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13th Age Bestiary
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/14/2016 03:23:52

There is not a word wasted in this book. The introduction tells you what the book is for and gives some advice on how to use the book and build interesting and thematic encounters.


Then we get to the meat of the book, the beasts, monsters and villains. As with all things 13th Age this book gets to the nub of the matter, only presenting information that will be useful to you, whether that be the monster backgrounds, plot hooks or the stat blocks themselves, everything is geared towards being useful, and fun.


Each creature entry has the following:



  • Creature background / ecology / names

  • Building battles - using the creatures in combat encounters, usually suggesting pairings with other creatures that make thamtic sense, but may not be obvious

  • Relationship to the icons

  • Adventure hooks

  • Things that you find with the creature (in their lair/in their general environment/things they carry)

  • Stat blocks - usually multiple variants of a creature type (such as the four variants of the black dragon - Catacomb, Gorge, Void and Empyrean)

  • Nastier Specials - options to make creatures different from the norm and make them even nastier! (This is not present on all creature entries)


The creature ecologies and plot hooks are that awesome that even those that don't play 13th Age would find them useful (although I think it would be a bit of an expensive book just for those). The creatures feel like they are really grounded in a living breathing world, without it ever becoming too restrictive on the DM to have to use them in "one true way".


The sidebars suggesting variants from what is presented, the suggestions of how to relate the creatures with other creatures and the adventure hooks, means that there is no way any two games are going to have exactly the same experience with any monster in this book.


The book ends with a detailled look at how GMs can create their own monsters. A brief description of reskinning monsters, a bit more in depth about how to tweak exisitng mosnters and then a detailled explanation of how to create your own monsters from scratch.


All in all, if you run 13th Age - buy this book. If you run 4th Edition D&D it would probably be useful as the monsters shiould be relatively straightforward to convert. If you run any other fantasy RPG, then it's certainly worth a look, but may be wait for a sale to buy it rather than purchase it at full price as while it is an awesome source of inspiration you may not get full use of the book.


Read more: http://www.enworld.org/f-
orum/showthread.php?380366-13th-Age-Bestiary/page3#ixzz48cHY-
clNm



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age Bestiary
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13th Age: Eyes of the Stone Thief
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/11/2016 18:19:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive mega-adventure clocks in at 364 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 7 pages EXTREMELY detailed ToC, 3 pages index (useful), 1 page magic item index (even more useful), 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 347 pages of raw content, so let's take a look!


This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy. While we haven't yet finished this massive monster, quite a bit of playtesting went into this review.


We begin this book with an interesting explanation - while this massive hardcover very much does present a mega-adventure, it aims to provide maximum customization options to make this book really your own, to account for your table's tastes. Hence, we begin with a list of icons and how they interact with the stone-thief...but the GM is NOT left hanging beyond that: Instead, we get detailed, smart observations regarding the structuring of the campaign and potential plot-lines to embark upon - this does include advice when to kill or not kill a PC, the effects of the escalation die on traps...well, and the submergence die, a handy and easy mechanic to track excursions into the stone thief and drive home the unique nature of the dungeon.


The pdf also sports advice on handling leveling in the dungeon, etc. A chart provides the default configuration of levels at one handy glance in three configurations and then, we are introduced to the nature of the levels and denizens and yet another chart helps you keep track of relationships between fractions, icons and movers and shakers within the framework of this campaign - two thumbs up!


...


..


AHRGH, I can't do this! Before my face turns purple-red: Players, seriously...skip to the conclusion NOW. I need to get into SPOILER-territory right now!


...


..


.


Okay, seriously, if you want to play this (You do!) as a player, skip to the conclusion.


ahem


Through the underworld, colossal structures roam - barely sentient, they move forward, mindlessly assimilating anything that gets in their way, integrating it into their structures. The keyword here is "mindlessly." Picture, if you will, standing on a keep's wall, guarding your home. Suddenly, the earth starts to quiver, then shake...and then, the green orchards burst open, like a violent ripple of storm-tossed waters, only that tons upon tons of earth are moved aside as the most titanic thing you've ever seen approaches: You see a thing so big it boggles the mind and results in a temporary paralysis, as your brain tries to comprehend the doom approaching: You see a titanic, churning mouth of pure destruction, where crushed pieces of steel and towers loom, where ridges of arcades and erstwhile spires create a grotesque, titanic gullet that consumes not people...not dragons...but whole towns.


An (un-) natural disaster of epic proportions given sentience, a massive dungeon of power from ages long gone, a place with an agenda and the intellect to pursue it, a problem the Icons couldn't really fix. Your town is doomed...but you and your allies may manage to infiltrate this huge thing, like microbes in a whale, riding on the pieces of town, keep and structures, in a churning maelstrom of stone, rock and blood - for before you is none other than the stone-thief, and it needs to be stopped. The stone-thief - Makh Miz Adaor, she who undermines. Makh Adaz Akor, the Howling Pit. Khazar Vuk Varag, oldest of hatreds. That's how the dwarves know the stone-thief...and their lord personally wants it dead. The prince of shadows considered the stone-thief dangerous enough to steal its eyes (hence the title), blinding what otherwise would be a deadly threat...to anyone. The stone-thief may well be the creature to break the stalemate between the icons...so a lot of different icons want this beast either eliminated...or as the crown jewel of their arsenals.


If your first impulse of this was "Living dungeons?" - well, the absolutely awesome component here would be that the stone thief is its own world, if you will: Ever moving and blind, this titanic...thing's capabilities are incredibly sensible: Whether it's the structure of its levels (which btw. come with info on suggested levels, encounter-dispersion, etc.) that includes the gizzard you use to enter or its details - you always get that this is no simple dungeon to crawl through: Having limited control over its constituent parts, the stone-thief grows ever more powerful, reviving and controlling its denizens.


Even death cannot save you, as the stone-thief's diverse denizens have means to recreate adversaries - flesh-forming, the undead...the stone-thief knows how to keep pesky small folk out...for the most part. I already mentioned the submergence die: You see, while this colossal thing burrows its paths through the planet like a poisonous worm in the proverbial apple, its insides contract, often in deadly ways...so one would assume that there is no life inside, right?


WRONG.


You see, while the stone-thief has a lot of control over its configuration, this control is not absolute: Deep inside, generations of people led by a witch live, trying to ultimately assume control over this powerful being.


The Orc Lord has sent an excursion that has established a foothold inside...but obviously, the green-skins shouldn't be allowed to control this beast either...but at least they keep the cult of the devourer in check: Basically a group of insane apocalyptic terrorist-cultists, these people worship the living dungeon and hope to bring ruin to the realms above. Oh, and then there would be a council of spirits within the very walls - the custodians, who not only engage in complex power-plays among themselves, they also guide the dungeon and make sure it does what they want - if the dungeon should ever regain its eyes, they'd lose their status...and perhaps, their usefulness. Within in the pit of undigested ages, treasures of ages past loom and an apocalyptic settlement of the desperate hide within the stone-thief's innards -Dungeontown. Whether that's a safe haven, a despotic, sick settlement or anything in between - all up to the GM, though the seeds to develop this haven are all there.


It's hard to talk about this dungeon without mentioning the structure of this mega-dungeon. So here goes: One issue of mega-dungeons is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" structural problem. As anyone who has ever played and defeated one of these iconic dungeons can attest, there are two basic approaches, both of which sport their own issues.


The classic mega-dungeon would be static one, which I'll call "structured" for the purpose of this review: You get full maps for the whole thing, players and PCs can familiarize themselves with and secure areas and the process of exploration is classic, fun and all...but sooner or later, there will always be the session, where players are wasting time with a particular area; where the structure of the dungeon gets in the way. When you, as a GM or player are itching for an epic boss battle or the like, but you know you'll have to slog through x rooms of minion-combats first. It is then that structured mega-dungeons are at their most frustrating. On the plus-side, the story told, the familiarity gained of the areas explored - all of that really makes the dungeon feel lived in, unique. These dungeons, like e.g. Frog God Games' Lost City of Barakus, Cyclopean Deeps, Rappan Athuk, etc., excel at indirect storytelling, but their structure can get in the way of direct storytelling.


Similarly, dynamic factions can easily be moved around within. Modular dungeons are a different manner - E.g. Savage Mojo's Lich Queen-saga champions full control over the dungeon for the GM: Instead of a concise overview map, one gets rooms and encounters that can be moved around at your leisure. While this does provide the means for the GM to always retain maximum control over the respective tension and requirements at the table, this approach has an inherent problem: You obviously don't t get a concise overview map, have a lot more GM-work on your plate and no matter how good you are as a GM, you probably will never reach the level of familiarity within the dungeon and the sense of actually exploring the place. These dungeons lend themselves to better direct storytelling than structured dungeons, but ultimately invariably suck at indirect storytelling, which, to me, is a component I value just as highly. By necessity of this approach, dungeons will feel more like a highlight-reel, less like an organic place.


I see pros and cons for both approaches and can enjoy both - I can rattle off excellent examples for either approach.


This mega-dungeon, however, transcends the limitations of this dichotomy: All levels herein come with gorgeous, isometric maps, with the respective encounters using the environment in the best of 13th Age traditions to modify the surroundings and utilize the terrain in combat. Similarly, scaling for the rooms is provided...but here's the thing: The dungeon's structure allows for the recombination, inversion and resetting of areas and surroundings - and the book accommodates your needs: The killer-trap level the PCs will always have to traverse, the gauntlet, has more nasty traps and encounters than it needs - for your sake, so you get to choose, so you can maintain control over the pacing.


So you can keep the area familiar...yet fresh. Your PCs and players will grow familiar with components - revived foes may let them pass after having their butts kicked before, for example - but the dungeon does not suffer from the issue of potentially becoming stale or stagnant: The recombination of rooms and inhabitants within the levels is a glorious idea...and the whole mega-dungeon always has a sense of urgency due to the submerge die: Once the thing starts rumbling, the PCs better start getting out (or to a safe zone!)...which ends a perfect means to track and for a GM to rack up the tension if the PCs are idling...and yeah, there are plenty of actions that increase the submergence die...


The genius of this book, indeed, can be found in the fact that, much like the stone thief itself, it is a structure...that is alive and feels modular. It is inorganic and organic at the same time - to use a genre-wise inappropriate analogue, but one that my academic readers will understand: This is a cyborg dungeon. It is uncannily close to being what we know, but the capabilities are beyond that of the regular. This is no Frankenstein-hodgepodge - it is basically an evolutionary step ahead. Now I mentioned the requirements of direct and indirect storytelling. Indirect storytelling in structured dungeons works well - you crawl through the dungeon, because it is there and by virtue of room arrangement and the like, you slowly get a picture of what's going on. This works herein as well. However, the massive book does not merely leave you with a room-by-room accumulation of descriptions - no.


Instead, this book presents a huge assortment of handcrafted stories beyond the structure of the rooms - the Quests. These are not simply brief outlines à la "PCs go to room xx, then to room yy, then get..." - no. The quests provide basically campaign-level fodder and ideas for excursions in and around the stone-thief - for the premise is that the PCs will have to evacuate the dungeon more than once! (And yes - one idea includes the stone thief sloughing off the part with the PCs in it while submerged under an ocean...)


These quests can be ignored or used, combined at your leisure and much like the premise to explore the stone-thief and all relating to it, customized in a myriad ways. And if you're time-starved...you can still run the dungeon pretty much by the book. While I'd suggest reading this before running it as a whole, I tried running one level sans any preparation, blind - and it worked tremendously well.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are superb - for a book of this size to excel in both qualities to this degree is a thoroughly impressive feat. The superb organization via ToC and indices guarantees furthermore that you have a very easy time finding the actual information you're looking for. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard established for 13th Age-products and the book comes with a metric ton of awesome artworks, with a lot of the bosses sporting downright evocative pieces in the distinct aesthetics established for 13th Age. The cartography of the respective levels comes in absolutely gorgeous isometrics in full color and leaves NOTHING to be desired. The electronic version comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. The print-version is a glorious full-color hardcover and, sans hyperbole, one of the crown-jewels of my RPG-book collection - its production values are superb, the paper is thick and the binding great. This book is made to last...and it needs to.


Okay, this review took a lot of willpower to not immediately burst forth with what I really wanted to say:


Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan's Eyes of the Stone Thief...is the BEST MEGA-DUNGEON I HAVE EVER READ.


Regardless of system and setting.


This has all the strengths of both structured and modular mega-dungeons and none of the weaknesses. The characters herein brim with creativity. The challenges, whether they be traps, hazards, creatures of the stone-thief itself universally are simply SUPERB. Excellence. Platinum-Standard. This is innovative regarding the rules, smart in its depiction, exciting to read and a single level has more ideas than some whole dungeons I've read.


The intriguing nature of the dungeon itself makes sure that the stone-thief basically is one of the coolest villains I've ever read: More so than the myriad of foes in this book, the dungeon itself is what will draw the ire of players and PCs and the advice for depicting it, the exceedingly concise presentation of the mechanics and rules to which it needs to adhere, the thoroughly evocative settings, the stunning modularity of the setting and structure...every page, every sentence in this huge tome breathes pure, unadulterated, undiluted excellence.


Let me once again emphasize that: This is my platinum standard for mega-dungeons from this day onwards. It quite frankly makes many of the mega-dungeons I've read look like a grade-school-flutist trying to compete with a world-class prodigy. This is pretty much a whole class of its own - it is smart, well-written, brims with more creativity than just about any mega-adventure I have read and...I'm running out of superlatives to heap on this book. No matter the scale you apply, this is apex-level excellence.


I'll go one step further: Know how console video-games are often branded as system-sellers? This is, to me, one of the very, very few books I'd consider worthy of this title.


This book is so good, I urge every GM, no exceptions, to get it. Even if you and your group have no interest whatsoever in 13th Age and its rules or setting. This book is so good that, on its own, it suffices as a reason to learn the rules. It can be converted and does not lose much, though you may want to give careful throught and special considerations regarding Koru behemoths -> replace with kaiju of your choice) and icons. Still, I wholeheartedly believe that learning 13th Age for the express purpose of playing through this book is worth every second, every dime. Even when taking the price of the core-rules etc. into account...this still is worth it a hundredfold.


This book is a glorious read, plays even better...and...let me give you a bit of context: I've read many 1st and 2nd edition modules. I have a HUGE collection of 3.X material. I own a metric ton of PFRPG-material. I have several 4E-books. I have a bunch of 5E-books. I have an extensive collection of OSR, CoC, GUMSHOE-books and a bunch of Midgard and Shadowrun books. My Pdf-only folder of books that I do not own in print is over 90 GB and this folder does NOT include pdfs of books I own in print.


I have literally read more than a thousand modules. I have a lot of modules, both big and small, that I consider awesome for vastly diverging reasons. From superb-investigations, spine-tingling horror to massive APs or superb sandboxes with concise structures. Among all of these modules, there are pretty much only a handful I'd even consider mentioning in the same breath. This is basically the 1% of the 1% of the 1% in terms of quality and ranks as one of the best, perhaps the best mega-dungeon ever published. At the top of my head, the only book I'd consider truly on par with it in imaginative potential and scope would be Frog God Games' Sword of Air - and that one is not a mega-dungeon, but rather a superb combined wilderness/dungeon/investigation-sandbox...and my number 1 spot of last year's Top Ten.


Now I know, this was released in 2014...but I only recently got into 13th Age and thus, as a consequence, into this book. And it needs to be honored properly. This gets a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval, is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016...and should honestly be in any GM's library. Even for scavenging purposes, this is worth it. Even if you want to convert it to your system of choice, this is worth every second spent converting it. This is apex-level adventure-craft...and I really hope it has not forever spoiled me rotten regarding my expectations for a mega-dungeon. If you want to get one mega-dungeon...get this one. It doesn't get better than this.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13th Age: Eyes of the Stone Thief
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Die Glocke
by Stephen Y. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/21/2016 05:16:08

A 10 page PDF (9 are the content).
Some good factual data on the device, where and what it might be.
Also Call of Cthulhu ideas.


Definitely worth £2.06/$2.95



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Die Glocke
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Night's Black Agents: The Zalozhniy Quartet
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/23/2016 04:33:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This epic 4-part mega-adventure/campaign for Night's Black Agents clocks in at 148 pages, 2 pages of editorial, 3 pages of ToC, leaving us with 143 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This was moved up on my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy for the purposes of a critical and honest review.


All right, so this would be the first big Night's Black Agents-campaign released - and it ultimately is a release we needed. Why? Because NBA changes quite a significant amount of assumptions when compared to the more horror-centric iterations of the GUMSHOE-system, like the inspiring Esoterrorists. While I have A LOT of shadowrun-experience under my belt and while my fantasy and sci-fi adventures tend to end up on the complex side of things, I found myself, back when I got the base game, wondering how to capture a unique tone and theme. Note that this was before I had the superb Double Tap-expansion book. I was thus relatively excited to see this book - and take a look at Night's Black Agents as "intended", at a spy-epic.


Before we dive into the nit and grit of the modules/mega-adventure, I feel the need to address something, namely the thoroughly unique structure of this saga: The Zalozhniy Quartet features something that only very rarely works in the context of any given adventure: A dauntingly modular structure. Since the very nature of vampires is modular in Night's Black Agents, we obviously need to take these components into account - and the book does a superb job at doing just that: Whether you opt for the supernatural, mutant, damned or the alien angle, the saga works. So this would be the first modularity factor. The second, and more important one, pertains the facets of espionage gameplay - each of the 4 scenarios contained herein has a dauntingly different focus and if I didn't know it better, I'd seriously assume them to be written by different authors - from high-intrigue to full-blown action, the whole gamut of the genre is covered rather well.


Better yet, the overall module features two components I wholeheartedly endorse: For one, the content herein can easily be added to just about any conspyramid you could imagine, meaning that the content herein is important, but will not override the meta-plot planned for your campaign. Secondly, the modules contained herein can be played in any order, with the frame-narrative and knowledge gleaned being modified for the respective sequence chosen, though personally, I'd advise playing the books in the sequence depicted herein - to me, this looks like the most organic one, though the campaign finale for another sequence is one I personally prefer - but then again, this is so modular it supports actually utilizing all of the potential climaxes with minimal tweaking.


As far as supplemental material is concerned, we receive 6 pregens as well as 6 city maps of places visited - which is nice, but also the one weakness of the mega-adventure: While GUMSHOE is not particularly dependent on tactical maps as far as roleplaying games are concerned, this does sport a few encounters that could have benefited from more map material - I will explicitly note those instances in my review below, though, admittedly, a cursory google-search does net plans to use, so overall, this is mostly a non-issue.


And this would be just about as far as I can go sans diving deeply into SPOILERS. Potential agents should jump to the conclusion right now - you don't want to spoil this one for yourself.


...


..


.


All right, only directors left? Great! Few crime syndicates evoke the same level of dread as the Lisky Bratva, a brotherhood of the Russian mafiya, here guided the vor (which roughly translates to thief-in-law or thief-who-obeys-the-code) Josef Lisky, who has spent most of his 70 year-life guiding the criminal organization from the confines of his prison cell. Now, though, "Uncle Joe" is free and commands a significant array of criminal assets, the most important of which would arguably be Dr. G.D. Dorjiev, who, unlike his vor, is best characterized as a cruel attack dog - and as the Lisky Bratva's resident necromancer...and their source for the eponymous Zalozhniy, who may well be the most awesome creatures that so far have been introduced by Night's Black Agents.


What are the Zalozhniy? Well, they are creatures that have perished at an unnatural time, creatures that literally should not be, being wrong on a fundamental level. Having lost their time of death, they are out of sync with time itself and generate an odd distortion field that can be used to receive a last chance warning for their impending assault. Ina stroke of sheer genius, these powerful creatures gain Athletics or Health whenever they manage to have a person die in an accident. The time distortion created by these nigh-unkillable creatures (each of which must be defeated by bringing the ordained death to them, meaning that players will need to do some legwork...) has been exploited by Dorjiev - the necromancer is unkillable, as he's hidden his own death in their time-distortion, meaning he'll be a lethal and truly astounding recurring foe throughout the adventures contained herein. Obviously, the assets at the beck and call of the Lisky Bratva warrant a proper adversary map for the director.


Aforementioned flexibility in running the sequence of the modules is also visualized in a handy diagram and, while a sequence is presumed, there is, indeed a metaplot to be found herein, one that centers on Harry St. John Philby, a spy and traitor working for British foreign office and his son, Kim Philby - both of which btw. are real life persons you can easily research to add even further detail to this campaign beyond the significant array already offered: Philby of Arabia and The Philby Conspiracy in particular provide interesting further angles for the directors among you that are as obsessive as yours truly. In the context f Night's Black Agents, the already exceedingly intriguing life of these persons receives a further angle, namely their knowledge of the Albedo and Nigredo, substances that can be used to create the Rubedo. If you're not familiar with alchemical lore, this adds basically a philosopher's stone angle to the whole operation - one that admittedly could conflict with your definitions of vampires...or rather, it could in a lesser book. In fact, the rather nebulous nature of these particular artifacts allow for the customization by the director to suit his/her respective needs within the grand scheme of the conspiracy, though personally, I feel that supernatural, damned and mutant vampires work best here.


All right, so the first module herein is the most straightforward of them and thus, imho, works best as a tour-de-force opener: The Zalozhniy Sanction begins with the agents working together with one Donald Caroll in Odessa as they break at his behalf into a warehouse of the Lisky Bratva - while Donald is assassinated by a zalozhniy, he manages to impart the location of his safehouse in Vienna upon the PCs, which is btw. considered neutral ground - a fact that becomes very important in the second module.


Well, as you may have gleaned from the above, things almost immediately go horribly sideways - which means this whole module pretty much becomes a vast sequence of chases and border-transitions. The small chases in particular should be mentioned here, as they offer a staggering array of detail for the director, with handy parameters listed by route, including default pursuers and high stress additions. Beyond the high stress sections on behalf of authorities both straight and corrupt, a variety of mundane and supernatural counter-measures employed by the Lisky Bratva means the agents will need to be on their a-game as they escape to Transnistria, where further progress requires the delicate framing of a particular star. Optional human-trafficking to be uncovered and extracting targets mean that burning and counter-burning, strategies and responses, render the high-octane chase back to Vienna truly exciting and gut-wrenching - the agents should breathe a significant sigh of relief once they've reached Vienna sans being torn to pieces or snipe'd away...


In Vienna, perhaps the most brainy of the modules herein take place - due to the neutral territory status "Out of the House of Ashes", which focuses on the extraction of Arkady Shevlenko, takes place. Shevlenko, suffering from a heart condition and bereft of almost all of his family, was the last handler of St. John Philby and is in town with a retinue, accompanied by his FSB handlers - and he may be the crucial piece missing for the agents. The problem is, though, that both the CIA and the Listky Bratva want the old man - and thus, an epic array of smoke and mirrors operations begin in Vienna, including one of the most awesome extractions I've ever seen in a published module.


Were I to go into the vast array of internally connected details here, I'd quite frankly require at least 3 full pages for this module alone. From a narrative point of view, the high intrigue, smart structure of this module means that it feels like a welcome break from the adrenaline-infused first adventure, emphasizing rather a constant sense of mounting tension that only few movies or novels of the genre manage to reach. However, in the end, Arkady is not destined to survive the ordeal - but his last remaining relative, Anna is. And yes, there is a sensible and fitting explanation why even the most powerful conspiracy has not broken the stubborn old man...


The third module, once again switches emphasis - "the Boxmen" is a saga most in line with Mission Impossible, suffused with a healthy dose of sleuthing and researching the Swiss banker's family, the Montavons, whose vault hides something the PCs require - with the saga's modularity determining the exact nature of what there is to be to unearth. Alas, the PCs are not the only ones planning a heist for the legendary Koernersbank - there are high-class thieves that may provide to be allies, foils, or, more likely, both. Recovering the legendary Albedo from the vault, however, just may end with the item being stolen. Oh, have I mentioned he once again gloriously-detailed chase-rules, hot lead options and the level of detail provided here? Basically, this module can be considered to be a middle ground between the former two parts of the quartet, a blend of investigation and action...and the concise planning of the heist itself is awesome, modular and problem-focused - love it! With one caveat, though: The bank's floor-plans would have been exceedingly handy to have, since there is quite a high chance the agents will seek to acquire them.


The final of the 4 modules, "Treason in the Blood", could be best summed up as a more realistic James Bond meeting classic themes of pulp literature. Easily the most fantastic of the 4 modules, it takes place in Baghdad, Iraq and Saudi Arabia (see Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East if you require additional information on the area and its turbulent history), unearthing a plot of potentially global repercussions, as the vampiric conspiracy is getting ready for taking control of the Middle East via a plan most devious - from a mysterious woman calling herself "Katun" (which roughly translates to "Queen") living in a mansion in Cyprus to finding what once was St. John Philby in the middle of the desert to a brutal check-mate situation and the James Bond-worthy climax (featuring a Camazotz), this chapter is by far the most fantastic, though one scene, set in the Mukhabarat Archive in Beirut, would certainly have benefited from a proper map. It should be noted that this one's end-game encounter (the one you usually only run if the module's the last of the 4) is particularly cinematic - and indeed, these climaxes are so cool, I'd encourage the respective directors out there to do the minor work and incorporate all of them in the module - they all are exceedingly gratifying and sport a level of palpable tension that feels like you could cut it.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are superb - I noticed no glitches of any importance in this epic tome. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard that's printer-friendly and the pdf comes thankfully fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-artworks provided are excellent and the cartography shows realistic city plans, though buildings and smaller locales could have used some map support. I have the softcover print edition and encourage you getting that one: Not only does it use high-quality, glossy paper, this one is definitely a book that deserves a place of honor among your books.


Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and Kenneth Hite have crafted a truly epic, astounding campaign, one that defined, for me, the massive difference in themes of Night's Black Agents versus the more horror-themed GUMSHOE-games; to me, this did a superb job in establishing a truly unique identity regarding what's at stake, how modules run and how the rules make sense in practice and interact. The thoroughly modular structure of this campaign is, to me as a designer, perhaps the most impressive component of this saga - seeing how most D&D/d20/PFRPG APs fail to retain a perfect level of consistency in a linear campaign, maintaining such in a modular campaign should be considered to be all the more impressive on a meta-side.


But more importantly than me gushing about the modularity and meta-structure of this book is one simple fact: This reads better than most novels on the topic I've recently read (with Ian McEwan's predictable, bland Sweet Tooth being a sad all time low for his books...but I digress) and, more importantly, it PLAYS even better. Add to that the fact that the Zalozhniy rank among my favorite monsters, regardless of system, and you get a truly superb campaign that btw. also works perfectly in conjunction with the introductory s(entries)-scenario. If you're a director who is new to Night's Black Agents, make sure to pick this one up - its unique pacing, variety and themes made me more cognizant of the unique themes and playstyle Night's Black Agents can support.


Being one truly amazing campaign, I wholeheartedly believe that even non-GUMSHOE GMs can benefit from reading this, learning the structure and scavenging details, set-ups and themes. I truly believe this mega-adventure made me a more versatile director/GM - and not many modules these days manage to achieve that. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, my only complaint remaining that this could have used a tad more maps.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night's Black Agents: The Zalozhniy Quartet
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Owl Hoot Trail
by Nathaniel C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/19/2016 16:00:18

I'm really surprised this isn't more well known, I've been looking for a D20 alternative somewhere between Microlite20 and Pathfinder for awhile now and with this I've found it. It's a fine rules lite game with a tad bit of crunch which is my personal favorite flavor. For those that are aware of Microlite this is just a step above that on the crunch side of things, and the quirky setting is icing on the cake. Highly reccommended if the weird pitch intrigued you or you want a game that is easy to strip to pieces.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Owl Hoot Trail
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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