RPGNow.com
Close
Close
Browse
 Publisher Info









Back
Other comments left for this publisher:
7 Icon Campaign
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/16/2015 03:45:10

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of 13th Age Monthly clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, 7 icons, hmm? Concept-wise, the following have been combined: Dwarf king and crusader (=Dwarf King), emperor and gold wyrm )=Golden One), archmage and priestess (=Hierophant), diabolist and lich king (=Queen of Hell), the three and prince of shadows (= The Three), elf queen and high druid (=The Wild Queen). The Orc lord is still just the orc lord - no combination there.


The new icons do come with new sample options - the servants of the Dwarf King may take the a feat that completely changes the "That's Really your Best Shot?" racial power: 1/battle as a free action, you can react to being hit with a healing recovery. If the escalation die is less than 2, only at half strength, though. You have to roll this one...because you get half the rolled result as bonus damage to the next attack that hits the enemy. OUCH. That being said, the ability does not work if you'd drop unconscious. The damage this nets is pretty nasty and not something suitable for all 13th Age campaigns, though it should work in the majority.


Paladins of the Golden One may select a new talent which allows of vs. PD golden flame attacks while also providing resist fire - scaling via feats and levels. Solid one. The Hierophant's followers get feats that allow for the exchange of cleric and wizard talents and the swapping of spells. The Queen of Hell gets a new 7th level necro-spell - that puts a helpful demon/undead spirit into your ally, healing them and keeping them alive...but yeah, it's friggin' possession...and yes, this spell can have some nasty consequences and narrative effects. Bards of the Three can take a new talent that adds an effect when you end a song or fail to sustain it: Either a better critical range, lightning damage or a quartered recovery as a free action. A couple of design-aesthetic points: Quartered recovery is not a particularly elegant mechanic. Expanded crit range is nasty and further adds to 13th Age's massive damage output. Oh, and via feats, you get the improved versions - the three effects don't feel particularly well-balanced among themselves and The Red = healing feels odd to me.


The Wild Queen's sorceror followers can Gather Wild Magic via a new sorceror talent, replacing the basic gather power feature - you roll 1d6 and have one of 3 effects, with each tier getting better and respective feats unlocking more. The defensive gathering here is pretty cool and makes sorcerors be a bit tougher; at the same time, it does not really alleviate the fact that gathering magic still is the default MO of the sorceror, meaning you're only doing cool stuff when not gathering power. My players don't particularly like this mechanic of the sorceror and neither do I. Your mileage may vary, of course.


The pdf closes with some notes on ancient history in a campaign featuring the 7 icons as well as some questions for the respective races and classes. These range from "useful" to "wasted space":


"We haven’t tinkered with the chaos mage mechanics as they’d need to be tinkered with for the 7 Icons campaign, partly because Jonathan wasn’t going to welcome one into the campaign. So the real question here is probably: can you and your GM figure out how to translate the icon-mechanics embedded into the chaos mage into a 7 Icon framework?" - Okay...thanks for nothing, I guess? Some contemplations are valid and useful, but why couldn't the authors be bothered to include suggestions for all? That's kind of what we buy such books for, right?


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to 13th Age's 2-column full-color standard and the pdf provides neat re-shaped icon-symbols for the 7-icon-campaign championed here. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a slight comfort-detriment.


The 7-icon scenario is something I very much enjoy and one can see Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet's mastery of their own system here -I like this. After all, from a narrative perspective, this means that each icon (minus orc-lord) becomes more interesting: Has e.g. the Dwarf King gone off the deep end? The icons presented here feel less one-note to me, and this is a good thing. The new crunch ranges from awesome to fluff/crunch-discrepancy - I mean, come on: The Red allows for healing, really? I don't understand the rationale here.


I also really would have loved the new icons to get the full-blown, detailed write-up like in the core book, including "everything's all right..."-sections and the whole shebang - as written, they feel a bit more rudimentary than what they could have been. Which is jarring, since, especially to me, their more diverse focus would have provided ample space to explore shades of gray and uncommon thematic overlaps. All in all, this is a solid addition to the 13th Age Monthly-series, but one that suffers from the brevity of the format. I can't help but feel that better questions at the end, slightly more details for each icon, would have made this pdf truly awesome. As presented, it is a solid choice, but by no means required or for every campaign or even a 7 icons campaign- my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
7 Icon Campaign
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

Echo & Gauntlet
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/15/2015 03:09:01

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of 13th Age Monthly clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, what do we get this time around? Well, it is no secret that demonic corruption spreads like a plague across the Dragon Empire, held in check by the dubious methods of the Crusader - herein, we are introduced to two of his more refined weapons, the first of which is the eponymous Echo: A bleak hellscape of post-apocalyptic ruins, this desolate place allows for the sifting through time, adding a tangible 4th dimensional element to narrative structure, one further developed by inspiring notions - what if the Crusader actually came back in time from the future? Where did the echo originate? Can the PCs perhaps use its power to undo a glaring error in judgment, as PCs are prone to make?


The dimension and its iconic imagery is chock-full of narrative potential that is simply inspiring - after all, we know how the Crusader loves fashioning tools and weapons from foes...so what he can do with the echo...your own fantasy is literally the only limiting factor here, for within the Echo's eternity, the Ebon Gauntlet's members are reforged into something different, something deadly - and thus 5 sample soldiers and adversaries are provided, including nastier specials that deserve the name - including advice on how to use the Ebon gauntlet's dire forces.


Oh, and if that is not enough, additional suggestions regarding the involvement of other icons do add further dimensions to the glorious array of potential shown here - and yes, two brief, fluff-centric adventure-locales are provided as well with the Ebon Citadel and the Bleak Pit - yup, they're as cosy as you'd expect them to be!.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to 13th Age's 2-column full-color standard and the pdf provides neat artworks in full color. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a slight comfort-detriment.


Michael E. Shea and Rob Heinsoo deliver a surprisingly inspired pdf here - yes, this installment may be a bit on the short side of things, but oh boy did I enjoy reading every line of it: The prose is captivating in just the right way, the concepts are fitting and the pdf actually adds a thoroughly unique dimension to the Crusader that makes the very icon infinitely more interesting and compelling - which is quite a feat in my book! My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Echo & Gauntlet
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

Kroma Draconics
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/09/2015 03:55:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of 13th Age Monthly clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!


All right, so, personal antipathy aside, there seem to be a lot of players who enjoy playing dragon-people and the variant race introduced back in the day, so here, we actually get chromatic draconics fully depicted - though their moniker, "kroma", obvious is shorter...and hence the one most widely used. The cool thing in this installment of 13th Age Monthly, at least as far as I'm concerned, is that the race now is no afterthought-option anymore: With evocative 13 things that might be true about them as well as information on inner-racial nomenclature, 5 origin myths (and some advice on weaving them together) as well as some ideas regarding icon influence, kroma draconics end of feel much more rounded, much more organic that before - and that is great in my book.


In fact, against my own personal bias against the very notion of draconics, I found myself rather impressed by the campaign seed that essentially suggests a Koru-behemoth-based draconic state - kudos!


The additional feat options herein allow for either better breath weapon-progression and limited flight based on the battle and, at champion-tier, the escalation die - pretty interesting means of not allowing for low-level reliable flying, particularly considering that flight eliminates your breath weapon racial power. Tying breath weapon and rage together for barbarians is an interesting combo, while fighter may go for the 1st level tail whip or the 7th level gathering breath maneuver - both of which are solid. A new sorceror talent ties re-use of breath weapon spells to the breath weapon power's recharge - so yes, some nice, thematically-fitting options here.


The book, beyond this, also features one draconic monster-stat per color, running the gamut from 3rd level archer to 7th level wrecker, including two universal draconic nastier specials - providing a well-rounded array of adversaries, all with unique tricks.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to 13th Age's 2-column full-color standard and the pdf provides neat artworks in full color. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a slight comfort-detriment.


Cal Moore and Rob Heinsoo deliver herein. I just can't deny it. I've never made a secret about me not liking most representations of dragon-like humanoids and their impact on the world, with the notable exception of the Mharoti empire in Kobold Press' Midgard. Apart from that, they always felt wrong and kind of lackluster to me. I really dislike the notion and am not a fan of the very concept. Know what? This pdf is still great. I tried hard to swallow my dislike for the subject matter and ended up not having to do so: What we have here is an inspired little ecology that also doubles as a nice expansion for players. I did not expect to find anything I'd like as a person herein and found aplenty - and if that is not testament to being a worthy addition, what is? My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Kroma Draconics
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

The Dracula Dossier: Dracula Unredacted
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/08/2015 13:02:21

Possibly the largest, most comprehensive play-aid ever produced, this book consists of the complete text of Bram Stoker's Dracula along with masses of notes, documents and comments that can be used as clues, hints and inspiration for a massive Nights Black Agents game. The premise is simple to state: What if Stoker hadn't been writing fiction at all but an after-action report on an attempt to recruit a vampire by the British Secret Service? Naturally, they'd not want word of such a thing getting out, so the novel with which we all are familiar has been heavily censored (in spy-speak, 'redacted') to conceal what was really going on.


However, anyone who knows the British civil service will know that they never chuck anything out (although whether or not they'll admit that they have it is another matter), so the full unredacted text has been festering away somewhere, accumulating more notes as years pass particularly during subsequent attempts to utilise that most famous of vampires in the national interest particularly in 1940 and during the Cold War. And now... this bundle has fallen into the party's hands. What will they do with it?


What you, as GM, need to decide is how it gets to them and why, and what is really going on. The companion volume The Dracula Dossier: Director's Handbook provides guidance aplenty, but this is an extremely open-ended concept - a campaign that is ready for you and indeed your players to put their own spin on the whole thing.


Marginal notes and scribbled comments that would drive a librarian to distraction, in several different hands that are, mercifully, pretty legible. The whole thing hangs together coherently, in an eminently believable manner. Stylistically, the expanded text matches Bram Stoker's own style well, it is only by comparison (or knowing the novel well) that you can discern what has been added. As a 'dossier' you might wish for added material - photos, sketches, maps - over and above the annotated text (you could always devise your own additions of course), but as the ultimate player hand-out this is hard to beat!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Dracula Dossier: Dracula Unredacted
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

The Sharpe Initiative: Earthgouger
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/07/2015 02:25:36

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of 13th Age Monthly clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let's...wait.


Wait a second. This is actually a small module, so from here on out reign the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, only GMs here? Great! Remember my review of "The Strangling Sea"? Well, the PCs may have made the acquaintance of notoriously unreliable and downright nasty inventor genius Inigo Sharpe. Well, the dwarven explorer Greta Silvervein has found something - a massive construct, but none of the regular folks knows how to get it going. Enter the famously obnoxious genius, who promptly deciphered the thing to be one of the missing earthgougers from the 10th age. With trademark arrogance, Inigo botched the activation of the construct, slurring his umlauts and the resulting catastrophe was only exacerbated by the derro entering the fray.


So that's the task - get rid of the derro-issue and then reactivate (properly!) the earthgouger and move it back to the tender care of Greta. Sounds simple, right? Alas, nothing is too simple when the derro are involved - from traps to their own insane tactics - you see, the problem is that, even with more care, the machine is hard to control...and more derro and a vast chasm loom alongside a special boss, depending on the primary icon that employed the PCs - servants of the archmage get a different boss than those of the dwarven lord - nice! (Plus, sadistic GMs can throw more than one boss at the PCs...)


It should also be noted that veterans of "The Strangling Sea" will have a some nice Easter-eggs and follow-up options going on here.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to 13th Age's 2-column full-color standard with nice full-color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Cal Moore's short scenario here is a nice, fun romp with some pretty cool adversaries and a fun, fantastical mission/back-drop. Particularly if players have played "The Strangling Sea," at which point the small nods and follow-ups become some much more rewarding. That being said, I really wished this sported as least a small schematic map of the area/earth-gouger - while the dimensions become apparent from the text, the fact remains that this nice module felt a bit more opaque than it would have been with a proper map.


This does not make this brief module bad, mind you - though I wished the non-combat challenges and piloting the earthgouger would have gotten a more detailed success/failure/control-mechanism. All in all, a nice, inexpensive module well worth of a final verdict of 4 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Sharpe Initiative: Earthgouger
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

Night's Black Agents: Double Tap
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/30/2015 04:39:36

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive expansion book for Night's Black Agents clocks in at 134 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 3 pages of ToC, leaving us with 123 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This review was moved up forward in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for an honest and critical review.


All right, so, if you recall my original review of Night's black Agents, you'll recall that I have received said book as a gift from a friend of mine and how much I loved it - however, there always remained one particular observation that may be considered somewhat problematic: Night's black Agents is based on the GUMSHOE engine, which is perhaps the best investigative RPG-engine out there. At the same time, though, Night's Back Agent's different gameplay styles at least partially implied a higher degree of emphasis on action and high-octane gameplay than what you'd see in Trail of Cthulhu or Esoterrorists. Night's Black Agents managed to partially offset the engine not being per se designed for this type of gameplay via the introduction of a significant amount of thoroughly inspired tweaks to the system. Well, if you're like me and have played a couple of Night's Black Agents-scenarios, you'll immediately notice what this book is: It's the high-octane Advanced Player's Guide, the 13 True Ways, of Night's Black Agents.


Let me elaborate: The book is divided into two sections, one for players and one for directors, with the player-section beginning with abilities - here, we are introduced to ability focuses like money laundering that concisely define what can be done with them; better yet, the respective entries do sport a plethora of techniques associated with the respective ability focus - in the above example, we'd for example receive information on overseas accounts, shell companies and the like. The abilities also sport tactical fact finding benefits that list sample possible spends and clues, the latter of which sport the handy glyphs denoting the nature of vampires in your given campaign. Beyond offering benefits for the players, this excessive section also provides a significant amount of unique hooks that directors can utilize to weave into their respective campaigns - from astrophysics to handling radioactive material to gladhandling via Cryptography, this chapter provides an immensely enriching array of options not only for investigative abilities, but also for the various general abilities featured.


Indeed, beyond significantly enriching the rich tapestry of options at the beck and call of the agents, the supplemental rules also improve the versatility and variety of action-scenarios available. Oh, and if you're annoyed by absolute super-pro secret agents failing certain tests, then you may want to check out the optional mastery rules provided. That being said - yes, this chapter also covers an impressive array of new cherries for your agents, further diversifying the abilities and improving the reward ratio for specialization beyond what the core-book offered -from retro-active pickpocketing to nigh-undefusable bomb-set-ups, this chapter is a true beauty and further cements Night's Black Agents as the mechanically most refined GUMSHOE game out there.


Beyond combat-centric cherries and a general expansion of abilities, one should not fail to mention the tricks of the trade - usually requiring 8+ in the respective ability, these allow for superb cheating skills via a 3-point spend, improvising alibis, mad hacking skills (played via hilarious techno-babble) or even James Bond/Knightrider-esque signature vehicles. And yes, this extends to a set of unique and inspired new thriller combat maneuvers, including being thrown away by the blast - riding the shockwave, if you will. On a personal note, that had me chuckle quite a bit since it's been a running joke in my games ever since I once managed to evade a lethal 20T-explosion in Shadowrun and come out of it unscathed thanks to a ridiculous amount of luck. Now one basic issue regarding espionage tradecraft ultimately remains the problem of what can be done with which ability - here, adaptive tradecraft helps, suggesting a rather impressive amount of uses for the respective abilities in uncommon ways - from monitoring a negotiation to manipulating webcams, this section, once again, is all about the glorious options that should be at the fingertips of elite spies.


If your players are like mine, they will have, not only in-game, immensely benefited from the standard operation procedures and thus quickened the general pace with which you can handle complex operations, investigations and plans - well, there's more here: The Carthagena rules should further help agents operate within the challenging requirements of destroying a global vampire conspiracy.


Obviously, an agent is only as good as his tools - we did learn that from Mr. Bond et al., right? Hence, new materiel is introduced - by the buckets: Voice synthesizers, scramblers, facial masking, RFID sniffers and even low-powered wrist lasers can be found here. And yes, the optional rules here also cover the effects of EMP-weaponry, should you wish to go that route! Oh, for high-octane games, I should also mention jetpacks, while dust-games in particular will appreciate e.g. winches or magnetic licensing plates. And yes, if you're particularly prepared, you can benefit from the Q-rule and have utterly awesome, strange gadgets at your disposal - at the hefty price of a 12-point preparedness spend... Obviously, this level of detail also extends to weaponry, which is not only listed by special OPs forces that employ them, but which now benefits from new uses and cherries as well.


Thriller contest rules have been a crucial part of Night's Black Agent's appeal for a more action-driven gameplay style and indeed, the rules receive some utterly non-optional expansions: Beyond digital intrusion, infiltration, surveillance and manhunts all receive extensive supplemental rules to make them more exciting - this chapter alone is so compelling, I'd never want to miss it in any of my NBA-games...and yes, even when playing different games, a GM can still learn quite a bit here.


Where the player-section of this book was focused primarily on expanding the options and further streamlining the suspense-factor, the director's companion chapter can be considered to be all about utility: Need some sample NPCs that don't necessarily feature in the main-plot? The significant array of Cameo-stats for mechanics, superintendents and the like has you covered - and it hilariously includes a goth in love with the dread vampire predator. Nice, winking nod towards one of my subculture's obsessions and how that would pan out in Night's Black Agent's world.... Beyond these people, ready-made establishing shots of various places, sporting enough details for compelling narratives, can be considered another godsend for the director whose agents have once again gone off script.


Among the new options for the agent's monstrous adversaries, manipulating blood to create servitors, cursing them and Chupa, Ekimmu, Homunculus, Penanggalan and Nosferatu stats have you covered with more unique vampiric adversaries. Speaking of which - now directors can utilize the pyramidal structure of the Conspyramid to chart out means by which the conspiracy may be torn asunder - the suspicions-pyramid, or suspyramid, helps in that regard and is an apt planning tool. Particularly fond and a high note for an already excellent book, would be the advice given regarding variant eras - should you choose to, you can chart out storylines detailed the struggles of generations of agents against the dread conspiracy, including relevant rules for social class, telegraphy and the like...and rules for old agents up for one final stab at the nebulous masters...


The book ends with handy summaries of cherries, combat rules, vampire powers etc., all available in a very user-friendly manner, as well as with a massive and very useful index.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are excellent, I noticed not a single glitch. Layout adheres to Night's Black Agent's 3-column b/w-standard and the artwork utilized is original and generally, high-quality and evocative. The electronic version comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience, while the softcover print version features high-quality, glossy paper and leaves nothing to be desired regarding the quality - and it better not, for this book will see A LOT of use.


All right, if you've been following my reviews, you'll have noted that I pretty much spoiled the review from the get-go: Mentioning this book in the same breath as the Advanced Player's Guide and 13 True Ways should tell you something about it: Namely that this book is, what I'd call the "unique identity marker." Don't get me wrong, Night's Black Agent's core book is an absolutely excellent tome that deserves all the praise I heaped on it. At the same time, though, it is still very much obviously a GUMSHOE-book and as such, offers a playing experience that may deviate from Esoterrorists, Trail of Cthulhu, etc., but at the same time, there are parallels you can utilize. When adding "Double Tap" to the fray, the unique components of Night's Black Agent's are not only expanded, they are amplified - significantly. And best of all, for the better. For even in a game that blends multiple GUMSHOE-games, you can still make this the representation of the step up to hyper-pro mode. Basically, this book makes everything more exciting and versatile for the players and at the same time, it helps the directors out there manage what's important with its extremely useful cameos and set-piece establishing shots.


If the above accumulation of basically unfiltered praise was not ample clue for you: This may very well be the best GUMSHOE rules book I've read so far. It succeeds also absolutely perfectly at making Night's Black Agents run more smoothly - the fast-paced infiltration rules, the nice nods regarding digital intrusion, the rules that run the gamut from realistic grit to high-octane action - all of these conspire to make this book a non-optional purchase for a GUMSHOE-system if there ever was one. I fact, if you liked the rules of Night's Black Agents and scavenged them, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do the same here - Double Tap is chock-full with pure excellence.


Kenneth Hite, John Adamus, Will Hindmarck, Kevin Kulp, Christian Lindke, James Palmer, Will Plant, Rob Wieland, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan - gentlemen, you have created a truly astounding, must-have book that has to be considered non-optional for Night's Black Agents and extremely rewarding for GUMSHOE beyond that. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents: Double Tap
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

The Dracula Dossier: Director's Handbook
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/27/2015 09:47:00

What if? What if Dracula was real and moreover the subject of an attempt to recruit him by British Intelligence... an attempt which failed? And what if Bram Stoker's novel Dracula is but a heavily-redacted version of the after-action report?


This is the core premise upon which The Dracula Dossier: Director's Handbook is built, but in spectacular fashion. It's not a scenario or even a campaign but a mammoth toolbox of resources to enable you to take this 'What if?' and run with it, run in whatever direction you'd like to go. For the original 'What if?' is only the beginning. In 1940, the Allies tried to use Dracula to bring Romania into the war on their side (but succeeded only in driving them to join the Axis instead). Then in the 1960s... and there's loads more, with everything referenced and scribbled down in The Dracula Dossier ... and so we reach the next 'What if?'. What if your party got its hands on The Dracula Dossier and started to investigate it?


And they can. The Dracula Dossier: Dracula Unredacted puts the entire text, from 1894 right to the present day, in your players' hands, just as their characters are sent a copy in your game. Possibly the most epic playaid ever, they can root through it and find avenues of investigation - whilst you pore through this Director's Handbook for all the resources you need to run the events and encounters that result from their research. By turning Bram Stoker's novel into the bowdlerised version of a spy thriller, and then releasing the unredacted version, a whole new spin is put on vampires... and who better to investigate than Night's Black Agents?


It is all very improvisational... and can even be collaborative if you choose. It's up to you what is actually going on, and you could choose to allow player choices about what strand they wish to investigate determine what's actually true and important - as their characters are, after all, supposed to be experienced veteran agents - rather than decide for yourself long before the game begins. Basically, the annotations in Dracula Unredacted provide the leads whilst this Director's Handbook gives you a wealth of options for what each clue means. There are even some ideas for playing this differently - perhaps for some reason the characters only have a copy of the novel, or maybe in your world Dracula Unredacted is a myth which they'll have to find (if it exists) whilst dealing with those who would rather it did not come to light! And if you have an established Night's Black Agents campaign in which vampires are either completely different from the 'Dracula' sort or don't exist at all, then this still can make a mammoth sourcebook of people and places... or perhaps there's more than one sort of vampire out there?


There's plenty of advice about building your conspyramid, and how to use the names and other references to bemuse or aid your party as the game progresses. Suggestions are cross-referenced so that you know who belongs where, but there's loads of flexibility to let you make what you want of the whole thing. This isn't something you pick up and run straight from the text like many published adventures, but with good pre-planning and a thorough knowledge of this book's contents, you can react swiftly to whatever your players decide to do, confident that it's all going to fit together in the end.,/p>


The actual resources are arranged thematically, starting with an overview of the 1894 origins and the legacies left behind. Then there's a look at the various forces interested in the matter at hand, most of whom will be opposed to the pesky party poking around. Next comes a massive collection of people who are (or were) involved subsequent to the plot's origins. They are grouped by era: 1940, 1977 and 2011. Locations (arranged by nation) and objects follow and then there are three 'scenario spines' intended as exemplars of how your campaign might develop - with the comforting note that yours doesn't need to be laid out so well as you are the only one who needs to understand it! Of course you may like one or more of them enough that you'll make use of them in developing your own campaign. These are followed by several 'capstones' designed to provide appropriate climactic endings to your campaign. Again, use one of these or come up with your own as appropriate.


All the above give structure and substance to what you are building, but where does style come in? This is addressed in a section on 'campaign frames', three options which allow you to shape your campaign as a fight against terrible forces (almost Cthulhu-style), as the sort of thriller you might read during a long flight, or as a twisted conspiracy that's run from 1894 right through to the present day and which is carrying on secretly right now. Take your pick, based on the sort of games you like to run, and which your players enjoy. Finally, the city of Bucharest is presented in detail.


This is a mammoth work to take aboard - and I don't mean the nearly 400 pages it comprises! The sheer scope of the campaign mixed with exceptional flexibility mean that there is the potential to create a truly epic series of adventures with your players, games that will be remembered and talked about for as long as... well, the Dracula stories themselves.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Dracula Dossier: Director's Handbook
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

Summoning Spells
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/27/2015 04:45:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of 13th Age Monthly clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD/editorial, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let's take a look!


13 True Ways introduced summoning for two new classes - druid and necromancer, and now, we get rules for the core-classes as well - but can they stand up? Do they maintain balance? Let's take a look! Summoning creatures is a standard action and they take their action immediately after the summoner in the initiative order. Summoned creatures fight until the end of the battle or until reduced to 0 hp - if they are defeated, you take psychic damage equal to the creature's level. Creatures may be dismissed as a quick action. Unlike druid and summoner, the summoning options presented herein do not limit the character to one in effect at a given time - they do require the actions of the summoner to be fully effective, though. Integration of these rules is made more streamlined by a rather interesting idea: There are three types of summons -ordinary, superior and independent. Druids and necromancers summon superior creatures that have the regular array of actions.


Conversely, clerics and wizards using these rules summon ordinary creatures, unless otherwise noted. Ordinary summoned creatures only take a standard, move and quick action if a summoner used a standard action to control the creature on his/her own turn. If not controlled thus, you roll a d6 to determine the default action the creature takes, varying from creature to creature. Lesser summoned creatures thus can take a full turn when controlled directly - but when more are available, you have to decide which one to control. An exception to this would be the option to summon mook swarms - the whole mob is considered to be one creature for the purpose of being controlled. Summoned creatures also are not quite as real as the...well...real deal. As such, they lack some of the better tricks the "proper" creature could pull off and most commonly is represented by less hit points. Summoned creatures may use the escalation die, but can change its value only during the turn they are summoned - this rule rewards PCs not immediately spamming creature upon creature on the battle field. Summoned creatures also count as allies - which means that they may soak up random recoveries and the like - another reason not to have too many of them around all the time.


Summoned creatures also get no recoveries and heal only your level when subject to a healing spell based on recoveries and no, they do not get nastier specials. Personally, I am not a fan of the sloppy way in which the creatures are codified as spell or creature: Basically, the pdf says that they behave as spells when being cast, thereafter as creatures...unless the GM rules otherwise. More precise guidance would have been called for here.


The pdf begins with lantern archons (level 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 stats provided) and hound archons (lvl 5, 7, 9 stats provided) as summons for the cleric, with both coming with appropriate feats for all tiers - though personally, I don't think the epic feat for the lantern archon is fitting - on a crit, it becomes a superior creature for the rest of the combat. How? Why? I don't get the in-game logic behind this. And yes, the feat belittles you for taking it: "Surely there must be something better you can do with


an epic feat? No? Very well then:" - I kid you not, that's what's written here. I don't get why the designers of 13th Age insist on such unprofessional conduct. Not often, but here it is again - it's probably intended to be funny, but it comes across as arrogant and belittling. Thankfully, the other summons do not feature such a line. On the plus-side, I do like how certain feats reward having certain domains...though the relative scarcity of spells herein means that only some domains are covered.


Okay, as for wizards, there are two types of summoning, with the first being demon summoning? As the pdf aptly observes, the floating pentagram on the cover? That's the archmage's innovation and, like an ironic halo, it allows for at least rudimentary control of demons. Alas, it's not fool-proof - on an attack versus MD that scores a natural 18+, the summoner must save or see the pentagram canceled for 1 round. Thankfully, dismissal/death is covered in detail here. On the downside, the formatting here is a bit cluttered and makes the rules-text continue right below the last statblock of hound-archons. Interesting: There is an eternally laughing type of demon that can be controlled more easily...but still...having an abyssal engine of destruction that continuously laughs can grate on your nerves...especially when you think the joke's on you... The other and more reliable means of summoning would pertain to earth elementals, which are provided as an example (lvl 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 covered) - so no, no sample water, air or fire elementals. :(


As for demons, we get the imp (lvl 3 and 5), frenzy demon (lvl 5 and 7) and aforementioned laughing demon (lvl 7 and 9) as summoned creatures...and the laughing demon as a non-summoned, standard creature - and their nastier special is joker-gas-level brutal. Psychic damage whenever you save. Including death saves. Yeah. Ouch.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - however, I do not understand the strange decision to clutter text together to the point, where one statblock and the text of another chapter almost visually blend together - that's just odd. The pdf comes with nice full-color artworks and layout adheres to 13th Age's 2-column full-color standard. The pdf has no bookmarks, when it's one of the longer installments in the series and one more likely to see a lot of use - I don't get why they're absent from this installment.


Rob Heinsoo knows his system and it shows - mechanically, there is quite literally nothing to complain about here - the rules provided are concise and playtesting did show them to be pretty balanced - no necro or druid will complain about them stealing their thunder and the unreliable demon summoning in particular can be considered to be pretty awesome. At the same time, this feels like a band-aid pdf...for a bullet wound in the system. Summoning creatures pretty much is a staple of fantastic gaming and this pdf does manage to introduce this component into 13th Age for two classes that ought to have had it in the first place.


Still, that's good. For two classes.


If you're a sorceror, chaos mage or the occultist wishing to dabble into summoning - tough luck, you get nothing; No special rules, no unique tricks - nothing. That's one gripe I have against this pdf. My second gripe would be that non-combat summoning, utility-summoning, if you will, isn't covered well here - and the scope even within the classes and in combat, is too limited. Want fire elemental summons? Design them yourself.


Basically, we have the topic for a big book here, condensed down to its very basics. Sure, what's here is solid - but the sheer amount of what isn't here feels downright jarring. Relationship-effects on summons? Nope. Not even PCs in league with the Diabolist get some special tricks. Gold Wyrm/Priestess clerics and archons? Nope, no synergy. The domain-component is solid, sure, but the only thing this pdf accomplished in my group was to incite grumbling about the rules not supporting the character-concept my players wanted.


This is not a bad pdf and a capable GM willing to do a lot of work can use it to make A LOT of summoning spells and creatures, sure. But my point remains that this should have been a big, concise book or expansion. With the limited scope it has, we get a solid offering, but one that does not cover the topic at hand in sufficient depth. While personally, I was annoyed by the half-assed and belittling epic tier feat for lantern archons, you may disagree here, hence I will not take this into consideration for my final verdict - just a note: Belittling your audience and players may not be a smart move in the long run. I know that at least one of my players is really pissed and I am inclined to add my name to the list...


What remains, what's here, is a solid pdf that manages to avoid balance-issues and the spam-syndrome associated with summoning in other systems. But also a pdf that leaves a lot to be desired, a long shot from a comprehensive array of summoning magic in 13th Age. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Summoning Spells
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

Eidolons
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/25/2015 05:16:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of 13th Age Monthly clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


By a route obscure and lonely,


Haunted by ill angels only,


where an eidolon, named night,


on a black throne reigns upright,


I have reached these lands but newly


From an ultimate dim Thule


From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,


Out of space - out of time.


Sorry, I couldn't help myself. It's my immediate association whenever I hear the word "eidolon" - and no, in 13th Age, they are not the customizable pets of summoners. Instead, eidolons are pretty much powerful spirits shaped by a central core reality and governing principle - they basically are single-minded agents of a concept or ideology given form. Their origins are shrouded in mystery and their devotion to the core-concept that constitutes their reality may put them at odds with one another or make them unreliable allies of the PCs - in any way, these creatures of soul-stuff (classified as the new type: spirit) and weirdness do sport a vast plethora of forms, something represented in their unique abilities:


They can switch initiatives, split parties between realities and even reposition targets...and worse: They are undying. They can be defeated, but you don't kill an idea. Need something even cooler? What about the concise and rather lethal, optional insanity point-mechanic introduced here? (Yes, including the traditional "You know things you weren't supposed to..."-knowledge to be gained from insanity...) Different base forms for the eidolons are provided - a total of 4 such forms are fully statted here, with all of them sporting at least one interesting ability.


The opinions of 5 icons (Why not all 13? What about the Occultist?) on the creatures are also provided...and perhaps, you can wrestle the true name of an eidolon out of one of them to gain some control over them...but then again, they may exist to test the mettle of heroes - thus, 3 sample blessings and even more curses to be uttered by these creatures can be found here. Need even more inspiration? What about half a page of adventure hooks? That's my one gripe - why not make the final page full of hooks? As provided, half a page of blank space at the end looks a bit lost.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to 13th Age's 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked. The full-color artworks are neat.


ASH LAW's eidolons are a damn cool, interesting creature type - with narrative potential galore, utterly unique tactical options and a broad diversity of applications, they are pretty much a textbook definition of a great critter - and that is before the fluff, the optional madness rules and the neat blessings and curses. When all I can complain about amounts to "half a page is blank, you could have written something there," you know that a given pdf is pretty much awesome. That being said, the eidolons very much feel, at least to me, like they ought to have a tie-in with the Occultist and I couldn't help but feel that opinions of all 13 icons on them would have felt more comprehensive than just covering 5. These two missed chances remain my only valid complaints here - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Eidolons
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

13th Age: The Strangling Sea
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/23/2015 03:35:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This module for 13th Age clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page blank inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This was moved ahead in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a critical, honest review.


We begin this module with a briefing and a selection of the icon patron for the PCs - and, let me state this from the beginning, this section is very detailed: Each of the patron icons and also, each of the antagonist icons you can choose to frame the narrative in, changes the subject matter in subtle ways - though arguably, I'd suggest involving the Dwarf King in some way - you'll note why when reading the module.


And this is the extent to which I can get regarding the module without delving into the SPOILERS. From here on out, only GMs should read on - seriously, even when playing another system, you may want to move on to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, so it should come as no surprise that in a highly magical setting like the Dragon Empire, there sooner or later emerges a genius. In the case of the 13th Age, this Leonardo DaVinci-style super-genius would be Inigo Sharpe. However, the brilliant man takes "problematic" to whole new levels. What do I mean by this? well, the man has made a living out of solving (partially) the issues of an Icon and then getting the hell away, leaving shambles and large bills. Yes, he is not a nice guy and while the concepts his inventions would have had for the respective icons are massive, none work as intended/are completed - instead, this brilliant man elected not to put even more power in the icon's hands.


This does not, however, change the fact that, at some point, Inigo had to jump ship time and again - and then, he vanished. At the behest of their patron icon, the PCs have to track down Sharpe..with the only good trail leading to Silver Cove and a burned former partner of Sharpe left to clean up one of his messes. Indeed, the mage Frigin's dome soon comes under siege by some hoodlums, showing the PCs that they are not the only ones on the hunt for Sharpe. The annoyed and frightened mage does have a means of tracking down Sharpe, though - a concealed, magical boat that always returns back to its port of origin, to be activated via a peculiar song.


Thus, the PCs board the vessel, sing...and on it goes. The magical boat brings them right into the ocean, to be more precise, to the eponymous strangling sea. This would be a tightly-interwoven mat of Sargasso, fungi, wrecks and worse, all clumped together to form a floating, unstable place. Navigating the strangling sea's less than reliable: One false step can see you crash through the ground and into the sea that's teeming with lethal predators...and then there would be the inhabitants: The strangling sea features a tribe of degenerate, xenophobic goblins on the verge of becoming something wholly different and these beings, with their psionics-inducing parasites are just one issue. The other factions contain a group of shipwrecked people and a huge metal box, which is an experimental dwarven ship of metal. Oh, and there are, obviously, deadly parasites and flesh-eating fungi to be found here as well in one of the most unique iterations of this trope I've seen in ages.


Finding Inigo here is hard - particularly, since neither the paranoid, hostile dwarves, nor the other factions prove to be friendly: The PC's arrival changes the strangling sea's power-dichotomy, with their boat being a grand prize to be wrestled from the PCs...and the desperation and paranoia of the locals makes sense. Why? Because the strangling sea houses a malevolent, chthonic intellect that drives its inhabitants into desperation, paranoia and even suicide. Yes, darker than you thought, hmm? The brilliant rules-representation of the Strangling Sea, though, is what makes it shine even more: Basically, the Strangling Sea gets a kind of evil relationship die that can further influence PCs in ways most unpleasant. I expected the neat rules for swimming under the sea - I did not expect this awesomeness.


Better yet, the fully mapped sea (player-friendly, just fyi) retains the modularity promised by the set-up: You see, Inigo can be freely placed...and there's a reason for this. The PCs won't simply find the eccentric inventor - unless they are smart: You see, Inigo's "death" was not just perfectly faked...he kind of died. However, he downloaded his personality and mind into a steampunky replacement body...of which only the head remains. So yeah, the goal here is to escape the strangling sea alive, sanity mostly intact, with a severed and still very conscious (and talkative...and extremely abrasive) head of a century's genius... whether their ship is stolen or not, whether they reactivate the massive dwarven ship or not - one way or another, the PCs can hopefully return - to a final encounter that amounts to rugby/American football with Inigo's head. And yes, this encounter, like each and every one in this book, has several cool, unique factors that make it more unique.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, i noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to 13th Age's printer-friendly, elegant 2-column b/w-standard. The original b/w-artworks are copious and nice and the strangling sea's map is neat. The electronic version is fully bookmarked for your convenience. The softcover version comes on glossy, thick high-quality paper.


All right, let's cut this short: GET THIS! This is the 13th Age introduction-module you always wanted: Beyond the absolutely awesome location, the icon-related customization options and the story, this awesome sandbox offers unique, cool encounters galore. Even if you're not playing 13th Age, the creative and well-written module practically demands to be converted into other systems: Robin D. Laws has executed a firework of high-concept awesomeness in these pages that render this a joy to read and the playing experience actually surpasses this still.


The unique use of 13th Age's rules and the diverse selection of foes and scenarios render this sandbox one thing: Superb. If I had one complaint, it would be that I would have loved the module to be longer, for there to be even more madness and time in the Strangling Sea...so yeah. I literally couldn't get enough of this. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and a must-own recommendation for any fan of 13th Age.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age: The Strangling Sea
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

Fear Itself
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/18/2015 04:09:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review


Fear Itself clocks in at 91 pages, 1 page front cover, 3 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 86 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


This book was moved forward on my review-queue due to me receiving a physical copy in exchange for an unbiased and critical review.


We begin this variant of the GUMSHOE system with a disclaimer that kind of makes me sad for its necessity: Fear Itself is, more so than ToC, Esoterrorists or Night's Black Agents a hardcore horror-game. PCs will die. Uncomfortable topics will be mentioned and explored. The fact that players and GMs buying a horror game have to be notified that horror can be horrific...well, I get why, but still am kind of shocked that we've become this cuddled and unaccustomed to hardship and failure. For those out there that are sensitive to such topics - you have been warned.


Fear Itself takes places in the same world as Esoterrorists, which means that the AWESOME creatures of the Outer Dark, the superb, disturbing aesthetics of the creatures and their themes, remains intact - but the focus is a different one: Where Esoterrorists centered on professionals bringing the fight to the adversaries, Fear Itself's inspiration is clearly the vast plethora of horror movies out there: From slasher movies to psychological dramas to current movies like "It Follows" - and it revels in this inspiration: You see, the premise centers on the PCs playing characters associated with archetypes of the genre - "The Jock," "The Nerd," "The Authority Figure," "The Sexy Girl" - you get the idea.


Now if you've been to any amount of horror movies, you will have noticed certain traits being used to guarantee a character's downfall: This is the best component of this book from a rules-perspective and something that all GUMSHOE games I run feature. I'm talking about Risk factors. Risk factors are traits that may be deemed character flaws - whether it's an unbridled libido, greed, a desire for vengeance or curiosity: Each character has a risk factor, but is, surprisingly, not required to heed it's dictates. There are hard and soft risk factors - and not heeding them incurs a stability loss. This system is VERY smart and works exceedingly well in game - it rewards players for not meta-gaming and still maintains control over the character's urges as opposed to the player trying to ensure that the PC survives. On a nitpicky side: Risk factors are presented at the very beginning, when the respective rules-repercussions of them can be found on page 48 - 4 pages after the begin of the stability rules, so why not directly point towards that rules-information?


PCs also are supposed to have a dark secret - basically, the worst thing the character did...which is kind of realistic. After all, the longer we live, the more likely it is that we fail our own moral compasses. As always, we get points depending on the number of players to invest in investigative abilities. The interesting thing here is that the abilities may be capped: The combat/investigative expert of the group pretty much determined how good other players can be - precisely half as good. If e.g. the police cadet has 8 in shooting, the rest of the PCs can only have a shooting value of 4. If the combat/investigative expert increases the shooting value, the other PCs may increase the value until they reach the half-way point. And yes, rounded down, though explicitly mentioning this wouldn't have hurt. Your second highest rating must be at least half your highest rating. There is another special type of restricted character of which there can only be one per group: The psychic. These characters have special skills like aura reading, being a medium or having strange messengers or premonitions - these abilities, unanimously, are narrative gold and I strongly advise the GM to properly make use of psychic's cool powers. Take Synchronicity: Happy circumstances, unlikely happenstances - this can be used to massive effect. However, psychic powers leave the psychic open to the influence of the outer dark - each time you use a psychic power per session, you increase the difficulty numbers of stability rolls by the number of times you have drawn on your psychic powers. The character also suffers from a flat-out +1 increase to stability difficulty numbers, though I believe that explicitly mentioning whether this stacks or not would have made the rules here more concise.


If you're coming to Fear Itself from another GUMSHOE-game, you'll note something: The severely limited selection of investigative abilities. With characters being flawed everyday guys and gals, it should come as no surprise that even on this basic level, they will have a harder time dealing with the horrible threats they face. This is also emphasized by perhaps the single most important ability in the arsenal of Fear Itself characters: Fleeing. Fleeing can be used to substitute for Athletics when escaping, but not when pursuing...and it is the balancing mechanism for the combat/investigative expert and psychic's additional tricks: All characters but those two get 2 rating points per point invested. Yes, much like in horror movies, the capable characters will have a harder time escaping the horrors.


Now, if the prior emphasis on stability was not ample clue: Yes, Fear Itself does sport "Sources of Stability"-rules and a personal goal you should determine - both not only tie your character to others and places in the world and the guidance for affinities and enmities between PCs helps establish hierarchies and social dynamics: We e.g. all know the following set-up: The jock is together with the sexy girl, but is in love with the good girl. The nerd is in love with the sexy girl, who, however, dislikes the nerd. The good girl, though, has a secret crush on the nerd... Yeah, this may sound simple and is entirely optional, but it does work and can be seen as a fluffy precursor and less complex version of Night's Black Agents betrayal mechanics. The other rules regarding abilities pretty much follow the system you're already familiar with - however, dealing damage in scuffling is pretty hard: Sans proper weaponry, the PCs will be pretty ill-equipped to deal with the horrors they face.


As always in GUMSHOE books, the special requirements on handling clues and structuring the story are well-explained for the GM, alongside simple rules for combat, death, injury - you know the deal by know. More interesting for the GM would be the creatures introduced in this book. For one, we once again get absolutely stunning b/w-artworks for them. Secondly, if you've read my review of Esoterrorists, you'll have an inkling of how friggin' awesome these beings can be. All right, the first creature herein already shows a significant difference in comparison to the adversaries faced in Esoterrorist-games: The Mystery Man. What does this guy do? Well, think Phantasm's Tall Man...or Q with a personality that would make Pinhead blush with indignation: This godlike adversary has practically infinite powers and one grand motivation: Ocean Game, i.e. driving mortals insane for his own sickening pleasure (and the thinning of the membrane)... The second creature featured herein, the Ovvashi, is no less disturbing, but better suited as a short-term adversary than the BBEG-mystery man: The Ovvashi would be a deadly, unpleasant demon that has a face of all mouth - no eyes, no nose, just a thing clad in rags...and the thing is recruiting beggars, making the unfortunate into its beholden minions and servitors. And it smokes your soul. Literally. It can SMOKE YOUR SOUL. That's so disturbing... This creature is awesome and, if this and Esoterrorists are any indicator of the monster quality, the adversary book must indeed be superb.


As in other GUMSHOE-books, we do get advice for players and GMs, but it is provided after the monsters - which is something I noticed here: Compared to the other GUMSHOE-games I've been playing, Fear Itself's organization feels less intuitive and, sometimes, a tad bit confusing. For example, shouldn't the stability rules and explanations of the mechanics be found sooner? A concept is fine, sure, but as presented, you begin with fluff, then choose mechanics, then the next chapter explains the rules of the system like damage, stability, etc. - over all, this makes the presentation feel more fragmented and less intuitive than in similar GUMSHOE titles. And yes, I understand that this is in line with other GUMSHOE-game rules presentations, but in this book, I had the distinct feeling that, if you're not familiar with the rules yes, you may end up being somewhat confused. The general GUMSHOE-rules chapter also blends rules for PCs and GMs - again, understandable; but the advice for clue structure etc. imho belongs to the GM chapter, not in the player-section. Then, the awesome monsters come and THEN, we get GM and player-advice? Structure-wise, this is extremely unfortunate, since players should NOT read the entries of the monsters and their interesting weaknesses. So yes, presentation-wise, this one does feel a bit more confused than its brethren.


However, there is one point wherein Fear Itself manages to reach the perfect level of drool-worthy awesomeness of Esoterrorists: The sample scenario. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I'm saying that the sample scenario is by far the best I've ever read in a given campaign setting. No, really. It is not the perfect sandbox-set-up of Esoterrorist's Station Duty, but the module is brilliant in many ways.


You do NOT want to spoil this scenario, so if you ever want to participate in it, PLEASE jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


Only GMs left? Sure you want to SPOIL yourself? Really sure? All right.


So, the sample module provided herein begins with the PCs in a van, en route to a game-changer of an event. You see, CEO-wunderkind Cory Sluman, brilliant financial wizard and eccentric nerd, has established an array of interconnected setups to make his latest vision come true: He wants to establish LARP as a competitive sport and the PCs have an invitation to the inaugural event - for one reason or another, they need the money prize - they need to win. The set-up is as smart as you can possibly be: The PCs are all nerds, played by nerds: All those roleplaying jokes, Monty Python references...they make sense in game. This also immediately generates a connection between players and PCs as they banter, establish character-relations etc. - and then, suddenly, a van comes careening towards them, almost crashing into them. In the aftermath of the accident, the crew of the other van perishes and, as the PCs try to save them and the aftermath with the authorities is resolved, they may note a strange figure in the distance, cat-like fluorescing eyes staring.


But the game must go on - and the PCs arrive late, are almost disqualified...and meet a group that contains all the people you and your players love to hate in real world contexts. These rivals add a further human dimension to the happenstances that are about to unfold: For the LARP escalates horribly: As the PCs try to roleplay their characters (LOVE this meta-level!) in the context of Sluman's fantasy world, psyches start breaking apart and violence continuously escalates. Worse, all but the PCs seem to be oblivious to any results of the violence they participate in. Oh, and the PCs have foam swords. And LARP-pew-pew spells. Congratulations, this will be truly nasty... But whether the PCs blow the whistle or not, the event will end at some point...and if you're playing at a convention, this is where the adventure ends.


If not, though, then insanity has just started. You see, the strange occurrences do not end and the mysterious figure is still haunting them...and things become more sinister: The people that perished en route to the event? Well, investigation into their backgrounds reveals no easy connection: Different characters, social circles, no shared hobbies - only by researching those left behind in lavishly-detailed sections, the PCs can determine the unifying factors: For one, a change in personality and growing paranoia; and, more subtly, a theme of dogs...which leads towards the "Kozy Kennel", property of one Alex Ibragimbekov - while he tries to bullshit the PCs, he confesses soon: The practically unstoppable entity that goes by the moniker Hungerwood which has plaguing the PC's predecessors and now them, has been tormenting the poor man ever since he was a child.


The entity only changes targets when it can find a sufficiently dark spot on the souls of his victims to be (remember the dark secret?)... Oh, and he thinks he has found a way with the help of the deceased to stop Hungerwood or at least drive him away - for this insane purpose, he is torturing dogs to create the "Silent Howl," a ritual supported by a sound file of high-frequency howls that may at least temporarily stop Hungerwood - but are the PCs willing and desperate enough to capitalize on something so undoubtedly vile and disturbing? Probably, at this point - and so, the ritual commences in an unique, intriguing climax...that comes with a nasty aftertaste, as Alex is found dead...and Hungerwood's defeat proves to be short-lived or just another part of his macabre game...


The book concludes with a character sheet, a handy sheet called matrix of misery that lets the GM keep tabs on PCs and a detailed index.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column b/w-standard and the book sports numerous, gorgeous b/w-artworks of the highest caliber. The book's print edition is a nice softcover with glossy covers and high-quality paper. The pdf-version is something I would recommend only to a lesser extent: The lack of bookmarks the electronic version sports constitutes a significant comfort detriment, particularly considering the more spread-out presentation of the rules.


Robin D. Laws' Fear Itself is, and let me state that loud and clear, an EXCELLENT game. At the same time, the GUMSHOE system as depicted herein also represents the most disjointed of the presentations when compared to the other books I've covered and minor rules-ambiguities can be found here and there. While this does not cripple the book, it does detract a bit from its user-friendliness for novices to the system - which is a pity. Why? Because the Fear Itself, as a system, lends itself, like the horror movies it emulates, works best for brief campaigns and one-shots: The lethality of this iteration of GUMSHOE and the scope of the system is geared towards this...or towards prologue/first chapter-style gameplay.


The perfect way to use this book, at least in my opinion, is to lead into a longer campaign: The hapless PCs witness the horrible things about to happen and there we go: After several encounters, they are recruited into the OV, properly trained and now use Esoterrorist-rules, supplemented by some from this book. (And yes, in this instance, I'd slowly unlock the more action-packed spy-rules from Night's Black Agents as the PCs become more and more professional threats to the creatures of the Outer Dark and the vampiric conspiracy...)


Beyond even this use, one can also look at Fear Itself as the ultra-gritty version of GUMSHOE: Want to play a truly low-powered Esoterrorists-game or a Dustier-than-dust-mode Night's Black Agents-game? Scavenge the fleeing rules and the power-level. Even beyond such a model, the psychic powers may be a great addition to your game and the sources of stability/risk factor-mechanics offer A LOT of inspiring material that works just as well in more pulpy contexts. So while the presentation of the rules may not be as refined, the actual rules themselves are inspired in all the right ways.


The 2 monsters, the implied and extremely compelling Esoterrorists-world and the SUPERB scenario included herein also constitute excellent reasons to get this book. Fear Itself is a thoroughly compelling, excellent book, though one that is slightly more flawed than its brethren. Still, I wouldn't ever want to miss this book and its contents among my library and can whole-heartedly recommend it. While incapable of being able to rate this the full 5 stars due to the slightly confused presentation and the electronic version's lack of bookmarks, I can still rate this 4.5 stars + seal of approval, rounded up...However, only for the print version. The electronic version's lack of bookmarks exacerbates the aforementioned issues and should be considered only 4 stars and loses the seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fear Itself
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

Candles, Clay & Dancing Shoes
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/11/2015 02:55:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of 13th Age Monthly clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, what this pdf provides is interesting - we get items that are obviously the result of the craftsmanship of minor sorcerors, here called alchemists and talismancers - basically, everyday items. However, beyond the basic concept provided, each item sports 13 rumors related to it, some of which may be true, some of which may be false...all depending on the GM. This customization option is something I truly cherish here...so what do the items do?


The first item would be Blacklight Candles - mundane candles of black wax...but only the wielder can perceive the light they shed. Sounds boring? Well, what if it's true that only drow make these things? Or what if the fire started from such candles also is invisible? The latter is a genius hook I'm going to craft a whole adventure around. Clay of Life helps stabilizing the dying and can even be used to help re-attach severed limbs...and it may be fermented dragon droppings...or it may a plot of none other than the Lich King! Obviously, it would be pretty awesome if the extremely expensive clay sold in Horizon works - it returns the dead to life...but it could also transform them into mindless golems...


Dancing Shoes are a great idea: they allow you to dance like a pro...ONCE. As soon as you stop, they'll burst into flames. Need a variant on the Cinderella-trope? Here's an interesting one for you! (Oh, and yes, if you're VERY unlucky, they may burn you - but hey, the show must go on...right?) What about arrows that are particularly lethal versus ethereal foes (and less lethal versus physical targets), allwoing the PCs to better fight the threat of dybbuks and similar adversaries? Featherlight Skirts are also awesome in just about any decadent environment - these skirts puff up like a parachute and feather fall the wearer. The sample stories suggest e.g. a cadre of bored noble women using these skirts for what amounts to illegal base-jumping - and the idea alone is glorious: Think about the narrative potential here for an uncommon murder mystery...or a conspiracy waiting in the wings.


Finally, Grave Dust has a chance to work as a pretty potent sleeping agent...which is okay...but what if it's true that gelatinous cubes and similar slimes hate the taste and may spew forth immediately anyone covered in the material? Or what if it's true that the effects of the material end immediately in the vicinity of royalty? What does that say about the tavern-brawl featuring the material you just witnessed?


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, i noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to 13th Age's neat two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. Artworks are full-color and nice.


ASH LAW delivers some cool low-magic/alchemical items here. Yet, on their own, the fall somewhat flat. It is due to the absolutely inspired amount of narrative potential provided for each of them that they truly come into their own - what, on paper, sounds like a selection of solid, if a bit unremarkable items, becomes pretty awesome pretty fast by virtue of the inspiring 13 hooks provided for each of them, transforming the items into something more than the sum of their mechanical benefits.


Granted, I could nitpick some of these potential options: "Does the invisible fire created by blacklight candles visible burn objects or does it create an illusion of things being in order?" and similar reasoning - but that would be a disservice to the inspired ideas herein...and it would take a bit away from the GM's options to customize the living hell out of these items to suit his or her need. I consider this to be an inspired installment in the series, one that oozes flair and panache, not only for 13th Age. The one reason (beyond aforementioned nitpickery) this does not reach the highest echelons of my rating system is that the items are story-items, one and all - they don't really do something mechanically interesting. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Candles, Clay & Dancing Shoes
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

Temples of the Frog Folk
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/05/2015 02:20:21

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment in 13th Age's monthly series of supplemental pdfs clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This pdf portrays basically an ecology on frog folk - but why did no one write about them? Well, there is this odd phenomenon - all who write about the frog folk seem to experience unpleasant accidents...and 13 reasons for the paranoia exhibited by and surrounding the frog folk are given: For example, what if ALL gods hate the frog folk, as they are a cosmic mishap? Or what if their skulls contain the fables toadstones?


Frog folk as creatures are pretty interesting - the abilities provide allow for a poisonous disengage, the option to duck out of sight in the right terrain, attacking foes currently not engaged with them in a leaping assault or an inability to be surprised. Even the frog folk mooks have poisoned spears, btw.


Other variants provided, like their monks, get flailing froggy fists of death and end in poisonous splatters. Spellcroakers can emit curse-based blasts and generate lethal effects that buff all their brethren or debuff adversaries. Nastier specials are provided for these guys, with frog knights also getting a sweet deal here. Massive mutant bullfrogs can also be found herein.


Those mystic toadstones I mentioned before? Well, several variants of them are depicted among the treasure-section, including the cursed and thankfully rare black toadstones. Frogskin Leggings that allow you to make astonishing leaps...or what about a bunch of magical muck you can shape into any form you want, throw into a swamp and see the swamp assume the shape you just made? Yeah, neat! Sample encounters also render this section interesting and easy to use.


Need some more inspiration to use with these encounter-guidelines? Well, what about 5 adventure hooks, each one tied to a different icon (archmage, crusader, three, priestess, prince of shadows, if you want to know) -and yes, one may put what amounts to the Armageddon-spell into the PCs hands...thankfully, only this potent at higher levels, but there you have your tailor-made reason for everyone wanting a PC dead...or enslaved...


The pdf also sports racial info for frog folk PCs: They get +2 Dex or Con and get a 1/battle tongue racial power to re-engage with foes. The feats add poison-damage to the tongue and allow for multiple uses (11+) per battle, respectively - nothing to complain about regarding balancing here.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to 13th Age's two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports several nice full-color artworks. the pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn't necessarily need them at this length.


Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan knows his craft - quite frankly, at this point, I'm pretty much excited to see his name on any given supplement...and this ecology-style supplement is no different. Not only do the frog folk feel unique and compelling, the neat magic items and cool ideas sported herein render the content awesome even beyond the confines of the 13th Age-rules-set. If you ever needed some ideas to make grippli, boggards, etc. more compelling, this'll be your book. The solid racial rules and cool nastier specials add just the icing on a thoroughly enjoyable, cool supplement. The writing, while slightly tongue-in-cheek here and there, is never obnoxious or pseudo-cool, which is another plus.


All in all, a great offering, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Temples of the Frog Folk
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

Dragon Riding
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/04/2015 04:21:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The first installment of 13th Age Monthly clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!


There are few images so iconic in fantasy, there are few things as contended as the act of dragonriding. As such, it should come as no surprise that this pdf opens with a kind of disclaimer: Whether this happens often or not, ultimately is up to the GM - and that's a good thing, at least in my book. Why? Because this is one of those reviews, where I sit down and swallow my personal preferences: Basically, I think dragonriding should be something that only happens rarely, if at all. If you've been following my reviews, you'll know that I pretty much consider dragons to be the apex-creature and as such, am thoroughly opposed to spamming them in any way, as it lessens their impact. I was also pretty unimpressed by most Dragonlance novels - so yeah. Not the biggest fan here, mainly because, to me, the fact that these superb creatures let puny mammals ride them never made too much sense to me.


The rules provided within this brief supplement do acknowledge the diversity of requirements of campaigns: Some high-fantasy campaigns may consider dragonriding to be something wide-spread and accepted, whereas in others, the occasion is rare and something used to highlight a particularly epic story-line. The rules herein do NOT cover the out-of-combat implications of dragon-riding, instead focusing on their impact in combat - this is a strength and a weakness, but I'll get back to that later.


We begin this installment thus with some ideas for dragon-riding adventures, neatly tied together with the lore of the Dragon Empire. These ideas are well-presented - not much to complain about here. So here are the design assumptions: Dragon-riding is envisioned as a champion tier activity. Dragons are assumed to be roughly on par with your level. Dragon combats are intended primarily to happen outside, not within the confines of a dungeon. Mounts have to be larger than their riders...and willing to carry the character into battle. THANKFULLY sans rules to determine that and force the dragon to accept a rider. The pdf also uses the simple and concise flight-rules from 13 True Ways, reprinted here for your convenience.


Depending on how much of a focus you want to put on dragonriding, a free feat may be in order - whereas campaigns with a lot of dragonriding may utilize the 2 new feats presented here as part of a character's planned progression. The champion tier feat nets you +3 to your skill check and lets you keep mastery automatically on a critical hit of your dragon. The epic-tier feat allows you to extend the benefits of teleports and similar spells to your draconic mount, but requires you to roll to maintain mastery.


There are enough dragon stats in 13th Age already, but they're intended for monsters, hence some basic assumptions: Dragons have separate hit points and are a separate entity for purposes of conditions etc. Regarding initiative, one takes the average between one's own and the dragon's initiative and mounting up in combat means the lower initiative is used. I'm not a big fan of the somewhat clunky "take average between initiatives"-solutions, but I get where the decision came from. Personal bonuses to (dis-) engage do not matter when the mount is doing the (dis-)engaging and, if a dragon is engaged with a creature, so is the rider. Dragons are always eligible for opportunity attacks.


The healing front requires some work on part o the GM - a recovery is supposed to heal about 25% of a dragon's hit points - this is a solid guideline, but frankly, I would have preferred that being done for the GM and codified in a more stringent way. Now the action-economy is interesting: Basically, you and the dragon maintain the three default actions: quick, move, standard. The dragon burns his quick action to bear with the rider, the rider burns his move action to stay in saddle. Now, I already mentioned this nebulous concept of "mastery" - which is the cornerstone of dragonriding.


Essentially, what he have here is a skill-check against a DC that begins with DC 20 and scales up to 30, depending on dragon power. The more powerful your dragon, the higher the level-discrepancy between you, the more difficult it gets. The skill-check is modified by an attribute (which depends on the type of dragon you ride), level and relevant backgrounds. MD attacks, staggers and 0 hp all prompt mastery checks and activate attacks and tricks require mastery as well - however, and here's the cool thing: Failing the check does not keep you from doing cool things - instead, it requires that the rider spends a standard action on a subsequent round to regain mastery - sans check. Alternatively, you can spend a quick action (only once per round) for a hard save to regain mastery - on a failure, they botched and the quick action is lost.


Of course, battles with dragons thus require more observations on part of the GM - e.g. the fact that one should carefully watch metallic dragons and eliminate the metallic awe ability from these mounts, something the pdf thankfully points out. Dragons serving as mounts do not get random dragon abilities and yes, the development of a bond and the like does provide a factor in the observations. All in all, these rules are highly cinematic and cool - but they also take a bit of the "cool" away - what do I mean by this? Since you always get to perform those awesome stunts and only thereafter have to contend with regaining mastery, you'll be seeing loopings, 360°-spins and the like...a lot. At least if your players are like mine. And as cool as these maneuvers are, these lose some of their awesomeness if they always work. So that would be a system-inherent issue that may or may not irk you.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a ncie, two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with full, nested bookmarks. The pdf comes with nice full color artworks.


This pdf, in spite of its brevity, is awesome - the rules provided for dragonriding, while slightly slowing down the game, are extremely fast for what they do - Rob Heinsoo and ASH LAW deliver here. The rules are awesome and well worth the asking price. At the same time, this one does feel like it fell a bit short of its potential. What you get here is a book that does a great combat in the combat arena...and one that completely ignores the ramifications beyond the combat component. What about the level-up component? When to level up regarding dragons? What about wide discrepancies between dragon and rider? Sure, the mastery-DCs get higher...but more guidance here would have been nice. What about the ramifications of a campaign setting's infra-structure? I don't expect Companions of the Firmament-level of detail from such a small pdf, but at least some components, some advice, would have been awesome. It is my firm belief that a couple of pages dealing with suggestions of non-combat implications of draconic mounts would have been more than appreciated and rendered this pdf awesome.


It should also be noted that, if you're like me, the header "Riders with Skillz" will have you cringe - no idea why this pseudo-hip language was included here. This does not influence my final verdict, but it is something that may upset you.


In the end, dragonriding's mechanics are awesome and great, but the book does require a lot of GM-fiddling regarding the structure of battles and the non-combat implications of the dragons - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dragon Riding
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

The Esoterrorists 2nd Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/29/2015 04:50:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The Esoterrorists clocks in at 161 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 3 pages of ToC, leaving 155 pages of content, so let's take a look!


I received a print copy of this book for the purpose of providing a critical and unbiased review. This book was moved up in my review-queue due to this fact.


The Esoterrorists is the game that originally introduced the GUMSHOE-engine, which has since then been used in quite an intriguing array of systems that provide some overlap and options to combine them.


The system you're probably most likely to know the engine from would be "Trail of Cthulhu," Pelgrane Press' investigative Cthulhu-horror game - and thus, you can already deduce the focus of GUMSHOE. Focus? Well, it is my firm belief that no roleplaying game system's engine is perfect. Pathfinder, for example, excels in complex builds and combat simulation. If you take a look at the investigative aspects...well, not so much. I believe that both players and GMs benefit from a change of pace and system once in a while and so, in a way, GUMSHOE was the natural step to take for me, since it can be considered to be almost diametrically opposed to PFRPG in focus. GUMSHOE is a roleplaying game defined by a focus on the story and roleplaying investigations, as opposed to tactical encounters.


Esoterrorist's 2nd edition can be pretty much considered to be the most easy to learn of the GUMSHOE games - the book can be considered to be the basic-version of the rules, without the more complex additions of other variants. From a didactic point of view, this book does a great job explaining the system - to the point where I tried handing it to someone not familiar at all with GUMSHOE. The lady cooked up a character and understood the system almost immediately. So yes, the presentation here is de facto better regarding its user-friendliness than in comparable GUMSHOE-games.


The system is very much ability-driven (though the GUMSHOE term "ability" here does not refer to an ability-score, but rather a skill): Investigative abilities contain e.g. Cop Talk, Document Analysis, Flirting - you get the idea. Now here's the cincher though: You have one point in an investigative ability? You're one of the best in the field - auto-success.


I know, w-t-f, right? But what about degrees of success? Well, the interesting thing is that each ability in GUMSHOE is treated as a resource - you can e.g. spend points of your investigative abilities to unearth ADDITIONAL information. The result of this structure is that the GM has a different task, as do authors - the structure must, by virtue of the game's design, provide multiple ways towards the end. Expending points from the investigative abilities can open new venues of investigation, provide short-cuts -the system pretty much enforces well-written investigations: You can't provide a railroad, you need to make the research modular. This is pretty much genius. (Yes, abilities spent regenerate.)


The abilities not related to the field of investigation directly would be general abilities: These follow different rules and contain melee (via scuffling), health, stability, etc. - here, failure is a distinct possibility. You spend ability points and roll a 6-sided die to see whether you succeed. To keep a character from investing all in one score, the second highest score must at least be half the highest.


So that would be the basic system - it is simple, elegant and, as you may note, bereft of e.g. complications like the cherries provided in Night's Black Agents. While this makes the rules-frame of Esoterrorists less intriguing than that of comparable GUMSHOE-titles, it does provide a crucial advantage - adaptability: Basically, you can graft all specific GUMSHOE-rules you want into esoterrorists: From Night's Black Agent's thriller combat to Fear Itself's (review coming!) psychic rules or any combination thereof, esoterrorists ultimately represents the most effortlessly customizable of the GUMSHOE-games: Whether you're looking for pulpy action or face to the grindstone horror, the system can be customized for just about anything. Oh, and since it is set in our contemporary times, Trail of Cthulhu + Esoterrorists = Cthulhu Now...or Delta Green -as just some examples.


But this is not simply a rule-book - it is also a campaign setting. I do not own the Fact Book (which is a player-handbook, or so I believe), but all you actually need is in here. The basic premise is pretty simple: The investigators work for the OV, the Ordo Veritatis. This organization is an ancient secret-service-type of order that seeks to protect the unwitting mortals from the dread creatures that seek to invade our world from the Outer Dark. No, the OV is not going to inevitably betray the investigators. They're actually the good guys... Yeah, I know - crazy, right? I'm pretty much as stunned by this as you are! It is pretty interesting to note that the book actually contains specific information on how investigations are handled - for the players!


Procedural protocols, if you will, with different levels of staffer-experience for the analysis backdrop of the OV, add a significant level of awesomeness to the campaign setting as presented and provide further options for tight, fun roleplaying - you want your capable support-guys back at home to live, right? After all, if Jefferson hadn't known about this obscure bullet coated in virgin's blood and mandragora, you'd all be dead by now... Oh, and there's this other thing you should know: Veil-outs are crucial...for a reason.


You see, the basic premise of esoterrorists is that there's a struggle going: Basically belief and perception shape our world and what we have achieved with our enlightened society means that the laws of physics are strengthened. If belief in them fades, the veil gets thinner. Horror, breakdowns of how the world works etc. means that the membrane that shelter us from a world of horrors thins. Esoterrorists, the enemies of the OV, seek to let more entities into our world and spread terror and fear simply because the breakdown thins the membrane between our structured world and one of infinite possibilities, of innumerous nightmares - and from power to megalomania, there's a lot to be gained here. The intriguing component from an academic point of view here would be the fact that this echoes perfectly the idiosyncratic perceptions of reality we all are subject to, the psychology of our weltanschauung. Where in Cthulhu, the default assumption is that ignorance constitutes bliss, here, it is an ideology that keeps us alive. And yes, this means that you actually can blend both in intriguing ways. It also is absolutely tailor-made to evoke themes like that of the Silent hill-franchise, where doom and dread and a world most twisted lurks beneath the surface - when the veils thin and there's a breach, things start to become odd, horrific...dangerous. Thus, more so than anything else, deniability, the cloaking of what's truly going on, is justified as a thoroughly noble cause. This simple set-up lends a level of believability and concise motivation to the default campaign setting that is absent in most similar games. It also provides a superb justification for the procedural protocols of dealing with the creatures from the outer dark. The OV's ethics and code of conduct are impeccable and allow you to actually play the good guys - which is something relatively rarely supported by such games.


Another analogue, beyond the Silent Hill-one, would obviously be Hellraiser - and indeed, the creatures from the outer dark sport, at least in part, overlaps with these beings. However, what truly sets them apart would be that they get what horror is all about. The esoterorists sport, in some way, relatable motivations - while twisted and insane, there are some sample cells that resonate with the deepest, darkest parts of our psyche: From violent bikers beaten into submission by an entity of twisted bones and jagged thorns to collectible-card-game-players conjuring twisted images from the cards to those looking for deviant sexual experiences with beings from the outer dark, the cells (and sample adventure-hooks provided) are nasty and diverse. What about a club of serial killers who meet once a year to engage in a particular vile tradition? Or a nasty international financial conspiracy? From the personal to the geopolitical level, there are a lot of intriguing hooks here.


But they fall short of the creatures introduced in this book. The beings here are truly horrific in that they play with human fears, are both iconic and innovative and still sport a level of personal connection that is downright genius. Know how in Silent Hill, the monsters are visualizations of anxieties, guilt-complexes and traumas? Well, this one kind of goes one step further. There would be the Discarnate, for example - a shapeless, incorporeal entity, a ghost in the machine in the vilest sense of the word. Not only is the dread potential of these creatures vast, their means of creation (and stopping them) is downright disturbing: To create a discarnate, a cell of cults has to build a tomb r tunnel, then ritualistically slash their wrists and collapse the tunnel upon themselves - the entity then takes some components of the personalities and minds of the targets and begins its assault. How do you stop it? My dear readers, I'm not going to spoil that!


What about the Nester? Creeping towards sleeping victims (preferably obese or pregnant people), these creatures jab their hooks into the target, scoop out the abdomen and crawl inside, sealing the belly behind them. Yes, that's not only nasty, that's friggin' nightmare fuel! Or what about a creature that essentially is an outer dark variant of an STD, urging its victim to infect even more targets? Yes, these creatures are disturbing, and delightfully so. However, this fact is further emphasized by the glorious b/w-artworks provided for them - or what about The Host, outer dark entities that thrive on religious mania, subjugating believers and feasting on others? Words clearly fail me here, for however hard I try, I fail to properly evoke how exceedingly well-written these creatures are. But perhaps one example of artwork from within the book helps me make my point:


(Here, my original review showcases the art - please check out my site for a taste of its quality...)


The prose is even creepier than that. And yes, there is a creature-book on these beings, but alas, I do not own that one.


But let's get back to the task of the GM here, shall we? Basically, the book's user-friendly nature extends to the task of the GM: Advice on clue-structures and the like help create structures that make the respective scenarios easy to run. Char-sheets are provided alongside an extremely handy investigator matrix that helps the GM keep up to date with agent resources and skills. There is also a handy ability-check-list ( so you don't accidentally construct your scenario to include an ability the PCs don't have), a handy scenario-worksheet, adversary-sheets and a sheet to track an esoterrorist cell and even extremely detailed station duty worksheets - 3 of them!! A massive 3-page index also makes using the book very easy on the GM.


I mentioned station duty, didn't I? Well, while the default assumption is one of supernatural agent-gameplay from case to case akin to Millennium or X-Files, the other default game-style is that of station duty: Essentially, there are some places where the membrane threatens to thin - agents of the OV are then sent to the area for long-term operations. In this case, we get a COMPLETE TOWN. No, I'm not exaggerating - there is a massive, completely detailed small town provided here: With copious amounts of NPCs to interact with and hundreds of possibilities: Almost each character has several optional story-threads you can or cannot follow, threads which may turn into pure horror. It's hard to properly depict the level of excruciating detail, from establishing cover identities to the disturbing concepts provided here. Let me just say that this section is the closest to a proper Twin Peaks/Silent Hill-simulator I've ever seen. In case you didn't know - these two franchises constitute some of my favorite pieces of media...ever. Add to that a significant array of delightfully twisted hand-outs from which clues can be extracted and we have a section that may justify getting the book all on its own - it's basically a whole sandbox-campaign, all ready for you and your players.


Speaking of Sandbox... (Here, my original review showcases the art - please check out my site for a taste of its quality...)


The book also sports a short sample scenario with Prophet Operation Bungo, which, contrary to the tradition of sample scenarios in core/campaign-setting-books, actually is fun, delightful and more detailed than I would have expected.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to an extremely slick, stylish and atmospheric 2-column-b/w-standard and the pdf provides several downright legendary b/w-artworks. The pdf comes with an EPUB and a MOBI-version and a printer-friendly one...but quite frankly, I'd strongly advise you to get the print. The paper is thick and glossy, high-quality and if you're anything like me, this will be used A LOT.


I'm a cthulhu-fanboy and thus, it should come as no surprise that I got Trail of Cthulhu back in the day. My friend Paco got my Night's Black Agents, which is a glorious game. I never got Esoterrorists and wouldn't have bought it - the title and concept didn't particularly appeal to me, so why bother?


My gut-feeling and instinct was never this wrong in my whole reviewer's-career.


This is the best horror-book I've read in years, regardless of setting.


Let me elaborate: After more than 15 years of obsession with vampires and the cthulhu-mythos, both themes have become kind of predictable to me. I love both, but at one point, games focusing exclusively on either ultimately become the doom of horror - predictable. We fear what we do not understand. As soon as we get our oomphteenth Mi-Go or Yithian, their horror is lost, they become predictable foes. Similarly, vampires can, in the long run, lose their fascination. This is, ultimately, what made me turn my back on the GUMSHOE-system for a while and the primary reason I did not start reviewing books of the system sooner - I was burned out on the subject matter and so were my players.


Esoterrorists changed that.


You could argue that I've never played a vanilla esoterrorists-game. You'd be right. What I did when this book hit my shelves, was something different: I dusted off Night's Black Agents and added the whole concept of the membrane to the game, introduced entities from the other dark and recruited the agents into the OV, which, of course, was among the organizations the vampires sought to infiltrate. I added creatures of the outer dark and the station duty town to my trail of cthulhu games. And suddenly, they were new - disturbing, fresh and diverse. Beyond resonating with iconic themes and a fresh perspective, this book is not only innovative - it GETS HORROR. No, really. This understands horror to a point that bespeaks not only the vast talent of Robin D. Laws and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan as writers, it also constitutes an eureka-effect I haven't had in ages - this humble, little book has inspired me to an extent I have not experienced since I first stumbled over Ravenloft and Planescape back in the day. It is incredibly frustrating to me that I cannot properly put the genius of this book into words, cannot convey the level of impact this book's ideas have had on my games.


Don't get me wrong - Night's Black Agents is quite frankly the better game regarding pure mechanics - it's more complex, more diverse and the thriller combat and chase rules are exceedingly smart. But, at least to me, Esoterrorists is a book that's infinitely more compelling because its prose, the concepts provided, are just so incredibly compelling, because they feature the experience of jamais-vu and because the horror presented here actually really strikes home: This is not blood and guts, this is psychologically disturbing in the way that only great horror is - where the true ramifications are slowly build up. This is the antithesis of the jump-scare-movie - this is smart horror that sticks with you.


This is not only a game - Esoterrorists is basically, a gigantic, awesome template that can be applied to just about any horror game you can conceive. It works in a plethora of contexts because its theme resonate with our very basic, human psychology.


It is my firm conviction that this book belongs in the library of any self-respecting GM looking for inspiration regarding horror-settings and how to create compelling set-ups. If you're playing ANY GUMSHOE-game, this book can be considered a vast amplifier: The concepts within this book are so incredibly compelling and fun, they managed to re-ignite my spark for cthulhu-related material by virtue of the means by which you can use the content herein to enhance the world of the mythos.


I haven't been this excited by a book, any book, in a long, long time - even only as an idea-scavenging-ground, this book is superb by any definition of the word. And know what? While my Top ten-list of the year usually is restricted to Pathfinder-supplements, I will grant this one status as a candidate - its contents and ideas are simply too compelling and can be a vast inspiration in ANY context you can conceive. I firmly believe that simply reading this book makes you a better horror-GM, even if you ignore the rules and setting. You won't be surprised, then, that I'll add my EZG Essentials-tag to a book that scores 5 stars + seal of approval, a book that blew my mind.


If horror interests you even in the slightest, if you even tangentially like smart, psychological horror, if you even remotely enjoy Twin Peaks, Silent Hill, The Evil Within, X-Files, Millennium and if you really want some fresh wind in your respective horror of preference, then this book should go right to the top of your to-buy list. It's that good.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Esoterrorists 2nd Edition
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

Displaying 1 to 15 (of 215 reviews) Result Pages:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 ...  [Next >>] 
0 items
 Hottest Titles
 Gift Certificates
Powered by DrivethruRPG