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The Northlands Saga Complete Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/15/2017 05:46:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This GIGANTIC tome clocks in at 795 pages if you take away editorial, ToC, etc.. No, that is NOT a typo. While I was a backer of the kickstarter that made this book, I was in no way involved in the production of this epic tome.

All right, so the introduction tells us a bit of what this is: A take on Norse adventuring, with a healthy dose of the weird, fantastic and sword & sorcery sprinkled in. It should be noted that the 8 pregens from the Player's Guide, as well as the excellent "Winter's Teeth" stand-alone module from the "Long Night of Winter"-series are included in the back of the tome.

Okay, so this massive AP (and before you complain about the price, compare this tome's content with other APs and you'll notice you're actually getting an excellent deal...) is situated within the Northlands of the Lost Lands, and as mentioned in my reviews of Player's Guide and the stand-alone plug-in-module-series, it gets the flavor of the North, what makes the culture work etc. rather well - but unlike in those previously-mentioned tomes, we begin this tome with a massive, mapped and lavishly-detailed sourcebook section that explains the peculiarities of the region not only on a local, but also on a global scale.

As mentioned, one central fixture, theme-wise, would be the blending of the fantastic and the general aesthetics of the sögur with the fantastic, so one should not expect historic analogues in the traditional sense; however, the book is very strict in its adherence to the sense of authenticity it creates. This level of commitment can be found in the modified nomenclature and the pronunciation guidelines provided within this gigantic tome, to just note once example. I wholeheartedly applaud the decision to maintain a Nordic nomenclature instead of butchering the names; the book explains the Umlauts etc. for native speakers of English and dares to assume gamers that actually are smart and interested, dare I say, intelligent. It is one of the aspects that imho too often falls by the wayside nowadays and lends a sense to the book that its readers actually are interested in portraying a concise feeling. That is a big plus, as far as I'm concerned.

The commitment to generating a sense of a believable world is astonishing in its details: From ring-giving to hacksilver as a currency to a concise list of common kennings (hand those out to players!), the flavor generated by the details so lavishly and passionately collected herein, in the end, manage to create a surprisingly respectful and "real" take on the subject matter, putting this tome into the exalted context of the best of the Lost Lands books and their unique vistas.

This never just stoops to a simple reproduction of historic myths, however, - from modifications of the pantheon to minor changes in nomenclature, the Northlands here are always almost like hours, retaining their fantastic nature. And yes, both a massive time-line in the different chronologies found in the Lost Lands, as well as a full pantheon write-up complement this first part of the book. Beyond the class options (which, alas, share the weaknesses I commented on in the review of the Player's Guide) and items, we also receive a collection of magic items - which brings me to another point: The Northlands are intended for gritty and relatively down-to-earth gameplay (15 pt.-buy preferred): As such, magic items are not for sale and rare (YES!) and, as mentioned in the PG, several classes are banned in favor of options that fit with the aesthetic of the North. Once again, I applaud this commitment to the overall vision. Speaking of vision: In this first par of the book, which covers almost 170 pages, we also get a massive gazetteer of the north, with plenty of settlements with full statblocks, overview maps and the like. Moreover, the section contains a rather massive bestiary that includes some seriously cool, fantastic creatures as well as strange fauna - and the critters all get gorgeous b/w-artworks.

But that is not nearly the main meat of this massive section either. Instead, much like in Bard's Gate and similar epic-length tomes by the Frogs, we get an extremely helpful section to bring pretty much any region to life: With random encounters that cover the regular and the weird, strange phenomena and more. Additionally, it should be noted that, by region and theme, adventure hooks are provided by the dozens to bring the respective sections further to life, should the PCs step off the rails.

All right, I know what you've been waiting for...the adventures. Now those of you who have been following this for a while will recall the 4 brief stand-alone Northlands-modules that predated this one and my reviews for them. The lowest-level module clocked, back in the day, in as intended for PCs level 5 - 6, but this saga is made for a whole campaign: As such, we get modules that start at level 1, leading up to those we already know...and then, things go much further. Already played the classic modules? Flashback is the way to go. Seriously. You want to play these.

And at this point, I have come to the section that contains the main meat of the book, the massive campaign of Northlands adventures. It should be noted that the massive amount of maps and handouts amounts to over 150 pages! No, I am not kidding you. This is EXCESSIVELY mapped and better yet - player-friendly maps included FOR ALL OF THEM. That alone is a colossal plus for me. Now, the PCs are intended to be in the employ of the mighty Jarl Olaf Henrikson, jarl of Halfstead and begins in Silvermeade Hall.

As a discussion of the adventures, the following obviously contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. One more thing: I usually try to go into a lot of details in my discussions of adventures. If I did that here, the review would probably span at least 20 pages, which, even to my rather obsessive mind, would seem like overkill - as such, I will remain relatively brief and sketchy - this should not be taken to mean that the modules are short (or simple) for that matter; it is just a concession to the format of reviewing a single, ridiculously huge tome.

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All right, only GMs/referees around? Great!

Kenneth Spencer's first module "Spears in the Ice", begins harmless enough: The PCs are to escort the Jarl's 3 daughters as they gather flowers in their sacred duty to Freyja for the spring rites - and as such, the beginning is a roleplaying-heavy section that can be used to establish dynamics, characters and yes, even a sense of the idyllic - via a number of small events, the shape of things to come are heralded and actions taken are bound to have serious consequences in the future. When a witch puts everyone to sleep and kidnaps the girls, the characters will have to get back their horses and find the girls in a race against time with various routes to save the girls. While the sleeping spell may look problematic in conjunction with e.g. elves, the module actually handles this minor railroad rather admirably.

Part II of this module, similarly a full-length piece, would be the "Wyrd of the Winter King" - herein, the Jarl sets forth upon his mighty ship, the Long Serpent, towards the farthest North. En route, the PCs discover a floating ice palace. Going ashore and surprised by a blizzard, the PCs explore the place to find it being an abode of the cult of dread Althunak - only by defeating this menace can they return successfully to their ship. This would be a rather grim, environment-driven and evocative piece, including dungeon-exploration.

These massive modules out of the way, we receive a fully updated and modified "Vengeance of the Long Serpent" - and yes, the original, alternate lead-in is still here, but no longer necessarily required. The module presents a free-form exploration of Ulnataland, a North Pole-style region of eternal, unremitting ice - and a storm, as is fated, claims the life of Hallbjorn here, the captain, here, allowing the PCs to step up. The exploration of these icy regions may net the PCs a magical weapon and put them, beyond trekking through the tundra, in conflict with the children of Althunak, breaking the grip of this dread cult over the local population.

From here on out, the PCs venture forth "Beyond the Wailing Mountains" to the city of the lord of winter at the lake of frozen screams. Read that sentence again. All things considered, the book manages to constantly generate an atmosphere so thick and almost palpable that you can almost taste the frigid cold, as the PCs cross these regions into the cold to brave a locale incredibly fantastic. If you're like me and love the theme (and employ, like me, a particularly slower-than-slow XP-progression), you may want to check out LotFP's "Weird New World" for a plethora of arctic threats of the most horrid and gruesome variety - particularly if you're playing the OSR-version of this epic! But that just as an aside.

After this, we're off to one of my favorite among the previously stand-alone adventures in the series, "The Death-Curse of Sven Oakenfist", which assumes that the PCs are wintering with Jarl Anud Cursespear, who once slew the legendary reaver and direct descendant of Odin, the blight upon the world called Sven Oakenfist. Unfortunately, he came to his success and riches by the death-curse of said hero and now, as an old man, the wight of the legend returns and barges into the hall of the Jarl to pronounce a final deadline - on the Feast of Freyja, Sven will kill and destroy everything and everyone who swears fealty to Jarl Arnuld. In order to vanquish the wight, the PCs will have to find a way to unravel his mighty death-curse.

Unfortunately, with essentially a divine bloodline, said death-curse will prove to be rather difficult to find even a HINT to unravel. Thankfully, the three utterly mad daughters of one of the norns might provide the answers - if the PCs manage to best their trials. From defeating a unique dragon to save a beautiful maid, to doing (rather dangerous)chores for a matronly lady and defeating an evil crone in a game (when she's cheating, nonetheless!), the trials are worthy of the legendary daughters - hopefully the PCs don't think they can best the mad demi-goddesses in battle...

If they play along with their mad delusions, they are rewarded with cryptic clues that add up to provide the information to kill the legendary wight - each successful trial also decreases the power of the final boss, unraveling some part of his wyrd, thus providing more than one way of finishing this adventure and rewarding PCs who manage to succeed in all tasks. The final showdown in Sven's cairn sees a furious finale, including a potentially fatal collapse and the heroes receive treasures befitting their actions during the adventure.

The next previously released module, "Blood on the Snow", takes place in Estenfird and could be considered to be the first of the modules that puts, as heralded before, the epic component into focus: Unbeknownst to just about all mighty beings, the beast-cult of the demon god Shibauroth has been gathering its strength: Making its adherents rather stupid, but enhancing them into deadly, primitive, cannibalistic killing machines via twisted runes, the cult has risen and seems to follow a surprisingly organized plan. The PC are to travel to the largest settlement, the town of Three Rivers, where local hero Hengrid Donarsdottir has traveled. On their way, they can recruit essentially a small army of undisciplined followers and hirthmen (alas, no Ultimate Campaign-synergy) to help the beleaguered capital of Estenfird.

On their way to Three Rivers, the PCs will have chances to deal with first encounters against the Beast Cult and, via befriending the Great White Stag, potentially even turn an otherwise lethal ambush upon the bestial cultists. In order to reach the city, they'll also have to sneak past the camps of the unorganized cult. Finally, inside the town, the PCs will have a bit of time to get accustomed to the fully mapped and lavishly detailed town before the horns are sounded and the assault begins - depending on the amount of followers the PCs have recruited, the respective monsters get hurt/decimated. Oh boy - the siege is awesome - standing on doomed ground, the PCs will have to combat elementals, badger-sapper-squads and even keep a war-mammoth from breaking the nigh-impregnable gates - all while ice trolls and drakes ravage the town in one of the most concise, superb depictions of a deadly siege I've ever seen.

As the dust settles, the PCs will be in for a shock - the aasimar warrior-maiden has been kidnapped! Thus, the PCs have to enter a haunted marsh and infiltrate the poison-thorned, hedge-labyrinth of a frozen marsh maze in which the beast cult seeks to sacrifice the daughter of Thor himself in order to bring down their deadly beast-god: The finale sees the Pcs storm the ritual and hopefully free Donar's daughter from her bonds - otherwise, the terror has just begun. Oh, and bravery is required here - essentially the final encounter is insanely hard and requires the PCs to focus on their goal of interrupting the ritual - should they succeed, Thor himself will annihilate the beat cult and scourge it from the lands. And while the treasure is rather weak due to the savage nature of the cult, the Aesir don't forget the PCs, as the module concludes with a feasting held by Thor himself to congratulate the PCs - if they succeeded, that is. If they failed, they'll have a CR 22 Thanatotic Titan on their hands and survival chances that are at best slim...

Oh, and just as an aside: These previously released modules have not simply been copied inside: Details have been streamlined and we actually get Ultimate Campaign-compatible MASS COMBAT RULES!!! EFFFIN' YES!!!

After this truly epic and challenging module, we proceed with "Raven Banners over Gatland", penned by both Kenneth Spencer and master of evocative environments Greg A. Vaughan. Situated against a backdrop of a brutal feud between Gats and Hrolfs, the two jarls have tried to fix burned bridges by marrying their children - but, alas, hostilities are flaring up when the bride-to-be vanishes...and soon after, the groom as well. The PCs and surprisingly pragmatic jarls soon find the hand of the dread Jomsvikings in the abduction - in order to prevent the feud from turning into all out warfare (the jarls have to take the opinions of their folks into account, after all!), the PCs will have to board a ship and survive a horrible marine assault by the Jomsvikings and their supernatural allies...and ultimately, they'll need to capture one of their ships to have a chance to infiltrate the notoriously powerful island of these feared raiders.

Only by securing an alliance with the island's supernatural inhabitants and releasing them from the yoke of a powerful, devilbound witch and her creatures, will the PCs have a chance to infiltrate the nigh-impregnable fortress and rescue the two star-crossed lover...whose wyrd may not be so grim, after all! That is, if the PCs can survive encounters with the unique Jomsbeast and horrid, chthonic creatures - and yes, both of the youngsters may well perish - and all has consequences... This module is PHENOMENAL in all the right ways, managing to blend perfectly the aesthetics of the North and classic Sword and Sorcery literature - no mean feat, mind you!

Kevin Wright's "Plague in Trotheim" brings a completely different doom to the PCs - the dreaded Straw Death has fallen upon the city of Trotheim as the (hopefully!) wedding of the two jarl's children is interrupted by Meg Skulsdottir unleashing this horrid plague upon the unwitting population. A horrid pox is unleashed upon the city and the PCs will deal with the consequences of the horrid outbreak throughout this module, allowing a GM to free-form the encounters - here, godi are taken, lillin roam and fire elemental constructs erupt from funeral pyres for a rather apocalyptic overall theme - and only a mystic tree may provide the means to stop to the outbreak. Thus, the PCs need to hexcrawl through the lethal Andøvan mountains and best the tests of Skrymir...and best underworld dragons at the roots of the world and cure the rot that has befallen the roots of Yggrdasil's sapling - and then, Wotan shows up...and with echoes of Ragnarök's promise, the PCs venture back - provided they live through the hazardous trek back.

Kenneth Spencer and Greg A. Vaughan join forces again in "The Return of Hallbjorn", which resounds with the previous modules: Thought dead, the man returns with tales of Nieuland, mirroring the discovery of the new world and sparking a land and trade rush. Unfortunately, the jomsvikings follow to the new world: And yes, the journey is depicted and the colony and the threats encountered are only exacerbated due to the incursions of the jomsvikings - who also provoke the local skraelings into hostility, as unique threats and a strange prophet escalate the proceedings. This section is literally something I haven't seen before - a colonist tale of the conquest of a new world, with a healthy dose of viking and fantastic aesthetics. And the appendix btw. also allows for one or more PCs to take the mantle of the jarl - and the wilderness exploration of these lands sports a great change of pace in its aesthetics, while still remaining true to the themes. Another glorious winner in my book!

Returning to the Northlands, Kevin Wright & Kenneth Spencer depict a module deeply steeped in the culture and taboos of the North - "The Hallburning" deals with the aftermath of the horrid crime of the mordbrand, a murder-burning where a whole hall and all within have been cowardly burned to death - as depicted in one of the glorious short-stories in the Player's Guide. Gundrik Arison, Jarl of the Vestfelmarken, has been killed, but Runa Gundrikswif survived, against all odds, the horrid ordeal. Some of the perpetrators were caught and the Althing pronounced the criminals free to be slaughtered - and the PCs will probably want to eliminate the cowardly murderers...but there is more to this, namely a horrid conspiracy...the hall-burners are patsies...but there would also be the issue of competing adventuring groups on the hunt...and yes, if the PCs are not wary, they may fall to hall-burners themselves - and beyond exploring tin-mines and testing their mettle, they will also find themselves in dire need of speed - all actions have consequences and, in order to bring true justice, the PCs will have to best the jarl in holmgang...but the deities themselves may actually intervene here! And yes, I abbreviated the structure of this surprisingly brainy module rather excessively - this one is LONG.

Based on material by Kenneth Spencer and written by the dream-team Kevin Wright and Greg A. Vaughan, "Daughter of Thunder and Storm", we rejoin the PCs 3 years after they have taken the mantle of Jarldom. Hengrid Donarsdottir has survived (hopefully) Blood on the Snow, though a stand-in exists. In the wake of Hengrid's devastating raid on the Hall of the Hearth Stone, the PCs are summoned, for the daughter of Donar has stolen Kroenarck, the legendary sword of the High Køenig and most sacred artifact of the Northlands. The PCs are to return this sacred blade, but a godi present, in the fits of prophecy, tells them about Hengrid being possessed and fighting the dread entity, beseeching the PCs to save her. The PCs must venture to the Virlik Cliffs, where their old foe Althunak raises his deific head - the entity is planning to usher in the Fumbulwinter to kickstart Ragnarök. Stakes high enough for you? Yeah, we're talking "epic" indeed, as the PCs follow the deific scion, still seeing signs of her struggle against the Lord of Winter - the PCs have to survive the creatures of the wild, the agents of the Lord of Winter and brave the legendary mountain Helgastervän's volcanic tubes, venturing to the gates of hell itself, opened by the sword - to save Donar's daughter, the PCs will have to venture into the Gunningagap and battle for the soul of the divine maiden - and yes, while combat is a means of solving this, we actually have a roleplaying encounter as an epic finale here: Smart PCs will have a significantly easier time, as no less than 5 iterations of this final fight are provided! Kudos indeed!

And there we are. 6 years later, in the final adventure herein, penned by Greg A. Vaughan and based on Kenneth Spencer's material. Levels 16 - 18. High level as can be. "The Broken Shieldwall" builds upon the consequences of the actions in previous modules and if the PCs have done their jobs right, Jarl Ljot Gatson, asks the PCs to raise an army to save his son and grandson from distant Mulstabha, braving the treacherous North Seas as they gather their forces, returning to Trotheim, Estenfird, speaking to the Althing, dealing with jomsvikings once again...and more, the PCs will amass an unprecedented host to lead into bloody battle. The war is on and the PCs will have to lead their campaign and infiltrate the citadel of Jem karteis, where the mysterious, ancient people of daemon-worshiping Huun and their legions prove to be the masterminds behind the plot. With no time and magic power, the PCs will also have to thwart a deadly assassination attempt on the man fated to become High Køenig of all the North...all while routing the forces of one of the most deadly and dangerous nations ever to spread its vile influence over the Lost Lands! And yes, once again, this truly epic, mind-boggling modules pits gigantic armies against each other in the most epic open warfare module I have ever seen - one that also pits the PCs against a titanic, quasi-deific monstrosity that will test their mettle to the breaking point. I have rarely, if ever seen such a fantastic conclusion to a saga.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, particularly taking the sheer volume of this tome into account, are excellent, particularly considering that builds used herein do employ interesting combinations of creatures and crunch. Kudos to the editors Jeff Harkness, Dawn Fischer and Greg A. Vaughan. Layout by Charles Wright adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. If you can, though, you may want to get the massive hardcover - build to last in the tradition of Frog God Games. The artworks deserve special mention: Artem Shukaev, Rowena Aitken, Colin Chan, Tyler Clark, Felipe Gaona, Chris McFann, MKUltra Studios, Terry Pavlet, Blake Wilkie, Brian LeBlanc, David Day, Talon Dunning, Eric Lofgren, Cara Mitten, Nate Pride, Richard Thomas and Tim Truman have created a book that is gorgeous to look at: Many of these artworks are absolutely stunning and incredibly evocative. A precious few artworks of monsters have been used before (which often represent the weaker pieces), but the vast majority (as in: 90%+) is new, original and glorious. The massive tome comes with exquisite amounts of solid maps in b/w, which, while less staggering, map pretty much EVERYTHING. The inclusion of player-friendly, key-less maps is a huge plus as well. The massive tome also sports a really nice full-color poster map of the Northlands on the inside of the back cover - big plus there as well.

The work of three men: Kenneth Spencer, Greg A. Vaughan and Kevin Wright - and it still feels like this one, amazing, whole, legend. The voices of the authors never clash and all is subservient to a shared vision of epic proportions that encompasses what's best about classic sögur, the fantastic and sword and sorcery. This book has managed to blend these potentially disparate elements into an incredibly concise whole. And, as you know by now, I am EXTREMELY particular about "my" North: Scandinavia and the old myths have a very special place in my heart and I'm extremely picky in what's "right."

The authors get it. They show a keen understanding of what works and what doesn't. Unlike a few of the stand-alone modules, none of the modules in this tome even remotely feels like its Northlands aspects are window-dressing: The themes resonate with a poignancy and internal consistence that is frickin' phenomenal and a pure joy to read. Time and again while reading this tome, I put it away. Why? Because I honestly wanted to savor every page. I didn't want it to end. It was one of the tomes I read when a series of frustrating reviews (writing bad reviews sometimes really does a number on me) had demoralized me. I read it when I had a bad day. For half a year, just reading this book has brought me more joy than you can probably fathom. It's that good.

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While it does not have a linear plot per se, those of you who don't like the sandboxy nature of many Frog God Games books, well, this does deliver the more stringent and sequential sequence you wanted - though frankly, with the epic, multi-year timeframe of the saga, you will very well have a ton of opportunity to run your own material as well or insert other modules.

I am honestly sad to write this review. Why? because it means that the Northlands Saga, at least until I can run its entirety, is over for me. Now, this is not a perfect book: The player-content, as mentioned in my review of the Player's Guide, could be better. And while everything fits perfectly together, while consequences are evident, there could be a bit more repercussions from module to module, as far as I'm concerned.

Yeah, that's about everything I can say that could even be remotely construed to be negative.

The Northlands Saga, even in Frog God Games' canon of exalted adventure books, ranks as one of the best I have read. This gorgeous campaign delivers, with panache and aplomb, on the promise made of a true, Northern campaign, and that without bashing you over the head with Ragnarök. The themes resonate, a zeitgeist of the end-times seems to be slowly gaining traction, but if the PCs excel at their task, they may end this book on a truly heroic note. As an aside: This saga manages to portray high-level adventuring surprisingly well: Will the vast resources, epic armies clashing and ever more global problems, with metaphysical threats etc., the emphasis on roleplaying and the importance of brains is never lost - this is a book for roleplayers indeed. That does not mean, however, that there is not ample, amazing combat to be found herein - quite the contrary! The Northlands Saga manages to perfectly convey the grit and grime of the North, manages to depict, time and again, a harsh land steeped in mythology and horror, yes, but also in tantalizing beauty and wonder. This is not grim, nor is it dark. In a sense, it almost feels like a chronicle of a North that almost was, that could have been in another time, another world.

You know, I was excited for this and afraid at the same time. I am not a wealthy man and supporting a KS like this, for such a big book, is something I can't afford often. I also have a tendency to be very, very skeptical and nitpicky regarding the North. I also am not one of the guys who wants to like every KS I invest in; I am too jaded for that - years of reviewing will do that to you. ;) Supporting the KS for this book was only made possible by pinching pennies left and right for a prolonged period of time. TOTALLY WORTH IT! Worth every single day. I guess it was my wyrd to cave-in and get it -wyrd bið ful aræd.

This is epic and amazing in all the right ways, a thematically incredibly concise, glorious book that, according to my projections, should yield AT LEAST a whole year of gaming, probably multiples. And even if you don't want to run the whole saga, you can easily just extract individual modules - the plus-side of being less driven by an AP-like plot and more by the players and how the PCs interact with their surroundings.

This ranks among the cream of the crop. This book is exalted and a masterpiece that deserves an honored place on my book-shelf. If you're even remotely intrigued by vikings, northern themes, sword and sorcery, gritty gaming or just want a change of pace: You'll be very hard-pressed to find anything better than this magnificent monster.

The Frogs do it again, as far as I'm concerned - this is absolutely phenomenal and worth 5 stars + seal of approval and is a no-brainer candidate for my Top Ten of 2016. Heck, who am I kidding here, seriously? It'll score high on that list!

The one thing that really galls me about this book? It's unlikely that we get Northlands Saga II anytime soon and, even after more than 800 pages of Northlands, I still want more. And yes, I am aware that even now, even after all this praise, I can't properly convey how much I love this tome. Apologies, dear readers...but see for yourself. The North beckons.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Northlands Saga Complete Pathfinder Edition
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The Northlands Series 6: One Night in Valhalla Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/12/2017 05:48:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The series "The Long Night of Winter" was conceived as supplemental material/optional tie-ins for the massive Northlands Saga, but each of the modules can be run as a stand-alone module as well. I backed the kickstarter for Northlands Saga back in the day, but otherwise was not involved in this project.

This module is intended for levels 12- 14 and is set in Frog God Games' Lost Lands campaign setting. It can be run in another context/setting without any hassle whatsoever, provided Norse deities exist; its raw content clocks in at 14 pages, if you take away the pdf's editorial, cover, etc..

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

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So, Freyja has an issue: Guess what happens when immortal warriors and valkyries get horribly drunk each and every night? Bingo, their capacity for investigative reasoning...well, isn't that developed. And lately, there has been strife among the einherjar, strife that can compromise the readiness for Ragnarök. Worse, souls that come to Valhalla are not yet einherjar before they have completed their feasting...and souls have gone missing. This is a troubling development and hence, the PCs are slipped some sacred mead...and as they slumber, ethereal, translucent forms emerge and manifest in FRICKIN' VALHALLA. These spirit forms are immune to the dazed, exhausted, fatigued, nauseated, sickened and stunned conditions...unless they get voluntarily drunk. Yeah, you may notice that this module does undertake some interesting modifications to the standard rules that make the adventure at once REALLY hard and really easy - It's easy because, upon being reduced below 2/3 of maximum hit points,, you're "flung back" a room via an involuntary teleportation and healed of half current damage and half ability score damage. Slain PCs become specters that can contribute via passive skills and thus help their fellows before fading away - and no PC can truly be slain: Detah just equals waking up, guarded by valkyries, back in the mortal realms.

This makes the characters at once feel like immortal einherjar and really fragile and emphasizes another aspect:

This module, in essence, has satirical angles and could be seen as one prolonged puzzle. You see, einherjar drinking songs and dirty jokes are included and the behavior of valkyries is similarly codified in a concise manner...and the feasthalls of Valhalla, these gigantic edifices, are connected in a linear manner, with relatively few terrain-based obstacles - special note would deserve the vomit/excrement slop-buckets and fire pits, which the PCs should learn to use for tactical advantages- after all, they're treading on the holy ground of their gods!

Their briefing is handled by Brunnaharr, the personal shield-maiden of Freyja...and the einherjar are not particularly cooperative: The PCs, in their interactions with them, have to get the mentality; craven behavior or groveling will get them nowhere - diplomatic aggression may actually be the contradictio in adjecto that best summarizes a valid strategy for success here - after all, the spirit-like shape of the PCs makes them suspicious to the mead-addled minds of the revelers!.

Beyond the social tasks that have to be roleplayed for true success, the PCs will have to e.g. pass Geri and Freki. No, I am not kidding you. And yes, they are brutal. And, once again, yes, killing them is a bad, bad idea. Have I mentioned the hall that has been infiltrated by draugr? Or the chance to interact with none other than Mímir and trade riddles? The encounters, in spite of the identical nature of the festhalls per se, are what makes this module in conjunction with its unique rules for mortals in Valhalla - this is very much a roleplayer's module and each combat herein, to some serious extent, has a tactical angle, feels like a little, unobtrusive puzzle. I love that! Ultimately, the PCs will find agents of Hel, Ganglati and ganglöt, shielded from the eyes of deities and if they manage to best these powerful foes, they may in fact leave this module with a powerful favor of the valkyries!!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the softcover I have has the glossy cover and high production values I expect from Frog God Games. The interior b/w-artwork is phenomenal, original and deserves the highest praise. Really cool: We not only get a b/w-map, we actually also get player-friendly version!! Big plus there!

Ed Greenwood is a legend for a reason. There. I said it. I am torn on quite a few old-school adventures, but this encapsulates perfectly what makes them work: Surprising amount of detail and a bit tongue-in-cheek, this module highlights aspects of Norse myths that usually are buried beneath hero's pathos. The unique spirit rules reward the PCs at once for their bravery AND emphasize the brains over brawn aspect, which renders the plaiyng of this module a rather unforgettable experience. Now yes, I would have very much preferred different maps for the different feasthalls, but that, ultimately remains a minor hiccup. It's uncanny once you stop and think about it: This module features linear rooms of the same size and general layout; it should be boring and unrewarding.

It's quite the opposite. This is incredibly entertaining, challenging and not for the faint of heart: Sure, PC lives are not at stake, but oh boy does the teleport makes things TOUGH. Unless your players are good at non-conventional problem-solving (read: Not bashing everything's brains in), they'll be in for a world of pain. As they should be. This is funny, challenging, awe-inspiring and epic in the right ways. Well worth 5 stars + seal of approval and one of the modules from the series that I consider a must-have, alongside "Winter's Teeth" and "Oath of the Predator".

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Northlands Series 6: One Night in Valhalla Pathfinder Edition
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The Northlands Series 5: The Hidden Huscarl Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/11/2017 07:20:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The series "The Long Night of Winter" was conceived as supplemental material/optional tie-ins for the massive Northlands Saga, but each of the modules can be run as a stand-alone module as well. I backed the kickstarter for Northlands Saga back in the day, but otherwise was not involved in this project.

This module is intended for levels 8- 10 and is set in Frog God Games' Lost Lands campaign setting. It can be run in another context, but I'd honestly wouldn't recommend it this time around.

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

...

..

.

So, the first thing you have to know is that this module does not take place in the Northlands - instead, it takes place in Frog God Games' epic and amazing hub-city Bard's Gate. Not long ago, the longship Sea Bear, captained by Tjorvi Thurgorson, nephew to legendary Hallbjorn Bolverkson (that name made me cringe a bit - son of the bolverk?) arrived - his boisterous nature got him in trouble with none other than Duloth, basically a mover and shaker/Kingpin-style figure in Bard's Gate - untouchable and exceedingly potent. Well, Duloth is not one to let an embarrassment slide...much less being pushed into the canals.

The consequences arrive swiftly: Tjorvi disappears and Rölnut, his second in command, demands him being found in 3 days...or else we'll have a bad, bad escalation on our hands. Whether the PCs are members of Tjorvi's crew or living in Bard's Gate (or both) - they have to find the missing captain. Fast. Even if it means crossing Duloth. Thus, the first part of the adventure is an investigation at the docks of Bard's Gate - which can slowly yield the proper rumors and, provided the PCs don't run afoul of an untimely death at Duloth's men's blades, it'll bring them in contact with what may be considered to be a conspiracy nut..only this time, he's right.

Justin Greenwood guides the PCs towards the entrance to the catacombs in the Old Temple District - and here, the dungeon-crawl begins, for the man who has taken Tjorvi is none other than a vampiric mobile fighter/assassin with horrific skin-masks, a nasty agent named Entrade with ties to the notorious Underguild of vampiric killers first featured in "Liches & Vampires" and updated in "Quests of Doom." Beyond ossuary golems and deadly traps, the berserking temperament of Torvi and trauma he has undergone at the hands of the vampiric torturer represents other challenges the PCs will need to overcome.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the softcover I have has the glossy cover and high production values I expect from Frog God Games. The interior b/w-artwork is phenomenal, original and deserves the highest praise. Really cool: We not only get a b/w-map, we actually also get player-friendly version!! Big plus there!

Casey W. Christofferson delivers a solid little module and I, as a person, really enjoyed it. As a person.

As a reviewer, I am more torn on it. You see, more so than any other module or supplement by Frog God Games, this completely relies on the setting to carry it - in a way, it is fanservice for those who, like me, love the lost lands campaign setting.

The tie-in to the epic Bard's Gate tome is really cool. I loved the tie-in to the Underguild, all the connections with the metropolis...but if you take these away, you arrive at a pretty standard rescue mission with a small dungeon crawl...hat ultimately isn't that remarkable. When run as intended, in the Lost lands, with the HUGE Bard's Gate tome as support, this is amazing.

On its own, however, divorced from the flavor, nods and external local color and detail...it becomes significantly less impressive. Neither the investigation nor the dungeon are really remarkable, both are rather linear and since this was released before the Bard's Gate book, it doesn't make use of the book's great status-mechanics either.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for such nods, tie-ins, for means of making a world fill "whole", concise, real - I love that. But here, it's doesn't sport that much amazing aspects beyond that. What remains is still good, but simply not as remarkable as I've come to expect from Frog God Games and their amazing modules. Try as I might, I can't rate this higher than 3.5 stars. If you're a fan of the Lost Lands, round up. If you don't care for Bard's Gate/don't have it/don't want to run this in the Lost lands, then round down instead. My final verdict will round up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Northlands Series 5: The Hidden Huscarl Pathfinder Edition
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The Northlands Series 4: Oath of the Predator Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/09/2017 04:04:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The series "The Long Night of Winter" was conceived as supplemental material/optional tie-ins for the massive Northlands Saga, but each of the modules can be run as a stand-alone module as well. I backed the kickstarter for Northlands Saga back in the day, but otherwise was not involved in this project.

This module is intended for levels 6- 8 and is set in Frog God Games' Lost Lands campaign setting. It can be run in another context/setting without any hassle and its raw content clocks in at 21 pages, if you take away the pdf's editorial, cover, etc..

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

...

..

.

One generation has passed since the final journey of Thorvald the Wanderer, since the fateful day, when he, alongside his long-term companion Ivar, ventured into the deep woods to eliminate the otherworldly darkness that was terrorizing the area. He did not make it out of the woods, though his friend Ivar did - Ivar became the jarl of the village that he named for his friend's sacrifice, Thorvald's Gift. A generation has passed and Ivar's son Bóthvarr has taken the mantle of the jarl - but the horrid darkness has returned. Blood-thirsty beasts are assaulting the settlement once again, the dread sceadugenga are back and have even dragged Ivar from his place - unless the PCs interfere, the hamlet is doomed.

Crafty PCs will smell that there is more afoot here and thus, we get a proper rumor table as well as a rather detailed summary for the hamlet, including NPCs, settlement statblock and copious amounts of read-aloud text - and if the PCs are really good, they may actually find a secret journal of Ivar (represented as a cool one-page handout!), in which he explains the truth: You see, he had been cursed, a lycanthrope seeking a cure - and when he went inside the wood, the dark influence at its heart, the Black oak, took hold of his senses and made him slay his companion. Wracked with guilt, he swore an oath to whatever deity would listen - and a trickster god did...but now, alas, the oath's catch has been triggered and the Black Oak once again grows in power.

Thus, in order to stop the influx of deadly creatures, the PCs will have to embark into the wilds...provided they can repel the assault that is bound to happen at night. The journey into the forest, while not particularly detailed, features random encounters and manages to evoke a rather dire atmosphere, as terrain is more dense, flight not an option and a seemingly immortal beast, Ivar, is tailing them. Here, resource-conservation is already a crucial strategy, for within the dark woods, there lies the tainted, gigantic oak, from which a blood-red sap is flowing. Thorvald's erstwhile companions (and himself) have been perverted in horrible ways and provide lethal foes for the PCs, as they wade into the red liquid to make their way from the roots into the heart of the gigantic tree - where a unique golem and the black heart of the place make for an evocative and dangerous puzzle boss fight in a truly glorious environment.

On their way back, there is only one thing left to do: Slay Ivar, who, full of sorrow, expects to find a warrior's death at the hands of the PCs (and represents yet another way beyond the hostiles) to explain the plot if the PCs botched the investigation - ending the module on a somber note resonating with the morality and pragmatism, but also the heroism of the northlands.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the softcover I have has the glossy cover and high production values I expect from Frog God Games. The interior b/w-artwork is phenomenal, original and deserves the highest praise. Really cool: We not only get a b/w-map, we actually also get player-friendly version!! Big plus there!

James M. Spahn delivers big time here: While easily transported to other environments, this module breathes the spirit and atmosphere of the north. Direct and indirect storytelling weave a narrative of woe and loss, betrayal and redemption against the backdrop of a very challenging and incredibly evocative backdrop. The creatures encountered demand different strategies, reward smart PCs and the immortal hunter stalking the trail of the PCs can generate a sense of horror and allow the GM to challenge even the best of groups and adjust the difficulty of the module. This gets what makes the north tick and its visuals are glorious. It also never feels like it tries to do too much: The evocative environments are all depicted in lavish detail, never falling prey to trying to do too much within the page-count allotted, making this feel very well-rounded. In short, this is a glorious module, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Northlands Series 4: Oath of the Predator Pathfinder Edition
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The Northlands Series 3: The Drowned Maiden Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/08/2017 08:12:01

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The series "The Long Night of Winter" was conceived as supplemental material/optional tie-ins for the massive Northlands Saga, but each of the modules can be run as a stand-alone module as well. I backed the kickstarter for Northlands Saga back in the day, but otherwise was not involved in this project.

This module is intended for levels 9- 11 and is set in the eponymous Northlands of Frog God Games' Lost Lands campaign setting. It does translate well to other fantasy campaign settings, though.

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

...

..

.

There are multiple ways to immortality - founding a great family; becoming a legend, being carried off on the wings of the valkyries to Valhalla - but there is one more way: To be chosen as the progenitor of deific offspring. This module's premise is hence that one of the PCs is approached by a naked lady, clad in only algae and sodden hair and her alfar asrai attendants - and the druidess by the name of Ethlass does bear intriguing news for a PCs of known bravery and renown: One PC has bee chosen as betrothed by a daughter of the goddess Rán and the Jötnar Ægir - none other than Kólga, most beautiful of the deity's offspring. As a sign of the deity's favor, the PC will gain a magical mask denoting him as a suitor and also the legendary face of Kólga, a mask that should make the PC rather inclined to seek out Ethlass' home.

Which is a perfect example of evocative fantasy - a castle of sand that can only be found by the chosen, as the waves forever destroy it with each swelling of the tides, so do legions of crabs reassemble it in a continuous struggle versus the elements. Once the PCs have arrived there, however, they'll probably be...well, surprised. You see, Ethlass has forgotten to mention that the PC in question is not the only suitor. Beyond the PCs, nasty Jarl Unnr and his men have arrived and his boisterous posturing may actually work as a delayed Intimidate - while this is not a standard use of the rules, it makes sense in the social context here - same goes for the Bluffs and Charms attempted by the over-ambitious witch-mother of a less than enthusiastic skald. Oh, and then there are the Bors Brothers, werebears in cognito...and a powerful, lanky giant-blooded ranger with his stone-giant entourage. After the PCs have interacted with these folks and generated alliances or become wary of some of these beings, things take a turn for the worse as Ethlass announces that only the worthy will proceed to the next step - and violence in a nasty free for all ensues, with the exact parameters depending on the PC's actions.

The witch may or may not escape to haunt the PCs later and the same goes for the skald and jarl - but ultimately, we have to hope that the PCs prevail: If they do, Ethlass reveals a rite that provides the aquatic subtype for a limited amount of time - and the Drowned Maiden's Pearl will guide the victorious PCs toward sunken Hjallos - once rewarded by Rán for its devotion by being sunk beneath the waves. It is on the way to this legendary place that the Jarl and survivors may make their final bid to defeat the PCs...but sooner or later, they will have to venture beneath the waves, where a single drop of blood may attract sharks...

En route, the PCs may find the carcass of a gigantic narwhal, punctured by deep coral, a powerful new material introduced here...and brykolokas guarding the place. Indeed, it seems like jealous forces are at work, as sunken Hjallos is further guarded by Deep One Godshuscarls and lethal eyes of the deep, which must be fought in a gigantic sanctum of Rán, as they guard the crystalline coral that houses Kólga.

When the deity finally arrives, her face is breath-taking...as are the others, for the somewhat scatterbrained deity has failed to assume a form more pleasing to puny mortals - so let's hope the PCs can manage to stall tactfully while regaining their composure in the face of something rather uncanny and alien...before the chosen one can be...coerced/persuaded to fulfill his duty, however, the festivities are interrupted by a rather lethal enemy. Turns out that the narwhale carcass was in fact a narwight, undead member of a highly intelligent and long gone race of sentient creatures - previously staked with deep coral. And yes, the module has multiple justifications for the whale to attack. In the furious battle, the roe of Kólga is destroyed, but in "only 100 years" it'll be her time again! And the decidedly alien goddess will be gone - but depending on how the PCs managed their interaction with her, they may have gained a supernatural edge or bane when traveling the oceans wide...though one that may well elicit shudders from the erstwhile chosen...

It should be noted that the narwight-rules provides are pretty cool and flavorful and that the creature's artwork is phenomenal.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the softcover I have has the glossy cover and high production values I expect from Frog God Games. The interior b/w-artwork is phenomenal, original and deserves the highest praise. Really cool: We not only get b/w-maps, we actually also get player-friendly versions!! Big plus there!

Kevin Wright's "The Drowned Maiden" is a weird one: Theme-wise, it is situated somewhere between a myth from the North and a fairy tale for adults à la Hans-Christian Andersen. The atmosphere, let me make that abundantly clear, is amazing: This module conjures truly fantastic vistas forth from the mind's eye and the selection of adversaries and locales are evocative and phenomenal. That being said, I do have two minor issues with the module: Number 1 would be that, apart from the cast of suitors, the Northlands-theme is a bit subdued here, but that's mostly aesthetic. The second one would be a bit more important: We have this amazing second with first the potential of ship-combat and the half under the waves and both primarily use their set-ups as a backdrop: The ship-sequence could have used a tactical map and the underwater combats are very much reliant of the GM to make them shine in 3d-glory - I'd strongly suggest using Alluria Publishing's Cerulean Seas-rules for streams, movement, etc. there. In the hands of a good GM, this can be amazing and it still may be if the players are blown away by the great foe, hilarious reveal and glorious environment - but similarly, this aspect may fall slightly short of what it could have offered in that component. Hence, my final verdict can't go higher than 4.5 stars - if you're confident working a bit with additional rules, then this module can deliver in spades!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Northlands Series 3: The Drowned Maiden Pathfinder Edition
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The Northlands Series 2: The Raid Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/05/2017 03:22:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The series "The Long Night of Winter" was conceived as supplemental material/optional tie-ins for the massive Northlands Saga, but each of the modules can be run as a stand-alone module as well. I backed the kickstarter for Northlands Saga back in the day, but otherwise was not involved in this project.

This module is intended for levels 6- 8 and is set in the eponymous Northlands of Frog God Games' Lost Lands campaign setting. It does translate well to other fantasy campaign settings, though.

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

...

..

.

Going on raids is a crucial part of the viking lifestyle and now, the skald Ake the Lost has returned to the North, last survivor of the proud fleet of Ulf Greymane. The PCs witness the skald's tale, which is a massive almost-1-page exposition-dump, at the local Thing-assembly. As a minor issue here: The skald's trauma makes him kinda come off as not particularly dignified -which is intentional, yes. Still, I couldn't help but feel that the presentation of the story could have been handled more dynamically. Anyway, Ulf's fleet has been vanquished - the Southrons he tried to raid, the Santherans, in their warm, turquoise waters, have seemingly struck an alliance with a kraken!

The PCs are hired by a cowardly, but prosperous landowner, one Fretr Bondason, to accompany him on his Vindurbrottingr to the shores of these folks as part of a retributive fleet. The epic-length journey to these faraway shores is completely glossed over - so, if you're like me and don't simply skip ahead over months of travel, keep those wilderness supplements ready, for the module does not cover the journey at all - which does take away the epic achievement On the plus-side, like the previous "The Long Night of Winter"-module, this is steeped in the lore and culture - though it here mostly pertains the presentation for the GM and how the PCs perceive the world.

As Santhera's secluded bay slowly comes into the sights of the PCs, they'll witness something epic - namely their fleet being attacked by berserking kraken. Yes, plural. They will fight mere tentacles of the epic beasts as their own foes (which is fine by me - in fact, it's how I handle really big critters in my home game as well) -what I'm not that happy with, though, would be that the PCs don't get a chance to pilot the vessel to safety or other meaningful decisions - the combat here could be so epic and amazing and it may play out as such, but the module per se does not make a lot of use of its glorious set-up, at least rules-wise.

Provided the PCs don't get annihilated, they'll make landfall, a few lone survivors, stranded on the shores of a hostile nation - and immediately find themselves struggling to reach a Santheran guard post - the few soldiers there may be easy to deal with, but more forces are approaching - glorious death seems inevitable...until the PCs find a secret tunnel, which leads under the bay, past chthonic traps, into the sunken ruins of the culture that is responsible for the shape of the Santheran island: Under a crystal glass dome, horribly mutated spellcasters are using an ancient artifact below the seas to cloud the mighty minds of the kraken in mating frenzies. And yes, these dread casters sport rules-relevant, twisted mutations, making them fit perfectly with the obvious Sword & Sorcery tropes evoked - in fact, during the combat with these masterminds, the lighthouse ruins below the sea may be torn from the sea, raised up by air pressure and the like, providing a sufficiently epic finale with the threat of death seeming certain.

Speaking of death. Guess who is not amused by being manipulated? Bingo. Turns out that clouding the minds of some of the most deadly beings to come from the monster manual can backfire horribly...if the PCs do their job, they thus won't have to worry about Santherans ever again...

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the softcover I have has the glossy cover and high production values I expect from Frog God Games. The interior b/w-artwork is phenomenal, original and deserves the highest praise. Really cool: We not only get b/w-maps, we actually also get player-friendly versions!! Big plus there!

Jeff Provine's "The Raid" breathes the spirit of classic Sword & Sorcery - it feels like a classic Conan the Barbarian comic: Overwhelming odds, tentacled monsters, ancient, sunken ruins, degenerate magicians - this has all the ingredients that make me smile. At the same time, it does feel very minimalist and suffers from the 16-page page-count more than "Winter's Teeth" - from the glossed-over journey to the landing, there are aspects which feel hurried: I'd have expected some exploration/interrogation/Stealth action on Santheran soil to lead the PCs to the hideout of the mages. As written, it can feel a bit linear and like author's contrivance. Similarly, the epic doom of the fleet demands more detail, as far as I'm concerned. Granted, a capable GM can easily insert these in the module, but I still found myself thinking that this module tries to cram a bit too much into its pages. I also think that this...doesn't really feel like a viking raid, that the Northlands theme could be more pronounced...but all of that should be considered to be minor complaints. If you're looking for a great, if a bit linear sword and sorcery module, then this delivers in spades. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Northlands Series 2: The Raid Pathfinder Edition
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The Lost Lands: Bard's Gate for Pathfinder
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/01/2017 15:11:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This colossal TOME clocks in at 535 pages of content, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial/introduction, 1 page advertisement/product checklist, 3 pages of ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page obituaries, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 524 pages of content.

Yeah, I know. You expected Northlands Saga first. Well, while I was digging through THAT massive tome, I was asked by several people to cover this monster first. So I listened, put Northlands Saga on the back-burner (its review should hit site early 2017) and instead started devouring this massive tome. So consider seeing this first to be basically me listening to the vox populi.

Ahem. Let that page-count sink in. To call this book "enormous" or by any other name than "TOME" in allcaps, does not do it justice.

All right, but frankly, there are enough big city sourcebooks that simply weren't that good. Is Bard's Gate different? Well, we begin with one component often ignored in city sourcebooks, namely the fact that they do not end at the city's wall. Thus, bard's gate, as presented here, does not exist in a vacuum - the valley of the lyre, situated in Frog God Games' Lost Lands, is where we first turn our gaze upon opening this vast book: Within this context, we are introduced to Bard's Gate's suzerainty before getting a recap of technology levels found in the Lost Lands. Beyond the copious amounts of information pertaining unique places and adventuring potential, the book follows the precedence of the Borderland Provinces and the legendary Sword of Air in that it provides a vast array of random encounter tables by area and goes beyond that.

In stunning full color, we receive the local map, both as part of the over-arcing region and in a more detailed, iteration - from the valley of shrines and the region first featured in the by now legendary Tom of Abysthor (available for PFRPG in the Stoneheart Valley-book) we move towards the mining operations of the vast metropolis, learn about entrances to the underworld, abandoned villages now held by gnolls and barrows containing unique undead barbarians. Forests that are haunted by undead treants, the fully mapped citadel of griffons (and yes, other citadels have different maps) - there is ample of adventure to be found beyond the confines of the city.

It is only natural, then, to assume that the place obviously features more than a few individuals to defend its interests. From the lyreguard (Harpers, anyone?) to more mundane agents of law enforcement, navy, etc. to the various guilds, the book proceeds to acquaint us with the power players of the region: From coopers and shipwrights to solicitors and barristers and wheelwrights, the attention to detail provided is impressive; more impressive than the level of detail, though, at least for me, would be the fact that even these seemingly mundane organizations maintain a density of adventuring potential and story hooks that adds perfectly to the general notion of a world wherein the downfall of society's structures may be one adventuring group failing away. In the time-honored words: "Evil watches, evil waits. Goodness stumbles, evil takes."

This is not supposed to mean that this is a grimdark supplement; quite the contrary. It just means that there is enough for adventurers of all level to do. If you, for example, have been intrigued by the underguild, first featured in "Vampires & Liches" and updated to contemporary systems in "Quests of Doom I", then you'd be in the right place.

It should also be noted that this book, in spite of its copious level of detail, is very much cognizant of recent developments in the game: We can find, for example kinteicists or similar classes among the numerous NPC-builds. Similarly, from masked guilds of assassins to an order of female paladins, plenty of beings with whom to interact.

Now, as you may have noted if you've been following my reviews for some time, you'll notice a certain proclivity for details, for politics and intrigue: Well, rest assured that notes on the latter components indeed are provided and should keep groups busy for pretty much any time-frame you wish. More important in an age wherein kingdom building, downtime rules and the like exist, would be the fact that the pdf actually provides property values and taxes by district - including costs of upkeep! I absolutely adore this often-neglected component that no other city sourcebook, at least none I have recently read, covered in this way.

Speaking of aspects that made the simulationalist GM in me smile from ear to ear and jump up i my chair: Know how I commented on The Lost Lands in the Borderland Provinces books as a region that felt more plausible, more believable than in pretty much any other setting I had encountered in a while? Well, there was one aspect so far only Midgard got right (though it could have been emphasized more) - in earlier ages, social class was significantly more important than even today. Well, this book acknowledges a great catalyst of both adventuring and roleplaying and provides DETAILED rules for determining social class and wealth: Beyond class, race and ethnicity as determinants, rules for gossip, drops for in- and decreases in social status make for an amazing section, also since starting attitudes are determined by class - so yes, in this book and the Lost Lands in general, there may actually be a good reason to send the rogue to deal with the homeless, the paladin to deal with royalty. This may not sound like much, but I've been playing with my own homebrew social class rules and they have been a superb catalyst for roleplaying.

But this is a city sourcebook, in spite of the copious coverage of material beyond the city: As such, it should be noted that each and every district of the city can be found within these pages: From the tent city and stable row to the market district, each of the districts not only provides statblocks for local beings and notes on remarkable places alongside detailed maps of the respective environments, we also receive notes on local characteristics.

Beyond the glorious full-color artworks of the respective chapters depicting the districts, it ultimately would be the people that populate the city of Bard's Gate that render it evocative: From strange mages to notorious doppelgangers, the city presents a strange amalgam of mythological resonance and the fantastic established within the canon of the world: From the pied piper myth to the shapeshifting Grandfather; numerous fully mapped temples (including bacchae) , vampire hunters on the run...there are so many fully statted NPCs and hooks within this tome that even attempting to list them all would frankly be an exercise in futility. Just rest assured that, no matter your preferred themes, chances are you'll find their representation within the pages of this book.

The city, though, is something else: It can be read, provided you know where to look, as Frog God Games' love letter to the amazing community that supports the company, that supports the hobby: If you know where to look, you'll not only find the names of publishers and authors herein; you'll also find Tenkar's Tavern, the amazing old-school site's representation here. And yes, a humble medium that, coincidentally shares some traits with yours truly, can also be found within these pages. I won't lie - reading that entry was indeed humbling. To be immortalized in a book of this caliber is indeed amazing. (So yes, if you ever wanted to kill me by proxy in your game - there you go!)

More than 20 pages of NPCs, from the general to the specific, are featured in the first of the appendices, only to be followed by exceedingly detailed random encounter charts (including charts to determine attitudes of drunken folks!). New magic items galore as well as the spider domain and its associated spells add further material for those of us craving crunch. Speaking of which: Beggar NPC-class, baby! Oh, and a killer PrC, the disciple of orcus archetye and two racial variants can be found herein: The street dwarf and the wood elf. Both races are well-crafted, though the absence of age, height and weight tables for them constitutes one of the few gripes I could field against this book.

Even after all of that, we have barely reached page 387 - so what do we get beyond that? Well, adventures, obviously! And I'm not talking about the usual half-assed back-of-a-setting-book modules...after all, this is Frog God Games we're talking about. We're also not talking about 1 module...we're talking about 7.

All right, since to cover these, I need to go into SPOILER-territory, from here on out, I'd ask potential players to jump to the conclusion.

...

..

.

All right, the first one would be Crommlen's Ghosts, intended for characters level 1 - 3 and is about a mysterious group of raiders harassing the tent city district of the city, doubling basically as a means of introducing the PCs to the region. Via various rumors and interaction and, ultimately, their brawn, the PCs will have to deal with these dread raiders in an old salt mine...and in the course of events unearth the leitmotif of "all evil needs to triumph is ignorance/a lack of empathy."

A matter of faith, intended for characters level 3 - 6, puts the PCs on a trail of missing kids from the poorer sections of town, and in the process of the investigation, confronts them with the vast evil of a horrid child-slave-ring that needs to be purged...but how to go about said business? The schism between factions of an otherwise good church can potentially lead to a whole campaign worth of follow-up material. Have I mentioned that Dropsy the clown makes one of the most disturbing villains I've seen in a while or the cool gondola chase?

"The Over and the Under" would be a change of pace from politics and social issues. Intended for 5th to 7th level PCs, the adventure is basically a heist that is surprisingly well-structured regarding its preparation options; think of this basically as Ocean's 11 in a fantasy casino. Yes, I liked that...and, if you want to, you can make that also a nice module to send the PCs off to riches beyond belief (read: untimely deaths) in Rappan Athuk.

At the same level-range, we receive a cat-and-mouse themed module that centers around retrieving a magic item and sewer/tunnel-crawling as well as rescuing a captured priest of Bast...which coincidentally means that it would also fit pretty much perfectly within the Southlands-context, but that as an aside.

A fully-depicted black market basement would be up next (it doubles as basically a mini-module, if you choose to run it as such), before the level 8 Gnoll Fortress follows up on the gnoll raiding party featured in "The Stoneheart Valley" and gives them their proper due: And do NOT believe that these threats will be easy to eliminate: A lot of individuals sport class levels and with ettins etc. included in the mix, dealing with this constant threat to the region is most assuredly a task that will not come easy to the PCs.

"The Hidden Huscarl", for characters level 8 - 10, would be an amazing bridge from the city of Bard's Gate to the frigid regions of the Northlands Saga. The module focuses on finding a missing Northlander captain, who has crossed a powerful crime lord of the city...promptly dropping the man in his personal oubliette, a dungeon wherein not only ossuary golems, but also a vampire torturer need to be bested to win the freedom of the missing captain. (Which, coincidentally, also puts them on decent terms with a powerful jarl...)

"Slip-Gallows Abbey", intended for 10th+ level characters, deals with the exploration of the eponymous place: The result, among other things of the hubris of mortals believing they'd be capable of screwing over the dread entities of the city of brass, it is a highly-lethal dungeon-crawl through the cursed and shadow themed place.

Now the maps of this book deserve special mention: Full-color and gorgeous, they come with regular and key-less, player-friendly iterations of both the massive city, its environments, AND the locales featured in the city's write-up and the modules, providing maximum usefulness to the city and its environments.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are truly impressive for a book of this size - there is neither an accumulation of typos or the like, not an excess of rules/formatting hiccups to be found here. The book is precisely crafted. Layout adheres to a neat 2column full-color standard that manages to cram a metric ton of text upon each page: This book, in a less efficient layout, could have doubled in size. So yeah, there is A LOT in this book. The artworks provided for the tome are gorgeous and full-color...and yes, they are original pieces. While a few are used more than once herein, I am certainly not going to complain in the aesthetics department, particularly considering the HUGE amount of absolutely stunning full-color maps. Speaking of which: While I couldn't afford backing this massive beast of a book, I do believe that the colossal map of the city in print out to be something to look forward to. I wouldn't comment on the print copy since I do not have it in the case of any other publisher. However, Frog God Games have, at this point established that their massive hardcovers stand the test of time by virtue of their quality. So yeah...if in doubt, I'd try to go for that version.

Casey Christofferson, Matthew J. Finch, Skeeter Green and Greg A. Vaughan, with additional material by James M. Spahn, deliver something that exceeded my expectations by a long haul. Let me elaborate:

3.X was, among many unpleasant things, also the golden age of amazing city source-books: With particularly the scarred lands delivering some of my favorite places ever and with the Iron Kingdoms Great City, Ptolus and Freeport adding to the fray, I still count quite a few of the cities from that age among my favorites. Paizo has equally done an amazing job of crafting evocative, unique settlements since. However...as much as I love Necromancer Games, the original 3.X Bard's Gate will never be a book I fondly remember. It should have been a milestone and featured the worst editing of the NG-era, felt disparate and confused and lacked a cohesive, unique identity. It is a book I buried deep within the confines of my collection and never looked fondly upon.

This obviously meant that I could have been more excited to t review this book. To be quite honest, it is only my faith in Frog God Games that made me give this a go in the first place. After showing with the excellent Borderland Provinces books that the cadre of authors and designers can craft superb sourcebooks, I felt a glimmer of hope for this supposed lynchpin of the Lost Lands, hoped that it would finally bring justice to this massive city. The sheer scope of this book is frankly daunting; the fact that it actually manages to be that lynchpin, however, is what makes it amazing: This is the central puzzle piece around which the other aspects, all the extensive canon, is situated around...and it FEELS like it: From the humble small modules to the classics, from the old to the new, Bard's Gate manages, with almost encyclopedic aplomb, to connect a vast network of narrative threads and weave them into a cohesive whole that doubles as a compelling, meticulously planned city.

More importantly, it is now actually a place the PCs will want to protect: There is everything to be found and gained within bard's gate, everything to be lost as well. It can be a glorious place and a hell-hole at the same time and ultimately feels like an organic, breathing entity of a city you could wander through, managing to bring an attention to detail and a diversity of scopes from the mundane to the epic to the table that makes it a milestone of a city. Bard's Gate isn't a weird city, though it features such themes; it is not a grim city, though it can be. It is both decidedly fantastic and down to earth at the same time and manages to convey a sense of historicity you won't find in most fantastic metropolises. In short: This book's existence makes the previous iteration of the book as obsolete as humanly possible and doubles as one of the most compelling city sourcebooks I have read for PFRPG. The only other city sourcebook which has, by virtue of page-count, even the remotest chance of standing up to this juggernaut would be Freeport and I don't have that book since its first PFRPG-foray back in the day disappointed me.

In short: Bard's Gate stands very much as a class of its own, with in particular the acknowledgment of social classes being one of my favorite aspects within. Add to that the great prose, the winking love letters to the community and the creative, challenging modules and we have a book that oozes passion and heart's blood from every page. It should come as no surprise, then, that I consider this to be one fantastic tome, well worth of 5 stars + seal of approval as well as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Lost Lands: Bard's Gate for Pathfinder
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The Northlands Series 1: Winter's Teeth Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/01/2017 04:25:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The series "The Long Night of Winter" was conceived as supplemental material/optional tie-ins for the massive Northlands Saga, but each of the modules can be run as a stand-alone module as well. I backed the kickstarter for Northlands Saga back in the day, but otherwise was not involved in this project.

This module is intended for levels 6- 8 and is set in the eponymous Northlands of Frog God Games' Lost Lands campaign setting. It does translate well to other fantasy campaign settings, though. Minus editorial etc., we are left with 13 pages here, just fyi.

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

...

..

.

All right, still here? Great! So, the PCs, on an epic binge, have inadvertently accepted the hospitality of Jarl Anbjorn Olefson, who has invited them to stay a couple of nights - thus the PCs have sailed towards the isolated homestead of the jarl into the bay that holds his meager holdings. It should be noted that the read-aloud text provided in this module manages to perfectly encapsulate the atmosphere of the North - as does the text. It's small things, really, but an easily decipherable kenning here and there really helps drive home the flavor.

Now, if you expected an intrigue/standard module, then you'd be wrong - in fact, this module would perfectly work in our very own world when used e.g. with LotFP or similar old-school rules. Why? Because, in a nut-shell, this module is viking survival horror.

...see, if I had read that in a review, I would have clicked "buy" so fast, my keyboard would be smoldering. Want to know more? All right, all right...So, remember in my review of the Player's Guide, where I commented on the fact that the guide explained the realities of life pretty well? The settlement of the jarl once exemplified this reality - very rural, secluded, with a couple of farms...and now all is ruins. Trails of gruesome carnage can be found as the PCs investigate the jarl's holdings and surrounding area: Signs of cowardice can be unearthed and the gruesome massacre and hints about the nature of the doom that befell his lands are slowly, but surely unearthed as the PCs gather the survivors, all of which come with detailed information and background regarding the attacks.

You see, the jarl's bearsarker has succumbed to the dread curse of the slåtten, consumed by the power that granted him his strength - now, an inhuman monstrosity bent on total destruction of the survivors, only a precious few have managed to survive - but e.g. a small girl may once, so wyrd wills it, become a fearsome champion...provided the PCs can defeat the monstrosity. In order to do so, they'll be hard-pressed: Even an optimized group will, provided the 15-pt-buy suggestion of northlands is heeded, will need the added strength and help the NPC-survivors can provide. Furthermore, careful observation may clue the PCs in on crucial weaknesses of the monster they can exploit to even the playing field - from a specific moss to a certain...respect towards specific beings, these angles can provided the crucial help they'll need...for the monster clocks in at a mighty CR 12! (And yes, this may well entail making friends with yetis that have suffered at teh hands of the monster!)

(And no, I am not spoiling what those are - suffice to say, this module runs pretty much like how I tend to write such scenarios - it rewards brains over brawns and is lethal.)

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the softcover I have has the glossy cover and high production values I expect from Frog God Games. The interior b/w-artwork is phenomenal, original and deserves the highest praise. Really cool: We not only get b/w-maps, we actually also get player-friendly versions!! Big plus there!

I know, I know. I tend to gravitate towards complex modules with a lot of plots, stuff to do, detail, etc. I tend to like material that is on the high-complexity side of things. Kenneth Spencer's "Winter's Teeth" is pretty much the opposite - it is really, really simple. And it is GORGEOUS. The atmosphere the prose evokes is incredible; the execution of the per se simple plot is precise, to the point and amazing. Heck, you could run this in LotFP, dark ages CoC or similar environments and it'd still work. This is very much an "atomic" scenario in that it highlights that you don't need something structurally fancy all the time - all you need is a sharp pen, a gift for story-telling and there you go. In spite of my own preferences, I found myself completely engrossed in this module; in spite of it mirroring pretty much my own adventure-crafting style on a base level, I found myself incapable of putting it away. Its writing is simply that good.

Oh, and it plays better than it reads, at least if your PCs are smart. If not...well, then start prepping those obituaries... In short: Winter's Teeth is a superb example of what you can do with a small module. It is inspired, evocative and well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Northlands Series 1: Winter's Teeth Pathfinder Edition
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The Northlands Saga Complete Player's Guide
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/26/2017 11:01:47

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Player's guide for the massive Northlands Saga Player's Guide clocks in at 50 pages if you ignore SRD, advertisement, editorial, etc. My review is based on the dead tree version, which comes as a nice softcover. I was a backer of the Northlands Saga kickstarter, but other than that not involved in any way with this project.

So, how do we start? We start by contextualizing the Northlands and their myths - inspired by real life mythology from Scandinavia, a central leitmotif and proposition of the series was to get the feeling of the Northlands right - and, indeed, flavor-wise, the pdf begins pretty much from the get-go to do just that, presenting us with an angle that is certainly inspired by the traditional myths from our very own world, but which, at the same time, takes a different approach, putting the cultural implications and ramifications into a fantastic context, namely that of the Lost Lands, Frog God Games' evocative own setting.

This process is achieved by first discussing mentality and races, or rather, ethnicities: There are two basic human ethnicities within these realms, the Northlanders and the Seagestrelanders. Beyond these, a quasi-Inuit theme is transported via the race of the Nûklanders, the elves of the frigid tundra, who also have their own traditions and culture - from religion to daily life, the realities of the life for people in these harsh climates are explained to the players, their stances towards adventuring, religion, etc. generating a sense of familiarity while at the same time estranging the reader from them. It should be noted that the strong emphasis on theme and culture, on the roleplaying aspects of the game, is very much crucial for the enjoyment of the series. In the case of e.g. Nûklanders, we have minor variations of the racial abilities the race would otherwise receive.

Once we take a look a the new races, this aspect becomes immediately non-optional. The first would be the giant-blooded, who gets +4 Str, +2 Con, -2 Dex and Cha, is Large, has a movement rate of 40 ft., low-light vision, +1 natural armor AND a reach of 10 feet. This makes them, in particularly in the gritty playstyle championed by the environment, utterly OP. The troll-born share a similar fate, gaining +2 Str, +4 Con, -2 Cha, gain ferocity, 2 1d4 claws and the ability to eat anything, which can be rather potent in sch an environment. Sure, they take +1 fire damage per die, but yeah. Compared to the standard races, they share the fate of being lopsided, geared towards martial traditions and exceeding the power-level of the base races by quite a bit.

Now, don't get me wrong - I understand it. Our very own lore is saturated with beings, ostensibly of these bloodlines, committing great deeds and their themes are deeply ingrained in the cultural context. Similarly, it is made very clear that they pay for this power by simply not being accepted by regular folks; by being ostracized and stigmatized. And that can work to reign them in. At the same time, what would usually balance these guys is simply less pronounced in the frigid north, namely a prevalence of casters. You see, this PG does an amazing job of establishing a cultural context and as such, does not shy away from banning some options, from telling groups what its intended feeling was supposed to be. Paradoxically, these limitations actually help reassert the potence of these two racial options.

That being said, if you're playing the saga via Swords & Wizardry-rules, that won't be a problem. Why? Because the pdf does not provide OSR-stats for them, which is a somewhat unfortunate oversight in my book.

Where races are that important for the flavor, the same holds true for character options, and thus, we get 5 new archetypes, two of which are intended for the barbarian class. The first of these would be the bearsarker - on an aside here: Nomenclature is following the lead of our own world as well, but, once again, spins it slightly, creating a sense of familiarity and estrangement at the same time, breeding the same sense of the fantastic. The common language of the north, for example, would be "Nørsk" - one umlaut away from Norwegin, or "norsk", as we know it. In fact, that is perhaps how I'd sum up the whole feeling of the culture and lands - very close to our own, but distinct - an umlaut away, if you will.

But I digress, back to the class options: The Bearsarker and Ulfhander barbarian archetypes, the skald bard, the huscarl fighter and the spear maiden paladin, as well as the cunning woman sorceror bloodline have three things in common: 1) They represent the social and cultural norms of the respective environments, representing the default variations of the professions in question. 2) They thematically provide perfect fits for the respective campaign environments and 3), froma pure crunch-analysis point of view, you should not expect too much from them. While not bad per se, they do not radically change the playstyle of any of the classes they modify...and could even be considered to be somewhat subpar in some instances: The skald archetype, for example, loses spellcasting in favor of some bonus combat feats and the very limited ability to grant allies affected by bardic performance some feats instead of inspire competence. Similarly, the spear maiden loses spells and mercies in favor of better spear-fighting. From a min-maxing point of view, you probably won't consider any of these archetypes worthwhile, but to an extent, that's their goal - if anything, these class options are in service of the theme and aesthetics the saga tries to evoke, which kinda makes this okay for me. Kinda. I still wished the options were a bit more mechanically interesting.

I am significantly less divided on the subject matter presented where it comes to the variety of traits presented - these include more votes at the Thing, latent taints in the bloodline, local tricks by region, etc. - their potency and benefits generally make sense and add a nice narrative angle in most cases. The book also features 7 feats and sports some interesting modifications of spear fighting, allowing for the 1-handing of longspears, breaking Shield Walls and the like. While not necessarily mind-blowing, these feats add some combat options to the campaign that make sense, even if their ruleslanguage is not always pitch-perfect. The book also sports the greathammer weapon, the sunstone recently popularized by the TV-series Vikings and rules for trodnheim ponies.

Beyond these, we also are introduced to concise rules for death speeches...and fate. The latter can only be invoked ONCE PER CAMPAIGN by a player, but it basically guarantees an epic blaze of glory, including final death - not even the gods can prevent that! These variant rules fit the tropes and theme perfectly and receive a big thumbs up from yours truly.

Now, the player's guide also sports a selection of pregens, all of which come with nice b/w-artworks and complete stats for both OSR and PFRPG-gameplay. A total of 8 such pregens are included in the deal and their character angles and general build strength once again fit the vision of the campaign rather well. In case you were wondering, 1 pt.-buy is the way to go here, and I personally welcome the characters following this more down to earth fantasy approach.

This, however, is not where the book ends - quite the contrary. Instead, we begin what you could consider an absolutely awesome way of introducing players to the themes of the north: That mordbrand is not something to be tolerated, that good and evil, valor and foolishness are not always clearly separated, and that fate is...you get the idea. We basically receive short stories set in the campaign world, which further elucidate the respective aspects - the background story of certain characters, world-building - you name it. Each story is prefaced with a GM warning that allows the respective GM to determine whether or not to hand it out to the players, with potential spoilers being clearly depicted as such.

Now that being said, even in the one story that is somewhat spoiler-heavy, it does not wreck the module per se, just provides the exposition of the tragedy that kicks it off - using it after the introductory scenes is very much something I'd encourage. But what are the stories about? In Jeff Provine's "Harsh Wyrds", we can witness a mortal challenging Donar, taking his first step upon a path determined by will and wyrd to power. Kenneth Spencer's "The Brothers of jarl Skur Skulisdottir" helps highloght the prejudice towards the giant-born and also mentions the slåtten, a horrid beast bred from the madness of a bearsarker. Kevin Wright's "Fadr" deals with a humble man's quest to save his kith and kin...a humble man who once was a great hero, who also happened to have several quasi-mythological and extremely powerful females at his side. The aforementioned spoiler-heavy story would be "Ten Cowards" by John Bennett, depicting the horrid impact of a mordbrand, a vindictive hall-burning. Nathan Shank's "Endless Ice" is an amazing tale of one of the Nûk, delving into the tradition of shamanistic visuals and symbols and arctic horror, whereas the final tale, Kevin Wright's "The Sword of Kings", depicts a well-known legend, of how the sword of kings, Kroenarck, was won, adding a subdued fisher-king resonance to the whole proceedings.

These stories have multiple things in common: They are expertly written, compelling reading material, highlight and further emphasize mentality and mythology, should make fans of low fantasy and sword and sorcery grin and do an amazing job of further showcasing the wonder and splendor of the north. Those wishing for crunch in a player guide may dismiss them, but personally, I adore their inclusion in the book - they are inspiring from both a GM and a player-perspective.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level - while both sport minor hiccups here and there, the material, as a whole, is professionally presented. The b/w-artworks deserve special mention: Chris McFann, Terry Pavlet and Artem Shukaev did an amazing job visualizing the harsh beauty and majestic nature of these realms. In fact, I was pretty surprised to see three artists credited, for while there are variations in individual artstyles once you look for them, the book still manages to evoke a concise visual identity. As mentioned, the softcover is of the usual high quality we expect from Frog God Games.

A look at the authors shows us why this book is worth getting: With Kenneth Spencer, Jeff Provine, John Bennett, Nathan Shank, Kevin Wright and none other than Greg A. Vaughan, we have assembled a number of authors that are great story-tellers here. Whether you'll enjoy this player's guide, then, hinges on your personal priorities. If you expect a series of specific, crunchy tidbits that drastically change the playing style, then this will probably leave you underwhelmed. If, however, you're looking for a book that takes the exposition aspects, the explanations of mentality and the like off your back, that establishes a firm cultural and thematic baseline and ensures everyone's on the same page, then this is pretty much what you want. The stories are fantastic and worth the asking price, as far as I'm concerned, at least.

That being said, I can't really rationalize away the fact that the new races only work with copious social penalizing by the GM, particularly considering the otherwise low power-level of the 15-pt.-PCs. Similarly, OSR gamers get a bit less out of this book, sometimes unnecessarily so, so that may be a downside for some of my readers as well.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore this booklet. I love its flavor and how it "gets" what makes Northlands tick; I like its defiant, old-school style, its courage to say "NO!" to totally inappropriate characters. I like that it says: "This is supposed to be gritty!" In short, I like that it emphasizes a believable component and doesn't try to depict "superheroes with a viking coating" - sure, you can play that way, I don't judge. Personally, I very much adore that plausible, more subdued fantasy this presents. How to rate this, then? See, here is where I encounter the big issue as a reviewer. The crunch, frankly, left me less than impressed and...I don't know, thing-mechanics for players, a reputation system (cough Bard's Gate cough Rhûne/cough) and the like would have added some serious oomph here. In fact, I'll be scavenging from both of these sources.

At the same time, the short stories have entertained me significantly better than the last 4 sword & sorcery anthologies I've read, drawing me perfectly into this harsh and majestic realm. As a person, I'd say "Substitute the crunch you don't like, scavenge and enjoy the amazing prose!" As a reviewer though, as much as I LOVE the flavor, culture and stories, I have to take into account that the book comparatively falls slightly short of its own promise. Rhûne handled tying the Norse flavor/reputation to rules better in my book - don't get me wrong, that setting's crunch (Rhûnes class options aren't all that amazing...) isn't perfect either, but honor, runes etc.? Heck yes, I consider them to be better.

Thus, even though I love this as a person, I can't go higher than 4 stars here; if you're looking primarily for crunch, you may have to detract one more star. Similarly, OSR-groups may be disappointed that they don't get giant/troll-blooded characters or variations of the base classes/kits and should detract half a star. At the same time, I try to rate books for their intent, and the intention of this book clearly is to establish the region, the culture - to provide the lore to the players. And here it excels, which is why the 4-star-rating remains my final verdict, in spite of the book's flaws.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Northlands Saga Complete Player's Guide
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Lost Lore: Divine Hunters
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/28/2016 05:21:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Frog God Games' Lost Lore-series clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Gods in pretty much most fantasy games loathe directly interposing their will on the mortal world; there is, for the most part, a good reason for that from a narrative point of view. While I loved the gods coming down to Faerûn as much as the next guy, the fallout of direct deific intervention opens up a lot of questions: Pertaining the importance of mortal free will, of why the deities don't fix all the issues themselves, etc. The Scarred Lands back in the day, with their post-apocalyptic, dark nuances did a great job and depicting the aftermath of divine struggles and deities with a more hands-on-approach, while in the vast landscape of ridiculously powerful characters in Faerûn, the impact of deities frankly wasn't as pronounced due to the sheer number of quasi-demigods stalking the lands. At one point, one of my players observed that every second town seemed to have its own archmage...and while I don't concur with that assessment, I do understand the sentiment.

Anyways, in the Lost Lands, deities do have their agents to send after mortals that really annoy them (and don't (yet) warrant a herald or full-blown crusade. These beings, the divine hunters, are called nel'barzoth, formed from the very stuff of the planes and upon being destroyed, they evaporate into a nauseating fume...an information that can only be found in the flavorful introduction, but oddly not in the respective entry. The hunters are divinely customized to match the alignment of their deity. Similarly, damage reduction relies on alignment: Good nel'barzoth receive DR/evil and vice versa. Neutral nel'barzoth instead receive DR/silver. As an aesthetic nitpick, the wording here slightly deviates from the usual nomenclature - "gaining evil DR" is not appropriate rules-language last time I checked. All nel'barzoth are immune to cold and poison and has resistance to acid, electricity and fire, determined by their power level, i.e. 5, 10 and 15 for lesser, intermediate and greater nel'barzoth respectively. They also gain SR equal to 11 + CR and may 1/day cast atonement and 2/day plane shift, but only to arrive at the target's location, with both being cast as an SP. Finally, the spell-like abilities of these critters include healing options, with their relative strength being determined by the power of the divine hunter. Nel'barzoth gain the domain powers of one of their deity's domains - conveniently pre-chosen, yes...but frankly, to avoid the skipping of books, actually including the domain powers granted in the statblock would have been nice. As written, I must, for example, look up the precise effects of bleeding touch. Granted, it's a minor inconvenience...but still.

The weakest of the nel'barzoth would be the xillix at CR 4; quinbacs clock in at CR 9 and Ziphnas at CR 15. All of these creatures have in common that they have access to the smite infidel ability, which means that they add +5 Cha-mod to atk and + HD to damage versus the target creature. They also gain a deflection bonus equal to Cha-mod to attacks versus the foe and +1 to atk and damage versus those helping the infidel in the case of the xillix. More powerful nel'barzoth receive more significant boosts to their attacks and damage and may more easily confirm crits or a more devastating nature versus the target. This ability is a bit weirdly named, considering that smite usually implies an activate choice absent in the ability - the creature is created to hunt down the trespasser/heathen and thus, the target is pretty fixed. Though, again, this is primarily an aesthetic nitpick. The Ziphna also adds his Charisma bonus to AC and CMD as a sacred or profane bonus (I assume neutral ones to have a choice of either, but am not sure) that is even maintained while flat-footed. Weird: The Ziphna has this cut-copy-paste glitch: "At 8th level, as a swift action.." - they don't have levels, which make the weapon master ability a pretty obvious cut-copy-paste glitch of the domain. Yep, oddly, here the domain ability has been copied in.

This is not the end, however - the pdf does provide notes on the option, at the GM's discretion, of 3rd tier mythic characters with the divine source universal path ability gaining the limited ability to create these beings, though doing so, ultimately, is very taxing. Speaking of the mythic: The Ziphna is not the most powerful nel'barzoth - that would be the CR 22/MR 9 mythic ziphna, who do not automatically miss on natural 1s. Unfortunately, we once again have pretty obvious cut-copy-paste inconsistencies - the ability employs the 2nd person singular, directly speaking of "you." Additionally, 1/round, they may compare an attack roll with an attack that hit, negating it on a successful roll - not a fan there, considering the swingy nature of such rolls. The domain ability suffers from a similar cut-copy-paste hiccup as that of the Ziphna...and I couldgo down through the abilities of the monster, one by one, and determine by how they are worded the type of context they were originally taken: "You", "The monster", reference to non-mythic ziphna...and no truly unique ability. You may not care about one ability talking about "you" and another using the 3rd person - I actually do, not when it's one hiccup somewhere...but if it is persistent...well, then I do. It's a simple thing to catch and there is basically no reason for this to be here, apart from "was cut copy pasted and never edited."

The pdf concludes with advice on creating your own nel'barzoth and 1/2 a page empty.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not up to par to the standard Frog god Games has set - from cut-copy-paste remnants to non-italicized spell-references, the pdf has a couple of inconsistencies that should have been caught. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The b/w-artwork provided is excellent.

Gosh darn it. I like John Ling's nel'barzoth. I would love them to come with a selection of unique abilities by domain and more customization options, but I enjoy the concept and the execution is generally solid. However, it does show that John also doubled as editor and developer. Editing and developing one's own writing is SIGNIFICANTLY harder than taking care of the material of others. Believe me, I'm speaking from my own experience. I understand how this has happened, though the extent of obvious cut-copy-paste glitches goes beyond what I would consider understandable.

Don't get me wrong...the nel'barzotha re functional as presented...but the glitches make this feel rushed. And frankly, the anger over such glitches somewhat soured the pdf for me. Let me reiterate: This is not a bad pdf...but considering the awesome critters out there, several penned by John Ling himself, I can't help but pronounce the divine hunters as presented wanting. They could have been good, but as presented, I can't go higher than 2 stars for these guys.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Lost Lore: Divine Hunters
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The Lost Lands: Adventures in the Borderland Provinces Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/22/2016 08:06:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive hardcover clocks in at 166 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/product overview, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page of back cover, leaving us with 160 pages of pure adventure...so let's take a look!

This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy for the purpose of a fair and critical review.

"Welcome to the Borderlands. You'll probably die here." - Ari Marmell's first sentence of the introduction of this book is pretty much amazing...and it makes clear from the get-go that this book provides old-school modules, in the slogan of FGG: "Modules worth winning!" - i.e. challenging, hard modules that test your mettle and not just CR-appropriate hand-holding exercises. As such, this massive book obviously represents a collection of adventures, all new ones, I might add - so even completionists with a huge NG-collection like me get all new material here...

...and since this review covers said adventures in detail, I strongly encourage players who want to play these to skip ahead to the conclusion. From here on, the SPOILERS reign.

...

..

.

All right, still here?

The first module presented herein would be "On a Lonely Road", penned by Anthony Pryor, intended for 2nd level PCs...and it makes perfect use of the Borderlands and the notion of travel/sandboxy nature of the region: Situated in the city of Troye, the PCs are contacted by Professor Sarrus Togren to act as muscle during an important journey: The scholar weaves a yarn of the fabled Ancient Ones and their civilization, lost to the ravages of time and the reputedly dangerous Yolbiac Vale - it is for this expedition that the PCs are hired by the professor and his research assistant, one half-elven beauty named Nymea Goswynn. Obviously, there will be more people on board: Wilderness-experienced Maissee Tlivant and arcane student Gedney Foulkes as well as several other students are supposed to accompany the troupe - which coincidentally may be a nice way to replace PCs that have met their ultimate fate, but that just as an aside. The adventure proceeds, on a daily pace, to set the mood - there is plenty of time to allow the PCs to become invested with the NPCs - the journey is fraught with peril, obviously, with bandit ambushes and the like, but it is the slow escalation that makes this module work:

Slowly, but steadily, distrust is sown; weird dreams haunt the participants and the proof seems to accumulate that not all is as it seems - and when strange beings, white claws and chaos erupts, when people are going missing and the PCs have to explore a concisely-presented, thematically consistent dungeon to prevent a rite most foul...you could actually mistake this for one of the better CoC or LotFP-modules, as its blend of the fantastic, weird and horrific comes together in a truly fascinating experience that makes ample use of the grand sense of antiquity suffusing the Lost lands. More importantly, the module's pacing, crucial to anything horrific or darker in theme, as well as the read-aloud text, are impeccable in their effects. A superb, unpretentious genre-piece of a module and certainly one that deserves being played.

Illusion and Illumination by Rhiannon Louve, for characters of 6th level, is a completely different beast and frankly, with its whimsical tone, it very much is appropriate for play with younger players. A pair of fey from the city of Mirquinoc, has been troubling candle-maker Yannick...and everything is confused due to the pixies getting horribly drunk and confusing the orders bestowed upon them by their queen due to somewhat magical, local beer! The candle-maker's a good person and can fashion somewhat magical candles, 7 of which are provided. Alas, the rules-component of these candles is pretty messed up - lack of CLs for spell-duplicating effects, minor deviations from the rules-language - while only tangentially-relevant to the plot, I was pretty disappointed by this sidebar. On a plus-side, unraveling the chaos is pretty fun, since it becomes slowly apparent that the pixie's pestering is supposed to make the candle-maker confess to sins he has not committed. In order to fix this situation and prevent innocents from getting hurt, Yannick beseeches the PCs to help him embark on a quest to talk to the fey queen Twylinvere. On the way towards the queen, through the wilderness, the pixies and their stealthy antics as well as the original target of the pixies, one nasty fey called Oromirlynn and the thralls need to be defeated to clean up the misunderstanding.

The Mountain that Moved by Gwendolyn Kestrel is written for 9th level characters and takes place within the Cretian Mountains, which have a nasty reputation for in-bred settlements, cannibals and strange disappearances. And indeed, within the settlement of Yandek, strange mutations abound among the folk there and various angles provide for different means of entering the module. If you take a look at the Yandek folk template, you'll note an angle not unlike the flavor of the horrid ogres of the Hook Mountain - a Hills have Eyes-vibe suffuses the module. Hilarious for me: The inclusion of a character named Blind Piet...I don't seem to be the only GM who has a recurring theme of a rogue of that name... The deadly and pretty nasty cannibalism-angle suffuses the wilderness-section of the module, but there also would be a mine to explore, one that features a very strange property of the place....oh, and have I mentioned the mountain that walked's secret, which is, indeed, very evocative and makes for a potentially brutal showdown...just sayin'.

The Two Crucibles by C.A. Suleiman, written for 8th level characters, is something completely different and blends deductive investigation, social politicking and dungeon crawling in one evocative combo: The Vanigoths may seem like barbarians to the more civilized folks of the Borderland Provinces, but they do have several intriguing traditions: During the crucible of blood, a kind of moot/Þing, there is a very real chance of an election of a Warhalac, a warlord independent of the overking...which may mean war among the vanigoths and with the kingdom of Suilley. The PCs basically stumble into becoming honored guests - and potentially, participants among the savage customs and games associated with the crucible and the adventure also requires the PCs to deal with a powerful adversary in his dungeon, undermining mystical power and dealing with a capital letter ARTIFACT of nasty proportions. This module drips flavor and its focus on roleplaying and cultural tidbits make sense. Amazing module.

The War of the Poppies by Eytan Bernstein, for 10th level characters, is a pretty freeform investigation scenario and takes place in Mana, capital town of Suilley - where blue poppies are swaying the taste of local addicts and shadow wars to retain control of the opium trade still abound. It is here that noble scions, fresh from the grand tournament of the lilies, have vanished after partaking in the novel, blue opium...and it is up to the PCs to find the truth, as magical means seem to fail to properly locate them. Here, the module excels with a significant array of flavor text, clues to unearth and people to interrogate, as the mystery of the blue poppy and the truth behind it beckon ever more...though the module goes one step beyond and actually talks about dealing with the addicts, helping rehabilitation, etc. - sample Q&A-sections help the GM run the module and render this yet another full-blown winner.

A Most Peculiar Hunt by Ari Marmell is intended for 12th level PCs and takes place in the unclaimed lands as such, it makes perfect use of the region: Three communities (Avrandt, Corvul and Vath) not particularly far from the Aachen border have went to war - which, in itself is not remarkable. The solution proposed, though, was: Instead of wasting resources and lives, the 3 quasi-lords have agreed on a competition to solve their difficulties by trophy collecting of exotic animals...read: Monsters. Unfortunately, this competition has had untoward consequences: Hiring several adventurers has caused a kind of monster migration towards Aachen. In order to bring peace to the region and stop the potentially dangerous migration of monsters towards more populated areas, the PCs will have to explore the region and unearth the truths behind the motivations of the three "lords." Beyond uncovering intrigues (and a particularly cool BBEG), the PCs will have to deal with both a dragon and a very powerful group of rival adventurers...making this definitely one of the most challenging modules in the collection...and that's saying something! Still, an amazing sandbox indeed!

Ectarlin's Last Ride by Scott Fitzgerald Gray would also be intended for 12th level PCs and takes place at the coast of Eastwhich and more than one vessel has recently gone missing there, the holds ransacked and crews massacred. So far, so common - the region is not haunted by the usual issues with pirates and cutthroats - instead, the matter at hand is far more complex. In order to unearth the truth behind this mystery, though, the PCs will have to take part in a salvage operation (cool!) and a threat that may well steal memories, making for a truly amazing experience when presented to experienced roleplayers...and beyond a flow-chart, the PCs may actually witness the deadly threats duke it out with ghostly riders, potentially participate in the massive battle for literally the souls of a village, explore ruins, understand the fractured nature of the eponymous spirit lord drawn back to the mortal spheres and finally, defeating the powerful evil behind the horrid happenings.

After a brief appendix, the book provides a TON of maps - and all are prevented in proper, full-sized versions for both GMs and players, with the latter purged of secret maps, etc. - which is awesome for going the extra mile.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are almost perfect, great on a formal level, with some minor hiccups on a rules-language level, but not enough to drag this down. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the book comes with a ton of amazing b/w-artworks, all new and shiny. The pdf iteration comes fully bookmarked for your convenience....but the true beauty if the dead-tree hardcover, which is bound in the usual, high quality we have come to appreciate and love in our Frog God Games-books.

Eytan Bernstein, Soctt Fitzgerald Gray, Gwendolyn Kestrel, Rhiannon Louve, Ari Marmell, Anthony Pryor and C.A. Suleiman have written an amazing compilation of adventures. This is, quality-wise, all killer, no filler - each of the modules in this book has its definite strengths and distinct narrative voices, while still retaining the consistency that the Borderland Provinces book established. More importantly, while the module here should definitely provide ample fodder for fans of old-school dungeon-crawling and aesthetics, I was positively surprised by the emphasis on smart players, on roleplaying and unearthing information - this is very much a ROLEplaying compilation that featured a ton of gorgeous scenes and truly astonishing vistas to explore. Cloak and dagger intrigue, deception and politics provide a level of investment for PCs and players alike to set this book apart from other compilations.

In short: When used in conjunction with the massive sourcebook, this book provides one of the most immersive sequences of adventures I have witnessed in a while...while still, thankfully, losing none of its plug-and-play-components. Suffused with the fantastic and the weird, a sense of fantastic, Gygaxian realism and some angles I have not seen before, the modules herein MATTER. They affect the lives of the people of the provinces and the diversity of challenges is amazing; I was positively surprised regarding the interaction of cultures, investigations, politics - all modules herein have the theme of indirect storytelling in common and use it perfectly. The book is amazing and very much represents the best of the Frog God Games that has transcended and surpassed the legacy of Necromancer Games. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and yes, this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Lost Lands: Adventures in the Borderland Provinces Pathfinder Edition
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The Lost Lands: Borderland Provinces Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/14/2016 08:18:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 269 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a colossal 262 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy for the purpose of a fair and unbiased review.

All right, so we have been to the Sundered Kingdoms and taken in all the sights and cults...but this is something different. While situated in the adjacent region to aforementioned adventure-collection, we actually have a massive setting sourcebook. As such, the tome begins with a breakdown of the history of the region as well as massive timelines denoting the respective years in the different means of counting the timeline. The general overview provides a myth-infused and concise take on the ethnicities and races found within this region; from the savage vanigoths to the supposedly river-born Gaeleen and the Foerdewaith, the notes provided here already exhibit a level of detail and care that makes more than sense: The book talks about how the respective ethnicities see themselves or depict themselves in these tumultuous times, for they indeed are.

Even a cursory glance provides some rather intriguing notes of cataclysms past: Beyond the obvious collapse of the Army of Light, the end of an empire in a magical conflagration that consumed vast stretches of land, 10-year-lasting rains that resulted in famine and failed crops - these lands have indeed seen their fair share of evocative and inspiring catastrophes, but still the lands stand. Fans of the Lost Lands will consider the timeline to be a truly inspiring and chockfull with notes: From the founding of the metropolis of Bard's Gate to Endhome's history (the city of "The Lost City of Barakus"-fame), notes that acknowledge some lesser known modules (like "Mires of Mourning") or the influence of Razor Coast - for veterans of Frog god Games/Necromancer Games, this book pretty much can be considered to be the very glue that pulls everything together; or the skeleton of the body of the region, if you will. Wait, that does not evoke the proper connotation, since it implies being somewhat basic - and nothing could be further from the truth here. Different technology levels for the respective ethnicities and people add a feasible and evocative tone to the subject matter. But how to give you a proper insight into the leitmotifs of these borderlands? Well, for one, let me talk a bit about nomenclature: In case the names of ethnicities were not ample clue, the provinces and stretches of land, from a linguistic point of view, do something smart: With names like Aachen, Exeter and the like, they employ our dormant knowledge of medieval ages and a palpable Old Europe-style aesthetic. With crests and everything, the presentation of the respective countries further enforces this. So flavor-wise, we'd be looking at a place that feels distinctly more like the end of the Middle Ages than most settings.

On a formal criteria, within the details of the powerful individuals noted, the book sports a sufficient array of powerful people mentioned...but never becomes bogged down in them. You do not have the Oerth/Faerûn issue of an archmage/demigod in every second town - capable folks exist, but ultimately there are barely enough to maintain a sense of cohesion. The general scarcity of truly mega-powerful individuals mean that there is ample potential for PCs to act and shine without thinking that the "big players can't be bothered". On the other hand, some setting have fallen prey to the inverse issue: You know, where the super-powerful forces of darkness only don't seem to win because they are damn stupid. The Borderland Provinces do not fall prey to this trap either - instead, a general level of threats suffuse everything here, providing ample need for adventurers without threatening an apocalypse at every corner. This balancing act emphasizes further as sense of the believable: We can imagine the darkness lurking, but we do crave people and places worth saving, and making the PCs the only capable (or not ignorant) characters is generally an approach that undermines this. Hence, while there are capable NPCs, at least in my mind the chief achievement for this component lies in painting a picture that is believable.

The aforementioned history, nay historicity, evoked by the book is further underlined by the political leitmotif: You see, the nomenclature and catastrophes echo some real life disasters for a reason: The political landscape of the Borderland Provinces is not unlike that of the trials and tribulations and collapse of the Carolingian Empire, which ultimately gave rise to the Holy Roman Empire. Much like these historic empires, the once powerful empire of Foere is within the process of dissolution and decadence; nobles think of secession, provinces are not properly defended and when even the loss of tax revenue is deemed acceptable, you will note that something is going wrong big time...meanwhile, the kingdom of Suilley has won its independence and is going through the growing pains of the rapid expanding empire - growing pains which may cause it to collapse yet under the issues inherited from years of mismanagement...if external forces don't do the job for the young kingdom. Similarly, the discrepancy between these two major players feel like bookends of the cycle to me - but that may well be due to my Nietzschean leanings when it comes to the structure of the history of mankind. On a less pretentious note, one could construe the political landscape as one that provides pretty much the maximum of adventuring potential: With the threat of war looming, political infighting and shifting allegiances all provide a rich panorama of inspiring metanarratives to develop...and that is before free cities and city states on the rise and the pseudo-colonial angle Razor Coast provides are entered into the fray.

The book, then goes on to underline yet another widely component that is a crucial glue often neglected in fantasy gaming: Religion. What's Endy now talking about, you ask? Well, beyond the presence of clerics, palas and the like, the function of religion for societies as a unifying thread is often neglected in gaming supplements - not so here: In the decline of Thyr's worship due to ever thinner margins and thus, possibilities of making an impact on the daily lives, Mitra's worship is gaining ground amidst the folk, adding another sense of Zeitenwende, of a radical change of the times to the social and political powder keg that is the Borderland Provinces. Conversely, this does echo similar proceedings in Europe - from Lutherans and Calvinists, a crucial component of their success ultimately can be attributed to the entwinement of the Catholic Church with the political establishment of those days, resulting in a disenfranchisement of a significant part of the body politic.

There is another component I feel obliged to mention, for, by the above, you may fall prey to the erroneous assumption that this book offers basically only a repackage of historical occurrences, when nothing could be further from the truth. After all, we are playing fantasy games and thus, the aspect of magic is deeply entwined with themes like religion: Beyond escalating the aforementioned cataclysms that have haunted these lands, magic also is firmly entwined with the aspect of religion - for, in a world where demon lords ever plot the ultimate collapse of civilization, a heresy suddenly becomes more than something to stamp out in order to maintain control over the doctrine and its narrative. Instead, heresy can range from the harmless to the soul-damning and as such, the task of the ever fewer agents of the organized religions traveling these lands is one of prime importance, as smart and devious cults operate beneath a veneer of respectability.

Which would bring me to the shadowy forces, whose threats are less obvious than warfare, racial conflicts, barbarians and monsters - namely, the leitmotifs of heresies. Whether benevolent or willfully incited by demonic cultists, the organized religions are having a tough time to maintain supremacy over their own teachings, considering the diverse challenges the lands face. In an age of flux, it is in the cracks left behind by the failures of the respective nobility and governments that darkness thrives. Which would bring me to the component that I have not yet mentioned: For up until now, I have mainly talked about the themes of this book and less about its actual use as a gaming supplement. You see, each of the areas introduced herein not only features notes on religion, major players and settlements - instead, the regions also provide monsters to be found within this area and a plethora of partially interconnected quests. Not content to simply depict hooks, the book goes into an almost-adventure-level of detail, with some statblocks and evocative quests there; to retrieve the train of thought associated with heresies, a whole village has fallen prey to false teachings and is thus doomed - unless the PCs can find a way to save their souls.

Beyond the monuments that litter the landscape and the traditional, exceedingly evocative indirect story-telling that comes together here, the book also is defined by a massive array of different random encounter-tables at the beck and call of the GM - and yes, the pdf does make a difference between regions, roads and the wilderness. Indeed, it should be noted that the narrative impulses contained herein blend all concisely; In an age where printing is not yet common, the appearance of potentially madness-inducing pamphlets, for example, would make for a unique angle. Have I mentioned yet the fact that this book also introduces a demon prince who may be one of Azathoth's Pipers, somehow turned sentient and...different, providing a long overdue thematic and innovative connection for the themes of the creatures of the Outer Dark and the forces of the Abyss.

Of course, there is more to the aspect of the fantastic than just an abundance of monstrosities haunting the wilderness; there would be the occurrence of a kind of truce between an archmage and the most powerful dragon of the region; there would be dangerous locales; neutral ground taverns at the intersection of no less than three territories...and there are places where the chivalric ideal still lives, with jousting and the means to rise in the social hierarchy. Numerous settlements in detail and a plethora of shrines and sacred or profane sites await the exploration by the PCs...and the sense of realism is further enhanced in its logical consequences: There would be, for example, a mighty city that has come to an understanding with a foul-tempered black dragon: The dragon defends the city...and who better to defend versus adventurers...than a whole city loving the creature, worshiping it...including the more powerful small folks? The component of the fantastic, from spells to the presence of creatures like ogres or worse, are not just simply slapdashed on like a thin fantastic coating - the internal consistency bespeaks careful and thoughtful deliberation and is baffling in its panache. Have I mentioned the region that uses giant ox beetles for beasts of burden?

Now the aspect of the fantastic even extends to some extend to the unique nature and economy that can be seen in parts of the borderland provinces; these lands are NOT just Europe-rip-offs. Quite the contrary, for e.g. the opium-studded fields of Pfefferain, originally introduced in the criminally underrated 3.X module "Vindication!" by Necromancer Games and the truce between ferry-operators and river giants - all seems to be connected in a tapestry of myriad colors and tones that nevertheless generate a concise whole. The level of deliberate care and internal consistency extends beyond the basic - MASSIVE name generators by region for both males and females, massive place-names by region (similarly ridiculously detailed and a colossal amount of stats for ready-made 109 encounters can be found to supplement the numerous adventure locales that are interspersed in the write-ups of the respective regions. Exceeding this, the book also features hazard generators and stats for aerial traveling - for example wind whales. Aforementioned heresies are similarly depicted in lavish detail...and the book provides a gigantic index that features pronunciation guidelines for the respective places. The book also features the previously released FREE "Rogues in Remballo"-scenario and an impressive array of b/w-maps alongside player-friendly iterations - the inclusion of these just adding the icing on the cake this is. The physical iteration also has a gorgeous full-color hex-map of the regions.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good - while I noticed some minor hiccups like a superscript "B" that was not properly formatted, as a whole, this book adheres to FGG's high quality standards. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read b/w-2-column standard and the book sports numerous gorgeous b/w-artworks. The electronic version sports numerous bookmarks for your convenience...but frankly, if you can somehow afford it, get this in print: With high quality binding and paper, this book's physical version is just so much more awesome to hold in your hands. The b/w-cartography is nice and the presence of player-friendly maps is amazing.

Matthew J. Finch, with additional content by Greg A. Vaughan and Bill Webb, has created something special here. When I heard about this book for the first time, my reaction, to some extent, was bewilderment. While I could see e.g. Rappan Athuk and Endhome occupy the same general geographic region, while I saw the more conservative aspects working in perfect unison, it is the weirder, the darker and subtle aspects of the modules that stumped me as to how this could ever work as a whole.

You see, setting-books of this size face an almost impossible catch-22-situation. Too much detail and you wreck their adaptability for a given round; not enough and the thing becomes too opaque and some jerk like yours truly starts complaining. If you add the excessive canon this unifies, you have another issue: Bastards like yours truly that have too much fun contemplating and considering the ramifications of the presence of creatures, the political landscape, etc. - i.e., sooner or later, unless you REALLY think it through, internal discrepancies will creep into the game and someone will find them and have his/her game ruined by them, as immersion comes crashing down. On the other hand, if you take the reins too tightly, you only generate a free-form adventure with a restrictive metaplot, not a sourcebook. You need to maintain consistency, yes - but if you overemphasize it, the book becomes a dry enumeration of facts and densely entwines facts - and not everyone wants to read such a book.

It is against these challenges that I have read this massive tome...and it holds up. More than this, however, the achievement this represents lies within not only succeeding at maintaining internal consistency and fusing a gigantic array of disparate files into a thematically concise whole - it also maintains its efficiency as a gaming supplement: Much like the Judge's Guild books of old, certain wildernesses and city states, this very much represents a sourcebook that does not require preplanned adventures or the like - instead, you just throw your PCs inside and watch them do whatever they please...and if you do want a module, well, the region provides a vast array of mega-adventures that gain a lot from the proper contextualization within the region. In fact, I frankly wished I hadn't played some of them, since their context herein adds significantly to their appeal.

I have not even managed to scratch the surface regarding the number of things to do and experience within the borderland provinces and that is intentional, for I have so far failed to explicitly state the biggest strength of the book: Perhaps it is the internal consistency of the book and its lore...but I experienced something while reading this tome I have only scarcely encountered: A sense of Fernweh (think of that as the opposite of being homesick), of a wanderlust for a realm that does not exist, of a world so steeped in lore, vibrant and alive that this book managed what only a scant few have accomplished - I actually managed to dream lucidly a journey through these fantastic realm in a sequence of dreams of several days. This peculiar experience is usually reserved for books of the highest prose caliber, books that manage to generate a level of cohesion that is so tight my mind can subconsciously visualize it. A prerequisite for this, obviously, would be some desire to do just that, meaning that ultimately, the book in question must have caught not only my attention, but provided a sort of intense joy beyond the confines of most books, let alone gaming supplements.

To cut my long ramblings short, the prose herein is absolutely superb and exhibits the strengths of the exceedingly talented trinity of authors, making the reading experience of the book a more than pleasing endeavor. Moreover, the significant attention to detail regarding the actual use of the book as a gaming supplement ultimately also deprives me of any complaints I could field against it in that regard. While this review is based on the PFRPG-version, it is my firm conviction that even groups employing systems beyond the 3 for which this has been released, will have an absolute blast with this book -even without any of the book's gaming utility, this is an excellent offering and hence receives the highest accolades I can bestow upon it - 5 stars, seal of approval and nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016 - This makes the Lost lands truly come to life and I can't wait to see the next massive sourcebook of the world. if the Frogs can maintain this level of quality and consistency, we'll be looking at my favorite fantasy setting among all I know. Get this - you will NOT regret it!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Lost Lands: Borderland Provinces Pathfinder Edition
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Swords and Wizardry Complete Rule Book
by Anthony R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/13/2016 05:07:09

Love it so much I funded the 3rd edition on Kickstarter. Soon I will have a hardcopy in my hands :D



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Swords and Wizardry Complete Rule Book
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Lost Lore: The Headhunter
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/21/2016 12:27:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Lost Lore-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look!

The headhunter as depicted herein is a 10-level prestige class that grants 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 Fort- and Will-save progressions, d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level and can be qualified for at 5th level. The first important aspect here pertains the fact that carrying carrion heads around does not really always go over well - a sidebar deals with the cultural implications and what happens when you e.g. carry a foe's head to a creature. After severing a defeated foe's head, the headhunter may select one of the creature's class or special abilities, extraordinary or supernatural abilities, feats (regardless of prerequisites), but sans spells "growth points" or abilities that summon creatures. This ability may be used once as a standard action and if an ability has an indefinite duration, it instead lasts character level rounds. A total of 1/2 class level (minimum 1) heads may be carried around. Weird - the ability suddenly mentions a Craft (taxidermy) check, when no such check was rolled upon harvesting the head, making me thing that something went wrong here - the ability should specify making the roll not only in the example, but also in the ability itself before suddenly mentioning it. 2nd level nets Cha-mod times /day gentle repose. 6th level unlocks ant haul as an SP.

Starting at 3rd level and every other level thereafter, the PrC may take a headhunter secret - these include a +1 bonus to Intimidate checks per head carried. Others unlock undead heads as viable targets or the option to make use of spells or SPs as if a scroll or use it in conjunction with spontaneous are prepared spellcasting, which can be pretty powerful. Using the head as a bane weapon versus the social group associated (table by size included) or gain a severed head familiar. Weird: The class is generally spell-progression-less, but mentions the head acting as a familiar sans specifying the familiar-progression. Also odd: Formatting is different for that secret when compared to the others. The head is created by applying a template included in the pdf (including sample head). Head-weights are btw. provided.

At 4th level, the headhunter may carve (with another Craft-skill) primitive bone rings that grant CR temporary hit points to the wearer. 8th level nets the ability to make skull masks that duplicate skull masks. As a capstone, the Craft (taxidermy)-result no longer depicts the number of days a given head lasts. At 10th level, the headhunter may share the benefits of heads with allies via skull cups.

Really odd - the class features a total of 7 abilities that I think are headhunter secrets - oddly, though, they have a different formatting than the first secrets provided. These include transferring heads to animal companions or cohorts and another one has a bardic performance granted per head. Also odd: A secret that allows the headhunter to use a "Skill as if it was a class or racial ability" - what is this supposed to mean? Oh, and one secret makes heads last as long as they do by the base ability, longer when kept dry and vermin-free, making the secret useless at 10th level.

The pdf also features archetypes: The face-marking warrior is broken as hell: "When a barbarian would normally gain a rage power, he may instead select the abilities of a foe slain within the last year that does not require an action to activate and gains the ability during rage." ARGH. This is so horribly broken, I'm not going to dignify the archetype with anything else. Broken. Next.

The Head-taker archetype replaces the 2nd level bonus feat with the option to incur a -4 penalty to atk and incur an AoO to perform an attack that deals 1d4 rounds of sickening; on a crit, the ability also deals 1d6 points of damage to ALL mental attributes AND staggers the foes. WTF. Next.

The Mystery of the Head's revelation has some abilities that could use an activation action, but also has the extremely evocative trick of removing a victim's head, keeping the head alive...which is pretty awesome. Also cool: The capstone lets you take off your head! Yes, this, while having only limited use as a player, is a cool ability to scavenge. The head-shrinker shaman can use shrunken heads to counterspell, with the slain foe's CR acting as caster level for the dispel attempt and gains a severed head familiar. Torques of Blade Turning prevent decapitation and head-severing effects...but does that extend to granting immunity to vorpal weapons? No idea.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are uncharacteristically jumbled for Frog God Games - there seems to be something seriously wrong with the head hunters formatting, to the point where it impedes the functionality of the PrC. Layout adheres to FGG's two-column full-color standard and the pdf has a neat b/w-art. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Jeff Erwin's headhunter, alas, is a mess. In case you haven't noticed - the PrC and the mechanics herein are based upon the deeply flawed called shots system, but lack the mechanical precision and scope to make the content really work. The material isn't horrible and in fact, very flavorful, but it is all over the place. Synergy with classes exceedingly unlikely to take the PrC (per se nice, but only when the bases are all covered!), internal balance between secrets all over the place, flawed formatting, confused presentation. And then there would be the fact that, beyond the called shot-based issue, the pdf also falls on its face regarding the balancing and proper codification of abilities stolen from vanquished foes; one-use makes them potentially OP and the pdf fails to specify how that works with feats. Additionally, the sheer wide-open nature sans detailed notes of codifying abilities render this wide open to PGing and GM ruling. This does not mean that it doesn't work - it just means that it doesn't work even near the level of precision I expect from a crunch-supplement, no matter how flavorful and cool the abilities are. It is the ambition and flavor of these abilities and the scavenging potential are the saving graces of this pdf. My final verdict clocks in at 2 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Lost Lore: The Headhunter
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Lost Lore: Eminent Domains
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/20/2016 05:58:10

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Lost Lore-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, domains - in theory, they are supposed to depict a certain theological focus for the respective deities and their servants; in practice, that does not translate too well, though. There are subdomains and Rogue Genius Games' exalted domains as a means to further emphasize particular concepts. This pdf features a different, multi-pronged approach to the subject matter - in short, there are 3 feats: Domain Affinity grants you an at-will SP as part of preparing a given domain spell. As soon as you cast the respective domain spell, you lose the SP, rewarding players for not casting the domain spell at once - which is a pretty cool idea, considering how these spells usually are pretty powerful when compared to the standard list. Here's the thing - the options gained actually are pretty intriguing! Characters with the air domain, for example, can, for as long as they retain the ability to cast obscuring mist, cause a creature within 60 ft. to move to an adjacent square on a failed save, potentially moving allies or foes - but, to retain balance, sans provoking AoOs. Generating an arbitrary symmetry in the actions of opponents, heating the feet of foes. The effects here are varied, creative and cool.

The second feat would be Domain Channel, which provides a variety of effects - unlike e.g. Rite Publishing's Divine Channeler or variant channeling, the respective benefits are more varied: For one, a domain has an automatic benefit: E.g. divine channeling by clerics with the Fire domain lets you suspend ongoing fire damage or fire/heat damage for a number of rounds equal to the channel dice. Now here is where the abilities get awesome - not only does the general framework manage to keep the complex rules-operation flawless, channelers with this feat may exchange channel dice for effects - each of the domains features effects for 1, 2 or 4 dice to be exchanged. Good clerics could e.g. make all evil targets glowing evil for one die as though seen through detect evil. For 2 dice, you can generate an anti-evil somewhat sanctuary-like bubble. For 4 dice, you may add a bonus to atk and checks made against evil targets, with bonus depending on aura-strength. The benefits provided here add fun flexibility and resource-management to the channel mechanic beyond anything I've seen so far and does so with panache, elegance and no fear of complex concepts.

Finally, Domain Loyalty allows you to gain a unique benefit governed by the domain whenever you only prepare domain spells from the domain. These include airy rivulets that can carry objects and keep them in easy reach, gaining minor benefits (with a flexible choice) when provoking an AoO and similarly unique tricks.

These feats are NOT the end, though - the pdf also sports 3 spells: Fast Favor (1st), Borne for Battle (2nd) and Battle Benediction (3rd). The first two spells are personal, while the third can affect a creature touched. Like the feats, each of these spells has a completely unique effect for the respective domains: Fast Favor for the air domain, lets you blast with agile jumps around, while borne for battle adds bull rush to attacks. Finally, battle benediction even nets you an extra 5-foot-step and manages to get the complex rules-operation required right.

Oh, but that's not all: The domains featured here also have a variant holy/unholy water included - earth, for example, nets a gunk that causes those that step inside to treat any terrain as difficult terrain. Patient coals wherein the embers still smolder can also be found here alongside black and white standardized sand.

But what domains are covered? Good, Evil, Chaos, Law, Air, Earth, Fire and Water.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' two-column full-color standard for the series, with nice, original b/w-artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a minor comfort detriment.

Uhrgh, another domain-book? To say that I was not excited for this would be a serious understatement. Well, guess what - this is absolutely glorious. Hal Maclean's eminent domains are precise, varied and add whole new tactical dimensions to the domains, rendering them more distinct and exciting - the options provided are varied, fun and brilliant. They do not cut corners, use no cookie-cutter designs and use rules in a creative, fun manner.

...and my one complaint here is that we need more. In fact, I want ALL domains covered with this simple, elegant and fun system. This is an unexpectedly awesome pdf, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval. We need sequels. That's right: Plural.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lost Lore: Eminent Domains
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