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Soul's Requiem: Of Blood and Shadow
by David P. Date Added: 12/28/2005 00:00:00
Hmmm, this is one of the products that makes you wish you could split your ranking. The world presented in this comic is kind of a cross between the World of Darkness and a typical fantasy setting. While not related to any specific RPG, there are elements here that RPG fans will enjoy, and I can see the world being branched off into a campaign.

I found the storyline interesting, but the delivery was a bit off. The artwork was pretty simple, which is good, since I think sometimes some artist tend to get too creative. But there is also a lot of white space wasted, and it would have been a better presentation is the artist had done a better job of employing the space on each page instead of spreading it out so much. It's a 24 pg product, but probably could have been reduced to 18-20 with a better use of the page space.

The Shaddow are a type of psychic vampire, for lack of a better term. They feed off the souls of the Children of Light, who in turn feed off of a strange substance that materializes during the mist nights. This mana is used not only as food, but also as a source of energy (both mundane energy such as fire and magical energy). The main character is a half-shaddow, who fights against his dark nature to help the Children of Light. The plot is a classic one, with a few interesting twists along the way.

As the first of a promised series, I hope the artist spends a bit more time fleshing out the design more. If possible, I?d split my rank for this one, giving it a 4 out of 5 stars for story and concept, and a 3 for design.



LIKED: Cool story concept

DISLIKED: layout needs a bit of work

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Soul's Requiem: Of Blood and Shadow
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Soul's Requiem: Of Blood and Shadow
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/27/2005 00:00:00
Soul?s Requiem: Of Blood and Shadow is a PDF comic book, introducing the fantasy world from Scott Jasmann?s imagination.

The world seems to be a mixture of dark fantasy and role-playing themes (one of the characters says ?I need a Cleric? for example). A world locked in a struggle between the beings of Shaddow, who are both soulless and bloodless and must consume the souls of living beings to survive, and the Children of Light, who are trying to keep their souls and bodies intact. It is a highly magical world, with time measured by ?mist nights? that leave behind crystalized mana that is required by the Children of Light for most things, food, fire and magic.

The main characters are involved in the conflict between the Shaddow and the Children of Light: Grythe and Scythe, two brothers, are warriors who fight against the Shaddow. Dredlox, the half Shaddow, who is compelled to help those with souls. And Talla, a Shaddow Slayer with the ability to call upon an inner light.

The format of the product is alternating pages of comic art and text. Unfortunately, the art is rather crude and it is difficult to determine what is going on in most of the panels. The pages of text are done in a large font and rarely fill the page and in doing so, only convey the barest minimum of information.

While it is an interesting background, as an introduction to a gaming world, Soul?s Requiem: Of Blood and Shadow is barely acceptable, and as a stand-alone work it has very little to recommend it. The world seems to be interesting and have potential, but it is hard to dig out the information from the format it is presented in.


LIKED: Interesting ideas.

DISLIKED: Not easy to read.

QUALITY: Poor

VALUE: Disappointed


Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
September and Other Stories
by Devon G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/08/2005 00:00:00
I originally wrote this review for epinions. So if you don't mind, instead of recreating the wheel, I'll just post it here in an abbreviated form.

This collection of sixteen short stories and poems is clever, original, and often funny. The first few stories, according to the intro in the beginning, were inspired by a "Call of Cthulhu" campaign she was playing in. The first story "A Candle for Imbolc" introduces the character of Natasha Collins, a professor of philosophy and religion who has the ability to interact with spirits and other assorted supernaturals. Natasha is one of three sisters (the other two are a doctor and an archeologist) who come from an affluent family. But don't think these stories are another girl-power clique. All three of the sister struggle to be successful in their fields, and the greatest challenge they face comes from their own mother, a tradition-bound matriarch whose only desire is for her daughters to marry and have children. The interaction between the sisters and their mother makes for some entertaining dialogue.

In the first story, Natasha decides to go speak with the spirit of a man who died on campus after examining some sumerian candleholders. In "The Horror in the Attic" we get a classic Lovecraftian tale with Natasha investigating the apparent suicide of a construction worker on her mother's friend's property, only to uncover a strange alien intelligence.

These stories are followed by the novella-length September. In this, Natasha's sister is finally given the chance to head up her own expedition to uncover the tomb of a forgotten pharaoh. Throughout the first stories, you're left wondering if the events really happened or if Natasha is just delusional. Indeed, nobody else around her sees or experiences any of the things she does. But the scene with her psychologist made me do a double-take, and I had to read it twice before realizing what had just happened.

The rest of the stories change gears dramatically. "To Dine With A Demon" gives a theological twist to the old sell-your-soul theme. A few of the stories appear to be "real-life" tales from Dawson's own life, not so much horror stories but simultaneously creepy and amusing snapshots.

Dawson has a very concise writing style. She doesn't waste words, but gets right to the meat of her story. That combined with her wit and dark sense of humor makes for an enjoyable collection of scares.


LIKED: Original ideas for some pretty traditional themes. Great dialogue.

DISLIKED: Not a big poetry fan, so the poems didn't do anything for me. A few copyediting issues, but minor and nothing that takes away from the stories.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
September and Other Stories
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The Encyclopedia of Skill Lore
by Jim C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/08/2005 00:00:00
Top marks for the concepts in this book. I particularly like the way that the books are organised by the foibles and intentions of their authors, more than by the game rules.

The game mechanics are not so good. In places they are confused, or perhaps just confusing, as when the text refers to fighters being unable to gain ranks in Open Lock. More broadly they are just too strong, especially for non-magical items costed in the hundreds of gold pieces. Some of these problems can be fixed by fairly obvious adjustments, others (such as the two books of monster lore) would need me to devise entirely new mechanics before I'd be prepared to use them in a game.

Just to be clear, I've rated on my enjoyment and inspiration from the work, which both are considerable (on flavour text, if you prefer). As a rules document I found it deeply flawed.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Encyclopedia of Skill Lore
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The Encyclopedia of Skill Lore
by I. P. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/05/2005 00:00:00
?The Encyclopedia of Skill Lore? is an interesting attempt to provide dungeon masters with descriptions of books that can be introduced into a campaign. The novelty to be found here, beyond the thought spent imagining what books might be included, is the weaving of game mechanics into the effect of these books on player characters. This is a very short product, but the product is presented well. The PDF is 14 pages long including the front cover, two pages of coupons, and the Open Gaming License text covers two pages.

Included are descriptions of the 23 volumes that make up the Encyclopedia of Skill Lore. The author has also included additional content that reaches far beyond those 23 volumes. First, there is a group of six additional books with a variety of impacts on the reader. Then the author describes six new items that all maintain the ?book? theme.

In addition, the author provides a background history for the books so that dungeon masters can incorporate the books into a campaign using elements of the provided history as plot hooks. The history is actually a short story concerning the first owner of the books and how they fared over time. Providing a history in short story format works very nicely as a source for potential plot hooks, and is an improvement over the simple lists of plot hooks that are sometimes provided in products such as this. If a dungeon master would prefer to incorporate their own elements into the history they can change the history as much or as little as they like.

Despite the relative shortness of this product, it delivers on its promise to provide the concept behind a quest that can be incorporated into any campaign. It also could simply be used to ?freshen up? the items available to a party and perhaps get the players thinking about additional elements of roleplay. If you want some prepared books to spark your imagination, this product has 29 books for your reading pleasure. You can then jump off from them to expand the literature available in your campaign to include as many different books as you desire.

To rousing gaming and ample rewards,
I. Perez

LIKED:
1. Short story style description of the history so that dungeon masters can incorporate it immediately into a campaign.
2. Interesting topics for the books and interesting effects on the reader.


DISLIKED:
1. This was such a good idea that it could easily have been expanded to either include more books or to provide some supplemental aids to a dungeon master looking to incorporate these products. Perhaps maps for one or two locations where one or two volumes might be found, or perhaps guidance to dungeon masters on adding additional volumes.
2. Given the brevity of this product, it?s current price ($3) is slightly beyond a deal.


QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Neiyar: Land of Heaven and the Abyss
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/03/2005 00:00:00
Neiyar is an interesting setting, with enough new races, classes, and gods to keep a player or GM occupied for some time. It does have some serious flaws that need to be addressed.

The primary location, the island of Neiyar, is a matriarchy where outsiders are a way of life. This alone makes it pretty unique as a game setting, as not many games actively make guys, the majority of the gaming crowd, the power minority. The book is crammed full of setting background, religions, races, classes, cities and maps, and everything necessary to run a campaign. Story hooks are included in the location settings for ease of use. It very much takes the appearance of someone?s homegrown setting, a place that was nurtured from infancy over a long period of time.

That appearance is both its blessing and its curse. The setting has a very plain and poor layout. The editing is good, but nothing stands out. At just under 200 pages, I began to look for any splash of color like a man in the desert thirsting for an oasis. The art is varied; the vast majority being (bad) clip art and low quality drawings. It was a surprise, then, that the pages would occasionally hold an illustration of some quality. The divergence was somewhat confusing and I wonder if they ran out of money for art.

There are extensive sections on cults and organizations and new monsters. The first appendices start on page 138 of 192, and cover a broad variety of subjects. It includes everything from a glossary of terms and sample myths to a starting adventure. The actual text of the book, after the index (which is nice, by the way), ends at page 185. The rest of the book is a character sheet and some ad space.

Overall, the layout and presentation of Neiyar was confusing and frustrating. With all of that in mind, though, there are some valuable and worthwhile things in the setting if you have the time and inclination to look.

LIKED: The setting, in general. The level of detail and thoroughness of the locations, the people, and the organizations of the land.

DISLIKED: The format and layout are bad, as is the art (for the most part). Some bookmarks would have been very helpful, especially for a book that nears 200 pages. It works better as a printed doc and, if you have the money to print out 192 pages, it is in a good format (no color) to do it.

QUALITY: Disappointing

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Neiyar: Land of Heaven and the Abyss
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Publisher Reply:
Thank you for your thoughtful review. I appreciate your concern about the lack of color, but Neiyar was originally designed as a strictly print work, and color would have doubled the price. And I couldn't justify doubling the price just to add color! One of the things we strive to do is keep printing costs down so that the books are affordable (I have a personal problem with $40 campaign books, myself). Color maps are available for free download on our website at www.bardsandsages.com/neiyar for those who want them. The art issue was more a lack of any one artist being able to dedicate enough time to all of the pieces needed than anything else, though many folks who have purchased the print version have told me they liked a lot of the art. And thank you for pointing out the index. It's always been one of those things that drove me nuts about RPG books, and there were many lost hours of sleep making sure it was as complete as possible ;)
The Encyclopedia of Skill Lore
by Steven T. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/29/2005 00:00:00
One of the biggest changes to D&D in the 3.X editions of the game is he addition and codifying of skills. No longer is the game hindered with a complicated system of Weapon Proficiencies and Non-Weapon Proficiencies. Now we have a clear, simple, and most importantly usable system of skills.
Making the most of these skills is a key part to ?tweaking? or ?min-maxing? any character. Any source that can improve these skills is a big help to a player. Bards and Sages have given the skill based character a real shot in the arm with their release of The Encyclopedia of Skill Lore.
At its most basic, the Encyclopedia is a collection of books that can train characters studying them in a variety of skills. How wide a variety? How about this wide?

Animal Training and handling
Appraisals
Covert Activities
Cultural Studies
Craftworks: Artistic Expressions
Craftworks: Fabrics
Craftworks: gems and stones
Craftworks: glass and pottery
Craftworks: metals
Craftworks: wooden
Gymnastics
Language Constructions and Speech Patterns
Mechanical Devices
Mental Acumen
Nature Studies
Occult Studies
Performance: acting and speech
Performance: Music and dance
Planar Studies
Professional Development
Psychology
Religious Studies
Survival

After a suitable period of study, the reader of a volume receives a competence bonus on one or more skill checks. Of course, they one get this bonus if an Int check reveals that they have properly absorbed the material. There?s a well thought out, and easy to use system of study included here that could easily be used as an adjunct to the standard experience system if you wanted to add a level of complexity ie. Training times, etc.

In addition to the books in the Encyclopedia, there are a number of other books included that offer similar effects, as well as a collection of book-related items both magical and mundane. These items are one of the better portions of the PDF. In general they are items that would be of great use to wizards and other knowledge based adventurers. Things like the Portable Library Shelf and Pen of Scribing would be exactly the kind of treasure one might find in a wizard?s study. All the items in the book are well balanced, and fairly low powered. They would make good loot for beginning parties, and should remain useful throughout an adventuring career ? which is more than can be said for the average +1 weapon.


LIKED: The book related items are a lot of fun. They would fit perfectly into any number of arcane libraries, wizard's towers, or necromancers workshops.

DISLIKED: The bonuses provided by the books all vary. There doesn't seem to be any pattern or balance to the books. this is offset by the proper item creation costs being adjusted accordingly, but I would have prefered a standard bonus package per book.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Encyclopedia of Skill Lore
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The Manipulative Player's Guide to Sympathetic Magic
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/29/2005 00:00:00
The Manipulative Player?s Guide to Sympathetic Magic is a short PDF based around the idea of faking casting spells in order to convince the target that you?ve ensorcelled them (sympathetic magic).

Characters need the Sympathetic Magic feat in order to try and fool someone in this manner. Once they have it, they can essentially try and get real effects from faking spellcasting. This is done in two parts: first with a successful Bluff check versus their Sense Motive check, and then by them failing a Will save. If both of these occur, you?ve successfully convinced someone you?ve cast a spell on them.

Of course, it?s not quite that easy. There are a host of limitations to what sort of magic you can pull off (and even to whom you can fool; it won?t work on people who know it?s bogus). Likewise, a series of circumstances are listed that could grant you bonuses to your Bluff check, and even more are listed for the target?s Sense Motive check.

Following this, two other sections are outlined: curses and exorcisms. Cursing someone is basically just an opposed Bluff check. For an exorcism, you and the possessing demon are both making Bluff checks versus the target?s Sense Motive. If you win three times, the demon is expelled (and likely very angry).

The Manipulative Player?s Guide to Sympathetic Magic presents itself in a very personal manner. The writing style has a strong personal voice, to the point where it?s more like a written transcript of the author actually speaking to you. Even in the sidebars outlining the bonuses and penalties to the various checks, the writing is in an informal style. This may put some readers off, as this may seem odd to how most other products rigidly segregate their fluff and crunch.

While I initially had some balance problems with these mechanics, I?ve since realized that there probably aren?t going to be any major problems here. While this would let a 3rd-level character try and cast a 5th-level spell, the odds of success are low. Further, since it seems likely that one?s adventuring comrades will likely know the person using this is a fraud, it won?t work on them.

The product has no table of contents nor bookmarks, but is short enough that it doesn?t need them. There is no printer-friendly version included; since this product has roughly three illustrations, and colored sidebars, and totals only seven pages, this likely won?t be much of an issue either.

All in all, the idea presented here is quite interesting, and opens up some intriguing possibilities. The major flaw of the product is how the narrative style works against casual skimming for information of exactly what can and cannot be done. While the sidebars on what grants modifiers to the various skill checks, it would also have been helpful to have a table outlining exactly what effects could and could not be replicated (and who they would and would not work on) using this feat. Altogether though, the book presents an idea that works quite nicely for the cost presented.

Editorial note: This is a revised review of the product, based on changes that were made to it shortly after the original review was posted.

LIKED: The idea presented here is intriguing and new.

DISLIKED: The writing style seems too casual. It could have used a table to quickly summarize what spells the feat lets you mimic, and who you can fool.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Manipulative Player's Guide to Sympathetic Magic
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Publisher Reply:
Thank you for the thoughtful review. I appreciate your concerns about game balance, particularly your concern regarding "Although the modifiers would be against him, there?s nothing to stop a 1st level character from faking a fifth level spell." The reality of gameplay, however, is that it would be almost impossible for a 1st level character to pull off a fake 5th level spell. With the -6 penalty to the bluff check, and considering that you can only put so many skill points into a skill at first level, it's highly likely the character is suffering a penalty on the check to begin with. The few times one of my players attempted to pull a stunt like that, they ended up blundering so badly it lead to serious altercations with NPCs! Ultimately, it depends on the DM if he feels he can keep the PCs in check.
The Manipulative Player's Guide to Sympathetic Magic
by Mark C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/29/2005 00:00:00
Well hi, I'm the third staff member to review this product. It seems to have generated a lot of interest among us and this will give it a very solid three stars I'm sure.

This is a clever little system that basically expands the scope of the Bluff skill. This system is based on using Bluff to convince someone you are performing magic upon them. It is great for characters who want to perform faith healing or play mind tricks on others. It is a good skill for diplomats, performers, barbarians or even spellcasters who want to add a little smoke and mirrors to their arsenal.

At a shy seven pages, two and a quarter spent on license and advertising, this is the shortest product I have looked at. It is based on the Sympathetic Magic feat, which is never actually listed anywhere but if you read the whole article the requirements, benefit and special conditions are explained.

There is a very narrow field of effects with this system, discluding anything that has a visual effect, Will save, does damage and spells above 6th level or higher. Of course, at the cost of a single feat, there should be some significant limits. I see care has been included to prevent abuse. If you attempt to keep bluffing the same person over and over, they gain a cumulative bonus to their opposed check each time.

Product Revision: The addition of a little art and shaded text boxes really smarten up the product. The feat is now included as a feat. All of these features make the product easier to use and clearer.




LIKED: This really expands the Bluff skill which encourages social activities in a system mostly geared towards combat. Its good to see this kind of work being done. The revisions have made the book easier to read.


DISLIKED: There is a question and answer section which treats the reader as unknowledgeable.?Can I do this with sympathetic magic?? ?Haven?t you heard of such-and-such before!? It is meant to sound salesman-ish I am sure. - This was changed in the vision and reads much clearer now.

I would have liked to have seen a longer product. This is a great concept and could easily have been expanded into a Class or Prestige Class with a number of abilities. It could even be expanded into a variant magic system with new kinds of spells, feats and uses for other skills.



QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher Reply:
We've actually been considering expanding on this with a more substantial supplement that would also include the Hearth Magic Skill we introduced in our Neiyar: Land of Heaven and the Abyss campaign setting. Thanks for the imput and the ideas!
The Encyclopedia of Skill Lore
by Josh B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/28/2005 00:00:00
Tired of that smarmy mage next store flashing off his fancy attribute and skill boosting items, while you're stuck doing things the old fashioned way? Maybe you just can't get out to adventure as much as you'd like, and you're sick of the rogue down the lane showing off the latest trick she's learned. Bookworms everywhere can rest easy: The Encyclopedia of Skill Lore is just what you need.

The book features a simple, easy to read layout; highlighted by colorful, cartoon-like images.

The Encyclopedia itself is presented first. Made up of 23 non-magical volumes this makes the encyclopedia ideal for campaigns and settings with little to no magic, or simply handy to provide lower-level characters with a bit of a boost. Used properly, each volume provides one or more skills with a competence bonus ranging from +2 - +6.

Following the Encyclopedia, several other unique books are described. The volumes range from a tome discussing the craft of war and nature of valor, to a treatise on divine miracles. Each work provides its own set of bonuses; though in some cases certain conditions must be met for the reader to make full use of the information provided.

The final section of the book is given over to describing book and library related items. There is a mundane item in the form of false books. A mild spelling errors occurs in the description of these items; transforming false books from an overused clich? into a highly clannish clique. An alchemical compound for protecting the pages of books is described, along with three new wondrous items. The most interesting, amusing and perhaps unbalanced of these is a book whose purpose is to show you other's point of view; which has the nasty habit of causing potential alignment shifts from simply perusing it.

LIKED: A well put together book, its contents are an interesting change of pace from the average d20 sourcebook.

DISLIKED: The content is fairly narrowly focused, but if this sort of thing appeals to you, then there's really nothing here to dislike.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Encyclopedia of Skill Lore
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The Manipulative Player's Guide to Sympathetic Magic
by Josh B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/28/2005 00:00:00
With a name likely to set your group's resident munchkin to salivating, The Manipulative Player's Guide to Sympathetic Magic provides a new way for PCs to cause trouble.

This book presents rules for the use of a new form of "magic". Powered by the Sympathetic Magic feat, characters make use of the Bluff skill and the target's own willingness to believe in order to mimic spell effects. This makes a perfect addition for characters of all sorts.

A few possibilities include: A rogue who prefers to offer the townsfolk "miracles" in exchange for their gold, rather than go to all the work of cutting purses; the old woman who lives alone in a cottage, and makes soups and potions that always seem to clear up whatever ails you; a troublesome sidekick who really thinks he can perform feats of magic.

From voodoo dolls, to the mythical no-touch knockout of martial arts, the rules in this book let you manipulate your way to the top.

LIKED: A new skill use supported by well developed rules.

DISLIKED: There's really nothing to dislike about the content. The layout leaves a little something to be desired, and there are a few minor spelling errors; coupled with a few spots featuring tabs instead of spaces, but overall these are fairly minor issues.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Manipulative Player's Guide to Sympathetic Magic
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The Manipulative Player's Guide to Sympathetic Magic
by Joseph B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/17/2005 00:00:00
I saw that this PDF was on sale today (July 17, 2005) for 50 cents, so I thought I'd comment.

For fifty cents, I say pick this up. It's a clever idea and d20 mechanic for using sympathetic "magic" in a campaign - non-magic users can "trick" others into thinking they have placed a curse on them or cast a spell. Great for rogues or campaigns where people believe in magic or witchcraft but they don't actually exist. It doesn't read like a rulebook either, more like a conversation with the author, which gives it a certain charm.

Definitely worth a look at this price.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Manipulative Player's Guide to Sympathetic Magic
by Devon G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/14/2005 00:00:00
Take about taking mind over matter to another level. A very cool idea for a supplement. I'm surprised it hasn't already been done. This is a very playable system to allow PC's to fake casting spells. Sympathetic Magic is a perfect feat for any rogue or bard. Plenty of checks and balances to insure that cheesy PC's don't try to go to far.

LIKED: Balanced, detailed explanation of how to use the system. Very easy to implement in a game.

DISLIKED: Would have liked to see more concrete examples.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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