidentally, may be used as a distraction against certain foes...)


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. Artwork is copious and features a blend of lesser used stock-art of weird creatures as well as several original pieces. The cartography of the respective rooms is per se awesome, but, like its predecessor, remains a big flaw of this module: No player-friendly one-page maps you can print out/copy means that battle-map drawing will be a hassle.


Okay, the prose by Richard Balsey, Kevin Andrew Murphy and Darren Pearce is good - the rules by George 'Loki' Williams are better, though. I still remember the original first part with its copious issues, which has since been improved upon significantly. I've already reviewed Part III, the finale of the Dungeonlands-Saga, with its planar journey through the Suzerain Continuum...but, honestly, I wasn't too stoked for this one, mainly since the massive dungeon promised yet more grindy rooms, yet more chaos...but the cube-like room-reconfiguration works, by virtue of its flavor, much better for the Machine of the Lich Queen then for her Tomb - you see, players expect something odd like that going on here - it makes sense, feels less arbitrary. More importantly, though, this may actually be the most refined of the three mega-adventures that make up the saga: The huge array of diverse skill challenges, the unique hazards and challenging adversaries gel together better than any component of part I did.


The Machine is a holistic experience. More so than the first module, it feels like its modularity gimmick makes sense in-game and that the chaotic recombination is actually a feature rather than a bug - thanks to the often neglected virtue of indirect storytelling: You actually get to see the nit and grit of the tomb and thus, this elevates the first module in hindsight from a narrative, if not from a design point of view. From the processing of minions and intruders to the flair of the individual rooms and their inhabitants, the machine of the lich queen feels more concise than either of its brethren - though, admittedly, the third part of the saga is so by design-choice and mitigates this by virtue of unbridled creativity.


Now, I already mentioned the map-issue and, don't be fooled, it is a significant one. I don't know how you handle the like, but I tend to print out player-maps and hand them out (either by room or in its entirety) and then draw only the basics on the battle map or have my players do the drawing while I take a coffee/cigarette break and recapitulate the mechanical peculiarities of a given encounter. In part III, the omission of proper player-friendly maps was offset in part by the sweeping planar scope - whereas here, the detailed circuits and the like make me none too keen to properly draw the mini-maps for the room on the battle map...or even a one-page player-map. Basically, this is inconsiderate and imposes more work on the GM than one should have to do.


At the same time, though, and this is important, this one mops the floor in every regard with the tomb - and quite frankly, each of the rooms has the potential to be the heart of its own dungeon, its own glorious highlight. As a scavenging ground for encounters, hazards, etc., this excels as well: Need some ideas for the infiltration of an alien ship, a clockwork titan, a gigantic deific machinery? Well, here you go! The whole of the respective encounters tends to surpass the sum of its component parts, rendering just about any encounter herein truly interesting, captivating and stellar scavenging material to boot.


How to rate this, then? Well, as mentioned above, I consider this absolutely excellent in all content-related components...but at the same time, the omission of maps does hurt this book and its scope is, by nature of the beast, slightly less epic than part III's. I awarded part 3 my seal of approval and rounded up from 4.5, since it did feel like its scope deserves it. Content-wise, rules-wise, however, I vastly prefer this one and would be praising it even more, were it not for the map-issue. Hence, to represent the streamlined experience, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars...though the map-problems cost this the seal of approval it otherwise would have received.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeonlands: Machine of the Lich Queen (Pathfinder)
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Dungeonlands: Tomb of the Lich Queen (Pathfinder)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/28/2015 05:06:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition


This massive, revised edition of Tomb of the Lich Queen clocks in at 149 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages backer-list, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 140 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


Or rather, let's recapitulate: The original Tomb of the Lich Queen was intended to be the first installment in a 3-parts mega-dungeon crawl of the old-school kind: Deadly, challenging and unique. The first module pretty much botched in two key components: 1) The whole dungeon was opaque - the lack of maps (which were sold separately) hurt the GMing experience immensely. 2) The massive set-up basically had cool ideas - but it violated the rules. The set-up took away unique tricks of classes sans explaining their lack. The resulting issues were significant. Worse, several of the puzzles/puzzle-encounters had only the "intended" way to solve them - guess how the designer is thinking and you could solve it. Failure to do so resulted in pretty problematic situations. The original book, with its neat art and cool adversaries, sported potential galore, but was one of the most frustrating playtest experiences of my GM career. Thankfully, Savage Mojo got capable hands to take a second gander at the series, which resulted in the third book of the series, Palace of the Lich Queen, being a pretty enjoyable experience.


But could they salvage the first book? Let's see. We begin with the same vast and well-written fluffy legend that serves as a the backdrop for the epic that is to unravel within these pages and begin the game pretty much in the iconic "at a tavern"-set-up. Unlike most such set-ups, a fully-detailed song that proves to be both clue and hook, draws the PCs in - and from there on, it's Paxcetel looming: The Lich Queen's domain, a pocket dimension in the Maelstrom. The first thing you'll note are...MAPS. Granted, no key-less player-friendly versions, but a full-page full-color map of the island nonetheless. Nice!


And now that the meat of the module begins, it's time for the players to skip to the conclusion to avoid the SPOILERS that are bound to follow now.


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All right, still here? Only GMs around? Great! Exploring the island further increases the prowess of the PCs (herein called "Demigods" as befitting of their lvl 15+ status...) via blessings/curses - you'll also notice something about the dungeon presented herein - the set-up is pretty much modular. What do I mean by this? Well, let's take a look at a sleeping gas-trap - it is coupled with the note that the GM should choose 3 encounters and use them in conjunction with this area - a DiY-set-up, which, while more work for the GM, also allows for a flexible customization of the experience. Beyond these, the depths loom - where ancient pictures show scenes from Ayrawn's life, before she became the legendary lich queen.


The tomb itself does provide a massive array of rooms and encounters for the PCs to explore; that being said, the revised version does and does not address the map-issue of the original book. What do I mean by this? Well, for one, the book now does provide small versions of the maps of the respective rooms - however, the maps themselves offer no information on the scale or size of the rooms, which is slightly and can potentially be a bit annoying. I also sincerely wished the book would feature these maps (particularly that of e.g. a room with a floor that shows a picture) in at least player-friendly one-page hand-out size. Sure- the small renditions provided are better than nothing, but for me, they're still not satisfactory.


On the plus-side, the very first obstacle already shows an improvement in design-philosophy: The room sports an extremely complex, huge array of tile-traps. However, the pdf no longer forces the players to play by its rules - they can just fly by, should they choose to. On a nitpicky side, though, this room does sport some issues - for one, the trap fails to note how many Disable Device-checks would be required to clear a path through the room. The obstacle also repeats, unnecessarily, some information, "[...]may make a DC 15 Perform (sing or instrument) check (DC 15)[...]" - which also contradicts itself later: " This requires either an Acrobatics or Perform (dance) check at DC 15. This requires a DC 15 Acrobatics check or a DC 13 Perform (dance) check." Granted - this does not break an otherwise cool set-up, as the PCs hopefully dance through the trap to the tune of the ethereal music playing...but still. Such small hiccups render the overall experience not broken by any traditional means, but they do somewhat mar the sense of refinement that e.g. Palace of the Lich Queen, the third part, featured.


At the same time, I would be lenient in my duties, were I not to comment on the general quality of the obstacles faced: Concept-wise, the challenges faced are delightfully dire - sometimes even approaching Grimtooth-level of evil. What about, to name just one example, a crushing walls-trap, supported by a floor with spring-laden traps that make movement over the bouncy tiles slow and anyone attempting it, prone to fall? Cool, right? At the same time, while the trap is pretty awesome, there still are some rough patches to be found here - "anyone outside of the room can provide assistance using the Aid Another action."...yes, generally, that works. I still wish the wording was slightly more concise here. Why? Well, aid another's text usually refers to melee combat, which is predicated on being close to the target foe to be hampered. I get why this was phrased the way it is written and it kind of does work - but in the execution, it could have used a tad bit more refinement.


At the same time, while this nitpickery of yours truly may sound bad, the book has made HUGE steps in the direction of being significantly more refined: Whether via spell-terrain-interaction or via similar means of displaying rules-awareness, the trials and tribulations in these pages are quite frankly, simply significantly better crafted than before. Let's take an example: There is a round that deals damage by action performed via sound application - Invisibility's bonus to Stealth does not apply here. It's rules-awareness like this that has been absent from the original version - and it constitutes a significant improvement.


What about a room that is essentially a ouija board puzzle? The option to battle the "Champion of Woe?" Of course, the Reclaimers, the creepy wardens of the tomb and the machine below influence the areas and may even return the dead back to life - including e.g. a dragon forever oscillating between being pure and good and a berserking beast. Indeed, the adversaries, from the powerful false lich queen to the hound witch and her unique beasts, to unique demons and the headless horror, this book left me with some rather cool, inspiring adversaries and set-ups.


It should be noted, though, that the aforementioned "modular" set-up of the dungeon also results in some components that could be considered unpleasant: For one, the respective rooms and corridors share, at least partially, pretty similar dimensions, which makes the dungeon feel not that organic - sure, it's constructed and moving...and probably SHOULD feel like a high-fantasy version of CUBE...but some groups may be annoyed by this. A second aspect that deserves consideration is pretty simple: There is, by virtue of this set-up, no map that contains all the rooms, no overlook map. If your players are like mine and try to understand everything, you'll have your hands full - basically, my players sought to understand the metrics and system behind them dungeon's configuration - and the book does not perfectly render cues for the PCs to unearth these components. So that may prove to be another stumbling stone for some GMs.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good - while we still have some minor hiccups and textual redundancies, the rules-relevant components of this book have tremendously improved. Layout adheres to a gorgeous 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The book also sports a mixture of great original art and some taken from an obscure 3.X-resource; In any way, the artworks are stunning. Cartography is pretty solid, though not mind-boggling. The lack of a key-less player-friendly map for the overworld is a minor detriment. The lack of hand-out-style versions of the maps for the rooms is a further comfort detriment, but at least a step forwards from the original version.


The original "Tomb of the Lich Queen" was the most aggravating mega-adventure I have reviewed - It cheated high-level PCs of their tools of the trade, imposed arbitrary solutions on problems and did not work well with the rules. At the same time, unfortunately, it also was pretty inspired regarding the challenges it posed and while I really didn't like it, I saw ample of merit in the book.


The good news first: Jason Allard, Kevin Andrew Murphy, John Wick, Aaron Acevedo, Travis Anderson, Miles M. Kantir, Darren Pearce, Joel Sparks, Lee Szczepanik, Richard T. Balsley, Paris Crenshaw, G'Andy, Vladimir Presnyak and George "Loki" Williams have created a revision that is superior to the original module in almost every way - I do believe that a halfway decent GM can run this pretty smoothly. At the same time, I wished the cartography-support was more pronounced. And there would be one component the better rules-integration has eliminated, at least partially: The lethality of this book. The Tomb of The Lich Queen is still a deadly mega-module; but it's not as deadly anymore. Where before the book said "You can to do Y." or "You can't do Z.", the new version is a bit too lenient - flight and teleportation can mitigate A LOT of the challenges herein and trivialize some of them. This is okay. I still found myself wishing the book offered e.g. tougher conditions for their use - i.e. make the tricks work, but also make them require skill of the PC's level. Caster level-checks, flight-spell dispels conditional on flying PCs - you know, the school of evil, hard knocks.


Also, as a module itself, the book has NOTHING on the imaginative tour of the Suzerain Continuum displayed in Part III - and to me, it works better as a collection of devious traps and NPCs than as a module. That being said, if used for the former, it is a well-presented collection of nasty obstacles. How to rate this, then? Quite frankly, I expected a bit more from the revision than it delivered. At the same time, I no longer personally hate this book, which should be considered a huge achievement. This is no masterclass-adventure, but it's a solid one; it's an even better scavenging ground and may be worth it for the lead-in to Part II and III. (Part II's review coming up once the revised edition's done, btw.!) In the end, I will eliminate my ranting on the original; as a module, this is well worth a final verdict of 3.5 stars. For the virtue of a stand-alone adventure, I'd round down. As part of the series and for its scavenging options, I'd round up, though - which is why my final verdict will reflect the latter, rather than the former: 3.5 stars, rounded up by a margin.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeonlands: Tomb of the Lich Queen (Pathfinder)
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Set Rising Official Soundtrack
by Steven O. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/17/2015 21:07:54

One of my favorite music sets & certainly my favorite soundtrack. A fusion of modern with an Eyptian flare.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Set Rising Official Soundtrack
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Dungeonlands: Palace of the Lich Queen (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/01/2015 03:04:41

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive mega-adventure clocks in at 220 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us a massive 212 pages of content, so let's take a look at this!


This review was chosen as a prioritized review and moved up my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons. Furthermore, I received a hardcover copy of this book for the expressive purpose of running it and providing a fair, unbiased review.


Wait, there's one more thing - after I ripped Tomb of the Lich Queen, the first part of the trilogy, a new one, why don't I review Part II, Machine of the Lich Queen next and instead jump to the final book? Simple - because Machine and Tomb still receive some polish/revisions and I'd rather review and playtest the best iteration of a given book. All right, so that out of the way, we begin this massive book with a truly extensive and well-written chapter of prose detailing the legends of the 9 fragments the lich queen has stored in her mental palace, providing further and somewhat tragic exposition for the genesis of this being- and after that, the crunch begins.


This being an adventure-review, unsurprisingly, the following will contain massive SPOILERS. Potential players should thus jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


Still here? All right! The lich queen's hall of world-spanning mirrors lies shattered by her hand, the machine grinding and stuttering - and to reach the palace of her, the PCs will have to traverse what amounts to a gigantic array of planes-hopping. If you're familiar with Savage Mojo's Suzerain Continuum, that may not come as a surprise; if not, let me give you a run-down - there are A LOT of what amounts to campaign settings galore, each with their own, unique takes. Beyond just taking a look at either of them, the respective chapters essentially provide a means for the PCs (and players) to glimpse at the wondrous realms provided - think of them like a selection of Gossamer Worlds for Lords of Gossamer and Shadows or akin to the strange alternate realities provided in Shadowrun's classic Harlequin's Return-saga. So while the cynic in me considers this a kind of advertisement, the fanboy grins and considers this a very smart move - why? Because, let's face it, at the end of a campaign, there is always the discussion on what to play next - here, more than its fair share of interesting options are provided.


Now, by design, this does mean that each world is represented in what amounts to a short vignette (I'm using this term through the review to denote the literary function implied by its meaning, not one of the others) that sums up some peculiarities and pits your PCs against a target adversary, aligns them with a positive figure and provides a bonus for success, a story-hook/future conflict in the case of failure. The first array of these vignettes, happening in day-time, send the PCs off to a true myriad of established settings and new ones: A Greece-inspired scifi-setting with mechanic pegasi would just be the first of these excursions - beyond this strange world, the PCs get a glimpse at a dystopian cyberpunk citystate controlled by a monolithic church, struggling to find a chosen child that can shatter the boundaries of reality, all while being besieged by strange anarchists and probably playing into the very plans of a silver-tongued angel in service of true darkness. In a celtic world, an assault on a ritual site against armies of demons awaits and fans of Greek mythology may actually fight side by side with Jason and pit wits and magic against none other than Circe.


In a steampunk world of highly-spohisticated goblins, a time-travelling tub and an aerial chase through the dangerous skies provides for a change of pace, before, sooner or later, the PCs get a chance to test their mettle against a demonic incursion to free the Dark One from his celestial prison, finally fighting against a tainted solar...and said being may not even want to escape his eternal prison. When none other than the sung-god Ra draws up on his chariot (a hyper-modern sports-car) to take the PCs on a trip through his hyper-technological pyramids and finally, stop agents of Set in a night-club, including zombie-ravers, that's awesome. Stopping agents of chaos from exposing the rigidity in a hyper-lawful realm may sound conventional, but at that point, the PCs enter a realm of pure science, elevated to the realm where it becomes indistinguishable from magic - when you're defending a mad scientist from his elemental Frankenstein's monster and what amounts to a revenant-igor, all while powerful spirits that embody chemistry, physics and biology try to kill them, your players WILL continue to talk about the wealth of ideas here.


What about a planet where hyper-powerful cybertechnology has been blended with wild west stand-offs or one where hyper-technological dinosaurs duke it out in an alternate stone age? There is also a vignette wherein the 3 ages of Relic blend in a kind of temporal disjunctions, a swashbuckling-themed, fast-paced one wherein the PCs get to defend a ship from a massive sea-dragon and yes, a terrible post-apocalypse of nanite and radiation-caused mutations and doom, where an impending nuclear strike might well be within the range of options. Have I mentioned the sojourn to what amounts to the Plane of Fire or the City of Brass, where agents of an unknown entity seek to extinguish the eternal flames of the grand braziers? Now each of these places does have something to offer for the further journey -and after all those short vignettes, finally, night is upon the PCs as they traverse the myriad worlds - and from here on out, the lethality of the vignettes, in which the PCs so far have shaken hands with legends and gods, increases further.


Here would as well a place as any to note several peculiarities I noticed so far - for one, by necessity for a module that spans this many realities, the respective vignettes are somewhat sketchy - do not expect handholding or excessive read-aloud texts - it is very much assumed that, provided the massive array of high-level statblocks, you as a DM can properly portray the respective worlds. While reading this, I was extremely skeptical whether this worked out in practice, but the frenetic pace assumed by world transitions did, in actual playtesting smash so many unique vistas over my PC's heads they didn't mind - whether this whole chapter works depends very much on an experienced DM who can maintain a fast pace that does not allow for too many in-depth analysis on parts of the player - as well as assuming a pretty cinematic transition from key-scene to key-scene. At the same time, though, this actually can work in favor of the module: This high-fantasy realm-stuff, these clockwork-gadgets or high-scifi-stuff you always wanted to use? Well, here you can. I ultimately failed to resist the lure of adding my material and some unique worlds to the fray - after all, how often do you get a chance like that? And at this level, very much all gloves are off - your PCs are called demigods by the module for a reason... Now, this slight opaqueness, which was an exacerbated issue in the first part of the saga, ultimately is here, yes, but at the same time, this book is very much concrete - the key-scenes, like the clockwork aerial chase, provide full vehicle-rules, terrain-hazards and features where applicable, are fully integrated and the book makes smart use of the troop-subtype alongside many items and yes, even the Technology-rules in a minor way. Among the nighttime-worlds, fighting in an alternate Shanghai versus huge mobs of vampires and braving deadly haunts in a realm of gothic horror only constitute two examples of proper rules-usage that supplements the narrative - a significant step forwards, especially considering the fact that the complex builds for the high-level adversaries and allies, while not always being flawless, generally come out on the good side of things.


Not on the good side of things, at least for the players, would be a venture into imperial Rome, where Ceasar has just been slain by demo cultists and only defeating a massive shadow kraken may provide an escape...though this world has a particularly nasty story-game-over for a bad, bad decision on the player's side... From an imperial Rome in the throes of demonic possession, the journey continues onwards into a tale of American noir, where possessed train yard cranes await. The realms of winter, complete with their nasty fey, do something I would have expected from a certain Dresden File book - including a fey lord that encases himself in a gigantic frost-mecha. In an alternate version of Tokyo, the PCs can duke it out against magical girls corrupted by a powerful hero-hunting demon, before they ultimately are deposited in a realm of darkest fantasy, including a blotted-out sun and a showdown in a ruined abbey before entering the Red Realm, a prison plane, and, more importantly, a nasty place where insanity abounds and a silent hill-esque array of perception-tricks, as well as a harrowing escape await. The final two vignettes pit the PCs against the horrors of a full-blown China Miéville-style fantasy...and has them battle Fafnir. Who makes proper use of the kaiju-subtype. NICE!


Then, finally, the chaos of worlds ends and the palace and its 7 halls loom: Here, this book becomes a much more conservative killer-dungeon once again - with each of the massive halls providing ever-escalating danger as well as full-color maps with solid detail, though you should be aware that no blow-up 1-page versions are provided. In the first hall, massive, lavishly-illustrated briar worms, demonic apes and finally, the Great Beast await the PC's prowess - only to have to face down the mashine gun-like efficiency of the deadly archer Tianet - though personally, I used the Deadly Aim-feat when modifying Tianet's build - at her firing rate, the damage piles quicker up that way -oddly, this will not be the last they've seen of the huntress and smart fighting is rewarded here. In the Garden Hall, flytrap hydras and the Lich Queen's foster mother Grandmother Maugh await and the Hall of Grandeur pits the PCs ambitions as well as djinns to finally defeat another mentor of the queen - the erstwhile djinn-binder par excellence, turned into her mayor-domo, Ranalek the terrible. The 4th hall does offer a new challenge - the hall of pleasure, where the lich queen's consort awaits alongside untold pleasures that can destroy one's spirit, memory and thus, identities - in this gilded hell, the lich queen's consort is the gatekeeper and, upon defeating him, the PCs will note he in fact is an automaton - the true fate of the poor sort is cataloged in the adventure "Consort of the Lich Queen", which I do not own. Even if you don't have it, though, you'll notice something - obviously, Ayrawn has purged any thoughts of doubt from her mind to retain her sanity- perhaps the one shot the PCs truly have to defeat her - and defeat her they'll want after the next hall, wherein the PCs are subject to a nasty, never-ending array of tortures - which may permanently cripple them, if they are not smart enough to escape their mistress.


Speaking of smarts - a vast library may see the PCs fight - but only if they behave in a manner unfitting of the place - otherwise, they'll find an agrippa, a man turned into a tome and librarian, master who once told Ayrawn to purge memories from herself, seeking freedom - and offering a further piece with which the PCS may shake the immortal confidence of the legendary lich queen. In case your PC's swords have since then dried of viscera, the hall of bones will end that - while the lich queen's tutor and lich here also provides a further piece of information about a skull with which the PCs can shake the confidence of the legendary adversary, she also follows her commands and unleashes not only her own might, but also that of a vast horde of powerful undead - and yes, the combines stats span multiple pages.


Finally, after much tears, exposition and pain, the PCS can final track down Ayrawn in her Hall of Broken Mirrors - her and all her mayor allies not yet slain, rendering this confrontation potentially very, very nasty - worse, the lich queen's phylactery is the very dungeon itself and only by shaking her confidence, only by understanding, can the PCs cause a realmsquake and breach the phylactery...and only then will the lich queen truly be slain by their efforts. Should they achieve this miraculous feat, they'll bear witness to the collapse of dungeonlands and possibly even ascend beyond the providence of mere mortals - in any case, infinite possibilities await.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect -I noticed a few italicization glitches, minor errors in statblocks and the like, but seeing the size of this tome and the complexity of the statblocks, that is not surprising and well within the level of tolerance. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard that conspires with a mix of gorgeous full-color and b/w artworks to render this book a truly beautiful book to behold -aesthetically, there is nothing to complain about here. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and my hardcover sports nice, thick, matte high-quality paper and a shiny cover - all great in that regard.


Kevin Andrew Murphy, Darren Pearce, George "Loki" Williams, Allan Hoffman, Andrew Hoskins, Brendan LaSalle, Matthew Medeiros, Richard Moore, Monte Reed - this is one epic book and it was a fun ride to embark on. But also one that is terribly hard to rate.


Why? For one, there would be the issue of high-level gameplay requiring a lot of foresight - pre-written modules have a hard time properly predicting PC-capabilities and one massive issue with the first book was the arbitrary stripping of powers from PCs and the issues with rules-interactions. I am more than happy to report that this book sports NONE of these. Neither will you find "Pcs have to solve this EXACTLY like this"-solutions and similar issues - instead, this massive mega-adventure essentially provides vignettes, vistas and general storylines - you can skip through them at your leisure, ignore some, substitute your own or expand them to full-blown module length.


When handled properly, these vignettes can act as epic, never-ending climaxes - if you took the final scenes of a vast array of stories and stitched them together, a kind of cool-moment-collage, if you will. Better yet, where applicable, the places do sport nice rules-tidbits from mutation-tables to steampunk gadgets. While not all such tidbits are perfect, this is a module and the like is simply not the focus of this review. The world/planes-hopping vignettes ultimately can be a vast amount of fun if handled properly, but they could also go horribly wrong - if you are accustomed to handholding, extensive read-aloud texts and not good at making transitions and filling in the blanks of the respective vignettes, that may result in massive issues - essentially, do not expect any guidance beyond a basic plot-summary and the statblocks for the respective adversaries. Yes, this DOES include a lack of maps for the respective vignettes, but not one I'm going to fault the pdf for - why? Because the focus on cinematic transitions ultimately, at least here, does not require them necessarily. In my game, this went off pretty well after my players sopped trying for the analysis-route.


The second part is a more old-school killer-dungeon and it is very much worth the status as a finale - the palace itself is exceedingly deadly, full of iconic adversaries and challenges and provides a great way for the DM to provide some exposition regarding the dread lich queen. The background story, as written, is surprisingly intelligent and beyond what you'd expect from a killer-dungeon, so yeah - kudos here. On the downside, the lack of one-page maps to print out can be considered a comfort detriment.


So, what does that mean? It means that this module, more so than many others, will prove to be a very polarizing book. If you can see the vignette-style planes-hopping working for you, then chances are, you'll love this beast and enjoy it immensely. On the other hand, if you as a DM have problems generating transitions or fleshing out details on the fly, or if your players are all about the small details, then this one may result in some issues - the discrepancy between whether this will be awesome, or, well, not so great - it all very much depends on your group's tastes, capabilities etc..


At the same time, this book, unlike the first one, does not cheat in obtrusive ways - one instance where a sleeping gas may send players to their sleep sans DC or stats comes to mind, but, quite frankly, if DC 40 is too hard for the PCs at this point, they're doing it wrong anyways... So overall, this book can be considered indeed one of the few examples of high-level modules that truly managed to captivate me - the glimpses at realms beyond the regular, whether released or yet unpublished, is interesting indeed and provides some pretty imaginative ideas and a much needed change of pace, while also providing a sense of the epic to the whole experience.


It struggled quite a bit with how to describe this massive module - and the closest analogue was delivered by one of my players - this is pretty much a module-equivalent of an all-star-movie akin to Avengers - it provides components for each world and concept to shine and show what's cool about it - but there is, by virtue of its format, no room to linger on the individuals, to go into depth regarding the individual vignettes and their characters. So do not expect the module equivalent of primer or a TV drama, but rather that of a big-screen all-star action movie. Personally, I tend to prefer more detailed modules, which is also why I'm pretty happy to have been able to test this module in detail -and while I did not have an easy time as a DM and preparation did take a lot of time, the results proved to be very entertaining and my players, surprisingly, enjoyed the continuous barrage the weird of the continuum threw at them. While some minor oversights can be brought to field against this book, the amount of material that works and shows an understanding of the intricacies of Pathfinder does offset this in my book.


Yes, I'm rambling. My final verdict, ultimately, will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform, while less experienced DMs should probably round down due to the significant skill this requires to pull off.


Personally, I loved the massive array of cool ideas spotlighted and hence, I'll add my seal of approval for the vast imaginative potential.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeonlands: Palace of the Lich Queen (PF)
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Shaintar Guidebook: Serenity
by Stephane G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/26/2015 14:23:45

I am of course a big fan of Shaintar and SPF, so I might be a little biased. Never the less, I liked this book. Ed Greenwood offers us a city full of possibilities for urban adventure. Interesting NPCs and factions.


I just wish there had been a map of the city included. At least a rough overview of a drawing that looks to be old world, even if it's not perfectly to scale.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shaintar Guidebook: Serenity
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Shaintar Guidebook: Magic & Cosmology (Vol I)
by Daniel L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/22/2015 16:46:30

The main focus of this book is the true history of the world, with some attention given to expanding Druids and Priests of Light (no love for Sorcery here). It's "slim" with only 26 pages of content, but if you're looking to run a Shaintar that can address the real cosmic issues of the world you need this book.


On the crunch side the trappings are nice, but personally the rules for running a low-level spellcaster without taking an Arcane Background are my favorite addition.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shaintar Guidebook: Magic & Cosmology (Vol I)
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Shaintar Adventure Cards
by Daniel L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/22/2015 16:38:39

Got the Print on Demand for these card, they're great. The only caveat is that as a GM you need to weed out the Enemy specific cards beforehand, making sure you don't deal out cards the you know won't come into play.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shaintar Adventure Cards
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Noir Knights Player’s Guide (Savage Worlds)
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/23/2015 23:22:03

This top-notch product is one of the better player's guides for one of the better Savage Suzerain lines. Let's break it down.


For just about as long as there have been RPGs with GMs and players there has been a division between player and GM material. This division supposedly existed to keep players from thinking about the game outside the mindset of their characters; for me, this helped about as much as learning to play chess by really trying to get into the mindset of the rook. It makes a lot of sense when you're smoking weed.


Or maybe there were business reasons. There's a lot more players in the world than GMs and so it makes sense to try to sell things to them. So let's put "Player's Guide" on the front of the book we're trying to sell to everyone.


Eventually I got tired of this. How am I supposed to know how to play the game when what the creative director, the GM, is supposed to do in the game is hidden from me? And the same was true for me as the GM. Games began to be more open with their methodologies and my games benefited for it.


However, after the development of open and relaxed game licensing in the early days of the 21st century, player's guides made a resurgence, since they no longer had to get across a whole new methodology of play. Instead, they instructed players on how to use their familiar tools and mechanics in order to achieve a new or more specialized goal. You didn't need to know how to play D&D3 all over again, but learning how to play this cool new class in this cool new fantasy world was worth talking about.


Into this new tradition comes the Noir Knights Player's Guide. I should note straightaway that the Noir Knights is my favorite of the universes of the Suzerain Continuum, a cross-worlds setting in which science fiction heroes can contend with mysterious fantasy wizzards, I mean wizards. As with many such cross-worlds settings, it doesn't quite bring together the reasons people might want to play a fantasy game or a sf game, but that's a review for another time.


Suffice to say that the reason I like Noir Knights the best is because it quickly and effectively establishes a style and communicates it well to the players. The world of the Noir Knights is like the American Depression, though dark forces are at work and the player characters are the only ones that can stand in its way.


I was very excited to see the Bonus Army march of spring 1932 as the catalyst for the beginning of the game and an emphasis on WWI veterans as a core membership of the player characters' Mysterious Group. And with the other significant faction of the game being based on a strange-science immigrant's work in a small town in Florida, the stage is set for a unique type of game. The player characters in most X-Files-esque supernatural-investigation games are backed by (say) a faceless government organization, they are often Company Men or active military with the best at their disposal, necessary against the weirdness right outside their doorstep. Night's Black Agents is a typical example of this.


Noir Knights is different. In Noir Knights player characters are run down to nothing, gassed by their own government for asking for fair pay, or for a widow's share. They are outcasts from normal society and may ride the rails or be the creepy old guy in a shack outside town who runs a huge metal pole out of the top of his homestead every time there's a lightning storm. The government has taken them on not because they're so thrilled with them but because if they don't the communists might get them; and besides, the authorities really are helpless as to what's going on, and the "ruizologists" and the "railwalkers", the thrown-away scum on the bottom of America's boot are the only ones that seem to be able to figure out what's going on.


In this setup I can easily get not just a cool character concept, but I can situate that concept in the world firmly. I know what it's going to be if I was a fresh faced draftee in 1917 - I know what it's going to be if I'm a Negro barnstorming boxer in a railyard - I know what it's going to be if I'm a forward-looking woman aviator. It's going to be contempt from our superiors, who are helpless against the real threat. I absolutely can't wait.


In fact, if there was anything that can be improved in the Noir Knights Player's Guide is that I feel like this core story needs to be brought to the fore more explicitly. There should be something - perhaps in the introduction, or in the gazetteer section - explicitly laying out why it matters to me, the player, that it was Bonus Army veterans and not Army regulars that are in this organization, why it matters that it's rail-riding castoffs that recognize the magical patterns of America and not President Roosevelt's technocratic educated elite. I think this is the key to why Noir Knights appeals to me so much, and the more it was explained and put both-feet-forward in the text I think the better it would be.


In general, this is a really solid Player's Guide, one of the best of this new era of player's guides based more around individual expression than mechanical explanation. It's highly recommended.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Noir Knights Player’s Guide (Savage Worlds)
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Shaintar Poster Map (Full Color)
by Rafael B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/21/2014 12:10:22

Beautiful map, and in great resolution. Must have for GMs with campaigns in Shaintar!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shaintar Poster Map (Full Color)
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Shaintar: Edge of Honor
by Andrew S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/03/2014 13:26:54

First, let me reveal a potential bias: I know the author. We've corresponded many times, and I'm a fan of his game designs, particularly those for Hero System, and I've enjoyed the short stories he's recently had published. It is because of that connection and his earlier short fiction that I sought out this work when Steve mentioned it was available. That being said, I am doing my best to rate Edge of Honor on its own merits.


I know nothing of Shaintar, the game world in which this novella is based. Fortunately, a knowledge of the world is unnecessary - the story is perfectly self contained.


The action takes place in a slave-holding, demon-worshipping land whose inhabitants value strength. Our protagonist, Khorond, is the eldest son and heir of one of the empire's leading nobles. It's quickly established that not only is he a talented fighter, but that he does not share the same moral outlook as his family. The story is really about Khorond's growing distaste for the empire's customs, the growth of his own moral code and sense of honour, and the inevitable conflict between him and his father and brothers.


The premise and characterisation are well handled, and don't feel particularly rushed despite the limitations of a novella (Edge of Honor is 62 pages long, including introduction from the game world designer). There's enough background information to understand the story - and, to be honest, to whet the appetite for more. Secondary characters are well drawn. Steve has an easy yet intelligent writing style, and it's a pleasure to see him spread outside the confines of a short story.


Highlights of the novella are Khorond's ingenuous discussion of the rights and wrongs of slavery at a social event, and his family's reaction to it, and his brother's efforts to persuade him to fight with the slave holders against his inner convictions.


The finale felt a little rushed - a fight unleavened by the different viewpoints of the combatants. I suppose they both had their say earlier in the story, but their final conflict felt a little flat and the ending a little rushed; I wonder if there was an arbitrary word count or time pressure at play.


This is a thoroughly enjoyable story, and shows Steve has honed his skills as a fiction writer to a decent edge - impressive this early in his fiction career. Is it worth your time to read? Absolutely. I have no hesitation in recommending it.


As Steve flexes his fiction muscles I think we will hear a lot more about him - I for one am very keen to see what comes next.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shaintar: Edge of Honor
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Publisher Reply:
As the creator and a friend of Steve\'s, I want to thank you personally and thoroughly for this thoughtful review! Hopefully, it succeeds in bringing you more fully into the world of Shaintar. ~SPF
Shaintar Guidebook: Goblinesh
by Ruben R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/31/2014 12:55:06

I highly recommend picking this up for those invested in the world of Shaintar on lore again and especially if running a Gather within the confines of your little slice of this unique setting. Phil Vecchione and Sean Patrick Fannon really demonstrate how even a classic fantasy villain race can become something more. Astonishing revelation, great insight on the structure and culture of the Goblinesh, and lastly nice additional edges. Definitely worth the price and a read!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shaintar Guidebook: Goblinesh
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Set Rising Primer
by Ben S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/11/2014 06:30:56

A good overview of Set Rising which is itself an intriguing world setting. Pick up the Primer for free and take a look for yourself.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Set Rising Primer
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