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Cyclopean Deeps Volume 1 Pathfinder
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/08/2016 07:31:13

An Endzeitgeist.com review


An Endzeitgeist.com review


The first book of the two-part Cyclopean Deeps-Saga clocks in at 198 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 192 pages of content, so let's check this out, shall we?


So, let's, for now, process as spoiler-free as possible: Do you remember the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide released for 2nd edition (1e AD&D, if you count that way...)? It's a timeless classic indeed and showcases a significant component of what I consider flawed with most modern underdark/underworld modules. Let me describe it from this venue - have you ever been spelunking? There is an appeal to the hobby that is hard to describe, but I'll try - at the same time, you feel like you have entered a new world, a place where your civilization and all of its comforts do not stretch to. You enter a place wondrous that differs significantly, via all of your senses, from the tactile to the olfactory, from what we are used to - reaching the surface once again can feel a bit like a shock after some time - loud, bright...all those smells. However, accompanying this general sensation, one is (or at least I am!) constantly and keenly aware of insane amounts of solid rock, balancing precariously above one's head - whether as a sense of foreboding or respect, caves and caverns elicit a different perspective. Now, recently AAW Games has captured the proper sense of wonder rather perfectly with their Rise of the Drow saga.


In Rise of the Drow, we saw an unprecedented sense of realism applied to the section of the underdark that is kind of akin to the surface world, if not in environment, then in its social structures - we have dangerous animals, humanoid cultures (most evil) vying for dominance - it's the surface world on crack and the RotD-saga can be counted among the few that managed to instill this sense of wonder in the vivid pictures painted. However, there is another underdark - a place where neither light, nor surface-dwellers usually tread. If you're familiar with the Dark Souls games, think of this as the place that would have come below the lowest, blackest gulch. A place, where even the underworld-denizens fear to tread, a place forlorn and forsaken by the light. Below even Rappan Athuk, thus extends this place, one that can easily be transplanted to any setting - courtesy of there simply being no comparable supplement or module that goes quite that deep - usually, places like this are hinted at in the equivalent of telling the PCs "Don't go there!" So there the fools go - here dwell the things no man has ever laid eyes on, here is the Deep Horizon, here are the Cyclopean Deeps.


If the hex-sporting map is not ample clue - this constitutes a sandbox in the truest sense - that is, this a player-driven, old-school module with ample sample random encounters. Also: Know how old-school sometimes is used as a buzzword? Well, not so here. Indeed, this place is defiantly old-school and LETHAL. Even when compared to Rappan Athuk, the Cyclopean Deeps are deadly - very deadly. So yeah, if your group is looking for a challenge, a module worth winning - this is what you want. How nasty can this place be? Brutal enough to actually require no work on my part to make the module more challenging.


Want an example? All right, but to provide you with one, I'll have to go into SPOILERS. Players should jump to the conclusion.


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..


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Still here? All right! If you were one of the lucky ones, Rappan Athuk's KS back in the day provided two teasers of this massive module - and one detailed Ques Querax, gateway to the Cyclopean Deeps, wherein strange minotaur golems guard the premises. The local temple sports 3 priests, always in the same position, unmoving, catering to the whims of a strange head - only if you resist the unearthly fear of this place do you receive healing - but you never actually see it cast - upon leaving the temple, the effects suddenly...happen. Curiosity, alas, much like in CoC, may kill the cat, though - and like in the old truism, turn it into a multidimensional horror with puckered tentacles that is coming right for YOU! (Yes, actually trying to find out how these guys cast spells may shatter your sanity and provide a neat new career choice as a terrible servant of the mythos. A tavern owned by a denizen of Leng, an intelligent giant slug slaver, a dog-headed perfume-creating alchemist - not only are plenty of these folk EVIL, they also are WEIRD in a rather uncanny, horrific way. And the interesting thing is - this is civilization in these parts. It literally does not become better than this, so the PCs better figure out means of making this place work for them - a dangerous, but moderately secure base is better than none! Have I btw. mentioned the living eye of Gaaros-Uaazath, arguably one of the most powerful and odd entities herein, secretly creating a mind-bending, centipede-like war-machine?


But beyond the gates of Ques Querax, beautiful and precious wonders await - finding e.g. gems worth thousands of gold may be a reason for joy - until you read the entry of said random treasure - it reads "kidney stone." I am not kidding. The book brims with these little tidbits - and each and every one is tailor-made to come together in a vista exceedingly tantalizing and disturbing. From chain-bound jack-in-irons giants to mists of concealing, detection-blocking darkmist and the dark stalker/creeper enclave of Izanne, there are politics to be found, and yes, civilization - however, each veneer is distorted and odd, a threat underlying just about every step, every interaction - while never losing the evoked, profound sense of wonder that oozes from each and every encounter - and yes, some purists may scoff at decisions to smack down truly wondrous effects that lie beyond the capacity of spells here and there - but as for me, I love this decision - it drives home the need for care, the sense of magic...well, being truly magical. What level of detail am I referring to? well, what about a whole array of options, should the PCs elect to run across the rooftops of the fully-mapped Izanne? Or perhaps the PC's friendly nigh-ghoul guide wants to sell them some slaves and palanquins from his third cousin - the resounding themes of civilization can be found herein, though they are twisted in a grotesque way - a fact that also is reflected by the copious missions provided - and in the messages, that partially are traps, partially are odd - but ultimately, are different. Unique aberrations and strange folk abound, demons trod the streets and even here, a sense of decrepitude, of civilizations most vile, fallen to magics even worse, suffuses the paragraphs, with details upon details drawing a picture of a world that could be another, a place so wildly different, yet familiar, that it could be considered an escalation of the concept of the uncanny.


What about spellbooks that have been folded into the fourth dimension, pods that may transmit memories, odd, singing crystals - there is a lot of wonderful, enigmatic stuff to be found; and if your players prefer making an impact, the nasty and inscrutable people, from serpentfolk to aboleths, are all actually playing their own games, with subquests, goals and the like handily organized for your convenience. Now if you're not familiar with some old-school rules, you might be surprised to see e.g. a reference to percentile rolls and chances to decipher a lost language - this is a remnant of old-school gaming and should have been updated to PFRPG using the Linguistics-skill. And yes, some remnants like this can be found herein. However, in which other supplement are the players tasked (on an optional basis, of course!) to awaken a death god? Eat energy-bars of strange fungus or find out that the nice magic items they found are powered by energy infusions generated by constant sacrifice of sentient beings? It should also be noted that the NPC-builds, while sporting some straightforward ones, also feature some more complex ones.


But honestly, I don't love this book for its mechanics - but where else can you find human-faced, giant ants, unearthly flowers and air, spatial distortions and ways of thinking (properly explained for the DM) that may seem starkly in contrast to our logic...and have I mentioned the importance of the Leng rubies?


Now if the nomenclature and overall array of options seemed confusing to you, a massive glossary should help. The new monsters herein are copious and weird, as are the short, fluff-only write-ups of the elder things. The appendices also contain the numerous unique items - though, much like in the crunch, there are some examples of old-school mechanics to be found herein - e.g. an artifact that requires you to roll multiple d6s and score below your attribute score. The pdf contains various, cool maps, all of which receive player-friendly versions - and there are hand-outs.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to FGG's printer-friendly, two-column b/w-standard and the module comes with A LOT of awesome, unique original b/w-art. The book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the cartography in b/w is neat.


Author Matthew J. Finch delivers quite frankly one of the most imaginative, awesome books in the whole Frog God/Necromancer Games-canon; much like the stellar Dunes of Desolation, this book constitutes a prime example of why I want to see as many new FGG modules as possible. I own all Necromancer Games modules, even the boxed sets, and yes, even the rarities. That being said, I do think that FGG's modules surpass those of NG. Cyclopean Deeps Volume I is such a monument - this book reached a level of imaginative detail, of sheer creativity, that one only finds perhaps once in a blue moon. The literally only comparisons I could draw in that regard would be to the best of FGG-modules or to the 4 Dollar Dungeons-modules by Richard Develyn - and you probably by now realize how much I adore them. That being said, this book is far from perfect; the remnants of the conversion not being carried out properly in all cases do stick out like sore thumbs to me and formally, constitute a blemish that you should be aware of.


Then again, this massive book is intended for experienced DMs and experienced groups - beyond the lethality of the module, the sheer amount of sandboxing, of entwined things going on, means that A DM has to have some experience under the belt to run this. But know what? The complexity doesn't faze me and neither do the conversion relics matter to me - for one, in some cases, one could chalk them up to mechanics simply working differently here as well. On the other, capable DMs can easily fix these minor problems. And none of those minor hiccups matter to me in this case - what would singularly break the neck of lesser books just falls under the rag here - the writing is THIS good. Beyond a level of detail that can only be described as excruciating, there simply is no other module, no other environmental supplement tackling anything like this; the only other underworld sandboxes that approach this in terms of complexity would be the second Act of RotD or the classic Open Design "Empire of Ghouls" and both have a wildly different focus, completely different themes.


This manages to elicit a sense of cultural wonder akin to the writings of the classic titans like Gygax, a breath of the magical and uncanny, while also breathing the spirit of the mythos and classic pulp fiction akin to Howard or Haggard. Cyclopean Deeps managed to evoke something I almost never feel anymore these days - a sense of jamais-vu. This is not yet another rendition of some tired old, much rehearsed tropes - this is the antithesis of exceedingly tired level 1 module with goblins and an ogre or shadow as the final boss. This massive tome breathes more unique ideas in a chapter than some whole series of books. Even when compared to Rappan Athuk et al., this tome dabbles in themes and topics far beyond the focus on demonic entities, creates a sense of wonder and, paradoxically, realism. As odd and alien the vistas portrayed herein are, they still feel uncannily organic, realistic and alive - which drives further home the point of this book being not only unique, but inspired in the very best way.


The formal hiccups here and there might annoy you, but if you are missing out on this monumentally inspired world/setting-building due to them, you are depriving yourself of perhaps one of the most captivating reads I've had in any iteration of a d20-based system. And if you don't mind some old-school remnants or perhaps even enjoy them, then this should be considered a true milestone. I've been struggling with myself for quite a long time on how to rate this book, but as far as I'm concerned, the vast imaginative potential this book offers trumps just about any minor blemish or criticism you could field against it; to the point, where complaining would seem disingenuous and downright petty-minded. There are few books of this size that have managed to captivate me to this extent during the whole lecture of them and this massive sandbox should be considered a must-have addition to any DM looking for the deep below - even as disparate encounters and for the purposes of scavenging elements, this book is well worth the asking price. I thus remain with a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval, a nomination for the Top Ten of 2014, a longing for Vol. 2 and the regret that I am too poor to get this glorious tome in print.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cyclopean Deeps Volume 1 Pathfinder
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The Lost City of Barakus--Pathfinder
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/16/2015 02:53:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive mega-adventure clocks in at 176 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 170 pages of adventure, so let's take a look!


This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should instead read the Player's Guide and/or jump to the conclusion.


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All right, so in case you're wondering: This is the update of the classic, Ennie-award winning campaign supplement/mega-adventure. The basics are as follows: We have a massive city, Endhome; we have a vast stretch of wilderness surrounding it. The players are here. Go. This is pretty much the textbook definition of a massive, wide-open sandbox - something that renders this massive module a huge playground: From the exceedingly-detailed city of Endhome (including city statblocks, btw.!) to its environments, there is a lot of grounds to cover.


What do I mean by "exceedingly detailed?" Well, beyond the environments coming with a key-less, player-friendly hex-map, the city itself sports more maps that you'd imagine feasible for a book of this size: How many cities out there, for example, do you know that actually do have full maps for the canalization they sport? Indeed, even hexed ones so you can, theoretically, hex-crawl through the network of tunnels? Better yet, how many do you know that actually sport multiple mini-dungeons inside? But this level of detail not only is provided for below the streets - indeed, the fully-mapped temples of local deities and a whole mansion can also be explored...for there are whispers of death cults and even vampires having their home within the very walls of Endhome...


Now granted, there are other hyperdetailed city-sandboxes out there, but few that also manage this lavish level of detail beyond the confines of the city walls - there is a lot to find and explore outside of the walls of Endhome. Whether to stop the notorious bandits that have taken to harassing the roads, dealing with the stupid giant shambling through the hills or braving the small, but still deadly dragon that scours the lands, there is a lot to do; perhaps, the PCs are intrigued by the door-less wizard's tower they heard about in the player's guide and want to scale and explore it...or perhaps they stumble over a sinkhole and wan to lower themselves down, past the deadly mold growing down there, to explore the caverns below? The fountain of Freya is supposed to be somewhere in the woods and ghouls and worse room the wilderness, with a shrine to dread Tsathogga being once again a mechanical highlight, as a dire boar turns out to be a were-boar cleric! Mysterious crypts, haunted hovels and hidden treasure all await intrepid adventurers stumbling over secrets ancient and old. What about the friendly alchemist out there - is he all he seems to be? No trip beyond the walls of Endhome will be boring - that, I can guarantee!


In fact, this mega-adventure does sport a very prevalent leitmotif that has since then become one for the Lost Lands-setting: A feeling of a world that has moved on; once, there may have been empires, a structure, a geopolitical struggle - but now, the world is on the verge of becoming all wilderness. Civilization seems to be in decline and every rock and hovel seems to be hiding a piece of an age long gone, a piece of the puzzle, a sense of antiquity. Obvious danger may lurk outside, yes, but even beneath the veneer of civilization, where still maintained, there is no rest - you will never lose the feeling of something sinister brewing beneath the surface, of a calamity just being a step away. This brooding melancholy suffuses the whole writing, providing a sense of thematic identity far beyond anything you'd consider evident or obvious; the effect is subtle, but utilized in an extremely smart manner, for the caverns of the massive dungeon that hide Barakus and the ruined city itself further amplify this theme.


Let me reiterate: Barakus once was a radiant city - until one of its numerous wizards, Devron, turned lich. The city was unified in its struggle against the lich and crafted a sword to bring him low. Not one to wait for his demise, Devron crafted a helm to regain, eventually, his power and, from the prison into which he was banaished, expended a significant portion of his power. Before the sworn champion could destroy him, the stone of madness thus conjured crashed into the city, turning its denizens against themselves and destroying the once proud city-state. Thus, the legendary sword was lost in its own sanctuary, to never be used; thus the shield never was found; and thus, the ruins of the erstwhile city still hold not only the well-sealed prison of the (temporarily weakened) lich, but also the sword of kell, the means to reinvigorate it and the dread stone of madness - all while Devron still hungers for his power, for the helm to restore him, for freedom - it is this that can be considered to be the main quest of this massive adventure, though, frankly, it is as much the main-quest as some others herein. The brilliant component about this one, though, is the fact that the dungeon that now contains the city's remnants is diverse and huge - several levels, some parallel to one another, some sporting maps that cover 2 pages, render this dungeon a significant challenge - better yet, the whole complex manages something only rarely seen.


The indirect story-telling one associates with game like Dark Souls: When ephemeral voices ask you about Devron to enter his domain, when lethal puzzles loom, when strange devices can be collected to illuminate the city's "flames" to bring full power back to the sword, when the deciphered warrior's prayer actually has an effect beyond flavorful fluff - it is then you'll note the extent of this book's atmosphere. Add to that a significant array of terrain hazards and unique adversaries and you will literally have excellent content to last you a couple of months, perhaps even a year. Oh, and one thing: The player's guide immensely facilitates the process of running this one, allowing the GM to avoid the necessity for hours of exposition and establishing shots - it literally does that for the GM and renders running this even more smoothly than in its 3.X iteration.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The book sports numerous pieces of awesome b/w-artwork and the maps the PCs can conceivably get are printer-friendly. As a nitpick, I would have loved to see player-friendly maps for all areas, since I (and a lot of GMs I know) like cutting them up and then handing out the respective areas as the PCs explore the place, but you can't have everything, I guess. The hardcover is a beautiful book with FGG's excellent binding and high-quality paper - this is a book made to last.


W.D.B. Kenower and Bill Webb's Lost City of Barakus is perhaps one of Necromancer Games' classics that is closest to the quality and style the current Lost Lands adhere to. I may be mistaken, but when I look at this mega-adventure, I can see how Slumbering Tsar, Dunes of Desolation and similar tomes among FGG's superb catalogue drew upon established flair and further expanded it. Endhome and its surrounding area are, hands down, the most detailed low-level sandbox I currently know of: Massive in scope and ambition, there are literally hundreds of hours of awesome gameplay herein. But that was true before. The PFRPG-conversion ranks among the better ones as well - with alchemists and several classes and builds getting more than just the required face-lift. The dungeon and its organization is also slightly clearer and thanks to the superb player's guide, you spend much less time with exposition and have more time for proper adventuring.


So is this better than its previous iteration? Yes, in my opinion, it is - the frog god crew has done a great job transporting this to PFRPG. This is an absolutely stellar sandbox and one of the low level modules that should be considered to be a rite of passage, a great first glimpse at the Lost Lands and what makes the setting awesome. In fact, were this 3.X, I'd still be gushing on and on about how awesome this book is - the only reason I'm not, lies in the lack of player-friendly maps for every environment and, more importantly, one book: Sword of Air. While higher level, Sword of Air has pretty much raised the bar so high, it is very hard to not acknowledge its influence. That being said, guess which sandbox I'd recommend to lead towards this legendary module? Yes, you're reading the review of it. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. If you have not yet played this gem, check it out - it is one glorious beast.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Lost City of Barakus--Pathfinder
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Swords and Wizardry Complete Rule Book
by Michael J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/23/2015 13:36:00

Well it does clean up the rules a lot. And does encourage house rules and twiddling with the rules more than the official sets. still too close to d&d for me, though for those looking for a simpler rules set that doesn't give rules upon rules for everything, and plays in half the time, I recommend it.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Swords and Wizardry Complete Rule Book
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The Sword of Air--Pathfinder
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/01/2015 03:28:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The massive mega-adventure clocks in at 522 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 3 pages of obituary-slots (this is FGG we're talking about) and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 514 pages of content, so let's dive in...


...but wait, before we do, let me reiterate something: This is not simply a massive module, this is a linchpin, a relic finally realized. For as long as I've been reading Necromancer Games (and later, Frog God Games-modules), I've seen those tantalizing hints, time and again, supplemented by this nasty, trademark "Coming Soon." Anticipation continued to build up - for years. When FGG was created, published Slumbering Tsar, vastly improved Rappan Athuk and then proceeded to release great book after great book - even saving Razor Coast from oblivion - that's when I hoped. when the KS hit, I scrounged together all bucks I could, bought two weeks worth of ramen and pledged. And when the KS' was finished, I sat there - and started honestly dreading the arrival of this book.


Why? Because I have the most insane of expectations for this mega-adventure - years upon years of expectations and improved qualities of previous books - since the days of NG, the world has turned. It is my belief that the average of FGG's oeuvre, quality-wise, significantly exceeds that of NG - NG was the trailblazer, FGG has, at this point, imho surpassed its predecessor. So has Sword of Air changed with it? Is it up to date, or a relic of NG's days in design-aesthetic? All of this does not bode well - usually, when I have high expectations, I tend to end up disappointed. So far for my own mindset going into this.


Genre-wise, Sword of Air is a huge sandbox-adventure that deviates from the player-driven Slumbering Tsar in the key-aspect that it indeed has a metaplot beyond exploration - in fact, this mega-adventure, while providing enough sandboxing, does have a significantly more pronounced plot, is, dare I say, brainier, than most modules of this size. It should also be noted that the modules vast array of maps, all in gorgeous full-color, come with player-friendly versions and my dead-tree copy featured a high-quality, gorgeous hex-map of the areas covered herein.


Indeed, the Gulf of Akados-region as depicted herein, with hex upon hex of things, settlements, dungeons is ridiculously detailed and provides more storylines than I can hope to cover in a review - there is so much material here, you will NOT be wanting for simple material to put your PCs through. Indeed, much like the most detailed settings of old, you can just put this book down as a kind of massive world-guide, push your PCs in and there you go -even with this type of gameplay, ignoring the plotline, this probably has enough gaming material to last you at least a year. So yes, you can wide-open sandbox this beast...but you don't have to.


All right, enough procrastination - this being an adventure-review, from here on out reign the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


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If you're a player, jump ahead - or Tsathogga AND Orcus may well descend on you and consume your soul!


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All right, only GMs left? Great! First of all: This mega-adventure has one of the most surprising primary antagonists you'll ever see - unless your players are exceedingly paranoid, to the point they even exceed the paranoia of mine, they will NOT see the revelation of the true mastermind coming -and indeed, a lot hangs in the balance here. This book is an epic quest that spans multiple artifacts, with, obviously, the Sword of Air taking a central role. The PCs are drawn into this epic via the feud of two archwizards Kayden and Sorten, who face an issue of mutually-assured destruction - a theme that has an intriguing resonance in the subtext of the module that sets Sword of Air, intentionally or not, apart - and yes, I used the word "epic" in the truly intended context with all the ramifications of this word: Sword of Air puts A LOT at stake, and all in the player's hands - with a distinct chance that the PCs and players may unwittingly unleash doom upon all of the Lost Lands. The stakes, though it may seem otherwise, are apocalyptic indeed.


While the general notion is that the PCs are recruited by the...let's say, less than nice wizard Kayden to get him the Shagaspondium, a legendary item and the first trail towards the Sword of Air, this mega-adventure very much has more for you to do than you can ever want - strange ruins dot the landscape. Dragon-families with funny names engage in an ancient family feud. Vampire princesses lie entombed in small dungeons. A lycanthropic gnoll-lord rules over their people in a massive mountain-fortress - all of these come fully mapped and yes, certain forests contain dark secrets at their center - and the domains of the two arch-wizards, with their excessive details, also should be considered intriguing. The production-values have to be mentioned here - this book has A LOT of artwork and cartography - many of which can be considered stunning. The full-color renditions, especially of mechanisms and areas (less so for characters) are absolutely awesome and help immersion immensely. Speaking of which - the level of detail, should you prefer simulationalist approach, includes handy lists of food-consumption and areas containing a lot of NPCs, you'll enjoy the schedules that depicts when character xyz is here and when not. It should also be noted that the NPC-builds are a tad more creative and versatile than in most FGG-books, with plenty of multiclassing and archetyping.


But, beyond all of this, you should also be aware that, by infiltration or alliance, sooner or later, the PCs will need to actually enter the Plane of Shadow - in this wasteland, titanic shadow giants loom and the exploration of the wasteland is one step above the challenge of the basic range and of what one would expect - within the depths of this desolation, umbral dragons loom, deadly woods are home to life-draining monsters and a mad apprentice has the key to the tomb of Aka Bakar - but curious PCs may just as well try to foil the deadly Night Queen. Or what about traveling the shadow sea? Need something more epic - well, there is a chance that the artifacts of the deadly shadow giant deity Knew Koth is resurrected - his dread stats are provided...


Speaking of Aka Bakar's tomb- the dungeon is deadly, but you knew that much, right? Fact is, it's also, much like the basic plotline, a place where brains are just as required as brawns - the numerous, smart puzzles provided within this massive complex provide a great change of pace from the deadly adversaries, unique foes and lethal traps - and yes, there are some traps herein that will TPK foolish groups - much like Rappan Athuk and similarly challenging modules, this is NOT playing around...though, at least in my opinion, the whole complex adheres to an internal consistency beyond what e.g. RA delivers - the complex not only felt thoroughly unique and alive, it simply is awesome and feels organic, logical.


But what to do with the Sword of Air, should the PCs recover it? One thing is clear - this sword in the stone has brought untold suffering and needs to be taken care of - but how to destroy it? Well, this is where the massive book essentially splits its direction - unless you direct things otherwise, of course. Researching the means of destruction, unlike with most artifacts, can yield two options - but that may not be apparent for the PCs. The most rewarding option may be to send them in the direction of method A) and then have them realize that something is amiss. If only, because missing out on even a bit of the Wasteland of Tsen would be a crime in my book. Do you recall my incessant gushing about Slumbering Tsar's Desolation back in the day? Well, at this point, the Wasteland of Tsen, horribly irradiated and providing tables upon tables of mutations, constitutes perhaps one of my favorite areas ever depicted in a fantasy roleplaying game. Utterly unique and strange, with ample of deadly creatures, this desolate place with its delightfully tentacled squirrel-swarms and unique hazards and creatures hides more than the remnants of a fantastical fallout - essentially, from the temple hidden beneath the dead lake to the massive, ruined city, this gigantic, impressively-detailed exploration takes the former awesome components and one-ups them in imagery and iconic themes - and below do lie the lead mines of Tsen, where maddened clerics of Arden defend the Heart of their dead god - and with it, one of the options to destroy the doom-bringing Sword of Air once and for all.


The other option, of course, involves researching the existence of a legendary beast of Tarrasque-like proportions (and a CR of 27) that happens to be immortal. No, this is not the highest level CR the PCs can stumble into - one endgame-scenario can be summed as literally "The world is doomed." Now matter how you play this gigantic beast - no matter, how things turn out - getting through this in any way is a feat - a true achievement.


I am waging a gamble: This will surpass Rappan Athuk at one point in its legend. Why? Because its storyline is compelling and because it does engage the brains and all problem-solving skills of a group beyond what most modules dare to do - from opposite-battles to research and schemes within schemes to the ridiculously awesome locations, this book is stunning. And since I can't really properly convey that - this book contains almost 100 pages of maps. No, I am NOT kidding. Each and every little halfway feasible locale is mapped. This is beyond concise and extensive. And yes, as always, we get copious monsters and magic items and, and , and - but ultimately, everything pales before this module.


And yes, I will remain this opaque here - you should get this and read it yourself. I can't properly convey this book's impact.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch - for a book of this size to have this level of cohesion is more than just remarkable - it's a feat in itself. Layout...oh boy - this book is gorgeous full color, glossy paper and sports absolutely stunning, video-game artbook-level beautiful illustrations...a lot of them. Contrasted with this level of realism and beauty are callbacks to old-school artworks, mainly represented in the character-artworks that depict those guys - personally, I didn't like the comic- style employed in some of them, but that is a matter of taste. I just wished they had adhered to the style depicted in the landscape-shots - why? Because both the book and the artwork conspire to evoke a unique atmosphere. More on that below. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and my hardcover is gorgeously stitch-bound with the level of quality I've come to expect from FGG.


All right. When I first began this review, I used an approach similar to that of Quests of Doom - short run-downs of the story-lines, then moving on. This does not work here. There is simply too much potential contained within these pages. In fact, my previous review of this was bloated beyond recognition, at a point where no one would have read it. Why? A line from Antimatter comes to mind "If you look at me from your own century, I must seem like strange archaeology."


This is, in my opinion, all that is great about old-school gaming. Much like games like Demon's Souls or Dark Souls, this plunges you into a world, where wonder, death and danger lurk at every corner - where strange things abound. Much like Slumbering Tsar, this evokes a sense of an ancient world that has moved on, a massive, storied place that has always existed - where each hill may hide new questions, new answers. Indeed, for the first time since Tsar, I felt reminded of why I truly adored this gritty style - the comparison that comes to mind, is the honorable Judge's Guild, the Wilderness of High Fantasy.


This is, what frankly only a book of this size could conceivably offer - a simulation. A massive simulation of a huge region that is organic, filled to the brim with awesome adventure, weirdness, Easter-eggs...all without delving into the ridiculous. Yes, you may find a purple demon-cow...but you may also unearth some strange ruins, find truly unique creatures or even test your mettle against a god long-thought dead.


Sword of Air is hard - but not because of it being unfair. Yes, you will need to run and yes, sometimes, the characters will die...but the true accomplishment of this book is that it sports a central narrative for the GM to use to get things on track. Essentially, this could be considered a synthesis of the massive strengths of Slumbering Tsar, coupled with a central plot-line that is more consistent than its brethren. What brethren am I talking about? Well, obviously the classic sagas that revolved around a certain axe that lords of the stout folk used to wield and, more fittingly, perhaps - the Rod of the 7 Parts. Sword of Air mops the floor with them and takes their lunch-money, while beating Rappan Athuk up with its free hand.


This gigantic masterpiece is more evocative than all of those, is challenging and clever - it dares to demand smart and attentive players. It dabbles in the weird and uncommon. It has an utterly unique adversary, sports some of the most iconic locales available in this generation of modules and does all of that while maintaining its focus, its leitmotif and putting literally all choice within the hands of the experienced GM - where, ultimately, that belongs.


Don't get me wrong - I love APs and their tight stories, but this is something different - this is a way of forging your own story, with options galore to insert whatever modules you're itching to run. Unlike a regular AP, this is pretty much a world-immersion-experience in a sense one only rarely sees - because it is extremely hard to pull off. In the hands of even only a good writer, cohesion is lost and the settlement of amazons feels out of place, everything dissolves. Well, Bill Webb is anything but "only good" - this Magnum Opus is perhaps the ultimate proof of his vast imaginative potential.


Sword of Air is an absolute masterpiece and even among Bill Webb's extensive canon of superb modules, it stands out at one step beyond, further enhanced by the FGG crew going the extra mile regarding the sheer number of foes and the increased optimization of builds of foes. Add to that the vast amount of art and cartography and we have, quite frankly, a book for the ages.


There is something very wrong with the world if this does not become a truly legendary book, a milestone - Sword of Air is quite frankly a book that only happens every couple of years, one that is so good, so fun, so unique, I'm running out of superlatives - fast. If a new generation of gamers wants to know why those grognard's eyes glaze over when the classics are mentioned, when you never really got what is supposed to be great about something like Rappan Athuk - then this book is for you. Because more so than RA, it represents what is best about this type of gaming. It challenges the mind, it inspires, it is unbound and wild and free and epic beyond what a lesser tome could hope to achieve.


In case my gushing diatribes were not ample clue - the only book in the current generation of modules that comes close to this in scope and quality of atmosphere would be Slumbering Tsar - and, personally, I actually like Sword of Air a bit more, if only because it is a tad bit more focused and has the benefit of the narrative being there to guide the PCs back on trek if they get lost in the sandboxing. I firmly believe that this book is a must-own book that belongs into the library of any DM looking for a challenge, looking to understand what a truly free, and yet intelligent and focused sandbox can be.


Sword of Air is a masterpiece, gets 5 stars + seal of approval and is, obviously, a candidate for the number 1-slot of my Top Ten of 2015. This mega-adventure does everything right. Get it and never let go - this will be a classic in the generations to come; to me, it already is one.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Sword of Air--Pathfinder
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Razor Coast - Pathfinder Edition
by Simon H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/18/2015 14:01:47

An excellent undeniably five star product... with a large BUT! attached.


First off the good. I doubt I have to go into much detail, previous reviewers have beat me to it and doing another itemized list of all the good stuff in this 500+ page product seems a bit pointless and just serves to tire out anyone actually reading over these reviews. But to sum up... a well written product with an incredible amount of detail that still lets you be as free form as you want to be while undertaking an incredible adventure path. Evil characters are evil without being pure bwa-hah-hah, they're evil is understandable and a GM can adapt their motivations and plots on the fly. Good characters are not just shining paladins out to smite evil because it is there but also have their quirks and reasonable personalities... for the most part (see below). The area is well fleshed out with lots of options but still a couple of less developed spaces on the map a GM can use something of his own in. It is expensive, but given the amount of stuff you get in it I'd say it's well worth the price. Seriously. Less then 10 cents a page here, compare that to some of the $1 odd deals you see around this place with six or seven pages including the cover and think about that.


BUT!


There's the odd formatting and spelling error, nothing major and more then forgivable on a project this size but I remember them being occasionally jarring.
The native population comes off as a bunch one note noble savage types, getting into Mary Sue territory. It's not too bad but after the excellent characterization of everyone else it can be a bit grating.
But the biggest 'flaw' of this book is how basic it is. I want to emphasize this, it's not a bad thing that the Razor Coast doesn't require you to have a dozen different pathfinder books to run it. And that's not taking into account the mind boggling effort it would have taken the writers to keep looking over everything and updating thie FIVE HUNDRED PLUS page book while they were busy converting it as each new supplement came out. However, the book as a whole simply cries out for some of the advanced stuff. Ironically perhaps the additional book you'd want most is the Advanced Class Guide, the Razor Coast is simply screaming for the Swashbuckler and Brawler classes. You can see the writers trying to put the archetypes in with just the basic classes but it doesn't work as well (IMO). Similarly Bloodragers and Skalds could make interesting additions to the natives and there's another half a dozen classes between the Advanced Class Guide and the Advanced Players Guide which would be useful, thematic, and/or interesting. I'm especially torn on the Shaman class, on one hand it might make the natives a little too powerful. On the other hand, certain local patrons for some sort of Hex using class could really help or thematically explain certain native abilities while remaining perfectly within the rules.
To a lesser degree the campaign might lend itself well to some Mythic additions. I can't see it working as an out and out mythic campaign but the addition of a few mythic levels to certain 'appropriate' bad guys (I'm trying not to spoil here) would be thematic, differentiate them from the more convention bad guys in town, and help explain a couple of things that had gone on before the players came. Similarly, certain recommended points in the outline, not to mention the mysteries of the local area, lend themselves to giving the PC's a mythic level or two before the end of the campaign. I mean that literally though, I wouldn't do more then tier 3 on anything here (except MAYBE the biggest bad of the bunch) and even then I'm worried about how much mythic stuff could unbalance an excellent setting if you're not careful.


All in all it's still a five star product but keep this stuff in mind when buying.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Razor Coast - Pathfinder Edition
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Cyclopean Deeps Volume 1 Swords and Wizardry
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/27/2015 05:32:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review


NOTE: This review mainly pertains to the PFRPG version. The S&W version, with its smaller statblocks, clocks in at fewer pages, but also does not sport the issue of conversion relics - it can be considered a full-blown recommendation for S&W.


The first book of the two-part Cyclopean Deeps-Saga clocks in at 198 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 192 pages of content, so let's check this out, shall we?


So, let's, for now, process as spoiler-free as possible: Do you remember the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide released for 2nd edition (1e AD&D, if you count that way...)? It's a timeless classic indeed and showcases a significant component of what I consider flawed with most modern underdark/underworld modules. Let me describe it from this venue - have you ever been spelunking? There is an appeal to the hobby that is hard to describe, but I'll try - at the same time, you feel like you have entered a new world, a place where your civilization and all of its comforts do not stretch to. You enter a place wondrous that differs significantly, via all of your senses, from the tactile to the olfactory, from what we are used to - reaching the surface once again can feel a bit like a shock after some time - loud, bright...all those smells. However, accompanying this general sensation, one is (or at least I am!) constantly and keenly aware of insane amounts of solid rock, balancing precariously above one's head - whether as a sense of foreboding or respect, caves and caverns elicit a different perspective. Now, recently AAW Games has captured the proper sense of wonder rather perfectly with their Rise of the Drow saga.


In Rise of the Drow, we saw an unprecedented sense of realism applied to the section of the underdark that is kind of akin to the surface world, if not in environment, then in its social structures - we have dangerous animals, humanoid cultures (most evil) vying for dominance - it's the surface world on crack and the RotD-saga can be counted among the few that managed to instill this sense of wonder in the vivid pictures painted. However, there is another underdark - a place where neither light, nor surface-dwellers usually tread. If you're familiar with the Dark Souls games, think of this as the place that would have come below the lowest, blackest gulch. A place, where even the underworld-denizens fear to tread, a place forlorn and forsaken by the light. Below even Rappan Athuk, thus extends this place, one that can easily be transplanted to any setting - courtesy of there simply being no comparable supplement or module that goes quite that deep - usually, places like this are hinted at in the equivalent of telling the PCs "Don't go there!" So there the fools go - here dwell the things no man has ever laid eyes on, here is the Deep Horizon, here are the Cyclopean Deeps.


If the hex-sporting map is not ample clue - this constitutes a sandbox in the truest sense - that is, this a player-driven, old-school module with ample sample random encounters. Also: Know how old-school sometimes is used as a buzzword? Well, not so here. Indeed, this place is defiantly old-school and LETHAL. Even when compared to Rappan Athuk, the Cyclopean Deeps are deadly - very deadly. So yeah, if your group is looking for a challenge, a module worth winning - this is what you want. How nasty can this place be? Brutal enough to actually require no work on my part to make the module more challenging.


Want an example? All right, but to provide you with one, I'll have to go into SPOILERS. Players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


Still here? All right! If you were one of the lucky ones, Rappan Athuk's KS back in the day provided two teasers of this massive module - and one detailed Ques Querax, gateway to the Cyclopean Deeps, wherein strange minotaur golems guard the premises. The local temple sports 3 priests, always in the same position, unmoving, catering to the whims of a strange head - only if you resist the unearthly fear of this place do you receive healing - but you never actually see it cast - upon leaving the temple, the effects suddenly...happen. Curiosity, alas, much like in CoC, may kill the cat, though - and like in the old truism, turn it into a multidimensional horror with puckered tentacles that is coming right for YOU! (Yes, actually trying to find out how these guys cast spells may shatter your sanity and provide a neat new career choice as a terrible servant of the mythos. A tavern owned by a denizen of Leng, an intelligent giant slug slaver, a dog-headed perfume-creating alchemist - not only are plenty of these folk EVIL, they also are WEIRD in a rather uncanny, horrific way. And the interesting thing is - this is civilization in these parts. It literally does not become better than this, so the PCs better figure out means of making this place work for them - a dangerous, but moderately secure base is better than none! Have I btw. mentioned the living eye of Gaaros-Uaazath, arguably one of the most powerful and odd entities herein, secretly creating a mind-bending, centipede-like war-machine?


But beyond the gates of Ques Querax, beautiful and precious wonders await - finding e.g. gems worth thousands of gold may be a reason for joy - until you read the entry of said random treasure - it reads "kidney stone." I am not kidding. The book brims with these little tidbits - and each and every one is tailor-made to come together in a vista exceedingly tantalizing and disturbing. From chain-bound jack-in-irons giants to mists of concealing, detection-blocking darkmist and the dark stalker/creeper enclave of Izanne, there are politics to be found, and yes, civilization - however, each veneer is distorted and odd, a threat underlying just about every step, every interaction - while never losing the evoked, profound sense of wonder that oozes from each and every encounter - and yes, some purists may scoff at decisions to smack down truly wondrous effects that lie beyond the capacity of spells here and there - but as for me, I love this decision - it drives home the need for care, the sense of magic...well, being truly magical. What level of detail am I referring to? well, what about a whole array of options, should the PCs elect to run across the rooftops of the fully-mapped Izanne? Or perhaps the PC's friendly nigh-ghoul guide wants to sell them some slaves and palanquins from his third cousin - the resounding themes of civilization can be found herein, though they are twisted in a grotesque way - a fact that also is reflected by the copious missions provided - and in the messages, that partially are traps, partially are odd - but ultimately, are different. Unique aberrations and strange folk abound, demons trod the streets and even here, a sense of decrepitude, of civilizations most vile, fallen to magics even worse, suffuses the paragraphs, with details upon details drawing a picture of a world that could be another, a place so wildly different, yet familiar, that it could be considered an escalation of the concept of the uncanny.


What about spellbooks that have been folded into the fourth dimension, pods that may transmit memories, odd, singing crystals - there is a lot of wonderful, enigmatic stuff to be found; and if your players prefer making an impact, the nasty and inscrutable people, from serpentfolk to aboleths, are all actually playing their own games, with subquests, goals and the like handily organized for your convenience. Now if you're not familiar with some old-school rules, you might be surprised to see e.g. a reference to percentile rolls and chances to decipher a lost language - this is a remnant of old-school gaming and should have been updated to PFRPG using the Linguistics-skill. And yes, some remnants like this can be found herein. However, in which other supplement are the players tasked (on an optional basis, of course!) to awaken a death god? Eat energy-bars of strange fungus or find out that the nice magic items they found are powered by energy infusions generated by constant sacrifice of sentient beings? It should also be noted that the NPC-builds, while sporting some straightforward ones, also feature some more complex ones.


But honestly, I don't love this book for its mechanics - but where else can you find human-faced, giant ants, unearthly flowers and air, spatial distortions and ways of thinking (properly explained for the DM) that may seem starkly in contrast to our logic...and have I mentioned the importance of the Leng rubies?


Now if the nomenclature and overall array of options seemed confusing to you, a massive glossary should help. The new monsters herein are copious and weird, as are the short, fluff-only write-ups of the elder things. The appendices also contain the numerous unique items - though, much like in the crunch, there are some examples of old-school mechanics to be found herein - e.g. an artifact that requires you to roll multiple d6s and score below your attribute score. The pdf contains various, cool maps, all of which receive player-friendly versions - and there are hand-outs.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to FGG's printer-friendly, two-column b/w-standard and the module comes with A LOT of awesome, unique original b/w-art. The book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the cartography in b/w is neat.


Author Matthew J. Finch delivers quite frankly one of the most imaginative, awesome books in the whole Frog God/Necromancer Games-canon; much like the stellar Dunes of Desolation, this book constitutes a prime example of why I want to see as many new FGG modules as possible. I own all Necromancer Games modules, even the boxed sets, and yes, even the rarities. That being said, I do think that FGG's modules surpass those of NG. Cyclopean Deeps Volume I is such a monument - this book reached a level of imaginative detail, of sheer creativity, that one only finds perhaps once in a blue moon. The literally only comparisons I could draw in that regard would be to the best of FGG-modules or to the 4 Dollar Dungeons-modules by Richard Develyn - and you probably by now realize how much I adore them. That being said, this book is far from perfect; the remnants of the conversion not being carried out properly in all cases do stick out like sore thumbs to me and formally, constitute a blemish that you should be aware of.


Then again, this massive book is intended for experienced DMs and experienced groups - beyond the lethality of the module, the sheer amount of sandboxing, of entwined things going on, means that A DM has to have some experience under the belt to run this. But know what? The complexity doesn't faze me and neither do the conversion relics matter to me - for one, in some cases, one could chalk them up to mechanics simply working differently here as well. On the other, capable DMs can easily fix these minor problems. And none of those minor hiccups matter to me in this case - what would singularly break the neck of lesser books just falls under the rag here - the writing is THIS good. Beyond a level of detail that can only be described as excruciating, there simply is no other module, no other environmental supplement tackling anything like this; the only other underworld sandboxes that approach this in terms of complexity would be the second Act of RotD or the classic Open Design "Empire of Ghouls" and both have a wildly different focus, completely different themes.


This manages to elicit a sense of cultural wonder akin to the writings of the classic titans like Gygax, a breath of the magical and uncanny, while also breathing the spirit of the mythos and classic pulp fiction akin to Howard or Haggard. Cyclopean Deeps managed to evoke something I almost never feel anymore these days - a sense of jamais-vu. This is not yet another rendition of some tired old, much rehearsed tropes - this is the antithesis of exceedingly tired level 1 module with goblins and an ogre or shadow as the final boss. This massive tome breathes more unique ideas in a chapter than some whole series of books. Even when compared to Rappan Athuk et al., this tome dabbles in themes and topics far beyond the focus on demonic entities, creates a sense of wonder and, paradoxically, realism. As odd and alien the vistas portrayed herein are, they still feel uncannily organic, realistic and alive - which drives further home the point of this book being not only unique, but inspired in the very best way.


The formal hiccups here and there might annoy you, but if you are missing out on this monumentally inspired world/setting-building due to them, you are depriving yourself of perhaps one of the most captivating reads I've had in any iteration of a d20-based system. And if you don't mind some old-school remnants or perhaps even enjoy them, then this should be considered a true milestone. I've been struggling with myself for quite a long time on how to rate this book, but as far as I'm concerned, the vast imaginative potential this book offers trumps just about any minor blemish or criticism you could field against it; to the point, where complaining would seem disingenuous and downright petty-minded. There are few books of this size that have managed to captivate me to this extent during the whole lecture of them and this massive sandbox should be considered a must-have addition to any DM looking for the deep below - even as disparate encounters and for the purposes of scavenging elements, this book is well worth the asking price. I thus remain with a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval, a nomination for the Top Ten of 2014, a longing for Vol. 2 and the regret that I am too poor to get this glorious tome in print.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cyclopean Deeps Volume 1 Swords and Wizardry
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Cyclopean Deeps Volume 1 Pathfinder
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/27/2015 05:29:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The first book of the two-part Cyclopean Deeps-Saga clocks in at 198 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 192 pages of content, so let's check this out, shall we?


So, let's, for now, process as spoiler-free as possible: Do you remember the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide released for 2nd edition (1e AD&D, if you count that way...)? It's a timeless classic indeed and showcases a significant component of what I consider flawed with most modern underdark/underworld modules. Let me describe it from this venue - have you ever been spelunking? There is an appeal to the hobby that is hard to describe, but I'll try - at the same time, you feel like you have entered a new world, a place where your civilization and all of its comforts do not stretch to. You enter a place wondrous that differs significantly, via all of your senses, from the tactile to the olfactory, from what we are used to - reaching the surface once again can feel a bit like a shock after some time - loud, bright...all those smells. However, accompanying this general sensation, one is (or at least I am!) constantly and keenly aware of insane amounts of solid rock, balancing precariously above one's head - whether as a sense of foreboding or respect, caves and caverns elicit a different perspective. Now, recently AAW Games has captured the proper sense of wonder rather perfectly with their Rise of the Drow saga.


In Rise of the Drow, we saw an unprecedented sense of realism applied to the section of the underdark that is kind of akin to the surface world, if not in environment, then in its social structures - we have dangerous animals, humanoid cultures (most evil) vying for dominance - it's the surface world on crack and the RotD-saga can be counted among the few that managed to instill this sense of wonder in the vivid pictures painted. However, there is another underdark - a place where neither light, nor surface-dwellers usually tread. If you're familiar with the Dark Souls games, think of this as the place that would have come below the lowest, blackest gulch. A place, where even the underworld-denizens fear to tread, a place forlorn and forsaken by the light. Below even Rappan Athuk, thus extends this place, one that can easily be transplanted to any setting - courtesy of there simply being no comparable supplement or module that goes quite that deep - usually, places like this are hinted at in the equivalent of telling the PCs "Don't go there!" So there the fools go - here dwell the things no man has ever laid eyes on, here is the Deep Horizon, here are the Cyclopean Deeps.


If the hex-sporting map is not ample clue - this constitutes a sandbox in the truest sense - that is, this a player-driven, old-school module with ample sample random encounters. Also: Know how old-school sometimes is used as a buzzword? Well, not so here. Indeed, this place is defiantly old-school and LETHAL. Even when compared to Rappan Athuk, the Cyclopean Deeps are deadly - very deadly. So yeah, if your group is looking for a challenge, a module worth winning - this is what you want. How nasty can this place be? Brutal enough to actually require no work on my part to make the module more challenging.


Want an example? All right, but to provide you with one, I'll have to go into SPOILERS. Players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


Still here? All right! If you were one of the lucky ones, Rappan Athuk's KS back in the day provided two teasers of this massive module - and one detailed Ques Querax, gateway to the Cyclopean Deeps, wherein strange minotaur golems guard the premises. The local temple sports 3 priests, always in the same position, unmoving, catering to the whims of a strange head - only if you resist the unearthly fear of this place do you receive healing - but you never actually see it cast - upon leaving the temple, the effects suddenly...happen. Curiosity, alas, much like in CoC, may kill the cat, though - and like in the old truism, turn it into a multidimensional horror with puckered tentacles that is coming right for YOU! (Yes, actually trying to find out how these guys cast spells may shatter your sanity and provide a neat new career choice as a terrible servant of the mythos. A tavern owned by a denizen of Leng, an intelligent giant slug slaver, a dog-headed perfume-creating alchemist - not only are plenty of these folk EVIL, they also are WEIRD in a rather uncanny, horrific way. And the interesting thing is - this is civilization in these parts. It literally does not become better than this, so the PCs better figure out means of making this place work for them - a dangerous, but moderately secure base is better than none! Have I btw. mentioned the living eye of Gaaros-Uaazath, arguably one of the most powerful and odd entities herein, secretly creating a mind-bending, centipede-like war-machine?


But beyond the gates of Ques Querax, beautiful and precious wonders await - finding e.g. gems worth thousands of gold may be a reason for joy - until you read the entry of said random treasure - it reads "kidney stone." I am not kidding. The book brims with these little tidbits - and each and every one is tailor-made to come together in a vista exceedingly tantalizing and disturbing. From chain-bound jack-in-irons giants to mists of concealing, detection-blocking darkmist and the dark stalker/creeper enclave of Izanne, there are politics to be found, and yes, civilization - however, each veneer is distorted and odd, a threat underlying just about every step, every interaction - while never losing the evoked, profound sense of wonder that oozes from each and every encounter - and yes, some purists may scoff at decisions to smack down truly wondrous effects that lie beyond the capacity of spells here and there - but as for me, I love this decision - it drives home the need for care, the sense of magic...well, being truly magical. What level of detail am I referring to? well, what about a whole array of options, should the PCs elect to run across the rooftops of the fully-mapped Izanne? Or perhaps the PC's friendly nigh-ghoul guide wants to sell them some slaves and palanquins from his third cousin - the resounding themes of civilization can be found herein, though they are twisted in a grotesque way - a fact that also is reflected by the copious missions provided - and in the messages, that partially are traps, partially are odd - but ultimately, are different. Unique aberrations and strange folk abound, demons trod the streets and even here, a sense of decrepitude, of civilizations most vile, fallen to magics even worse, suffuses the paragraphs, with details upon details drawing a picture of a world that could be another, a place so wildly different, yet familiar, that it could be considered an escalation of the concept of the uncanny.


What about spellbooks that have been folded into the fourth dimension, pods that may transmit memories, odd, singing crystals - there is a lot of wonderful, enigmatic stuff to be found; and if your players prefer making an impact, the nasty and inscrutable people, from serpentfolk to aboleths, are all actually playing their own games, with subquests, goals and the like handily organized for your convenience. Now if you're not familiar with some old-school rules, you might be surprised to see e.g. a reference to percentile rolls and chances to decipher a lost language - this is a remnant of old-school gaming and should have been updated to PFRPG using the Linguistics-skill. And yes, some remnants like this can be found herein. However, in which other supplement are the players tasked (on an optional basis, of course!) to awaken a death god? Eat energy-bars of strange fungus or find out that the nice magic items they found are powered by energy infusions generated by constant sacrifice of sentient beings? It should also be noted that the NPC-builds, while sporting some straightforward ones, also feature some more complex ones.


But honestly, I don't love this book for its mechanics - but where else can you find human-faced, giant ants, unearthly flowers and air, spatial distortions and ways of thinking (properly explained for the DM) that may seem starkly in contrast to our logic...and have I mentioned the importance of the Leng rubies?


Now if the nomenclature and overall array of options seemed confusing to you, a massive glossary should help. The new monsters herein are copious and weird, as are the short, fluff-only write-ups of the elder things. The appendices also contain the numerous unique items - though, much like in the crunch, there are some examples of old-school mechanics to be found herein - e.g. an artifact that requires you to roll multiple d6s and score below your attribute score. The pdf contains various, cool maps, all of which receive player-friendly versions - and there are hand-outs.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to FGG's printer-friendly, two-column b/w-standard and the module comes with A LOT of awesome, unique original b/w-art. The book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the cartography in b/w is neat.


Author Matthew J. Finch delivers quite frankly one of the most imaginative, awesome books in the whole Frog God/Necromancer Games-canon; much like the stellar Dunes of Desolation, this book constitutes a prime example of why I want to see as many new FGG modules as possible. I own all Necromancer Games modules, even the boxed sets, and yes, even the rarities. That being said, I do think that FGG's modules surpass those of NG. Cyclopean Deeps Volume I is such a monument - this book reached a level of imaginative detail, of sheer creativity, that one only finds perhaps once in a blue moon. The literally only comparisons I could draw in that regard would be to the best of FGG-modules or to the 4 Dollar Dungeons-modules by Richard Develyn - and you probably by now realize how much I adore them. That being said, this book is far from perfect; the remnants of the conversion not being carried out properly in all cases do stick out like sore thumbs to me and formally, constitute a blemish that you should be aware of.


Then again, this massive book is intended for experienced DMs and experienced groups - beyond the lethality of the module, the sheer amount of sandboxing, of entwined things going on, means that A DM has to have some experience under the belt to run this. But know what? The complexity doesn't faze me and neither do the conversion relics matter to me - for one, in some cases, one could chalk them up to mechanics simply working differently here as well. On the other, capable DMs can easily fix these minor problems. And none of those minor hiccups matter to me in this case - what would singularly break the neck of lesser books just falls under the rag here - the writing is THIS good. Beyond a level of detail that can only be described as excruciating, there simply is no other module, no other environmental supplement tackling anything like this; the only other underworld sandboxes that approach this in terms of complexity would be the second Act of RotD or the classic Open Design "Empire of Ghouls" and both have a wildly different focus, completely different themes.


This manages to elicit a sense of cultural wonder akin to the writings of the classic titans like Gygax, a breath of the magical and uncanny, while also breathing the spirit of the mythos and classic pulp fiction akin to Howard or Haggard. Cyclopean Deeps managed to evoke something I almost never feel anymore these days - a sense of jamais-vu. This is not yet another rendition of some tired old, much rehearsed tropes - this is the antithesis of exceedingly tired level 1 module with goblins and an ogre or shadow as the final boss. This massive tome breathes more unique ideas in a chapter than some whole series of books. Even when compared to Rappan Athuk et al., this tome dabbles in themes and topics far beyond the focus on demonic entities, creates a sense of wonder and, paradoxically, realism. As odd and alien the vistas portrayed herein are, they still feel uncannily organic, realistic and alive - which drives further home the point of this book being not only unique, but inspired in the very best way.


The formal hiccups here and there might annoy you, but if you are missing out on this monumentally inspired world/setting-building due to them, you are depriving yourself of perhaps one of the most captivating reads I've had in any iteration of a d20-based system. And if you don't mind some old-school remnants or perhaps even enjoy them, then this should be considered a true milestone. I've been struggling with myself for quite a long time on how to rate this book, but as far as I'm concerned, the vast imaginative potential this book offers trumps just about any minor blemish or criticism you could field against it; to the point, where complaining would seem disingenuous and downright petty-minded. There are few books of this size that have managed to captivate me to this extent during the whole lecture of them and this massive sandbox should be considered a must-have addition to any DM looking for the deep below - even as disparate encounters and for the purposes of scavenging elements, this book is well worth the asking price. I thus remain with a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval, a nomination for the Top Ten of 2014, a longing for Vol. 2 and the regret that I am too poor to get this glorious tome in print.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cyclopean Deeps Volume 1 Pathfinder
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Swords and Wizardry Complete Rule Book
by jon m. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/21/2015 22:29:55

As one of the original D&D players in Australia I have always had a soft spot for the original. Swords & Wizardry is a comprehensive set of the early period FRP rules in a highly readable, well produced format. It even comes up really well on my iPad mini. For those who wish to return to simpler game mechanics or others who wish to experience the a more simple RPG without the need for a load of supplements and prepackaged adventures, this is certainly a great product.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Swords and Wizardry Complete Rule Book
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Rappan Athuk 2014 Expansions Pathfinder
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/23/2015 09:52:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive book of expansion-levels for Rappan Athuk clocks in at 165 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page back cover, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 159 pages of content, so let's take a look...


...but before, let me say one thing - this review is my Razor Coast. This review crashed and burned (!!!) times, with all data gone; Once on my laptop, once due to my mobile HD being stolen and once due to my desktop PC's HD crashing. I've literally written this review 3 times, only to have it crash before I had the chance to back it up. So let's get this posted before my desktop PC dies...again.


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


Great!


So, after a brief introduction we receive the first of 4 new wilderness areas, Castle Calaelen. Situated west of Zelkor's Ferry and north of the mouth of doom, this locale makes for a good starting adventure in case your players are not hardcore enough for the dangers that lurk below the surface - the base of operations for a few goblins and their gnoll mercenaries. The castle itself sports relatively meager defenses and breathes a sense of a world that has turned onwards, that has left its heyday behind - with grim traps like trapped goblin tea parties, an infernal raven and finally the option to save an innocent gentleman (of half-orc stock), the level did remind me of the starting modules of old and is probably as close as Frog God Games gets to providing an easy introductory module. Bits and pieces that can turn nasty are here, but overall, the castle probably is the easiest thing to have been released under the Lost Land-banner. And generally, I wouldn't complain here - it's a nice place. When compared to the challenge that Crucible of Freya (nowadays collected in the Stoneheart Valley-anthology) posed, the attention to detail with light sources, shifts etc., I can't help but feel that this castle is meant to ease new players into the feel and playstyle. What I'm trying to say is - don't expect this chapter to challenge your players too much.


The second new wilderness area would be Hell's Hamlet - and scarcely has a moniker been so fitting. The town of Mitchrod is firmly in the hands of the forces infernal, with multiple examples of devils existing among the predominantly hobgoblin populace. Now here's the catch - no one like apocalyptic demon cults, not even the devils. Hence, this village may be tackled in two ways - on the one hand, your players could well opt to scourge the opposition, rooting this taint from the land. On the other hand, less scrupulous characters may well opt to throw in their lot with the village - after all, legendary Demonbane was wrought in the smithies of hell... Personally, I consider non-hostile interaction to be the more rewarding option here, mainly because this city and its inhabitants and guardians are unique in all the right ways - from the delightfully odd tin-man guardian golem to the kyton that may very well resurrect your allies to hallucinogenic mushrooms, there is a lot cool stuff to discovered - and in the vast depths of Rappan Athuk, there are plainly enough creatures for your PCs to jab their pointy sticks into...a bit of social roleplaying won't hurt them, especially if sprinkled with a healthy anxiety at the practices of their...hosts?


The third "encounter" is perhaps the oddest herein -assuming the PCs venture towards Rappan Athuk by sea, their vessel is attacked and they, by some means or another, are deployed into pirate captivity, only to be able to escape their bounds and into the wilderness. This may sound some alarm bells - and indeed, as the introduction acknowledges, this section may well seem contrived and forced if not handled properly. However, the good thing here would be that the main meat of this section is NOT about the somewhat railroady event, which imho can be potentially skipped, but rather about the survival action in the middle of a vast forest - from odd food to a variety of disturbing daemonic entities with unique tricks, guided by a malevolent will, the PCs will have quite a lot of exploration to do to toughen them up before they can return to the "safety" of civilization. That being said, while I do really, really like this survival aspect, the encounters, scavenging tables etc., I have to admit that I consider the tie-in to Rappan Athuk, both in theme and execution, to be almost non-existent. My advice is to run this as a stand-alone - it probably works better than beating PCs expecting a dungeon-campaign over the head with such a module. It's a good module, though not a perfect one and the glaring tactical errors the evil entity executes, while explained and rationalized by the author, might come off as DM-fiat to some players - experienced DMs can pull this off and make it very memorable and awesome, though.


The 4th wilderness encounter/following dungeon levels would be the Tunnels of Terror, situated in a ruined keep and guarded by bandits - and believe me when I say, these levels are on par with what one would expect from Rappan Athuk - the first level's map spans three whole pages. On its own. Level 2C and 3D would be the extensions of this massive dungeon. (Well...massive in relative terms when compared to other FGG-dungeons, but you get what I mean...) If you want to mince no words, make no false pretensions of Rappan Athuk being anything but deadly - well, here we'd have a neat example why a dungeon like this ought to be feared. Stone Ropers at CR 6, level 7 priests (yes, the channel energy WILL kill the party if they are not VERY careful...), death traps - while not as nasty as big ole' RA itself and terrain-wise, relatively conventional, this place is a challenge. On the downside, at least in my opinion, it does not add that much to the overall myth of Rappan Athuk. Hidden very powerful demons? Tsathar, bandits? Yep - you know the drill and unlike other examples of the Tsathar being their awesome, froggy selves, they may be the lesser of the evils in this case...which somewhat detracts from and diminishes their antediluvian demon-god/great-old-one crossover flair...but that may be me just being a fanboy for them. The tie-in regarding actually working for them may make for a hideous twist of fate near the end-game...after all, FGG has a module called "Against Tsathogga..."


Level 2C, as mentioned, contains the second level of the tunnels, and is not smaller - the temple of Tsathogga, blind albino frogs, magic mirrors - a nice example of an evil temple underground, though honestly, I considered the temple to be somewhat disappointing regarding terrain - some more unique hazards, flooded passages, unique traps etc. would have helped setting this temple further apart from all the Orcus-temples in main RA: The level also contains the Rainbow Vault and its riddles - pity that a tie-in/synergy with the Hall of the Rainbow Mage has been omitted here. One note - while I do love the puzzles on this level, I'm not a fan of ROYGBIV being a part of a puzzle's solution - that's mostly meta-gaming convention and knowledge and furthermore makes me flash back to Sam & Max Season 1. (The game, not the animated series..) Note that this is me being nitpicky, though - after all, there are the prismatic spells.... Speaking of puzzles - the final section of this level sports multiple statues that can be turned. to turn them, though, certain pillars have to be unlocked and rotated, but there also are pillars that activate traps - THANKFULLY, a massive sidebox explains this puzzle. As much as love complex puzzles like this, I do not advocate the way it is presented - it's a matter of taste, but I'm not a fan of Myst-style puzzles where you have a complex mechanism and then essentially guess what you're supposed to be doing. While not absolutely required to progress in the overall scheme of things, a general, cryptic clue, a visual abstraction of the level, which then can be identified by the players if their mapping-skills are up to par - some clue where and how to tackle this one would have been appreciated by quite a lot of players. Now don't get me wrong - in my book, we need challenges like this more often...but some hints to prevent trial and error would be more than welcome.


The final level of the tunnels contains another temple of Orcus (One more? So what does this one do if you deactivate it?), which generally feels a bit out of place. Oh well, at least the opposition, making ample use of Tome of Horrors 4, is pretty unique and the option to save a djinn is nice as well. Also a pity - this place is supposed to be created by an advance force from Tsar - so where's the optional tie-in to that place? Lost chance here. And yes, I'm complaining at a high level here, I'm aware of that. Now the second section of this dungeon-level is once again up to grisly lethality - golems, vampires, uncommon undead - all you'd expect from Rappan Athuk, yet still in a fresh guise. Nice!


Level 6B would present the PCs with perhaps the most lethal of adversaries possible - adventurers. undead ones at that. In their home-turf, with plenty of servants. And unique puzzle-creatures that are smart...and a nice nod towards Silent Hill 4's ghosts. Have I mentioned the friendly undead dragon wishing to chomp on your PCs? GLORIOUS.


We close this pdf with various encounters/NPCs to be inserted at your whim into your game, as well as an appendix that depicts the Disciple of Orcus PrC and the new monsters.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to FGG's printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard, with plenty of neat cartography and high-quality original artworks, though there are no player-friendly versions of the maps, which constitutes a detriment in my book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. Inexplicably, an index listing at one convenient glance the danger levels and exits/entries of the respective individual levels has been omitted - a pity, since RA already requires a lot of book-keeping on the DM's side and help like that would have been appreciated.


Bill Webb, Alex Clatworthy, James Redmon and Skeeter Green have woven more Rappan Athuk...but can it hold up to the original? Yes...and no. On the one hand, this tome is an example of excellent old-school adventure-craft - each and every piece of content breathes the spirit of what is great and awesome about old-school modules. On the other hand, though, the different voices show. I've been struggling quite a while with myself for this one. Why? Because I am honestly not sure whether it's just me. It might be very much possible that I'm burned out on Orcus-priests and their undead minions after Slumbering TSar and Rappa Athuk. On bandits occupying a ruined fortress as well. I can't be sure. It does feel like, at least partially and at least to me, though, as if I've seen some of the tricks herein done better before....in Rappan Athuk. Does every level herein have some part of that old-school magic? Yes! How could one NOT like gold-pooping, purring, fungus-shaped dwarf-affine pets that pose as rocks to avoid detection by certain races? How could one not like actual riddles that challenge one's mind beyond just rolling dice? This compilation offers quite a few examples of what is awesome about old-school adventuring.


To give you an example, the wilderness-survival module, in spite of its problematic beginning, is modular enough, with all its cool daemonic critters, to incite one's imagination. The puzzles are glorious, if not always perfect in their hint-distribution. Evil undead adventurers groups? Heck yeah! On the other hand, getting YET ANOTHER shrine of Orcus (sans bearing on the metaplot), getting a Tsathar domain that simply isn't as alien or partially, as interesting, as it could be...feel disappointing on a very high level. This expansion is best in the cases it truly enhances Rappan Athuk - by providing social encounters, a whole hamlet to interact with, by its distinct challenges. Alas, not all of this expansion is devoted to that - there are examples I'd consider derivative of the main module. This may be intentional. Perhaps it's just me after reading and purchasing 3 iterations of the dungeon + Slumbering Tsar...but it takes more to wow me than a couple of named NPCs, acolytes, undead and demons on a level devoted to Orcus to blow me away. Is it thematically coherent when it happens? Yes. Is it stellar? Alas, no.


Heart of the Razor - while not perfect, provided thematic, culturally relevant expansions to the main book. This one does so as well...in a couple of cases. In others, it fails to deliver them. In the superb wilderness module, for example, some kind of permanent boon would have most definitely been appropriate. Is this worth being purchased for Rappan Athuk? Yes. As a stand-alone? Yes. Is it required or perfect? No. This is a fun book, a good book, but falls short of the level of quality delivered in the new levels of PFRPG's iteration of RA - the level of awesomeness of a certain level with planar awesomeness as an organic, fitting change of pace, is absent from the book.


I really like components of this book, ESPECIALLY the fact that it demands that your players use their brains. But it also has some components that left me underwhelmed at a very high level. In a context that was not Frog God Games, I'd probably be singing praises on how this module is almost on par with Frog God Games' mastery of old-school modules. So what's my final verdict? Honestly, I've been somewhat underwhelmed by a couple of levels, but at the same time, I've really, really liked several ideas herein - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars - a good compilation to have, but not a must-have.


Endzitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Rappan Athuk 2014 Expansions Pathfinder
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Hex Crawl Chronicles 7 The Golden Meadows - Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/08/2015 04:35:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the HCC-series clocks in at 51 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 46 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This being a Hex Crawl Chronicle-installment, this module represents a combination of supplement and adventure hooks for a massive toolbox a given DM can develop - a massive sandbox in the truest sense. Thus, the following review cannot hope to contain all of the various things going on within these pages and thus, I will endeavor to instead provide a broad overview of what can be found herein.


Thus, the following review contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.


All right, still here?


The Golden Meadows are a vast swath of land that covers, map-wise alone, two-pages of hexes, with mountains, rivers and a huge lake - oh, and the meadows are actually just a few hexes in a vast desert. Yeah, didn't see that one coming did you? The population of the lands herein are marked by a cataclysm in days long past, with goblinmen, mutated unfortunates and Vegans (no relation to the dietary choice) constituting the main populace - the latter saw their empire perish, yes, and nowadays, grey travelers, (yep, the iconic aliens) with their tame ankhegs roam the plains. The primary populace of humans belong to the ethnicity of golden men, which I already covered in reviews of earlier HCC-installments.


But what can be experienced, you ask? What about caravans using translucent century worm? Clashing giant eagles? Predatory, intelligent sand? Perhaps the PCs even stumble into the Death Valley like domain of dread ogre magus Lord Zkott or find a mini-dungeon, wherein knowledge of tarot may provide crucial hints...or perhaps they succumb to greed, thus freeing an ancient evil.


Statues of those vanquished, forever crying alchemical tears and weird mazes of red bricks below the surface provide a sense of continuity, of recurrence. Black pyramids rise from the plains and vampires await fresh blood in order to hatch their eggs and swarms of killer prawns and vampiric squirrels add a nice sense of the funny and odd to the fray - the later btw. with a stunning b/w-artwork commemorating its attack pose. Damn cool! Amazons far away from home, unique spirits of mischief and even a planar/interstellar brothel beckon on these plains...though the latter risks evoking the ire of one particular nasty demi-goddess.


You may have noticed the sheer amount of odd creatures I mentioned - yes, there is a massive appendix herein and yes, the focus in this installment lies far less on humanoids -and I like that in this case. The humanoid builds tend to be a bit linear, but seeing how much ingenuity is herein, this should not be considered a detriment.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting, while not perfect, are very good - I noticed no truly grievous glitches. Layout adheres to FGG's two-column b/w standard and artworks and cartography are indeed nice, though I wished we had key-less versions of the cartography. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.


John M. Stater knows how to evoke an absolutely unique and compelling sense of old-school wonder; I've stated time and again how much this awesome series of modules has to offer and what excellent bang for buck you get here. Now, while some installments have fallen slightly behind this level of sheer imaginative creativity and joy, this one is right on par with the best in the series - with subdued nods to our own world, a lot of hints that can be used to develop certain interpretations, but need not be used thusly, this HCC offers a glorious blend of the common and the weird, a sense of a world somewhere between Rober E. Howard-style Sword & Sorcery and the post-apocalyptic, a world that has moved on. Here and there, high magic and boundless wonders await in the golden meadows and should suffice to entertain a group of players for at least a couple of months - there's simply so much going on, so much spirit. It's not always about the mechanics, it is about catching that spark, that sense of wonder. This one achieves just that. I love it. It's one of the best in the series and whether to expand Numeria or run it on its own, it's a glorious cornucopia of ideas well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hex Crawl Chronicles 7 The Golden Meadows - Pathfinder Edition
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Swords and Wizardry Complete Rule Book
by Nicholas J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/29/2014 09:56:50

I grew up on the Mentzer Basic sets and AD&D 1st ed. in the mid to late 80s, so I never really played original D&D or even saw the little white books until I was well into my thirties and picked up a set as a sort of curiosity piece. Needless to say, original D&D would be nearly impenetrable for somebody if they weren't already familiar with RPGs in general or later versions of Dungeons & Dragons in particular. Here Matt Finch has considerably cleaned up and clarified what was once very obtuse, providing ample sidebars and optional rules to help people understand just how open and fluid the original game really was. The game he has (re)created sort of feels like a version of AD&D 1st edition without all of the clunky rules that we always ignored anyway (like segments, weapons speed, variable weapon vs. armor to-hit modifiers, etc.).


If you've never played an "old school" style game and don't really "get it," then download and read Matt Finch's excellent (and free!) "A Quick Primer for Old-School Gaming" before playing and you might just get the zeitgeist that drove those older games and you'll be able to give S&W a fair shake; playing it on its own terms and not trying to force it play in a modern way and being left disappointed.


One caveat. This game is probably not for everyone. If you prefer a modern, power-fantasy driven, heavily codified RPG, with a rule for everything and rare character death, then go play something like Pathfinder or a later version of D&D. However, if you have a good referee that is comfortable making rulings instead of relying on hard-and-fast rules, a group of players that are comfortable narrating character actions instead of relying on skill checks and if you prefer low character-power games then there's a lot to like here. In any case the rules are free so you're not going to put yourself out picking it up and giving a read-through.


To sum up, of all of the 0e retroclones out there, this is the best I've encountered. The prose and organization are clear, logical and concise and it's well supported with a vibrant community of people writing compatible products for it to go along with Frog God Game's excellent product support. Ultimately if you like it and decide to spring for a hardcover, the production values and binding are second to none; reminiscent of those library bound AD&D 1e hardcovers that last for decades.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Swords and Wizardry Complete Rule Book
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Hex Crawl Chronicles 6 The Troll Hills - Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/22/2014 02:55:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Hex Crawl Chronicle-series clocks in at a massive 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages SRD, 2 pages blank, leaving us with 41 pages of content, so let's take a look!


As always with modules, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


All right, still here? Let's go! First of all - the hex-crawl map to explore this time around spans two massive pages and depicts mostly mountainous terrain with hills, cut through by rivers. The population of this rather...hostile area can be summed up by belonging to 3 ethnicities - the descendants of the once proud civilization of golden men, degenerated to hunter-gatherers (and kind-of guardians of their now-disease-ridden ancient ruins), the somewhat pilgrim-like (at least in style) tan or olive-skinned witch-men and finally, the Xanlo River men, hybrids of Witch Men and Northern Men. Beyond these, the area is, surprise, infested with trolls...and hags. The latter with a twist, though - retelling the creature, in this land, elven maidens who have reached 1000 years of age venture forth into the wilderness to become nymphs or dryads...or hags, depending on their alignment. Personally, I love the idea, though it might require some serious reskinning/ignoring of this uncommon ecology. Among the humanoids, few elves still dwell here, but some dwarves remain - the licorice-chewing, bee-keeping Zarkos dwarves. These dwarves can brew a special healing moonshine from their tears when caught under a full moon.


Now I did mention those ruins, didn't it - well, they include a cement bunker, complete with wights in strange silvery suits - nice pulpy flashback there! There also is a rune-slab to be found here, which may open the way to a mini-dungeon - though one with a confusing map that refers to two levels (level 2 and 3) that are nowhere depicted or commented upon in the text - I assume they're intended for teh DM to flash out, but the map also shows no entry-point. From conjecture, one can deduce that "level 2" is supposed to be the entry...but still. Annoying glitch here.


Beyond poisoned shrooms (tsathoggastools!), trolls, hags and troblins galore, strange mole creatures and trading posts patrolled by clay golem enforcers make for interesting backdrops - but what about rope bridges that suddenly become the battle-ground between an evil cleric and his demons and medusa-brides of a blind wizard? A two-headed troll (including again, a mini-dungeon) and old red dragon, mutating water, animated wooden golems , were-bear druids...quite a few interesting discoveries to be made.


It should be noted that a city of blue glass, devilkin, mimic-troll-hybrids, an archmage's former sanctum, now the hunting ground of hags, acid weirds, prismatic serpents...and even a hekatoncheires loom in the crags and canyons that dot this area - as always with HCC: Players better be on their toes!


The pdf also has an appendix of the uncommon creatures


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are generally quite good, though not as tight as most FGG-releases. Layout adheres to an easy-to-print two-column b/w-standard with nice thematically-fitting original b/w-art here and there. The maps are serviceable, but as mentioned, not always 100% precise and don't come with player-friendly alternatives.


John M. Stater knows how to write extremely compelling wilderness-modules and this is no exception - the dynamics, ideas etc. all hearken back to the heyday of mature fantasy, with pulpy elements spiced in here and there. The conversion to PFRPG by Skeeter Green and Erica Balsley is generally rather well done - especially since classes like the Magus, relatively exotic creatures like kami etc. are included, at times reskinned, at times studded with templates/levels etc.


Generally, there's a lot to do and the dwarven enclaves throughout the hills with their own peculiarities, the strange cults and religions - all these are compelling, as are the remnants of the ancient cultures here and there. Where this one is a tad bit on the weak side compared to other HCC-installments, would be the meta-narrative: While there are connections between sites, dynamics etc., when compared to the Pirate Coast, or installment no.3, the movers and shakers feel a tad bit weaker in style and connectedness. This holds especially true for the mini-dungeons - for the first time in the series, none truly captivated me; In fact, there are various locales herein, be it the city of blue glass or some similarly awesome spot, I would have rather seen detailed properly.


Now bear in mind, I'm complaining at a very high level here - this module will occupy you for many, many sessions and drips inspiration, but for me at least, it somewhat lacked the je ne sais quoi, the focus on the sense of antiquity of a raw world - the troll hills are an iconic locale, but perhaps the focus on two types of critters didn't help too much here...or I'm just getting spoiled...


Anyways, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hex Crawl Chronicles 6 The Troll Hills - Pathfinder Edition
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Razor Coast Heart of the Razor - Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/29/2014 03:41:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This expansion anthology of 4 adventures to enhance Razor Coast clocks in at 162 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages char-sheet, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 152 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


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


All right, still here?


First of the adventures would be Richard Pett's "Angry Waters" for 10th level characters - which could be summed up in the words "Quest for Eldorado," at least on a superficial level. The PCs are recruited by one dazzling lady-captain, captain Mercy and her crew - they require the PC's assistance, since they've found the legendary veiled isle - unfortunately, it's within the territory of Armada. What's Armada, you ask? Well, if you've read China Miéville's "The Scar", you'll have an idea - Uriah Tame, the vile lord of the place, lords over a lawless city made of vessels tethered together. Unfortunately, Tame and Mercy aren't exactly on speaking terms. Thus, accompanying the crew on their voyage, the PCs are off to said place. Here, a rather cool mechanic takes root -the PC's actions accrue Victory Points, which serves as a means for the DM to determine the loyalty of Mercy and her crew towards the PCs...and whether they'll be betrayed. Neat! It should also be noted that the module offers quite an array of troubleshooting advice, should the PCs betray Mercy at given stages in the module, making it rather easy to run. But back to Armada - in order to secure passage, the PCs will have to brave the decadent, chaotic revels on Armada in a cool mini-game of skill and, potentially, combat.


Securing passage, the PCs then finally reach the isle in question...which first brings me to an issue. Armada...ought to be more detailed, Seriously, I love the concept (air elementals as spies, btw.!) and its presence in the module, but at the same time, I feel that Armada would change the power dynamics in Razor Coast as a setting, whereas it here is mostly an afterthought to the plot of this one module. So DMs using this in razor Coast probably ought to give some thought to the change of dynamics Armada's existence poses to the power dynamics of the coast. That complaint out of the way, the island is interesting - displayed as a mini-hex-crawl (YEAH!), not only has another crew of pirates been stranded there (and make neat adversaries/allies, depending on your PC's actions!), the island is also home to degenerate orcs sired by the local girallon populace, which makes for formidable guerilla foes. Worse, said intelligent primates are led by a deadly girallon vampire, offering the true Pett-horror in terrible traps and truly spooky environments. What about e.g. a corpse of a fallen pirate, stuck on a tree and stuffed with rotten fruit, thus attracting swarms of hornets? Yeah, shudder-worthy...in a good way.


Sooner or later, the PCs will finally reach the city of gold - beyond the gold, deadly guardians remain, as do sadistic traps (which I will not spoil) as well as some old-schoolish puzzle-like hazards. Exploration of the city will sooner or later put the PCs in a position, where they may wake an ancient evil and defeat it...also dooming the island, which proceeds to sink, while all hell breaks loose. As they are trying to escape with as much gold as possible, the PCs will reap what they have sown throughout the module and potentially have final chances to out-gambit their opposition. A rather uncommon module that shows well that Richard Pett's talent is not limited to dark adventures - he can obviously craft old-school explorations just as well!


The second module, would be Gary McBride's "Black Spot" - in which the PCs are once again hired for a mission, this time by one captain Riggs, who wants them to help him salvage the grounded wreck of the Flying Fortune, which is stranded on a tooth-like mountain in the middle of the sea. Once again, the journey provides ample opportunities for bonding with the crew. As soon as the PCs reach the iconic locale, though, a completely different tone begins - exploring the Flying Fortune proves to be one of the finest examples of mood-setting I've seen in any mystery/horror module - the slowly creeping suspicions rising, inquisitive PCs may soon deduce that something's not right with captain Riggs. Indeed, he was the captain of the Flying Fortune and as clues accumulate, the PCs may actually find out that he's possessed by a weird, parasitic black leech. Taking the captain prisoner, killing or saving him or falling prey to his wiles, the PCs find themselves in a nightmare most uncommon: Riggs ran afoul of the wiles of the Engineer - the vanguard of a planned neh-thalggu invasion, whose ship is hidden in the depths, just missing a few brains to launch true otherworldly death on the Razor Coast. In order to stop the aberration's plan, the PCs will have to brave the vastly iconic and superb ship and its dread inhabitants:


From strange undead-like creatures to jade butterflies used for scrying (which are also rather deadly!) up to a heart-pounding race to escape the self-destruct of the ship upon the defeat of the dread engineer, this mystery/horror-module makes for a superb offering - even in Gary McBride's great oeuvre, this one stands out as one superb example of adventure-crafting, including the extensive notes on possible aftermaths. Glorious indeed and both as stand-alone and as part of Razor Coast, a great module!


The third module, intended for 11th-12th level, would be Owen K.C. Stephens' "Jungle Fever" - yes, grandmaster crunch actually took up the pen for an adventure - but how does it fare and what's it about? It starts with a simple, yet uncommon hook - the PCs are hired by the mistress of a brothel, which has suffered from a curse/returning disease that is, of course, bad for business. But, and that is no hyperbole - your players won't see where this module is going with that angle. Soooo...players, seriously, skip ahead... All right. What happens if isolated Tulita become desperate? They, in this case, turned to a dragon turtle as a false deity, cannibalism and worse....and no one would care. Problem is, their island harbors a special plant which amplifies the power of the dragonsmoke-drug. A Tulita survivor seeking help stumbled across a truly vile captain with this drug and she promptly set out to erect her own, no less vile and despicable colonial nightmare on the island, enslaving everyone, poisoning the dragon turtle and killing the spiritual leader of the tribe in a most gruesome manner. Now her super-drug didn't catch universally due to limited supplies and the wanton cruelty of her men - and now, only one of her former crew remains, for the wench has reaped what she's sown - the dread cannibalistic shaman turned the tables upon his vanquishers upon returning from the dead, making terrible disease-creature-incubators of the living and turning the island into full-blown nightmare territory. In order to stop the disease and its undead carriers, the PCs have to find the island, navigate its treacherous reefs and end the various despicable existences on the island as well as the false turtle-totem and its degenerate offspring -preferably including all the dread dragonsmoke enhancing flowers and before Pele smashes the island for the atrocities there. Seriously...wow. If I hadn't known better, I would have assumed one of the masters of dark horror here - Owen K.C. Stephens delivers in spades here, with a module that encapsulates all the terrors of colonialism without falling into the "tulita are good"-glorification some parts of Razor Coast fall prey to. This module is dark, iconic, action-packed and full of great, unique creatures. If you've asked yourself why Paizo got Owen for their module-series - here's a superb reason. I've always said that I'd enjoy it if Owen wrote more fluff - this one is an excellent example for that stance. Impressive indeed!


The final module, by Tom Knauss, would then be "Sinful Whisper" for 5th level characters - but can it stand up to its predecessors? The PCs are hired for a task they're bound to hate rather soonish - escort a noble scion, a pampered (but capable!), arrogant elven woman to a taboo island where her former vessel was attacked, her fellow noble scions taken by bestial men. The thing is - the island isn't taboo for nothing - chocked in hallucination-inducing, paranoia-enhancing spores, populated by degenerate subhuman creatures, the trip to the island not only will lead them all into dire danger, but also on a journey into the heart of the surprisingly dynamic elven maid - who may be turned towards good or evil, all by the PC's actions - if they manage to survive the truly dastardly creatures and not lose their sanity to the plants of the place, the vile practices there or the ancient evil slumbering beneath the island's soil, waiting patiently for its time to return to truly vile glory... This module is psychological horror paired with some truly disturbing imagery and on par with the best and most disturbing ones I've read for PFRPG - a good indicator that Tom Knauss should try his hand at these types of modules more often!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice an undue amount of glitches. Layout adheres to Razor Coast's two-column full color standard and the pdf comes with quite a few iconic, awesome original pieces of full-color artwork. The pdf comes with one bookmark per adventure, which makes navigating rather hard and in the pdf, at least the cover is a bit blurry - something absent from my hardcover copy. The maps in full color are great, though I wished they had player-friendly versions included in the map folio.


4 modules by masters of their craft - and I don't use that lightly - and all 4 are killer. Seriously, all 4 of the modules in this book greatly enhance not only a Razor Coast campaign, but can easily stand alone. In fact, at least "Angry Waters" probably works slightly better as a stand-alone, with Armada otherwise changing the political landscape of the coast a bit too much for my tastes. The other 3 are plug-and play in the truest form, with the last one offering actually a way into Port Shaw's elite sans rubbing shoulders with the despicable masters of the place and thus making for an all but required addition for particularly virtuous groups. Now let me say this again, loud and clear - each module herein is killer. Each one, 5 star + seal of approval material. However, the scarce bookmarks and lack of player-friendly maps make for somewhat significant detriments. Usually, I'd rate this down a whole star for these issues...but the modules don't deserve that. They're too good, even providing, in multiple instances, vistas that help make the Tulita less annoying one-dimensional good guys. As such, I think they should be considered required for Razor Coast. If I may offer a piece of advice for DMs: Don't fall back quite as often on the "island-sinks"-gimmick as implied here; a given campaign should probably one employ this plot-device once and I'd suggest "Angry Waters" as the best candidate. Owen K.C. Stephens' module doesn't require the sinking and actually poses an interesting conundrum if the island remains...


But I'm rambling. Long story short - too good to be rated down, in spite of some comfort-detriments - 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Razor Coast Heart of the Razor - Pathfinder Edition
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Razor Coast - Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/24/2014 04:44:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review


46 pages, 1 page front cover (by Wayne Reynolds), 1 page editorial, 3 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page dedication, 5 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover. That leaves 534 pages.



  1. Pages.


It's been a long time since Razor Coast has been released and there's a reason my review took this long. First of all, let me preface this with a disclaimer: I can't, by any means, be truly neutral regarding Razor Coast. I just can't. you see, there would be no Endzeitgeist without this book. It was Razor Coast that made me excited enough about a book to actually end my online abstinence and register at Sinister Adventures back in the day. I didn't even have a Paizo account. I had no idea Rite Publishing or Open Design even existed. Without this book, NONE of my reviews would have ever been written. Without it, none of the friendships, none of the kind people would have ever entered my life. I was stunned by the kindness of Nick and Lou and then...Sinister Adventures went down. My heart bled, I raged, I reasoned...all the steps of grief, as pathetic as that may sound. I never ordered a refund. I waited. When Frog God Games took Razor Coast and uploaded the KS, I thought "NO WAY" - why? Because the funding goal seemed insane. The requirement to commit 30-buck preorders from back in the day, get new artwork etc. blew up the goal and you can't begin to understand the amount of exhilaration I felt when it funded...with flying colors, reaching all those stretch-goals. I couldn't believe it. At this point, not only had Razor Coast's prior vapor ware status been the grain of sand that was in the center of my decision to go reviewer, it had amassed such a n epic level of expectations, I started dreading the arrival of the massive tome (#213, btw.!) and all the bonus books I went for via the KS.


Then, I started reading it. And from a reviewer's perspective, I was looking at a problem of no small proportions - Razor Coast seems to defy proper reviewing. Usually, when I take a look at a module, I take a look at the plot, hooks etc. and then give you a synopsis of what to expect, try to analyze issues with the plot etc. Alternatively, a sandbox gets a similar treatment, but more free-form. Well, Razor Coast refuses to fit in either mold. So what is this monster's structure? We have inciting incidents, that kick off a given arc - two massive major plot-arcs suffuse this tome. These are supplemented with vignettes, set-pieces and stand-alone encounters as well as relationship subplots. These are here, and in the end, it's up to DM and players to decide in- and outgame which/what to pursue. Essentially, Razor Coast tries to combine the free-form modularity of a true sandbox campaign with the plot-driven structure of an AP.


Now, usually, I'd just give you a run-down of the general plot-structure - that doesn't work here. If I were to list everything herein, this review would probably be as long as all my Slumbering Tsar-reviews combined. So instead, I'll tell you about what can be found herein: First of all, there would be indulgences, i.e. Sinister Adventures' small pdfs, converted to the PFRPG-ruleset. This means that Craig Shackleton's dueling rules, including the bind combat maneuver, have been updated. These are intended to essentially make the swashbuckler a more valid option char-build wise and if used as intended for low-armor, dex-based fighter, makes sense. The thing is, the feats aren't particularly weak and while not per se broken, e.g. treating a one-handed piercing weapon as a reach weapon can be broken badly - enlarge character, magus levels etc. At prereq BAB +1, too easy to abuse, also thanks to the feat not requiring an explicit action, thus making it possible to combine this with other feats. Then again, the parrying rules per se are solid and have seen some use in my game. The Tulita-ethnography comes the throw maneuver (which feels unnecessary) and also some feats, one of which isn't as broken as it was in 3.X, but fixing unarmed threat range at 18 sans following usual rules of threat range enhancements would be bound to lead to confusion. The Mai'kal archetype gets a somewhat broken ability at 15th level, allowing them to, as an immediate action, reverse an attack on the adversary 1/round as an immediate action for 1 ki point. The essay on underwater adventuring contained here is also nice, though after the release of both Sunken Empires and Alluria Publishing's glorious Cerulean Seas, there are better options. But you don't want me to pick this one apart crunch-wise, do you? The adventure is what counts, so what can I say about it before I go into spoilers?


Let's give you an overview - the Razor Coast is a tropical paradise, though not one sans its dark past. The native population, the Tulita, lived in relative peace until colonialization began and the white/yellow/black/whatever men came and defeated them handsomely. Now, the once sacred whales are hunted, the eggs of the venerable turtle smashed and colonial ignorance has erected Port Shaw, a thriving port on sacred ground. Dark days have found the paradise in peril, as racial tensions rise and evil conspires above and beneath the waves. Here, one thing should be noted - the writing is superb. In a genre, where Freeport and Sasserine constitute two very iconic settlements with their own flavor, making a given age of sail-style settlement stand out is quite a feat and neither settlement would be confused with Port Shaw (though they probably could replace it with some work) -the writing makes the settlement, the whole coast really, come to life from the pages. immersion is also increased via the entries on e.g. deities in the appendix. Oh, have I mentioned that5 thanks to a collaborative effort with Green Ronin, the book actually offers information on how to handle both Freeport and Port Shaw in the same setting and how they geographically relate? Yes. Awesome.


Now beyond the leitmotif of colonialism and the resulting racial tensions and cultural warfare, we have a leitmotif of progress vs. nature in the guise of colonial powers destroying natural resources and killing essentially the sacred animal guides of the Tulita. This topic per se is rather subdued, though its presence can be felt in one of the main plots, but more on that later. Now I've mentioned relationship subplots - and these deserve the moniker. Essentially, Razor Coast is as character-driven and NPC-rich as you want and a former band of heroes, down on their luck and destined for an inglorious downfall, is provided in excruciating detail - these beings are characters in the truest sense of the word and while they all have been broken, the PCs have a chance to mend them. The same btw. holds true for the legendary widow of Captain Razor and even some antagonists - overall, indifference will lead to depressing ends indeed, while invested PCs can truly make a difference and save those souls from the abyss into which they gaze. If you're like me and read these, you'll probably recognize yourself or some of your friends n their darkest hours in these NPCs - yes, they're that detailed. So if your PCs are big on the ROLE of roleplaying, Razor Coast provides ample potential.


A DM also gets special tools - essentially, a level-by-level breakdown of potential plotlines/encounters to run as well as check-list-sheets for the respective levels/phases of the plot as well as an NPC-relationship tracker help further in making sense of the tremendously complex, vast array of potential plots one can craft from Razor Coast. Which is rather interesting, for the plot per se is as strong as you'd expect from a linear AP:


SPOILERS


Essentially, colonialism and the killing of animals has helped dread shark-god Dajobas and his chosen to return to shore. Dread were-sharks have infiltrated Port Shaw and expect to hold a massive feast of carnage and death in its streets. Furthermore, the legendary kraken-fiend has all but taken control of Port Shaw via a secret society and plans to soon reap the city. Then former plot is conspiracy 1, the second one no.2 and both make for linear, rather epic (apocalyptic, even!) scenes - within the modularity of the vast tome, these stories are what drives the meta-plot. And yes, they're infinitely more complex, tied to x characters, strange islands, sunken treasures, betrayals long past etc. And yes, in order to not bloat this review beyond 20 pages, that's all you'll be hearing from me regarding the plot(s).


/SPOILERS


Soooo...those plots and all the encounters, flavor etc. need to be organized. The tools are there. Before we go into that, another caveat, though - look at the end of the book. Among the indulgences, several mini-modules await and the book also features essentially what can be considered an additional Voodoo-themed adventure that is completely optional. These are NOT part of the main-book's outline, nor are the modules from the expansion "Heart of the Razor", though the latter help with levels in which the main material is a bit less versatile than one would expect. It should also be noted that the appendix features new creatures galore, including, yes, undead cannibal pygmies (and their unliving totems!), a race of degenerate Cyclopes, drugs, items both mundane and magical and much, much more. Have I mentioned the hand-out driven puzzle/treasure map, options for underwater adventuring etc.?


Since its formal approach to adventure-craft is so different, the grand question would be how to rate this... which brings me, perhaps to a surprisingly early


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are surprisingly good for a book of this length - while there are glitches in here, they are relatively few and far in-between. Layout adheres to a parched-map-style full-color 2-column standard that is easy to read. The respective full color artworks are universally drop-dead-gorgeous and the maps are as well. While some maps have the scaling-numbers slightly pixelated, the maps themselves are plenty and beautiful. Furthermore, the map folio offers player-handout-style maps of the respective areas herein, adding for me tremendously to their use. The massive tome comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The pdf's artworks sometimes feel a bit less high-res than those present in the hardcover - if you can, I'd definitely suggest going for the full-color dead tree tome. Printing this would probably cost more in ink/toner than just getting the book anyways.


There's another reason for this - you'll need post-its. Seriously. A metric ton of post-its. I have a very good memory, but still - running this behemoth will require you to have a lot of things at your fingertips, even with all the help the book tries to give you.


Which also brings me to the reason why this took forever - first of all: Novice-DMs need not apply. Sorry. Even for me, who considers running modules of ZEITGEIST-complexity easy, with years of sandboxing campaign information, this is a rather complex endeavor. The best advice I can give is to read the whole book. At least twice. Which won't be an issue, since the respective areas are full of iconic encounters, compelling characters and superbly dark, gritty, nail-biting climaxes. The writing is superb and just glorious. It should also be noted that the shades-of-grey themes actually are there - while the Tulita generally are pictured as the good guys, there are ample exceptions and only scarcely does the book stoop to painting a clear b/w-contrast. When it does, though, it MAY be slightly jarring - the whole book essentially portrays the process of colonialization in all its violence and despicable facets. Indigenous population under control via drugs? Yes. Cultures destroyed? Yes. Slavery? Yes.


There are not much saving graces for the powers that be here and thematically, that is the only narrative weak spot in an otherwise surprisingly versatile plot. While the book actually manages for the most part to maintain complex moralities and shades of grey in all protagonists and even in some of the more despicable antagonists, when it comes to the Tulita, it sometimes reverts to simple b/w: Portraying them in a very much romanticized noble savage-way. I'm been discriminated against and personally, it's probably this experience that makes me consider this to be, in its way, just as problematic as a demonization of a given people. In any other setting/module, I wouldn't have complained here, but in the gritty, surprisingly deep Razor Coast, this feels a bit off at times, especially due to generally, the depiction maintains an enlightened, non-glorifying stance. But then again, perhaps that's just the cultural studies mayor talking. To let me make this abundantly clear - this is NO white guilt-trip, theme-wise, but it also falls, by a margin, short of what it could have been in that regard.


It took me some time to analyze what made this, at least in my perception, harder to run than e.g. Slumbering Tsar and similar massive campaigns. The reasons are twofold: For one, the massive tome shoots itself somewhat in the proverbial foot by noting several sample motivations à la "Champion of the Tulita", "Allied with the Powers that be" etc. IGNORE THESE PREMISES. While one could craft a Razor Coast-campaign with these themes, the overall narrative is imho neutered by trying to shoehorn it into one of these adventure-path-like premises. Essentially, the whole of the book does not particularly support these themes. Yes, they're there, but looking for them and trying to jam the sandbox into that frame tremendously hurts the experience and limits players/could lead to a less versatile experience for them. The support for these pseudo-AP-motivations is just not pronounced enough and I'm of the conviction these hurt the book more than anything else. So, again: Ignore those.


Secondly, the organization of the massive material is more confusing than it ought to be - the "build-your-own-AP"-section with all its checklists and help doesn't help that much - or at least, it didn't help me. Why? Because it lacks the supplemental material, even from the same book. Tying indulgences and "bonus-storyline" (and Heart of the Razor) into the whole would have made this section much more useful. Another issue would be that you first get Port Shaw, then the Key-NPCs, then the planner and then the encounters/meat of the book. Essentially, the planner is talking about things, which, if you read this in a linear way, you haven't read and have no clue about. So if you start reading, skip this section and return after reading. While this isn't bad, it also makes preparing this behemoth more challenging, at least at first sight, than it ought to be. Much of the problems simply dissipate if you just read the meat of the adventure, the setting-information etc. and start planning for yourself.


One of the reasons some people experienced a slight backlash here, can be explained via the tremendous expectations associated with this tome, while others lie primarily at the problematic organization. This book would have imho fared better by sticking to a sandbox-presentation and then just add a generic time-line and insert encounters into that. Just my 2 cents, of course. Endeavoring to make this both an AP and a sandbox ends up unnecessarily complicating this.


Now all of this sounds awfully negative - and it shouldn't, let me make abundantly clear that this is a rite-of-passage-style monster-tome to separate the men from the boys, DM-wise. It's challenging (Though not Frog God Games-hard.) and ultimately a great module that takes cultural cues otherwise scarcely, if at all, explored and provides a rich, fun, dark and at times downright evil setting that oozes unique style and flair, provides superb writing, ideas galore and more potential for fun than MANY collective modules/APs of similar length.


Is it for novice-DMs? Hell no. Is it polarizing? Yes. Is the crunch universally awesome? Nope. But does this belong into every PFRPG-DM's library? In my opinion, yes. Razor Coast is a gloriously wicked tome, superbly written and while it is not perfect, I don't regret a single cent I've spent on it. (And yes, I went all-out on the KS.) Is it the perfect tome of superlatives that years and years of expectations painted it in, in many a mind around the globe? No, but it honestly couldn't have been. What it is, is a great mega-adventure in a unique setting, full of unique, interesting characters and a living piece of PFRPG-history, a mega-adventure your players WILL keep talking about for years to come. And while it didn't make my Top Ten-list of 2013, it came damn close, by virtue of its originality, scope and ambition, by its narrative clout and the hard work of Nicolas Logue, Lou Agresta, Tim Hitchcock, John Ling, Ton Knauss, Frank Mentzer, Richard Pett, Craig Shackleton, David Posener, Greg A. Vaughan, Adam Daigle, Wolfgang Baur and Brendan Victorson.


To me, this tome is still 5 stars + seal of approval must-have material. It may not be perfect, but it is different, ambitious and downright evocative. And we need more books of that caliber, that take chances with something different, both in form and ambition. Oh, and if you're an experienced DM, you'll be hard-pressed to find a given module to better show off your skills - in the hands of one, this vision will come alive in all its blood-drenched, tropical glory.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Razor Coast - Pathfinder Edition
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Razor Coast Freebooter's Guide - Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/17/2014 09:37:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This player's guide for Razor Coast is 98 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 92 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


We kick off the Freebooter's Guide with an overview of the races and their respective roles in Razor Coast - including rather the central conflict between the pirateish settlers and the Tulita, the indigenous people of the Razor Coast. A lot of flavor is devoted to depicting these ethnicities, but we also get new races, two to be precise: The first would be the Dajobasu, Tulita cursed (or blessed) by the dread shark-god. These ostracized outcasts gte +2 to Str and Wis, -2 to Int and Cha, darkvision 60 feet, +2 to stealth and survival in swamps, +4 to swim, may hold their breath thrice as long as humans, +4 to sense motive, +1 natural AC and as alternate racial traits, they may 1/day utter a drowning curse (as per the gatorfolk's ability - why not include the stats here? Players won't have access to the stats of the curse - which is btw. detailed in Razor Coast's main book...) at the cost of a phobia for water - which unfortunately has no mechanical repercussions. They may also opt for +2 to intimidate to demoralize foes or exchange the paltry bonuses in swampy terrains for a swim speed of 20 ft. - the latter feels a bit like a powerful trade-off. Overall, a solid race, if a bit on the powerful side with two +4 skill bonuses.


The second race would be the Menehune, small somewhat gnome-like followers of Pele, the fire goddess. Menehune get +2 to Con and Cha, -2 to Str, have a base movement rate of 20 feet, get +2 to AC in their favorite terrain, have resistance 5 to fire, +2 to perception and Craft/Profession to create objects from stone or metal, are treated as one level higher regarding spells with the fire descriptor, fire domain, fire bombs etc. Menehune of Cha 11+ also get 1/day dancing lights, flare, prestidigitation, produce flame as spell-like abilities. Meheune also get low-light vision, gnomish weapon familiarity and may 1/day shroud their arms in fire for cha-mod+ character level rounds, dealing an additional 1d4 fire damage + 1d4 for every 4 character levels. Sooo... do low level menehune with low cha-scores get no access to this? The ability has no minimum-round caveat. Alternate racial trait-wise, Menehune may get fast healing 2 anytime they take fire damage, but cap at 2 times character level. Alternatively, they can get the traditional gnomish SLAs or exchange their slas/fire magic affinity with either 1/day invisibility (though only for themselves)or expeditious retreat. Finally, they may choose for a knowledge skill as class skill and a bonus to climb or a further +2 bonus to craft/profession. They also suffer from cold vulnerability, which somewhat offsets their otherwise significant bonuses. Still, slightly on the powerful side. Another nitpick would be that the invisibility & expeditious retreat SLAs lack the minimum charisma-score restrictions - though whether by design or oversight, I'm not sure. It should be noted that both races come with 3 favored class options each. One of the Meneuhune's FCO's have some minor issues - the bardic FCO specifies "Add +1 per every six class levels to the number of people the bard can affect with the fascinate bardic performance." Does that mean it can be taken once and then automatically nets the benefit every 6 levels? I assume not, so why not stick to the established formula à la "+1/6 to the number of people..."


All right, that out of the way, we are introduced to traits - 11, by the way. The traits are solid. Next up would be archetypes - a coastal barbarian with favored terrain water, a cannibal that can mitigate parts of his/her post-rage fatigue by devouring the flesh of foes, a Tulita-bard with 3 exclusive performances (one of which allows for the substitution of performance-checks to protect allies from movement-impeding effects), a tomb raider-style chaser of legends (who may temporarily heal allies or temporarily grant improved uncanny dodge) who is particularly adept at disabling traps and evading things.


Clerics may opt to become servants of Pele via the Volcano Child archetype, requiring them to take the fire domain (and only that) at an effective +2 cle level (thankfully not netting access to abilities earlier), diminished spellcasting, but also endure elements versus hot climates, the ability to sheathe weapons in flames and later channel slightly enhanced fire instead of positive/negative energy. The caller of storms is similar, but gets full spellcasting and replaces channel energy with the ability to recall expended spells. The buccaneer fighter is essentially a swashbuckling fighter, replacing armor training and weapon training with the option to deal additional damage whenever he/she has moved through threatened squares as well as some naval-themed bonuses. Harpoonists are exactly that, specialists of the harpoon...and honestly, I really liked this one. It makes choosing the harpoon as a weapon a valid, if not optimal choice. The Deep Sea Tracker is an aquatic ranger who fights with net and trident and later becomes amphibious, gains cent etc. More interesting would be the Headhunter-archetype, who utilizes four types of shrunken heads for various benefits - interesting!


Blockade Runner rogues are specialists of disguise and smuggling. One of their abilities allow them to use Escape Artist to trip foes - something I'm not 100% comfortable with, since skills are rather easily boosted. I'd also be interested whether bonuses to trip that usually apply to CMD would then apply to the skill-check instead? Finally, the Scrimshaw fetishist would be a wizard archetype who may enhance his spells via the inflicting of painful boosts and scribing their spells on their own body - at the cost of both spellbook and access to scribe scrolls. This archetype is rather cool and works surprisingly well, coming with mutagen-like benefits and better metamagic..for the price of pain.


We also are introduced to two new base-classes, the first of which would be the Disciple of Dajobas, who gets proficiency with shields, light and medium armor, simple weapons and shark-tooth based weaponry, d8, 4+Int skills per level, casts divine spells of up to 6th level spontaneously via wisdom (which is a bit odd - plus: Raging shark-worshippers and high wis...I don't know), 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort- and will-saves and must take the hunger domain. They get a scaling bite attack that counts as a primary natural weapon (or secondary when wielding manufactured weapons) and they can enter a non-fatiguing variant of a barbarian's rage. They also gain the ability to speak with sharks and crocodiles and may, as befitting of servants of the shark god, act rather well in water, increasing aquatic adaption over the levels, becoming even amphibious later. They may also turn into sharks. All in all, an interesting blend of cleric/druid and barbarian, though probably not a class players should aim for...unless they are okay with serving a truly vile god. Also, don't expect favored class option benefits or archetypes for this class or the second one, for that matter.


The second base-class would be the Yohunga, a Tulita-class that gains d8, 4+Int skills, proficiency with 3 Tulita-weapons, light armor and simple weapons as well as 3/4 BAB-progression, good will-saves and spontaneous divine spellcasting via Cha of up to 6th level The Yohunga also gets a mana-point of 1/2 character level + cha-mod (+1 at 3rd level and every other level after that) and a special necklace tied to a tikiman - if the tikiman is destroyed, then so is the necklace - which deals damage to the Yohunga. Tikiman? Yes, the class is, much like the summoner, a pet-class, i.e. the tikiman remains active as long as there's at least one point of mana left. Various passive powers of the tikiman, of which there are 11, can be added to a tikiman's already nice ability-suite - which btw. includes improved evasion. As a balancing factor, HD-increases have to be purchased also via these powers, meaning you'll be spending a lot of tiki power-slots on those. Now I assume that the chosen powers apply to ALL tikimen, but the pdf fails to specify that particular tidbit of information. Unlike familiars (though they also share spells), Yohunga get additional tikimen at higher levels, allowing them to have multiple tiny constructs at their command. There also are several powers available that utilize mana to temporarily bolster the tikimen's capabilities - from poisoned/paralyzing blowgun darts (Diablo II, anyone?) to temporarily granting DR/energy resistance to them. The tikimen can also grow in size, mimic jungle-animal voices, grow and even merge with your tikimen. Several of these abilities have HD-limits/caster level limits to choose them. Per se a cool idea for a class, though honestly, the HD-increase is rather costly when compared to other pet-classes. Also, the spells to properly heal a tikiman ought to be expanded - RAW it is very hard to heal tikimen, with mending being rather slow and boring and not particularly effective in battle, which makes the tikimen rather fragile - to the point where the spells are imho all but required. Additionally, no time-frame for tikiman-creation is given - does it take time to craft them? Can they be replenished quickly or do they require a hiatus after being destroyed? A promising class, but one in dire need of clarification/more information.


Next up would be write-ups of Razor Coast's deities (not including Dajobas or Tulita spirits, btw.), including two new domains (in addition to the aforementioned hunger domain), closely followed by the chapter on PrCs. The Captain of the High Seas and the Old Salt, two 5-level PrCs deserve special mention here - both provide further benefits when combined with the stellar "Fire as She Bears" and allow you to dive further into the naval aspects of a campaign. Non-Tulita living among them, may become Paheka - per se a solid, if not too awe-inspiring 5-level PrC that represents well someone who has gone native and received the blessings of the people. The table is missing all plusses, though - somewhat irritating. The 5-level Pele Liberator PrC (which the table calls Tulita liberator instead) may lose one level of spellcasting progression...but oh boy - wis-mod times/day AoE 20-foot healing at long range equal to 1d8 per two caster levels, plus nauseated enemies on failed save. OUCH. Speaking of ouch - lava burst capstone. 1d10 per caster level, half on round 2, half on round three. While not broken per se, rather impressive - then again, the PRC's smite is based on class level, so more of a dud there - until 5th level, where in addition to cha, wis is added and full character level to damage. That's regular attribute, cha AND wis? Sorry, not gonna happen anywhere near my game - especially since their smite does not end with one attack and since it can be used character level times per day. This needs a massive whacking with the nerfbat.


We also get a 10-level PrC with the Shaw Sheriff that once again lacks the plusses in the table. The Shaw Sheriff gets up to +5d6 sneak attack progression and several trick shots, essentially way to increase the efficiency of blade+pistol fighting. Fluff-wise, the Dragoons of Port Shaw put out a reward on the sheriff's head, just as his/her renown grows and makes it less and less likely that the general populace hands him/her over - adding informant networks etc. makes for a PrC that is tied in a very cool manner into a setting - one that could easily be modified to work for other cities/settings with problematic authorities. Two thumbs up for that one!


After that, we are introduced to a variety of different mundane weapons and equipment as well as 3 new drugs, one new poison and 3 small boats - the latter sans the FaSB-stats though - I would have loved to see them for tiny vessels like this. Prices and short pieces of information on some famous/notorious captains and ships for hire in Port Shaw also can be found here - nice!


We also are introduced to a chapter of feats - 24 to be precise. While there are some filler feats in here (boring +2/+2, later +4/+4 to two skill-checks-yawn!), we also get feats to improve mana/tikimen, use pistols as melee weapons, quicker shapechanging, more reliable swimming, cleave-tripping, feint while moving, make swim-by-attacks or essentially surf. One particularly awesome feat allows you to efficiently hold a pistol to an opponent - potential (and rules) for Mexican stand-offs included! Now see, that is a cool type of feat, though the puzzling mentioning of a ref-save to negate damage in the stand-off sidebar feels like a relic of a previous design - as written, the attacks do not allow a ref-save to reduce damage. Cool in concept would be a feat that nets one tikiman a massive (cha-mod) HD-boost - but has it go haywire upon rolling a 1. Unfortunately, the feat fails to specify whether the rogue tikiman still goes dormant upon expending all mana. If so, does it retain its hostile intent? If it does become dormant, what if you feed blood as per another feat to one of your non-rogue tikimen and regain a point of mana temporarily? Does it reactivate? Can you replace a rogue tkiman or does the haywire tikiman reduce your maximum amount of tikimen available while it still roams the wilds? The Trance Dancer feat allows you to enter a ritualistic dance as a full-round action to temporarily ignore the dazed, fatigued, exhausted and stunned conditions as well as enchantment effects - but only for as long as you can make perform (dance)-checks with an ever-increasing DC. The problem with this feat would be that it does not specify what type of action maintaining the dance is - since Perform-skill-checks can vary wildly in length, that's a crucial issue - move action? Standard action? Does tripping the dancer end the dance?


We also get new spells to help targets reach the surface (or drown them) via an in/decreased buoyancy, make them immune versus the cold of the abyssal depths and their pressure, hit vessels with rogue waves, implant false memories of taboo acts in targets or make a breach watertight. Among the magical items, we get strange harpoon bags, enchanted fish-hooks (that conjure forth fiendish sharks or crocodiles), obsidian/pyroclastc grenades, a quarterstaff that dominates those beaten into submission (which could use a slightly more precise wording - its intent is that it only dominates those beaten into unconsciousness via non-lethal damage, but it can dominate unconscious targets even when dealing non-lethal damage to another creature) and magical tattoos: Created via one of the new feats, these count as wondrous items, take up an item-slot and get per se neat, concise rules. Among the tattoos, there also are special Tulita tattoos - one of which e.g. generates as many +2 icy burst shurikens as the Tulita can throw in one round. The problem here would be that they do not vanish - RAW, the shuriken are permanent and thus could be used as a steady source of income, at least in theory. The other tattoos are fine, though.


Among the animal companions, we get Haast's Eagles, Moa and Wetapunga as well as some minor local variants of existing animal types. Also rather cool, we are introduced to 17 local herbs and plants and how they are used - neat! The book concludes with a nice gazetteer-chapter in which players can glean some basic information on the respective locales and thus spare the DM a lot of exposition while providing enough player-friendly information to entice one into the rich lore of Razor Coast. The book also comes with two pages of char-sheets.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting is okay, but not that great - there are quite a few editing/formatting glitches to be found herein, sometimes acting as slightly detrimental to the rules-language. Layout adheres to RC's per se beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The full-color artworks are almost universally completely awesome. The hardcover book's cover-artwork is not as blurred as the one of FaSB. Paper is rather thin in the physical version.


Lou Agresta, Tim Hitchcock, Tom Knauss, John Ling, RA Mc Reynolds, Rone Barton and Greg Vaughan are all talented designers and authors and it shows in the compelling narratives herein, in the setting-flavor that oozes in buckets from these pages. In the brightest moments, this guide indeed captures well the flair and panache of Razor Coast and showcases their capabilities. Unfortunately, that does not extend to the whole pdf - there are quite a few issues with the rules-language herein, filler-feats, massive issues with the Yohunga base-class... all of those accumulate.


Another issue would be that this pdf endeavors to be a player's guide and partially succeeds at its goal - at the same time falling flat of guiding players regarding the tone the campaign shoots for, which approach (as per the RC-book) to take etc. - if one player shoots for a Disciple of Dajobas, another for a Tulita and a third for essentially a colonialist pirate, as a DM you have an issue on your hands. Especially the former class does simply not belong in a player's guide - or at least requires a massive caveat. As a sourcebook, it fares slightly better, though e.g. the decision to include the player-material indulgences in the campaign setting instead of in this book should be considered slightly unfortunate. Personally, I also would have loved to see a slightly tighter synergy with FaSB, but that's okay and just a nitpick on my part. In the end, the Freebooter's Guide to the Razor Coast makes for a valid companion for a RC-campaign, but one that should see careful DM-oversight due to some problematic options/balance-concerns (cough Pele Liberator /cough).


In conclusion: Some light, some shadow - a mixed bag - final verdict: 3 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Razor Coast Freebooter's Guide - Pathfinder Edition
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