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Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/11/2016 09:30:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This HUGE AP/setting-supplement clocks in at a massive 437 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with pretty ridiculous 428 pages of content, so let's take a look!


All right, we begin this huge book by basically taking a glimpse at the region of the Sundered Kingdoms - wait, that's not the right way to describe it: The war-and calamity-torn Sunderlands receive a massive, stunningly detailed and well-written gazetteer that clocks in at 32 pages - from discussions on the local technology-level to area by area breakdowns of settlements and the like, we get a tremendous amount of detail here, including write ups for INNS as well as caravansarais...and it should be noted that this does not include the colossal 12-page, detailed history on this region in its afore-mentioned page-count. The level of captivating prose exhibited in these pages hearkens back to a time where immersion by means of detailed lore were more important: When e.g. the fully depicted, brief fable of a cat seeking a wife not only is mentioned, but in fact reproduced, that does enhance the believability of the area a great deal...and yes, settlements do get proper settlement statblocks.


But beyond these, the book is one about the eponymous cults - which not only provide stats for athames as well as some new domains for the respective cultist patrons - from classic Orcus and Tsathogga to Hastur, the entities of chaos and destruction and their dread obelisks of chaos that litter the landscape as dark monuments, as foci for the dread cults of darkness, come in a surprisingly detailed write-up that depicts a world teeter-tottering unknowingly on the very edge of annihilation by the forces of chaos, with twisted, evil versions of the Diplomacy-concept as a domain and the like adding a bit of crunch to the fray, though yet another shadow domain, for example, imho wasn't necessary.


The third chapter, then, would be the bestiary section and comes supplemented with both new hazards and common...and less common adversaries, including two spawns of demon lords and bone dragons, Similarly, the magic item chapter (including a cursed cowbell!) sports artifacts and wondrous objects galore, with aforementioned obelisk-powered items of chaos and unique items featuring prominently, already hinting at the things to come.


But you want o know about the adventures, right? All righty, so before we dive in, you should know that the previously released modules herein have been integrated into basically a cohesive storyline, a kind of meta-narrative not unlike those featured in Paizo-APs, making this not a collection of different adventures (though they can be played as such), but more of an arc connected by theme, if not by the necessity of sequential playing... Basically, you can play these modules as stand-alones or as connected pieces - they do not lose appeal by being separated from the overarcing structure.


Know, dear reader, that from this point forward, the SPOILERS abound! Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


We begin this tome's adventure section with Greg A. Vaughan's "Beasts Among Us", intended for 3rd level characters - uncomplicated, but savage, this module confronts the PCs with a massacred caravan and a trail leading towards a dread cult of bandits in the wilderness, happily butchering survivors - by stopping these brigands, the PCs can rescue one Kandrel, who was en route to the city of Endhome (of Lost City of Barakus)-fame and acts as a potential liaison for the powerful shipping magnate Lord Beval...provided the PCs can save him from the brutal fangs of the werewolf master of the brigands.


The second adventure, potentially to gather further influence, would be Patrick Lawinger's classic "Morrick Mansion" (level 3 - 5), which to this day remains one of my favorite 3.X modules released by Necromancer Games back in the day. Why? Because the module twists the traditional haunted mansion trope, detailed grounds and all, by making the primary antagonist of the module not simply a creature to be defeated - instead, as a kind of precursor to how haunts work nowadays, the adventure focuses on actually finding out how the calamities befell Morrick Mansion and breaking the mutation and insanity-causing chaotic curse that twists and changes the mansion grounds. From Grollek's Grove to finding out the truth behind the curse, the adventure is in probably its best iteration in this book. Kudos for saving this glorious classic for a new generation of gamers.


The third adventure is a new one and would once again be penned by none other than Greg A. Vaughan - "Shades of Yellow" (for levels 5 - 6). In the service of lord Beval, the PCs are sent forth to find Sir Bartol, a knight of esteem and renown, whose trail leads through hostile wilderness to the moor-bound village of Billockburne, where the PCs can unearth the truth about a seemingly-benign cult and hopefully save the knight's squire at least from an inglorious and horrific fate...but to truly stop the cult and put one and one together, the PCs will have to also stop a colossal, brutal nameless thing and clear the lethal chapel in the moors, where one of the dreaded obelisks has been partially excavated...Among the papers of Bartol, replicated as a handout that can be unearthed from these dread cultists, the PCs can heed a request for assistance in the Moon Fog Hills, where the next adventure looms...


...and that would be the legendary classic "Aberrations" (level 6 - 9) by Casey W. Christofferson. It ranks, by far, as one of the most underappreciated modules Necromancer Games released back in the day - a disturbing yarn of horror and weird, dark fantasy, this module has it all: Deformed giants, savage caverns, legacies of insanity and murder, a brutal meat-grinder of a mansion and the chance to duke it out with the spawn of a demon lord - this adventure has it all and, frankly, I can't really do it enough justice: If you enjoy DCC-style dark fantasy and challenging modules, this one will do the trick. Seriously, this is a true classic that only gains impact by its ties to the unobtrusive metaplot of this saga.


The next adventure, once again penned by Greg A. Vaughan, would be "Vengenace in the Hollow Hills", for characters level 8-9, and is a deviation from in theme and style from classic dungeon-crawling, instead focusing on the hexploration of the eponymous hollow hills with elven allies, trying to stop the tainted wildmen harrying travelers and military alike - all seemingly entwined with the horrors witnessed in the previous adventure. If the PCs are to stop this threat, once and for all, they will have to take the fort of the wildmen...easier said than done, though. The Tsathogga-worshipping foes will make the taking of Fort Rannick from the classic RotRL-AP look like a friggin' cakewalk in comparison. Dumb PCs will die horribly...so let's hope that PCs smart and lucky enough to have lived so far will have learned to act smart...


And then, there would be "The Crystal Skull" by Dave Brohman- one of the most obscure and rare Necromancer Games modules (which I gladly own), this is a massive mini-campaign in itself, ranging levels from 9th - 12th...though the challenges posed in this one are SIGNIFICANT. Smart PCs may have followed multiple clues throughout this saga, pointing them towards the massive city of Penmorgh and invited to the home of one wizard named Pearsey, who beseeches the PCs to undergo a complex series of investigations into the dark things going on within the city - every year at Midsummer, 3 girls go missing, their bodies to later be found horribly mutilated....he wants the PCs to stop whatever horrific ritual is going on...and the PCs, following the trail, will have put themselves in the crosshair of deadly assassins and unearth the secrets behind two eminent guilds of the city...thereby, probably, inadvertently freeing dread Mhaazoul, 666th son of Orcus and nascent demon lord - to stop the dread entity, the PCs will have to track it overland through different settlements, survive the machinations of the lethal minions of the demon... to the Tower of Bone. Which is impenetrable for them...to enter the tower and stop dread Mhaazoul, the PCs will have to pass the ruined, subterranean dwarven city of Durandel, successfully navigate its claustrophobic confines and finally infiltrate and beat the dread tower and its master. Oh, and if that is not enough: The previously unreleased secret levels-bonus dungeon for this one is also included in the deal.


A total of 11 pages of handouts and 40 pages of maps are provided in this book as well - though, if you're like me and expected player-friendly maps sans legends or the like, I'll have to disappoint you - this time around, the book features none of these.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, in particular for a book of this massive size. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with detailed, nested bookmarks. The physical book, as with all FGG-books,. is a superb, stitch-bound hardcover made to last. Interior artwork is generally high-quality, though a precious few pieces taken from crystal skull didn't blow me away then and still don't. Cartography is a bit less consistent than usual - while some maps are drop-dead gorgeous or at least functional, there are also some maps re-used from a time when the 3.X bubble had burst and funds were tight -and it shows. Compared to the other maps, these look a bit less impressive and I really wish they had been redone. Similarly, I would have wished for player-friendly maps.


Frog God Games, at this point, is an institution - when they announced this book, I was honestly puzzled who they'd tie the respective modules I already knew together in a meaningful way...and they did. While the metaplot isn't too pronounced when compared to singular mega-adventures, the themes and leitmotifs can be found throughout, lending a sense of cohesion to the whole. Indeed, the respective adventures (with the first, as a setting of the stage and thus, being relatively simple) feel surprisingly in line regarding their themes and content - a feat, considering their patchwork origins.


At the same time, though, there is a bit of thematic whiplash regarding the finale - while I really like "The Crystal Skull", it is also the most traditional of the modules herein - where the adventures before focused on a delightfully old-school dark fantasy with ample of weirdness, the final mini-campaign feels grim, yes. Dark, yes. But also more traditional in its structure, plot and locales presented. Personally, the middle trinity of Morrick Mansion, Shades of Yellow and the superb Aberrations, represents the sweet-spot of this saga and, chalk it up to my excessive collection of NG-material, but personally, I probably would have used the likewise classic and pretty obscure "Vindication" rather than "Crystal Skull" as a culmination of this arc...but yeah. I'm complaining at a very high level here. And I can see why CS was chosen - it has the fitting leitmotifs and is a very good, diverse adventure that features socializing, investigation and plenty of chances to swing one's sword at evil.


The matter of the fact is that this massive book contains a load of brilliant adventures, with some true classics. The build-upgrades for the NPCs are more versatile and utilize some builds that go beyond the standard. The organization is excellent and the only true complaint I can truly voice pertains to the lack of player-friendly maps and parts of the cartography.


How to rate this, then? Well, since this has ample of tie-ins with Endhome and Bard's Gate, GMs wishing to run either can and should definitely take a look; similarly, fans of the Lost lands will consider this a must-have purchase anyways. If you already own the three previously released modules and have played them, things get a bit more complicated - while the two new full-length modules are superb (excluding the intro-module here), only you can decide whether they may the tome as a whole worth it for you. If, however, you haven't played the classic modules, then this turns into an almost immediate no-brainer, for the history and context provided in this tome render the iterations of the modules superior to their classic 3.X versions.


In the end, I will rate this 5 stars + seal of approval as an official rating for those among us who haven't played the classics. For guys like yours truly, this still is a very good book, though perhaps one that should be closer to 4.5 stars. In the end, my official verdict will obviously be the former - this is, in a nut-shell, a collection of great material for those among us who like our fantasy dark without diving off into the grimdark spectrum.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms Pathfinder Edition
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Swords and Wizardry Complete Rule Book
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/28/2016 10:55:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive rule-book clocks in at 144 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page list of tables (important!), 6 pages of supporter-thanks, 1 page legal appendix, 1 page note-space, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 130 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Ähem. I feel old. ;) This is my birthday-review, my present from myself to myself, so please bear with me regarding the obvious deviation from my usual standard regarding reviewing. Kidding aside regarding age and the like...when I started playing, believe it or not, you young 'uns, the game didn't have that much to do with math. Sure, we needed it. But in contrast to taking hours upon hours to properly calculate the statblock of high-level foe xyz, those were simpler times. Heck, for the first 6+ years of my playing career, I didn't use any kind of battlemap...go wrap your head around this!


Why am I telling you this? Well, because this book basically represents the game I grew into gaming with; this is the old-school simple and distilled version of gaming. No looking up feats, no looking up complex interactions, no optimization. Different level-up caps for different classes. Fixed saving throws determined by level...next to no means to power-game and a lot of house-rules that continuously grew.


Okay, so what does this provide? Well, we already have the 6 classic attributes. Strength determines chances to kick open doors and modify carrying capacity, with melee to hit and damage modifiers ranging from -2 to +2 and -1 to +3, respectively. Fighters can use Strength for ranged weapons...if you follow the original rules. Constitution determines your chance to survive being raised from the dead...and nets you anything from -1 to +1 hit points per HD. High Charisma and Wisdom net you bonus XP (wrap your head around that!) and Dex, obviously, is important for all the thief tricks. Thief? Yup, once upon a time, it was thief, not rogue, ladies and gentlemen.


The classes provided herein cover the assassin, cleric, druid, fighter, magic-user, monk, paladin, ranger and thief...and yes, astute reader: Some of these are simply better than others. Why? Because back in the day, you needed damn good stats to qualify for some of them - which is still represented in optional rules. (Yep, that's where the "paladins are rare and all good-looking"-trope came from; Cha 17+ minimum. 18, btw., is the maximum you'll get with your 3d6...


Similarly, dual-classing and multiclassing are two different experiences, with dual-class characters requiring much more XP...but I digress. Non-human races often have an advancement cap for classes, but once again, alternate rules for this less beloved feature are presented. Oh, know what's also tricky: All classes cap HP at one point; depending on your class, you'll thereafter only get a single hit point per level.


While this may sound annoying, it's not - it keep the dreaded high-number mathematical breakdown all contemporary systems suffer from at bay. Oh, and alignment? Law, Neutrality, Chaos. That's it.


Okay, so item-purchases and equipment work pretty much as expected...but what about AC? There are two ways and two camps on how to handle the concept: Ascending and Descending AC. When you use descending armor as a rule, each character gets an unarmed AC of 9, with the lower results being better - a plate would net you -6 AC, for example. Ascending is pretty much the opposite and works like just about all contemporary systems in the d20-arena: 10 + value. Such stats are provided in brackets. So, whether you prefer one of the other, this book has you covered. Movement rate is similarly simple on ground and overland movement.


Swords and Wizardry, however, is NOT a simple reproduction - it streamlines and takes away some of the needlessly clunky components: Saves and XP, for example, both of which, frankly, have been sources of endless consternations among my players. ("Why is that a save versus spells and not deathrays?") So no, this is not simply an exercise in nostalgia. The round and its breakdown, swift and quick, is also presented in a concise manner - with multiple alternatives for specific tables. That being said, I really think a flat Attack-bonus would have been the simpler choice regarding attack rolls. Why? Because you have to consult massive tables dependant on the class to determine whether you hit or not. Sure, it's not rocket science...but it's a component I do not use in my OSR-games...boo and hiss, I use an atk-bonus. ;)


Still, do not take this is criticism on a formal level - it is just me stating a preference. Before I go on a further tangent or you stop reading - when using ascending AC, an imho easier to grasp table and one that does work well, and does the job admirably. Similarly, my games do have neutral clerics - an eventuality btw. also covered in alternate rules/referee-suggestions. Sample stronholds and information on hirelings complement this section...and then, there are SPELLS. A metric ton of SPELLS. They have a name. A range. A level. A duration. That's it. Simple and to the point.


This is where the referee section begins and it is this section alone that may be worth the download. Why? Because, beyond general and sound advice for GMs, the section actually sports multiple, nice dungeon-maps as well as tables upon tables you can use to generate creatures. Similarly, wilderness encounters and movement rates are covered...oh. And yes. Mass combat and siege combat. And unlike pathfinder's impotent, sucky siege engines (I house-ruled those so that PCs actually fear them), they friggin' kill you. Trebuchet hits you? You're DEAD. No, seriously. Game over, man. Game over. Call me a bastard GM...but I like that. Even Aerial Combat gets its section and is handled simply via maximum course alterations and minimum space between alterations - that's it. And while this may sound simple, it actually is a pretty ingenious system to make compelling dogfights.


And yes, before you ask, naval combat is here as well. These are the complete rules, so this book also sports an array of monster stats and advice on creating them - and if there is one thing that is a weakness of this book...well, alas, it's this section. You see, sans the massive math-laden statblocks, old-school games did tend to prosper in the fluff departments; where monsters had ecologies, societies, tactics etc. all spelled out in lavish detail, often inspiring the referee. You won't find that here. You only get the hard, cold and brief statblocks. That's it. The magic item-section on handing out treasure and the appropriate tables (yes, including cursed items) follow a similarly minimalistic approach - one suitable for the core book, yes...but also perhaps the one aspect where the book does not excel as much as in the previous sections.


The pdf, obviously, does feature a char-sheet, btw....and an impressive, very detailed index that makes using this book very easy.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' two-column b/w-standard with a ton of new b/w-artworks that breathe the tradition of the classic - including ample wizards in pointy hats. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and yes, ladies and gentlemen...the Erol Otus cover alone may be worth downloading this. Unfortunately, I don't have the print version of this book...but I do own a ton of Frog God Games-material and they ALWAYS are great books.


Dennis Sustare, Marv Breig, Jason Cone, Allan T. Grohe Jr., Jerry Mapes, Bill Webb and Matthew Finch have created perhaps the best OSR-version for classic, fantasy roleplaying...and beyond simply being a highly customizable, easy to learn system, it affords for a great change of pace when you find yourself tired out by too many statblocks to crunch. This very much is not only a blast from the past, it is a great system to teach roleplaying...because it's simple. It's simple and elegant in its design without being restrictive. The "referee has the last call" rule trumps all and there frankly isn't much wiggle-room to power-game. This is delightfully easy to grasp and master and in presentation and quality a superb offering.


Oh, and it's FREE. As in: Doesn't cost a single damn dime. As in FREE. It takes the disparate classic rules and streamlines them without eliminating their wealth of options. Swords & Wizardry is, for traditional fantasy, my go-to OSR-rules-system and I wholeheartedly encourage you to check this out...who knows, perhaps you'll have an eureka effect as well; either because you haven't played a system this rules-light...or perhaps because you forgot how much FUN it actually can be. It's a different type of fun, when compared to the new systems, sure. But it is one I never want to miss, a type of game I'll always gladly return to. Get this. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Swords and Wizardry Complete Rule Book
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Lost Lore: Ecology of the Troll
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/22/2016 07:27:33

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, 3/4 of a page blank, leaving us with 4 1/4 pages of content, so let's take a look!


We begin this pdf with a brief piece of in-character prose, setting the mood...and then dive into the genesis of the troll, here depicted in the telling of a legend, where mighty Eirik, lord of the North, instructed the dark sorceror Inghard to find a way to gain soldiers that would not de - and hence, in truly compelling prose, we accompany these two on the way to the doom that befalls the fools of stories such as this: The undying soon were to practice/become fleischtrollen (an interesting composite of German Fleisch = flesh and trollen = walk somewhere at a deliberate pace) - basically flesh-seeking shamblers. So yes, we have a rather unique background story here, on I actually enjoyed reading, though I couldn't help but feel that the "trollen" was probably intended to mean "the troll", but "troll" is a neuter and would thus get the -et ending. But I digress.


The discrepancy between depictions of fat and emaciated trolls is explains and rationalized well in the section on physiology and the explorations of stages of life and sociology further expounds upon interesting details regarding this mythical species. For players intent on hunting trolls, glass sphere tips that can contains liquids and the regeneration halting trollkin-toxin should help - unless the poor sap is mushed to bits before by the large weapon introduced, the devastating troll maul. The pdf also sports 3 new feats for trolls - two to further increase regeneration and one for double rend damage dice - this one has to be carefully monitored and probably shouldn't be in PC hands - rend in PC hands is already brutal enough.


Interesting: The pdf also expounds upon the precise strategies a GM can use when employng trolls and elaborates on their tactics, which is pretty interesting. The pdf also sports G'Mash, the troll king - massive CR 19 barbarian 7/ranger 7 with a unique, huge-sized magical armor, which, while solid, is not that...wait...Huge? Oh, I forgot to mention that right? If you're like me, you always wanted trolls to continue growing, to potentially one day reach truly intimidating sizes. Well, this take on the troll assumes just that. Anyways, the deadly troll king ends the pdf on a high note, even though the final page being mostly empty somewhat galls me.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant issues. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf has an awesome piece of b/w-artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks and while it needs none at this length, they still would have been nice to see.


James Thomas' prose is excellent -the legend of the trolls depicted herein resonates on a mythological level and makes sense; the pdf rationalizes the vastly diverging pictures and concepts of trolls, which is awesome from an internal consistency's point of view. The flavor of this pdf is awesome, though it admittedly left me wanting more and somewhat bemoaning the lack of discussion on subtypes etc.. On the crunch-side, as mentioned before the rend-enhancer feat can be problematic and sports very lenient prerequs (Namely, you need a rend attack...that's it.) and it being a combat feat means it's be a no-brainer for characters with ample access to them. I can't help but feel that just doubling the dice rolled feels a bit off. Similarly, the troll maul, as a weapon, is not that interesting. Where this pdf shines, though, is with its great prose, its concise ideas for troll tactics and uses etc. How to rate this, then? Well, what we have here is a rather brief, but sweet ecology that could have used a bit more to reach true greatness. Still, this is a worthwhile addition to your arsenal and well worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lost Lore: Ecology of the Troll
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Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms Player's Guide
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/14/2016 05:12:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The Player's Guide for Frog God Games' massive Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms-book clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover,1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This player's guide is very much interesting in its format - we begin each section with a paragraph of italics, excerpts from the memoires of fabled rogue Titus the Grey, while the main meat of each respective section elaborating on the fluffy bit of text before. Beyond a hex-sporting overview map of the lands, the pdf further elaborates on the diverse ethnicities of the region, with gorgeous b/w-artworks - from the Erskaeloi barbarians to the Ramithi. Travel, both on roads and beyond, is covered as well, with wilderness inns and roadhouses - 7 of them are detailed herein in impressive prose, with quite a few hooks and intriguing tidbits included. Similarly, which patrols to consider benevolent and which...not much better than bandits is explained.


Speaking of bandits and associated villains and scoundrels: Gnolls, orcs and ogres and their roles in the local environments alongside basic information on tribes etc. can be found here. For more civilized regions within these wild lands, a mini-gazetteer of 3 cities and 5 towns/villages are provided - the larger of which sport multiple sites of interest.


The final section of this little book is devoted to the lore, legends and places of mystery in the sundered kingdoms - beyond a brief primer on the cults (alongside a truly astounding piece of b/w-art), the haunted moonfog hills, where the Hyperboreans have been repelled by the wild folk, the ruins of Trevi (again, with a super artwork) and a brief recount of the witches of Southfell conclude this little tour through the Sundered Kingdoms.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked. As always with Frog God Games print-products, we get a glossy cover and thick, high-quality paper. The true star here, though, would be the fantastic art: Artem Shukayev, Felipe Gaona, Brian LeBlanc and Marcin Rudnicki make this very art-heavy book a joy to hand to one's players.


This system-agnostic book pretty much epitomizes a good Player's Guide for me - no SPOILERS, yet a metric ton of intriguing flavor, awesome artwork and basic knowledge that makes these lands come alive from the get-go: Anthony Pryor did a superb job here. My final verdict will clock in at unsurprising 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms Player's Guide
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Lost Lore: Ecology of the Basilisk
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/01/2016 04:00:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Lost Lore-series clocks in on 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 3/4 of a page blank, leaving us with 5 1/4 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Okay, so the first thing I actually noticed (and enjoyed) about this pdf is that it's actually written in character - so yes, the reader is basically diving into the field notes of Lady Daxitroniusilluminarious Jaedall - and know what? I really like the style in which this is presented: Beginning with a brief anecdote, we go on to properly classify the creature within the context of its history and physiological contexts - and yes, the tales do include e.g. the effects of reflective substances and basically applies the scientific method to the study of fantastic creatures - several spells and their roles and interactions during the study of this creature are properly covered, conveying a sense of authenticity to the subject matter I found myself enjoying - this does feel like a scientist properly studying the basilisk.


Similarly, the pdf goes on to explain psychology and societal norms of the basilisk and the respective life cycle, while also providing tips for facing these creatures and a brief list of useful spells. The pdf also contains two spells - one that provides limited protection versus gaze attacks (appropriate at 3rd spell level) and another that lets you telepathically communicate with petrified creatures. The pdf also covers a brief list of useful items to wear when facing off versus these lethal creatures as well as two new magic items.


The first of these items would be a mask that provides immunity versus gaze attacks, while the second is a robe that has a 50% chance of reflecting rays back...and unfortunately, the item is rather opaque: "The wearer is not protected from gaze attacks, but can instead reflect any gaze back upon the original attacker." Okay, HOW? I have no idea. Is this supposed to be automatic? I.e. wearer takes effect, attacker takes effect as well? Only on a failed save or also when making the save? What if the wearer can't see the attacker, but the attacker can see the wearer? Similarly, the reflecting back of rays is odd - it requires a ranged touch attack by the wearer, but I'm not clear whether this requires an action or not - spell turning, for example, does not require an attack, but is more limited. This item...does not work as written.


The pdf also offers a CR 7/MR 3 version of the mythic basilisk that gets a nasty petrification aura - nice. The pdf also provides an 8-level "Bestiary Class" for the basilisk - basically a means to play a basilisk. The class nets d10, 2+Int skills, proficiency with natural weapons, base movement rate 20 ft. and begins play as a small creature, growing to medium-size at 3rd level. To progress in this racial class, a basilisk needs to consume a limited amount of GP per level. The class provides multiple attribute gains and unlocks the petrifying gaze (with a daily limit, increasing uses and range) at 4th level. BAB-progression is full and the class gets good Fort- and Ref-save progression as well as significant bonuses versus trip and bull rush attempts. This is an okay monster class and using basilisk blood to revert petrification represents a nice balancing mechanism once the gaze gets into player-hands.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting generally are very good on a formal level, though I do not understand why the petrification aura of the mythic basilisk, as one example, is bolded. Apart from the one item, the rules-language is precise. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf has a nice piece of b/w-artwork. While a pdf of this length doesn't require them, the absence of bookmarks could potentially annoy you, though I won't penalize a brief pdf like this for their absence.


Jeff Swank's ecology of the basilisk has me torn - on the one hand, I really enjoyed the prose of this supplement - the presentation of the basilisk as contained herein is more than rock-solid and evocative. The advice and inclusion of a mythic version was also nice. Still, at the same time, I couldn't help but feel that the pdf is a bit too short for its own good - what's here is pretty nice, but the pdf feels very constrained in what it offers - the basilisk-class, for example, while pretty well-balanced, feels a bit more tedious than it could be: I get the linear gaze progression, but why doesn't the player get any say when to get the attribute bonuses? As presented, it's 8 levels sans any player agenda, sans any choice. Boring. Secondly, the class requires you to look up basilisk natural attacks, since it does not provide the information for it...which kinda sucks. It's no deal-breaker, but neither is it comfortable. Thirdly, I was really missing an age, height and weight-table, particularly considering the size-increase: If you do play a basilisk...can he cross that rickety bridge sans it collapsing? Tables would have really helped there.


That being said, this is not a bad supplement and certainly, the well-written prose helps elevate this pdf to being a solid read. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 since this is the first such ecology-style book in the Lost Lore-series.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lost Lore: Ecology of the Basilisk
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Lost Lore: Town of Glory
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/16/2016 04:55:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This little supplement clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so what is this?


Well, know how I love kingdom-building and consider Ultimate Campaign and they expansions released by Legendary Games pretty much one of the most awesome things ever? If you've been following my reviews, then this will come as no surprise. What may come as a surprise, though, is that I think that the kingdom-building-rules don't work perfectly in the highest and lowest echelons - as recently commented on the boards, I'm waiting for a supplement to add the mythic element to kingdom building at the high end of things. Similarly, at the low end of things, their expanded scope may surpass and overshoot their target by a bit - and this is pretty much where this book comes in: Town-building instead of kingdom building, intended primarily for characters level 1 - 8.


The cleverness of this pdf is pretty much readily apparent from the get-go - the sample town would be called glory and the pdf even sports a little box that awards stewardship over the town - and it is said town that features in the illustrating examples throughout this pdf. Towns have statistics: population, Food, Goods, Trade and Defense...oh, and the presence of skilled NPCs actually influences how a town fares, with an extensive list depicting for example the option of what you can do when you have a scholar on site. Similarly, a variety of spells and their actual uses for the town are detailed - nice to see such attention to detail here as well.


The math is rather simple and so is the system: Each week that passes represents a town turn, during which each player can make one standard town action. NPCs not assigned to buildings may construct buildings. NPCs may improve skills and population may fluctuate. Similarly, NPCs can be allocated to buildings to render them active for the following week.


In order to build a building, you consult its entry - prerequisite buildings and characters need to be fulfilled to construct it and not all characters can construct it, though once it has been completed these requirements can be ignored. Build points carry over between towns and the higher the skill involved in creation, the faster the building will be completed. Building-bonuses stack unless otherwise noted.


The town standard actions are diverse and you can also trade one in for 6 town swift actions; standard actions include, but are not limited to, leading NPCs, recovering from damage, operating buildings - the like. Swift town actions cover potion brewing, gathering information and similar, quicker tasks...and yes, helpful feats are discussed as well, as are free town actions like buying/selling, spellcasting and regular interaction. NPCs are not mindless, though, so certain shortcomings may influence their build priorities. Promoting unskilled laborers to skilled specialists is also covered. There is also a town growth check - a d20 with various modifiers that take death (and lack thereof) as well as resources into account - the higher you get, the better the benefits reaped.


The pdf also sports a simple, quick system for resolving how well the town fares against attacks: Enemy XP are tallied and divided by 100, rounded down - this is the Defense DC. To defend the town, roll 1d20, add defense and bonuses for unassigned soldiers - simple, easy to grasp and still leaves space for the PCs dealing with the bosses of the enemies. (We have to take the big guy down, if his value is added, the town will NOT prevail!)


Buildings are generally categorized in basic, intermediary and advanced buildings with correspondingly higher prerequisites and benefits. There is a slightly confusing type here, which produces two "town halls"-entries, one of which (the basic building) should clearly be "town walls." Other than that, the building-array presented is surprisingly concise.


The pdf also sports 4 spells, mostly object/tool-related as well as 4 brief, solid feats, which, while not brilliant, all work.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch - apart from the one unfortunate glitch mentioned above, I noticed nothing glaring. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes without interior artwork, but needs none. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Russell Brown's town of glory is, in one word, as glorious as the title: Taking a cue from the genius downtime-system of Ultimate Campaign, this works in pretty much perfect conjunction with kingdom building at a lower level, though arguably, the system as presented here is perhaps even more streamlined. It's quick, easy to grasp and yet detailed...and it allows for what I really wanted for quite a while: Effortless low-level stewardship with a more pronounced emphasis on the human element - the importance of specialists means that the death of such characters will resonate more...oh, and yes, this works perfectly in conjunction with PFRPG's regular village statblocks, so feel free to start converting e.g. Raging Swan Press' vast catalog of excellent sample villages.


Presentation is concise and detailed and if there is one thing I regret about this pdf, then it's the size - I sincerely hope to see an expansion at some point...and since this is Frog God Games we're talking about: A low-level campaign detailing PCs acting as stewards for such a town would imho make for a pretty legendary experience - there are no modules out there with precisely such a focus apart from "PCs kill threats to town" - PCs kill threats and build town/get attached to NPCs/preferably with a good NPC-dressing generator for specialists? Never seen that done for PFRPG. I really want to play this, particularly in the grim Lost Lands! Pretty please? makes gooey eyes


This pdf surprised me with its elegance, panache and style - in spite of the somewhat unfortunate Hall/Wall-hiccup, this is well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lost Lore: Town of Glory
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Lost Lore: Horses of the Wild
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/15/2016 07:14:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Lost Lore-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content!


Okay, so I wanted to start this review with a Richard III-quote...but alas, the pdf already did that. What does it sport? Well, for one, it sports basic light horse stats...and 5 variants of light horses, specifically bred for different tasks and with mechanically-relevant repercussions. The heavy horse receives a similar treatment, mind you - and a horse can make all the difference: A steed of proper pedigree can help you dealing with nobility and certain breeds can make the difference between life and death, with excellent swimming capabilities, for example. The problem here is that these bonuses are pretty excessive...a bit too much, for my liking: E.g. +5 to Diplomacy when interacting with nobility is pretty hefty. (Though it should be noted that there are quite a bunch of horses herein that do not suffer from such an issue...)


5 sensible new animal handling tricks, including the much demanded Stealth-trick can be found in this book and we also get an array of feats: No more mounted archery penalties, intimidating from horse-back, better trampling, a mounted variant of spring attack and a high-level option to perform two-handed spirited charges are provided - the latter is pretty much insane: Not only can you dual-lance (ridiculous though that may sound), you add the damage together for purposes of DR-bypassing etc. Urgh. Not gonna get anywhere near my table.


Where things get more interesting would be with two other feats for your mount: Sufficiently smart awakened mounts may learn to cast a limited array of spells from the master's list of spells, but only targeting itself. On a nitpicky side - that should be SPs...or the feats would need information on which key attribute governs the spells, that of the rider or that of the mount.


Now even more interesting, and possibly the most interesting component here: There is an option to take equestrian animal companions with specific bloodlines. To receive such a mount, the rider must give up a feat slot to gain a horse-bond - but the mount thus receives a bloodline, complete with associated class skills, bonus feats, bloodline arcane and bloodline powers that are governed by your level. Equidae Sortarius, for example can hide their auras and are great mounts for more subtle characters. Primal Beasts can grow as a capstone and are true powerhouses, while thunderhorses can unleash electrical bolts and blasts - come sing it with me: "Riders of the Storm..." >>....<<...Sorry for that.


We also get a sample bloodlined horse and 3 types of magical barding: One associated with light (including 1/day daylight) as well as animated octopus hide that can Snatch Arrows and pass the missiles to the rider. Finally, there is the obligatory pegasus wing-item. Solid, if a bit unremarkable. The pdf lists the types of standard barding's stats for your convenience.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, i noticed no issues there. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' 2-column full-color standard for the series. The pdf sports nice b/w-artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a slight comfort detriment at this brief length.


Rob Manning's little pdf proved to be more interesting than I thought it would be - while the bonuses some horse types grant you seem a bit excessive to me and while not all feats are as precise as I'd like them to be, the idea of feats for awakened horses is great...and magical bloodlines for horses? Now that is an awesome concept I'd love to see expanded in the future. Particularly if the latter interests, you, then this will be worth its low asking price. That being said, with its rough edges, I unfortunately can't go higher than 4 stars, though I do recommend you checking it out if the subject matter and ideas interest you.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lost Lore: Horses of the Wild
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Lost Lore: The Portalist
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/15/2016 07:13:21

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This supplement of Frog God Games' Lost Lore-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!


What is the portalist? The simple reply would be that it is a new base-class that gets d10, full BAB-progression, 4+Int mod skills per level, good Ref-saves, proficiency with simple and light as well as single-handed martial weapons and light armor, but not shields. Portalists receive +1 to initiative at 1st level, increasing this bonus by +1 at 7th level and ever 4 levels thereafter, but their signature trick, obvious, is the eponymous ability to create portals.


A portalist may create one such portal +Int-mod per day at 1st level, +1 every level until 5th, where the progression slows down to +1 every odd level thereafter for a maximum of 12 portals per day at 19th level. In order to create a portal, a portalist has to expend a swift action and designate a start and an exit point, with the start point being either his square or one adjacent to him and the exit square not being more than 25 ft + 5 ft/2 levels away. Portalists need to have line of sight to the exit square and the exit square must not be occupied - if it is, the attempt is expended and fails, though the ability does work against tiny and smaller creatures. Portals collapse immediately upon passing through or at the end of the portalist's turn and may only be used by the portalist that created them. Portals are loud and easy to detect, so no silent infiltration...which is a pity, concept-wise. This, alas, does leave me with some questions: Can you look through a portal to get line of sight? Can you cast through a portal when you have an action readied? Is a portal a Conjuration [teleportation]-effect? It should be. If so, at what CL? This becomes relevant for means of teleportation-suppression. Do you need a free hand to make a portal? The proficiencies suggest so, But I'm not sure.


Starting at 2nd level, the portalist learns a portalist trick - basically, the talents of the class utilized to manipulate the portals and, unfortunately, here, the wording falls a bit apart: Take Ally Portal. It's simple in concept: Take an ally with you through the portal. "A portalist may pull a single willing adjacent ally of the same size or smaller through his portal so the two of them travel together. The Portalist and his ally must exit the portal in separate but adjacent squares. Using an ally portal only expends a single portal." Simple, right? Nope. Does the ally have to expend the movement? If not, why not? Does the ally have to ready the move through the portal? No idea. At 2 uses of another ability, a portalist may, as a full-round action, create a portal, move through it, attack, and return to his origin and similar combinations with charge attacks and the like are possible. Another issue that came almost immediately up would pertain the portal combinations: Can multiple such special portal tricks be applied to the same portal? Could you e.g. combine aforementioned two tricks?


On the other side of things, making portals elemental blasts upon opening and immediate action evasion or ignoring the line of sight requirement for the exit portal are interesting options - as is e.g. a spider climb-style perching on ceilings and the like. The other abilities of the class, unfortunately, also sport some minor inconsistencies - when e.g. an ability talks about "rough" terrain and obviously means "difficult terrain." Combining attacks and portals receives circumstance bonuses at 7th level and every 4 levels thereafter and 10th level provides basically the advanced portal tricks, so-called arch portals - and here we have per se interesting mechanics: Like accelerating in the initiative order past an opponent adjacent to which the portalist came out or contingency portals. The capstone of the class allows for one portal per foe in range of his ability and basically whirlwind attack at range 1/day.


The pdf provides 10 new feats that cover extra portals and similar basics, but also feature e.g. the option to combine readied actions with portals, +1 portal per successful crit after exiting a portal (kitten-proof due to 1:1 expenditure/reward-ratio) or an option to eliminate the place-swapping trick of transposition portal's AoO. There are also some rather weak filler feats here, though: +2 dodge bonus after porting (+4 at 10+ ranks in Acrobatics)? Yeah, right, let me waste a feat on that one...


The pdf also sports new favored class options for the core-races and a new skill use for Acrobatics: Porting onto big monsters - and this section, with plenty of skill modifiers, may be worth the pdf's low asking price alone for you. The pdf also sports a new weapon special quality, portallic - this is basically a duplication of flaming, frost...etc. - with one caveat: Each may only be used once per day and only after passing a portal. The Rod of the Portalist allows for 1/day use of any portalist trick, whether the wielder knows it or not.


The pdf closes with no less than 4 pretty inspired fluff-only sample portalist-organizations on a evocative high note.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting on a formal level are very good. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard with parchment-style background in full-color featuring solid b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Michael Kortes' portalist is a pretty awesome class in concept; thinking with portals and the ramifications for their use make for utterly unique tactical options and generally, the crunch manages to juggle even complex concepts rather well. Rather well, but certainly not perfectly - from minor violations of rules-language to some required information missing regarding the functionality of portals, this pdf, alas, is an exercise of "almost" getting it right. Basically, the class is functional, but requires some minor DM-judgments to properly work. That's not the issue - as provided, it is certainly not bad. However, the class, to me, feels pretty much like it does its best to miss its own target demographic.


So, you're the cool portalist guy, pretty MAD (Str, Con, Int or Dex, Con, Int), but you have the portals...and can use them, at 19th level 12+Int-mod times per day. At first level, 1 +Int-mod times. Yay? The problem is that almost all class features here are predicated on using a resource that is not only severely limited, it is painfully limited. My playtest confirmed this, alas. Once you take the crit refuel-feat and combine it with crit-fishing, you can maintain (provided you're lucky) a certain array of portals, but you'll still liable to run out of juice very fast - faster than comparable core classes. And once you run out of fuel, you're basically a fighter without bonus feats or proper proficiencies. Yay?


Basically, the class imho needs to do one of two things: 1) Nerf portal options and provide more portals per day to make the full BAB-chassis work. Or 2), make the class 3/4 BAB and provide significantly more portals per day. As written, the class plays great for short bursts and then becomes pretty much useless - and this criticism by the guy who is a huge fan of resource-management/attrition in my games and designs...so yes, I like that design-type, but it must remain feasible. Ultimately, the portalist has all the makings of an awesome class, but stumbles pretty hard and ends up being a good scavenging ground/base from which you can work, but needs more power to make its unique concepts work consistently. My final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Lost Lore: The Portalist
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The Lost Lands: Stoneheart Valley Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/09/2016 05:08:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive collection of modules clocks in at 192 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 11 pages of advertisements, leaving us with 177 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This pdf kicks in with a blast from the past for me - a discussion on the upcoming Lost Lands setting and how different places in the world implied by all Necromancer Games/Frog God Games modules and supplements. If you're like me, this is damn interesting...but let me go back for a second.


When 3rd edition came around back in the day, I was kind of skeptical - but then again, after seeing the very real limitations rules-light systems can sport at one given point, I converted - also due to my players simply enjoying reaping the benefits of system mastery. So I went into the new system, bought books etc. - the whole deal. That is when I realized that balance was terrible and fluctuating - if you've been there during the "Sword and Fist"-era, you'll know what I mean. At the same time, I got modules and while there were some fine gems, WotC just didn't produce enough - and while I will never forget how my PCs defeated Ashardalon (upgraded to CR 38, epic etc.), most, but not all of the new school modules left me craving something, feeling like something had been lost in the process. It took me quite some time back in the day to grasp what the problem was - in the advent of massive statblocks, the things that provided the immersion into the world took a step back. In its place came very straight: "This is treated as spell x" descriptions that made the whole system more concise. Additionally, bestiaries went away from complex discussions on habitat, ecology, etc., instead providing almost only crunch, rendering books I used to love to read into something I read once and then used at the table - but never read for pleasure.


The increased size of statblocks also rendered modules simply less detailed - less space to devote to the respective areas and inhabitants, their tactics etc. While this changed over the course of 3.X and in PFRPG is less of a problem, mainly due to a vast array of superb modules, in 3.X's days, it made me feel as if the system was superb in its math, but also soulless. Then there was the issue with player-entitlement, which also became a problem during those days - or rather, the slavish adherence to CRs and a "balanced chance" in every encounter felt to me unrealistic and soulless - it detracted immensely from my sense of immersion.


On the plus-side, the OGL provided a whole bunch of interesting 3pps, so I was browsing shelves in my FLGS. I noticed two old-school looking modules there - "Crucible of Freya" and "Tomb of Abysthor." I bought them. I read them. I cackled with glee. Here we got modules that had line-of-sight-featuring maps of guard-fires, great cartography - and the balls to throw a CR 6 troll at a 1st level party, proudly, defiantly against the zeitgeist, stating that PCs acting dumb ought to result in death. This very philosophy of proper challenges and smart, detailed surroundings was glorious. Better yet, the modules were not afraid of not codifying everything - providing unique terrain hazards, additional encounters (heck, in ToA the PCs can avoid a whole level if they don't want to explore everything!). A couple of years later, I had almost everything Necromancer Games had produced and ordered every book I could get my hands on.


Then, PFRPG happened and I was complaining about Slumbering Tsar, about how much I wanted to see it and had graduated from forum-lurker to reviewer. The rest is history.


Here, for the first time, the free introductory module Wizard's Amulet, Crucible of Freya and Tomb of Abysthor are collected in one massive book, all updated for PFRPG. (And that's damn well and good, for ToA, for example, was nigh impossible to get anymore!) Furthermore, while the original modules utilized various pieces of content from the Scarred Lands Creature Collection-books and the Relics & Rituals-tomes, this revamp sports completely new takes on the respective topics, without these old pieces of content. And yes, this does extend to a point where the crunch can influence the fluff and actually, rather than restrict the narrative capacities of the module in question - see for example th "sorceror's amulet"-sidebar. Better yet, some of the more significant encounters actually come with different tactical suggestions and conditions based on the difficulty level you're aiming for, making this book worthwhile even for less experienced players. (Though people, when you go for FGG, you might as well go hardcore - it's what makes winning awesome.)


Additionally, it should be noted that this is no lazy repackaging - new encounters, mapped mini-dungeons, copious amounts of superb b/w-artworks - there's a lot of new material and the inclusion of e.g. the APG-classes in builds does result in a very organic, defiantly pathfinder change of the basic modules. What about a misanthropic druid who has developed a wand to control stirges, for example, with a hilarious picture of the poor guy being annoyed by the bloodsucking pests. Ruined waystations and monasteries breathe a significant sense of danger and desolation.


And yes, the CR20+ slightly cthulhoid adversary of ToA, who belonged to a now IP-protected species has been replaced with a rather cool multi-class build...of what race? No, not going to spoil that...


On the crunch-side, the book does sport new takes on archetypes and prestige classes for the foes, numerous magic items and a variety of non-standard creatures to be encountered within these pages.


What is this module about? I'm not spoiling that. This is a piece of roleplaying history that one should experience for oneself. Just one hint: Beware the font and its endless skeletons...


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-artworks herein are glorious, especially the new ones; some original artworks have been used as well. The cartography is neat as well, I just wished we had player-friendly versions for them.


I'll make this short - Bill Webb and Clark Perterson are legends for a reason. But Erica Balsley, Greg A. Vaughan and Skeeter Green as contributing authors should be proud as well. Developers Skeeter Green and Ken Cliffe have taken this collection and made it more than the sum of its parts, rendering this book more than the sum of its parts.


This is a defiantly old-school mega-adventure, a mini-setting-sourcebook and enough adventure material to provide enjoyment for quite a while. Finally, if your players think they're hard - back when I ran Ravenloft campaigns, I played these modules with the following stipulations:


-all damage-dealing magic causes madness checks


-max one starting piece of magical equipment


-+ DR 10/special material or DR 20/special material to all supernatural adversaries, with special materials to be determined by research


...and much more. Yes, a lot of PCs died. They still talk about the experience with a gleam in their eyes and when PC upon PC sacrificed himself to buy some time in my modified finale...well, let's just say that this was simply glorious. If you're interested in that, drop me a line.


Back to the review: I have not SPOILER-tagged the module for a reason - this is less about the story, more about the atmosphere. About the feeling of this massive book. About the freedom, the non-linearity, the sense of danger and a world that has turned forward, a feeling that what little civilization is there, it's in danger. This is a document of roleplaying game history, carefully and respectfully refreshed to the PFRPG-rules and one of the books that should grace the shelves of all PFRPG-DMs -beyond being a great old-school module, this constitutes the best iteration of the material so far, both in production values and builds. That being said, Frog God Games has since back in the day raised the bar by quite a bit, so while this module is still great and awesome, it has aged a bit when compared to some of the glorious modules FGG has produced in the meanwhile. And if your group has played the original modules, this may be the better version, but for me, personally, I wouldn't play this massive array again and instead use the new content as supplemental wilderness encounters. What I'm trying to say is - if you already have the originals, this is optional, not mandatory. If you don't have them, though - this is literally roleplaying game history.


My final verdict will still clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval - this is a book that every group that liked old-school should have played at least once.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Lost Lands: Stoneheart Valley Pathfinder Edition
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Quests of Doom Complete Pathfinder Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/08/2016 05:50:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive book clocks in at 312 pages, not including the covers. Of these pages, 1 is reserved for notes, 1 for the editorial, 1 for the ToC and two for the SRD, leaving us with o less than 307 pages of content, so let's take a look!


But before we dive into the matter at hand, let us first define what this book actually is - a kind of celebration of a series that was nicked in its bloom due to various reasons - I'm, of course, talking about "Demons & Devils" and "Vampires & Liches", the two module compilations released back in the day by Necromancer Games for 3:X. In case you haven't been around back then to check them out, the premise was simple: Provide old-school modules that are HARD. Not regular FGG-level hard, but...well, nasty. Diabolical. Obviously, I was all for this and coincidentally, "Demons & Devils" was one of the first three books by NG I purchased back in the day at my local FLGS.


The others were "Tomb of Abysthor" and "Crucible of Freya", but I've reminisced long enough about them in my review of their re-release/expansion, Stoneheart Valley. The series never was as popular as the more prominent NG-offerings and thus, only those two installments were made - much to my chagrin. Why? Because they were eye-openers for me. While the other books I purchased were great and have become legends in my group, there are few modules my players talk about more than those contained in these humble pages - which is due to a variety of factors. For one, they are pretty logical, as far as old-school gaming is concerned. Beyond that, they are challenging and dare to ask for brains - whether it's puzzles or simply traps that cannot be easily disarmed by a roll of the bones, their philosophy was different and simply FUN. (Well, I may have made them even more deadly for my main campaign, yes, but that's another story...)


I was at the same time exhilarated and dreaded the arrival of this book - I knew that there were more modules planned that never saw the light of day, but would they live up to the legend of their predecessors? Would the new versions work?


Before I present the modules, let me share some observations with you: For one, fans of FGG's Lost Lands will cherish suggestions of where to place the modules in the context of the campaign world. Beyond that, the modules sport copious new artworks of rather neat quality, so there's that. At the same time, I think one can pretty easily discern the modules that hearken back to the Necromancer Games-era. I may, obviously, be mistaken and only goaded on by some minor relics that refer to NG instead of FGG, but I believe that a certain sense of growth can be seen by quite some authors herein. The conversion-work, generally, is pretty good - when e.g. vehicles are included and ACG-rules are used here and there, one can see that not only the bare minimum was done. At the same time, I do believe that the conversion could have done a slightly better job in some instances, but let's talk about this when it does rear its head.


The modules are grouped by 3s, with each segment having a certain creature-theme. It should also be noted that the modules do sport less hand-holding than many contemporary modules - experienced GMs are definitely going to have an easier time here, with so modules being more challenging (but also more rewarding) than others.


Well, let's not dilly-dally any longer and take a look!


This being a review of a massive adventure compilation, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, still here? Great!


The first module herein would be J. Collura's "Noble Rot", intended for levels 5 -8. In this module, the PCs explore the dilapidated, decayed wine-making operation of the erstwhile prolific Gluant family, hoping to loot some of their exquisite wines. From a significant array of rumors, one can already piece together some intriguing notes about the family - and indeed, the exploration of their dread grounds proves to be a most exciting task - with the undead roaming and a sense of decay pervading the grounds, one can quickly glean that not all is well: Indeed, the family has fallen to the power-struggle of two dread demon lords associated with fungi and slime and thus, the exploration proves to be somewhat icky. Highlights of this module include definitely the author's obviously well-done research that makes the place feel organic and realistic, the new wine slime, wine-making-themed hazards (which benefit quite a bit from the GM doing a quick research for them - I found depicting them easier thereafter) and two particularly challenging encounters - the final battle and the penultimate one both are nasty and reward smart players for drawing the right conclusions in a way more often seen in CoC-pulp-modules than in fantasy - nice! It should also be noted that the titular Noble Rot, based on the real world fungus Boytris Cinerea, can be contracted as a symbiotic fungus that actually acts as a bonus and which allows the GM to help in case of abysmal PC luck. While I believe this is better suited at 5th level than 8th, this module is a strong opener that definitely deserves accolades for the consistent and tight atmosphere evoked.


"Of Ants and Men", for PCs level 4 - 8, is written by Bill Webb. Do I really need to say more? All right, the short version is that the master of Frog God Games delivers by the spades in one of the most simple, yet unique and challenging crawls I've read in quite some time. The premise is simple: Get Giant Ant eggs out of the hive. Easy, right? WRONG. For one, as the dead adventurers attest, there are more issues looming - and the hive is interesting. Instead of devising a convoluted mechanic to depict the hive, we instead get different alarm-statuses for the hive and an easy means of determining initiated aggression upon intruders - essentially, PCs can be sprayed with pheromones by engaging in combat - this results in "aggroing" the hive. Conversely, smart groups that infiltrate the place, steer clear of the warriors etc. may actually make their way to the intelligent queen of the hive - where they may conduct negotiations via pantomime with the mistress of the place. Following the notion of a Gygaxian simulationist world, incursions into the hive by other creatures provide opportunities for the PCs to be sprayed with "friendly" pheromones, facilitating their infiltration. Oh, and AoE-effect can crumble the tunnels. Cave-ins are NOT fun, so your PCs better be smart. As a nice twist a GM may include or leave out, the hive has burrowed into an antediluvian complex, where extremely deadly traps await alongside a mundane blade made from magic-nulling material - obviously, escaping with this nasty, priceless weapon can be rather tough...and may lead to very intriguing further capers. I LOVED this module - it's unconventional, fun, rewards clever players and could be played as a war of attrition, an infiltration of just a hack-n-slay-type of module. Glorious!


Speaking of which - what's better than a module by Bill Webb? What about one where Matt Finch co-authors the thing? "Hidden Oasis - Temple of Thoth", intended for levels 7 - 9 is ridiculously awesome: When a mysterious stranger, a djinn in disguise, offers knowledge in exchange for a task and produces a strange papyrus scroll with symbols, we kick things into high gear - for the PCs leave their bodies for the plane of shadows, where the equivalent of a Star Gate can be activated with the runes handed to them, bringing them to a kind of odd demi-plane-ish Oasis. Here, an exploration of the ruins and surroundings does show that something has befallen the mysterious planar nexus that is the temple of Thoth. Clever research may also help here, for indeed, the sealed temple that can be accessed via another gate here has been infected with the Waxen plague, a dread affliction that either kills those subjected or turns them into gelatinous cubes - but thankfully, the high-priest is still around, holding the fort. Surely, the PCs can help him...oh wait.


The spiteful djinn may have forgotten to mention that the high-priest is a huge, intelligent transparent slug with a humanoid brain in the torso. Yep, that's the good guy. Oh, and he can control the priests-turned-cubes, in case you're wondering. Exploring the temple can net the PCs access to some teleportals, but that's not the problem - the temple is about to be compromised by a dread force of Planeshoppers. What are these guys? Pretty deadly, locust-like conquerors that seek a waypoint into the PC's world! Worse, they are about to come full force and the synergy effects of their castes render them formidable foes. In fact, their builds are significantly more interesting than I've come to expect from FGG - they are deadly and use some very advanced tricks I really like. With lethal psychic shokwaves predating the invasion, the PCs do not have much time - but there is one ace in the hole: The Scorpion of Sekhmet. If the PCs have been smart, they'll have found some mysterious power-sources - which the can use to power a gigantic SCORPION-MECH, Power Rangers-style. I.e. multiple PCs have to pilot this bad boy, with actions eating at the power source, movement and turning adhering to concise and easily understood rules...oh, and tail-laser. This is absolutely awesome in so many ways - can you remember when you last fought alongside a giant transparent slug-priest and his gelatinous cube henchmen in a giant scorpion-mech against massive, deadly and evil insectoid invaders hell-bent on subjugating your world? Thought so! This is one of the best modules herein and absolutely glorious!


Demons and Devils are next, all penned by the legendary duo of Clark Peterson and Bill Webb. The "Sorceror's Citadel"(suggested level: 9) is pretty much a straight-forward dungeon-crawl into the abode of a wizard named Crane, known for his mastery of a sphere of annihilation and subsequently eliminated in battle against foes most vile - and infiltrating the place is challenging - the use of magic in particular, with clever illusions etc., renders this a classic challenge.


"Ra's Evil Grin," so named due to the puzzle required to enter the meat of the module, also provides a quest for an artifact, this time, for the Globe of Arden - but to reach it, the PCs will have to brave a dungeon that has one of the nastiest traps in FGG-history (Yes, on par with the legendary entry to Rappan Athuk) and yes, the maze and foes are intriguing. If you're looking for something different: I ran this as a solo-module back in my old campaign (only suggested if you're really sadistic and your players know that death awaits...) and made the whole dungeon times, making the mummy priest and immortal, regenerating badass that hunted the poor PC through the dungeon. And yes, my PC solo'd the demon at the end in an extremely close encounter, but still. That being said, most GROUPS probably will have a VERY hard time surviving this beauty - one of the classics and so sweet indeed... I just wished the web-enhancement of the journey to the island had been included and updated herein.


The third module herein would be my least favorite among the old modules from "Demons & Devils" - it is essentially a two-parter, with the first one centering on a paladin getting a holy avenger. Thereafter the dread deceit of the demons becomes apparent, as the blade corrupts the champion - the true blade still lies hidden and, in the end, one has to be chosen. I'm not a fan of alignment and even less s a fan of forced alignment changes, so while not bad or necessarily problematic, I always considered plots like this to be something of a cheap shot. Rules for lesser versions of the classic demons have btw. been included in the deal here.


Okay, the next triumvirate would be "Giants & Dragons", which kicks off with Michael Curtis' "The Dead from Above," intended for levels 10 - 13. And oh boy, does it kick off! SPLINTER!!! CRASH! FIRE!!! DEATH!!! Undead giants fall on the town and lurch to life, while a dragon skeleton swoops through the air and a gigantic building fashioned from titanic bones hangs in the sky. Defeating the initial onslaught, PCs can actually RIDE the skeletal dragon (!!!) up to the fortress and bring the fight to the nasty giants - who have fused one of their kind with the flying fortress, dooming the pilot to a body-horror-level nasty existence. Taking down the giant's flying fortress and crashing its soul-consuming engines is absolutely AWESOME. This is unrepentant in its glorious ideas, with truly deadly adversaries and a set-up that will leave any metal-head (or boy...or gamer, really...) squeeing. Come on. You ride a skeletal dragon to a fortress in the sky to do battle with necromancer-giants. This does everything right that "Curse of the Riven Sky" did wrong -it embraces its over-the-top OMG-what-is-happening-premise, has glorious terrain and even means for social manipulation...oh, and, of course a reason why PCs (probably) shouldn't keep the fortress. AWESOME!


Where the above module was pretty much straight action, James M. Ward's Dead Dragon temple, for PCs level 6 - 8, instead opts for portraying the majestic - at the side of one of the most difficult to scale mountains I've ever seen represented in a module, lies a dragon-shaped temple, wherein the spirits of dead dragons roam as haunts, while hostile adventurers and lizardfolk cater to their whims - fulfilling the desires of the reptiles can lead to different rewards and sidetreks, should you so choose, and the temple does contain a unique, good white dragon as well as a means to defeating a truly deadly menace - for the PCs venture inside to become dragons to stop an ancient blue dragon from destroying more settlements. The final draconic dogfight is a joy, but only if your GM-prowess is at expert level: Handling a group of dragons in the air is difficult and I'd strongly suggest getting the legendary "Companions of the Firmament"-supplement for the rules on 3d-combats, turning, etc. - with them, this is a huge blast. Without them, you'll have to be pretty adept.


The third module is penned by industry-legend Ed Greenwood and it does show: "Emeralds of Highfang", suggested for 15th - 17th level, is a difficult module, themed, obviously, around giants and dragons. While the hooks are somewhat lame, exploring the complex, where giants mine at the behest of a deadly dragon, who uncharacteristically is more of an underground merchant, can actually be rather exciting. On the plus-side, Ed Greenwood's attention to detail is superb and the respective areas do feel alive and intriguing. At the same time, I do feel that this module does fall a bit flat of its premise, which supposedly is to provide enough for rogues to do and for smart groups to do via stealth - at the suggested levels, the PCs, at least mine, will curb-stomp the hell out of all opposition herein but the final dragon. On a nitpicky note - a rather cool trap unleashes 240 Stirges - which are utterly impotent against PCs of this level. Why not utilize the troop-subtype (or a variant swarm) and make this a challenging encounter, instead of an annoying one? Generally, a solid module, but short of the previous ones.


Lycanthropes and Elementals would be up next, starting with Steve Winter's "Bad Moon Rising" for PCs level 6 - 8. If the title was not ample clue - set in the Barony of Loup-Montagne, the superstitious locals, wolves in the woods and similar set-ups make one thing clear: We're in gothic horror country here -this module could have been run in Ravenloft with only minor changes. The plotline, which includes sufficient red herrings, a bid for succession and a potentially doomed family, hits all the classic notes - for better and for worse. The module itself is pretty sandboxy and thus requires some GM chops, though admittedly, not too many. The twist itself, the culprit, was something my PCs saw coming in spite of the various red herrings - perhaps due to years of Ravenloft-experience. It's a solid version of a classic story-not more, not less. I got the most mileage out of this by combining it with Raging Swan Press' Wolfsbane Hollow, combining both plotlines into something less obvious, while retaining thematic integrity.


Skip William's "Death in Dyrgalas" is a pretty straightforward dungeon-exploration of a ruined pavilion, which does not specify its intended level - from the CRs, I'd suggest something along the lines of level 5 - 8, depending on your PC's power. The exploration itself pits the PCs versus wererats and weretigers and a highlight definitely is the interaction with a medusa. The module's appeal mostly stems from the interesting surroundings - other than that, this is solid, if somewhat unremarkable.


Michael Curtis' next module would be "The Darkening of Namjan Forest" for PCs level 6 - 8. Said forest is slowly, but surely becoming coterminous with the Plane of Shadows and to stop this, the PCs have to find and disable a dangerous artifact within the depths of this forest. The hexed map of the forest allows for an easy tracking of the progress of the darkening and the continuously draining effects of the darkening provided serves as an intriguing backdrop with rules-relevant repercussions. Via special quartz, the PCs may get themselves an edge versus the predominantly draining creatures herein - there are A LOT of shadows and similar creatures in this module, so depending on your PC's preparation and classes, the difficulty of this module may fluctuate somewhat. I really enjoyed the general premise and set-up of this one, the impending doom and the continuous representation of the ticking of the clock provided by the encroaching darkness. However, alas, there are some issues among the details herein - from sensory-deprivation tanks and similar magical apparatuses, there are quite some unique benefits to be gained here - and their rules-language is horribly opaque, rendering them VERY over-powered. I strongly urge a GM to take care before allowing the PCs to utilize these. In fact, I think they should be nerfed and/or replaced. This, though, constitutes the most negative thing about this module - the new creatures and the adversary are interesting and, in the hands of a GM willing to sand off the rough edges, this definitely is a very fun experience.


The next three modules have the theme of Men & Monstrosities, with James M. Ward's "Deep in the Vale" as a 1st level module being the first. The set-up is interesting in a way - the PCs are plain folks of the Vale, everyday people, and the module begins promising, with the Thor-ordained sporty trek around the vale that inevitably results in trouble. The module, obviously, tries to chronicle the step from everyday-Joe/Jane to hero and the tidbits on culture provided are intriguing. But this, as much as I'm loathe to say it, is one of the worst modules FGG has ever released. If I didn't know any better, I wouldn't expect Mr. Ward's pen at work here. Let me elaborate: The premise, is unique and hasn't been done much recently, but it suffers from this being an adventure - to properly invest the players in the setting a closer gazetteer, nomenclature, suggested roles and origins for casting talent - all of that should have been covered. They're not. Worse, everything here is a) clichéd and b) a non-threat in the great whole of things.


You see, there are essentially two catchers - a DM-PC, the horribly-named elf Smaragdus and if things get too heated, there's a wizard who can fireball everything to smithereens. I.e., the PCs and all their struggles essentially boil down to those two pricks not getting the job done/being lazy - it's the old issue of the Forgotten Realms, where some areas just had too many high-level NPCs for the PCs to matter. "Elminster is not available, please class later." Worse, the wizard herein does not have Elminster's realms-spanning responsibilities, so he has no reason not to ge his grip together and totter with the PCs to the woods. The adversaries are also horribly trite - wolves, goblins, orcs, giant spiders. And yes, the orcs come with an ogre. Only the shadow is missing from the clichés of boring low-level foes. We have a kidnapped damsel that is so obvious, I only expected the Timmy-character to show up next. Beyond that, the module falls prey to hackneyed logic - why does prodding the giant spider nets not endanger the folk outside?


Shouldn't heroes NOT endanger commoners? Why do the responses of the goblins, which look like taken from a choose-your-adventure-novel, make no concise sense from the goblin's perspective? Why does the non-read-aloud text AND the read-aloud text TELL the players what exactly they're doing if they choose A)? This is railroady, inconsistent, mechanically-boring and the only positive thing I can say about it, is that the few cultural tidbits are halfway decent. This looks like a "First module you run, ever, as a DM"-type of module, but for that, it's too opaque and does not do a good enough job challenging all players and making them feel important - only the strongest PC, the Blacksmith, truly has any connection. Fun fact: Strength has, counter-intuitively, NOTHING to do with being a blacksmith in rules - Craft would be the skill, so strong PCs sans the skill make NO SENSE for that. This module is a sore spot in the whole anthology - it does not fit the premise, fails as gazetteer, module AND introduction for novice GMs. It's horrible and drags the whole book down a small notch and I can't fathom how it got included herein.


Thankfully, Casey W. Christofferson and Scott Greene's "Irtep's Dish," for characters level 6 - 8, is a return to full-blown, awesome form - and I mean AWESOME, as in, glorious- situated in a city (Bard's Gate in the Lost Lands), this begins with an investigation of an eccentric wizard gone missing - a wizard who was not only smart, he also had a gambling issue. In an interesting blend of fantasy and noir tropes, investigating his former lover, colleagues and debtors can unearth pretty soon that there are ample people looking for the man - and not all are honest regarding their intentions, with a horrible curse being subtly and cleverly used for the wizard's downfall. Via this investigation, which brings the PCs to the city's largest casino (fully mapped), the PCs can get the pieces together to investigate the out-of-bounds wizard's tower - if they can get past the guards and inside, past the deadly puzzle in the beginning, which is btw. logical and fun. This is only where the fun starts, though - the wizard has retreated via an artifact into a petri-dish like environment and the PCs need to shrink down to microscopic size, battling protozoan orbs, flesh-eating fungi, nematodes and finally release the wizard, convince him to return and get his affairs in order. This section is bizarre, fun and played in an awesome, great way - if I may: If the PCs enjoy their trip into the realms of the microscopic, consider picking up Everyman Gaming's superb "Microsized Adventures" and keep the options for size-alterations. Oh, and yes, this module is pure awesomeness!


As if to apologize for the first module in this set, Matt Finch's "Perils of Ghostwood Pass", for PCs level 5 - 7, also hits this absolutely stellar tone in a completely different way: Potentially fitting into any cold pass-region, the Ghostwood Pass is a storied environment - here, legendary twins only recently defeated a powerful and nasty fey of the Winter Court, thus banishing the hyper-cold ghostwind to only a few instances per year. As the PCs begin this module, a timer is running - after that, the ghostwind strikes. The issue is that something is thoroughly amiss - the hastily erected Abbey of Saint Kathelyn may provide shelter, as may the local druid, though both do not deal well with another. The two factions also provide unique benefits for the PCs as they try to defeat the dreaded mountain queen - and unearth the truth behind the mysteries of the Ghostwind Pass. In case the above did not provide ample clue - wilderness survival, hexploration in the hostile pass, random encounters - all provided, alongside a cleverly entrenched mystery astute PCs can unearth. This module is SUPERB and would coincidentally fit really well in the context of Northlands with some minor reskinning. Oh, and the adversary build rank among the more challenging and well-crafted herein, which coincidentally provides a lead-in to the last triumvirate of modules.


This would be the updates of "Vampires and Liches," with Casey W. Christofferson and Bill Webb's "Sewers of the Underguild" for 11th level characters being the first - the premise of which is pretty simple: In a rather deadly sewer under ruins or a metropolis lies the hiding place of a guild of vampires. Exterminate them. This sounds simple, when it is anything but simple - the underguild were formidable foes, with numerous class levels, deadly traps and the like. Alas, here, the conversion somewhat botched - with vampires as a type being rather nerfed in PFRPG, and the increased options available for characters via classes and combinations has not been realized to them same extent as in the original version - essentially, the adversaries are a tad bit squishier, the module has lost some of its threat. Mind you, this still is a challenging module, sure, but it does not live up to its previous iteration's level of lethality. If you don't know the original, you probably won't wind, but this can also be seen in the next module, penned by the same duo.


"The Pyramid of Amra", for 12th level characters, pits the PCs against a monastery in the hands of lethal adversaries and finally, against a vampire-monk. The exploration of the areas herein is thoroughly compelling and lends itself well to the insertion of powerful adversaries and intriguing puzzles. And indeed, the final adversary is still deadly; however, I still found myself wishing the builds provided had been changed in a slightly more pronounced manner.


The final adventure, "Isle of Eliphaz", intended for characters of at least 14th level, is still LETHAL - while, when I ran the module, I made the whole place a selectively null magics/psionics zone, thus rendering it even worse, the base module already is brutal - exceedingly brutal. And, in fact, here e.g. the intellect devourer with class levels and the ancient, elemental evil's pathfinder iteration maintain the level of deadly challenge I enjoy from this series.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect - in some of the older modules, references here and there remain and some of the previously unreleased, older modules feel a tad bit less refined than others, with unique benefits particularly not always perfectly syncing up with rules-language. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard with copious, original & glorious b/w-artworks. The maps generally are well-drawn, though I wished the book had a player-friendly appendix of unkeyed maps for particularly the hexcrawl-sections.


Scott Greene, J. Collura, Matt Finch, Clark Peterson, Bill Webb, Michael Curtis, Skip Williams, James M. Ward, Ed Greenwood,, Casey W. Cristofferson, Steven Winter - these names should ring a bell and indeed, Quests of Doom, as a whole, manages to achieve the goal to create challenging, unique modules. While a couple of the modules did fall a bit short of the stellar quality established by the rest and while some do require a bit of GM fiddling, in the end, this book does contain several modules that simply blow me away - the whole "Bugs & Blobs"-chapter is pure gold, and, with the exception of "Deep in the Vale", "Men & Monstrosities" provides two of the most awesome modules herein. "Lycanthropes & Elementals" falls short of the average quality of the book, ranking in as "only" a solid/good chapter. Still, that leaves a total of 6 modules herein, 9 if you include the conversions, that would receive my seal of approval without a single inch of hesitation.


Indeed, I maintain that the stellar modules herein outweigh the minor rough edges AND the modules that do not reach the apex of quality and imagination. "Of Ants & Men", "Hidden Oasis & Temple of Thoth", "The Dead From Above", "Irtep's Dish" and "Perils of Ghostwind Pass" alone are worth the asking price of this module - and these are the exceptional, NEW modules herein. The rest averages at a very good to good, with only "Deep in the Vale" being what I'd consider a bad module. To put that in perspective - that's 13 pages. You still get so many awesome modules herein, that I cannot, in good faith, rate this lower than 5 stars - especially since the exceptional modules listed above absolutely deserve this rating and nothing below.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom Complete Pathfinder Edition
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Cyclopean Deeps Volume 2 Pathfinder
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/24/2016 07:26:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The second tome of Matt Finch's massive subterranean sandbox clocks in at 250 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 244 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Well, before we do, let me reiterate for a second what this is and what it means: Well, on the obvious side, this is the second part of the massive Cyclopean Deeps-mega-adventure-sandbox, which, per default, is situated even below the dungeon of Rappan Athuk in the Lost Lands campaign setting - but, quite frankly, there is no place in any given campaign setting you conceivably couldn't plug this into without any hassle whatsoever. Why? Simple: Cyclopean Deeps takes place in an area almost never explored in any given setting: In the unfathomable, lightless depths beyond even the civilizations of drow, duergar, etc.


You know, the place perpetually hinted at, where surface-dwellers are but intruders into a world so strange and different in morality, their minds might fracture; the place, where tentacled horrors abound and odd deities rest in uneasy slumber; a place so weird, it makes some outer planes look cozy and familiar by direct comparison. Here, demon lords and the forces of abyss and hell rank among the beings that still may be considered understandable...normal even. Beyond this deep horizon lies an endless cascade of the deadly and weird, one that rendered the first book in this two-part-saga a worthy part of my Top Ten of 2014...but can this remain on par with its predecessor?


Before we answer this question, let me explain something: While Part I could conceivably stand on its own, it did sport the city of Ques Querax, odd and wondrous beyond belief - and this book with its plots, quests and content does make ample note of said place. While the individual components of this book can be scavenged and taken apart, to properly get the full experience, you should definitely own the first Cyclopean Deeps book and run them in conjunction.


All right, finally, it should be noted, that this is a massive sandbox, complete with really big maps, hex-crawling through the dark and chapters upon chapters of wholly distinct environments that would make good individual mini-dungeons, should you prefer running this in bite-sized chunks as opposed to as a massive sandbox.


All right, and this is exactly as far as I can go into this adventure-review sans SPOILERS. So, please beware that from here on out, SPOILERS reign. Players should definitely jump to the conclusion.


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All right, still here? Great! After we have established basic power-dynamics within and around Ques Querax, we now delve into the respective, unique environments and take a look at the more complex and possible endgame scenarios for excursions throughout the Cyclopean Deeps - but before I go into the details, let me emphasize something: The Cyclopean Deeps may be weird, but they are concise in an almost uncanny manner. Much like the best offerings of the Lost Lands, the Cyclopean Deeps breathe a sense of antiquity, with empires upon empires fallen by the wayside, ruins reappropriated throughout time...and not even the inhuman cyclopean deeps are exempt from the eternal waltz of revolution, war and rebirth - but unlike in quite a few modules with storied backgrounds (like a significant array of society scenarios...), there is no requirement for either captain exposition to throw a wall of text at the players, nor is there a strict requirement for the PCs to know it all - instead, much like in the exemplar Sword of Air mega-adventure, what we have here is, ultimately, indirect narrative.


If you're like me, you will, for example, shudder as the PCs explore the narrows of Braath and find the remnants of a strange aberrant culture whose mantid servitors, created to embalm their master, took a disturbingly logical step towards "improving" the holiness of their masters - by cutting out unimportant things like living and turning their erstwhile gods into a species bred for death by embalming, fulfilling their task in the most gruesomely efficient manner imaginable - and yes, this and a wicked plan concocted by a demon prince can be unearthed as the PCs explore the mortuaries of the mantid priests - if the PCs avoid death as it lurks around every corner.


Speaking of which: The very utterance of a death god may summon the soul-consuming, fickle godling from its aqueous realm and power-struggles, degenerate things and worse abound and interlace perfectly with the narratives already established in Part I of this saga...just remember, don't speak the name of CHOA-THOOM as you traverse these grottos...or he may take notice of your petty mortal existence...


As much as I utterly the adore this beautifully exhibited mastery of horrific tropes, though, as much as I love the wizard that seeks to recruit the PCs here, it is his devious arch-rival, legendary Jupiter Kwan and his hidden worlds that truly set my mind aglow with possibilities. You see, at one point, the PCs can find a strange artwork of rhizome-like strands that remind you of synapses or worse - turns out that this is the map for his hidden worlds, a kind of demiplane-conglomerate of chaos, stitches together from stillborn realities, crumbling demiplanes and the like - and exploration of this gruesome place within the endless void of Ginnungagap remains my absolute favorite environment in quite a while - not only due to tables upon tables of environmental peculiarities, but also due to the fact that Dark Souls-like mist gates with devious properties find a glorious rendition here, one I'm so going to steal the hell out of. In this chapter, Matt Finch's massive imaginative potential seems to have peaked beyond its otherwise already utterly impressive level.


Now, admittedly, I have not been 100% honest in the beginning of this review: You see, there is a humanoid culture down here - a whole holdfast of duergar mines can be found within the pages of this tome and its concise depiction of a ruthless ideology and the hints towards the malachite city (city of brass for earth, if you need an analogue...) are tantalizing indeed...but there is so much more going on here...and yes, this ties together with the at this point nigh obligatory demon lord that is a part of this area's power-dynamic, obviously constituting another exceedingly powerful evil to play against the vileness found herein...or simply try to vanquish or die trying.


This is ultimately me and my preferences, but surpassing even the grisly narrative shared before, the Orchard of Yiquooloome is, shudder-factor wise, very much the apex of the whole cyclopean deeps for me - a creature of primordial chaos that makes elder brains seem kind, it is here that PCs finally find out the truth behind elder ambergris...much like the origins of the fabled darkmist are explained in another chapter - but I'm not going to spoil that for you. Why? Because I could keep on babbling about the vast imaginative potential herein for ages without truly managing to depict how brilliant this one is.


For your information: We actually do get player-friendly versions of all maps herein and yes, there are ample new creatures, artifacts and the like to be found within these pages.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious issues in this massive book. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' elegant b/w-standard and the pdf sports A LOT of great b/w-artworks that capture perfectly the weirdness and sheer jamais-vu-level of wonder the Cyclopean Deeps require. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, though I'd very much recommend getting the absolutely stunning hardcover of the book - as always with FGG-books, it is made to last and features great production values.


Matt Finch, with assistance from Bill Webb, Skeeter Greene and Greg A. Vaughan has crafted a book that not only transcends book Vol. I in scope; in fact, the Cyclopean Deeps, as a collected entity, ranks among the best dungeon sandboxes I've ever read, regardless of the system. Book I was brilliant, Book II may actually be even more refined: There are less old-school-y relic in the rules-language here; the builds are more complex...in short, this is brilliant. I read this book back to back, while revisiting some of my sword and sorcery favorites....and if I'M honest, I found myself reading more CD. The prose of this book, its vast imaginative potential, bespeaks a mind that not only is capable of weaving disturbing and brilliant concepts with short hints, it also exemplifies a journey of exploration while reading it: As a GM, you explore the Deeps while reading this book, and I was not bored for a single second. Beyond being a milestone in imaginative potential, this book is sword and sorcery gold, perfect weird fantasy material for everyone with even a tiny soft spot for weird fantasy, for lovecraftiana, for fantasy that dares to deviate from the established concepts to provide something raw and gorgeous.


A word of warning - this book is very detailed and not for the faint of heart - when a sidebox explains in pretty grisly detail what happens when a PC's body in gaseous form, spread over mile-long in millimeter-thick tunnels, meets a magic-dead field and has his body extend through the caverns, I found myself shuddering and remembering one of Junji Ito's lesser-known, brilliant horror-manga. The Cyclopean Deeps are a place of eldritch beauty, but each and every part of its drives home that this is the place where "man was not meant to tread," combining a superb sense of the exploration of the unknown with a constant, disturbing sense of uncanny displacement and existential wrongness.


That being said, as easy as all of this sounds or may sound to you, finding a final verdict for this book was nigh impossible to me: You see, I can't really fathom and abstract my knowledge of Part I, separate it from Part II. Unlike other such sagas, they BELONG together...but Part I already received its accolades on my Top Ten of 2014 and I have a policy of not awarding spots to the same components twice (otherwise, you'd see Ultimate Charisma, for example, in my Top Ten of 2015 once that hits sites...). At the same time, this is a perfect example for my thesis that Frog God Games has surpassed the roots of 3.X Necromancer Games by leaps and bounds - no matter how you look at it, Cyclopean Deeps ranks among the best old-school modules/sandboxes out there. With intricate attention to details of not only formal criteria, but also regarding the prose, it ranks among the finest, most unique (and horrific!) sandboxes I have ever read.


How good is Cyclopean Deeps? The collective of both books is so good, even among FGG's mega-adventures, I'd only consider it second to Sword of Air, which makes it one of the best mega-adventures out there - PERIOD. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval...and, I will retroactively bestow the grace of the Top Ten spot of 2014 Part I scored also on this beast, since it is a crucial extension of the first volume.


If my ample gushing was not clue enough: I'd strongly recommend getting this masterpiece; in my humble opinion, the Cyclopean Deeps are absolutely mindbogglingly good and transcend Rappan Athuk, which kind of gave birth to these, in their superb environments by leaps and bounds.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cyclopean Deeps Volume 2 Pathfinder
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Fields of Blood
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/24/2016 07:24:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review


Fields of Blood is a massive sourcebook/adventure-book that clocks in at 221 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 216 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, first of all: What is this book? Simple: Fields of Blood is the latest terrain-centric hardcover-book by Frog God Games, a tome detailing perhaps the most neglected environment in adventuring and fiction in general, EVER. Plains. Don't believe me? Well, name 3 fantastic stories that use plains for more than a backdrop for an epic clash of armies or for the flair they hold. I mean, there are copious desert-themed and mountain-themed modules with epic backdrops out there; there are explorations of the underdark and swamps...plains? Not so much. Perhaps it's because they're so plain....chirping; tumble-weed rolls by Sorry. I'll hit myself later, but I had to get that one out of my system.


Kidding aside, if you thought plains were just too plain a terrain to make them awesome in your game...well, then this book should more than remedy this misconception. How? Well, let me once again ramble a bit and tell you a personal story: When I first got my hands on a particular book, it not only blew me away, it changed my conceptions of what to expect from the Underdark - this book was the classic, old Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, which, to this day, remains one of the books I pull out time and again, regardless of system: It made me appreciate caves and caverns on a whole new level, educated me and, beyond knowledge from which I directly benefitted at school, ultimately is the reason I even contemplates spelunking as a fun means of exploration, both in fiction and real life.


Similarly, when your notion is that plains are boring, lack proper, interesting environmental hazards and sport not that much of narrative potential, of plains being plain, well, then this book will forever change your perspective. For one, we receive a careful, precisely researched discussion on the different types of plains you can adventure in, their seasonal cycle and their very meaning within the frame of a concisely-presented campaign setting. However, the level of realism, unlike in most such supplements, extends to lengths that generate something I only rarely encounter - a presentation that concise, it manages to enlighten and teach and yet does not feel bland or boring; better yet, the serious and compelling presentation, including e.g. different toxins and diseases encountered, manages to slowly transition from the mundane to the fantastical. As a European, I was for example not aware of hazards like Black Blizzards actually existing - so beyond mosquito-swarms (including, as mentioned before, diseases) and earthquakes, we slowly move into the fantastical, generating a sense of immersive cohesion that can only rarely be encountered in supplements these days sans becoming dry - which the book never becomes.


Strange as that may sound, I found myself soaking up information on diverse plains-types, their repercussions for settlements and the importance of e.g. horses, the dangers of grass fires and the environmental challenges that hardy travelers face. When you're gunning (haha) for African-themed or Wild West-campaigns, you'll have your work cut out for you here as well, providing a spotlight for environments almost unanimously neglected. Easy random temperature generators and tables complete perhaps one of the most inspiring introductory chapters I've read in such a book in quite a while.


This being also a crunch-book, we go on to present various feats, which, for the most part, are interesting and reflect the local cultures one may encounter on the plains - teamwork feats building on Snatch Arrows that allow you and your ally to flip weapons around to thrown them at foes past their defenses and the horse-themed feats you'd expect alongside means of substituting Perception with Sense Motive for noticing Disguises. Over all, the feat-chapter provides a solid array of feat-options, most of which sport a narrative component, though they, on their own, did not completely blow me away. Where the previously stunning level of quality, however, is once again reached is with the copious array of survival gear, both mundane and magical: While never trivializing the challenges posed by the environment, the numerous mundane objects you can find herein lend an added sense of realism and a sense of accomplishment for well-prepared PCs to the fray. Similarly, the magic items, of which there are A LOT, are characterized, surprisingly, not by simply providing spells-in-a-can, bland +x weaponry or the like.


Instead, this chapter showcases two components I thoroughly enjoyed: First, while masters of atmosphere and adventure-crafting, early Necromancer Games and Frog God Games-titles did sometimes get the crunch-crafting somewhat less well done. Secondly, there is a tendency for regional supplements to make either the environments trivial via magic items or provide reskins. This book falls prey to neither of these issues, instead providing thoroughly inspired items that resonate with a sense of the mythical, the magical, while supplementing the regional fluff by virtue of their existence. What do I mean by this? Well, what about magical pelts that convey powers upon you? Magical beanstalks? Braggart's Mugs? Yes, the respective items are inspired, feel magical and yet realistic for their context and generally are mechanically sound and do not replace currently existing items, showcasing perfectly a crucial, yet imho under-appreciated component of Frog God Games as a company and the team in general.


The next chapter, then, would contain a pretty significant array of new monsters, a component in which you can, if you're like me, observe a similar growth: Most adversaries contained within the pages of this book sport unique abilities that set them apart: Whether it's knuckle-running gorilla-men or stirge-like, sleep-inducing and shape-changing bloodsuckers, the monsters within these pages, even when not drawn from real world mythology, do sport a narrative sense of cohesion that represents well the resonance of central themes of the conditio humana that we appreciate from our real life monster tales: When e.g. an undead creature, born from a betrayed and slain pregnant woman can not only execute sadness-inducing touch attacks via the undead unborn reaching through the elastic skin of her belly, can only be released from undead torment by a kiss of her lover, then we have not only a nightmarish adversary, we have practically the work cut out for us. When a person's perverse notions transcend death and render the villain even worse than when alive...then, of that I'm sure, not only I will be among the grinning DM-population of this planet we call home.


Now the sense of realism and internal cohesion is also maintained among the various spells and archetypes found herein, which, with one notable exception, represent mostly useful utility-spells, interesting buffs that represent a chaotic, yet powerful representation of Blood Brotherhood, necromancy-based duplications of the effects of dreaded ergot and, yes, more fantastical representations of magical might. Similarly, the archetypes provided herein are characterized mainly by their modification of rules to fit within the context of plains-societies, providing thus an array of options which may actually be relevant in other settings as well by virtue of the concepts they represent.


Speaking of a truly distinguished narrative cohesion and immersive presentation: Following the tradition of the environmental supplements of Frog God Games-manufacture, we also are introduced to a significant array of unique deities for the plains and savannahs - and here, usually, I'd be groaning; after all, I've read so many regional deity-write-ups...but I didn't here. Why? Because I have rarely read an array of this well-written deities - with creation-myths aptly summing up a feasible context of mythological genesis, we once again underline the overall feeling of holistic realism this book manages to convey - to the extent where this huge book left me with ideas to base whole campaigns around the content presented within these pages - and overall impression that is not even mitigated by the downright broken Time domain (with the other domains being solid) presented herein, which nets you 3+Wis move actions as free actions per day.


This module, much like its predecessor in spirit, the superb "Dunes of Desolation", we also receive three rather extensive adventures. I will not go into the nit and grit of those, but I will provide you with a general idea of the modules in question.


From here on out, thus, the SPOILERS will reign. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, still here? If you're a player and read on, Tsathogga may eat your soul!


...


..


.


Only GMs left? Great! The first module, Feats of Fury, intended for 1st level characters, is a tale of tragedy and woe: Vumira gave once birth to twins: Atsu and his sister Ramla; wonderful children they were, but, alas, on the last feast of their childhood, tragedy struck as tokoloshes attacked: Ramla, was badly wounded, while her brother emerged from this ordeal as the true hero of the settlement - but the aftermath of the tragedy saw Vumira emotionally scarred and deranged, the mother believing due to a strange birthmark erroneously her daughter to be in league with the dread adversaries - and, as so often, her campaign of mistrust and hatred drove her own daughter to ultimately become what she dreaded most, the instrument, at least potentially, of the village's demise. Years went by, and now Atsu, in love with none other than his disguised twin sister, is away from the village and revenge is at hand...or is it? To uncover the tangled web of fear and superstition, the PCs will need wits as well as brawns, investigating, roleplaying, hex-crawling and finally braving a dungeon to secure the future.


The second module, Red Wedding (intended for level 4 characters), is a rather interesting one that highlights interactions between settlements: Namely, the racially intolerant humans and the barbarous orcs - two settlements defined by mutual mistrust and violence, potentially to be bridged by the burgeoning love between two star-crossed lovers amidst the populace - when Crystal Biltumur was slain by her father for her love-affair (and the illegitimate child she was carrying) with the intelligent and rather sophisticated orc Stolen Tongue, what could have become a golden age dawned into burgeoning all out warfare, with outsiders being summoned by the bitter orcs from nearby Zabladai's ruins (which, alongside the hex-crawling action, provides a damn cool ruined city-feeling) - only if the PCs manage to defeat the ancient evil stirring then and ultimately, manage to unite the lovers in life or death, can the undead monstrosity that once was Crystal be truly put to rest.


The final module, Madness Grows, takes place in Akados' massive haunted steppe and is intended for 7th level characters - overall, it may be the story-wise most straight-forward of the modules, though it does make up for that via several interesting side-quest seeds: The general idea is pretty simple: The PCs arrive at a sacked town, realizing that the centaurs and other marauding (and surprisingly pretty aggressive) adversaries seem to be following a mad course - and madness may be spreading...but how? If your reply was "Demonic influence!" or "Machinations of the Great Old Ones!" or "A weird spell-plague!" - you'd be wrong in all three cases. What's the source of the insanity and violence that threatens to spread? Well, I am not going to spoil that component here, mainly since I believe that it is the coolest component of the module - and I want you to read it for yourself.


The massive book then closes with a significant array of random encounter tables that list creatures alphabetically by name, CR, resource, etc. (extremely handy!) and some nice random plain events you can use to supplement what you hopefully already have dressing-wise in Raging Swan Press' superb GM's Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing-book.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no grievous glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard with a slew of evocative, original pieces of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The hardcover book is stitch-bound and adheres to the exceedingly high quality of FGG's big books, meaning that it'll still look good and not fall apart in 10 years.


Tom Knauss' Fields of Blood is a book our hobby needed; beyond dabbling in themes of often under-represented cultures and mythologies, this book actually makes adventuring ion plains not only exceedingly sexy, it makes it an endeavor that should not be underestimated. Never again will your players consider plains the ride-through-terrain en route towards the "interesting" locations; this book makes plains be anything but plain, to use for one final time the lame pun with which I've punished you throughout this review.


This book, to me, represents old-school philosophy in a crucial manner: It treats the reader as an intelligent being; it educates without boring the reader; it inspires campaigns and narratives by tapping into the collective consciousness of our species and the vibrant mythologies we have, putting a new spin on them and making them fantastical. On this framework of realism, a fantasy is grown that feels surprisingly different and fresh, concise in its narrations and rewarding in the results of its craft. While, much like in Dunes of Desolation, there are a few scattered crunch-options herein I'd consider problematic, but the vast majority of material provided within these pages is exceedingly inspired and ranks among the best you can find.


Beyond this level of realism that truly inspires and makes you want to go out into the steppes and savannahs, this can be considered a superb resource not only for Pathfinder: The vast amount of awesome fluff herein will never date and I'm keenly aware that I will be taking out this book in years to come, whenever any module or supplement features plains - much like the massive Dungeoneer's Survival Guide in 2nd edition will once again find its way into my hands whenever I need material for the underdark. Yes, it's that good.


In fact, Fields of Blood may be the best environmental book I've read in ages, for a biome that NEVER gets any love; for the life of me, regardless of edition, I couldn't name a single good Plains-book...but this little masterpiece. Guess what? This is a must-own, superb and thoroughly inspired book, a glorious tome well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and yes, this book gets a nomination for my Top Ten of 2015 as well - get this superb book and never again mistreat plains - the endless seas of grass and prairie require respect...and this book will make you convey that!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fields of Blood
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Dunes of Desolation
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/24/2016 07:23:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive book clocks in at 193 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive array of 188 (!!!) pages of content, so let's take a look!


So "Dunes of Desolation", hmm? This pdf's name would be considered audacious when used by most publishers -"Desert of Desolation" as a boxed set made some of my most precious, fondest memories back in the day - the glorious maze, the sky-boat at the pyramid's top, the logical, cool social sandbox at the oasis, the sheer level of detail, the sea of glass - this beast had so much going for it. So how does this one fare?


Well, first of all, this Book should be considered part of a direct line with Necromancer Games/ Frog God Games' Glades of Death and Dead Man's Chest - i.e. an extremely detailed environmental source-book in the style of publications of old, with a focus on information instead of x lame variants of races/classes as some other cough environmental supplements delivered.


Thus, we begin this massive sourcebook with an array of considerations regarding deserts -from desert-types (hot and dry deserts, for example), to how they come to be to transition zones and handy tables to determine water availability, this section should be considered somewhat educational as well as simply useful and inspiring. The next logical concern would pertain to travel and settlements, which include not only handy tables to determine settlement types, concerns of tolls and desert animals of the fantastic variety and how to purchase them. Deserts as a dangerous place also sport a variety of hazards, which would be represented in e.g. proper stats for agave-poison and even peyote - but beyond that, the dangers of impure water are also addressed with a variety of nasty afflictions the PCs can receive.


Taking the details one step further, the corrosive effects of deserts also receive their own rules and mirages, quicksand and similar iconic challenges are addressed alongside dangerous animals and vermin, rain...and, of course, temperature. The handy charts for temperatures, wind speed etc. are simply glorious (though I wished they were included in °C as well as in °F - while not complicated, my European mind still has to make the conversion and I always have to think a bit when I read °F until I remember the way to do it.). Among the more mechanic options, sliding on sand and dunes via acrobatics makes sense and the challenging survival DC-modifiers feel appropriate.


We also receive an array of new feats and while the majority of them are okay, a couple really stand out - e.g. one that allows you to put ranks in fly sans a means of personal flight or one that allows you to deal regular damage to swarms. Much more enticing, at least for me, would be the selection of desert equipment provided -from detailed outfits to waterskins that contain al-haloon kidneys that can purify water to magical treats like a sonic crack of doom-rattlesnake whip, enchanted ankhs and astrolabes to better flying carpets (4!!!) to magical dates, enchanted harem veils, and, of course, genie lamps. What about an array of damn cool magical hookahs?


We also are introduced to quite an extensive collection of new monsters, all of which come with beautiful, original b/w-artworks. Now regarding the beasts - from jackal shapechangers to serpentine threats, undead gunslingers, deadly cacti - a solid selection of creatures, including deadly demons, are provided. Many of these guys, gals and...things have unique signature abilities, which is nice to see, but even when they don't they tend to evoke a distinct sense of...belonging. Much like reading old monster manuals, these creatures feel distinct - what about, for example a cherub-like being with a slumber-inducing breath? An evil killer-bunny relative to the Al-Miraj? It's surprisingly hard to put the appeal of the creatures into words, for while they do not bombard you with awesome signature abilities or exceedingly clever builds, they feel like they've been taken straight from a mythology book of another world. They have this sense of cohesion and combination of imagery and concept that makes them feel, for lack of a better word...real. Or at least possible. Granted, the superb artwork does its fair share of the job here, but still - impressive.


The same partially goes for the spells -getting a cactus-body, a buff to remain chaste, counter cursing - sabotaging divinations, excavating a den of thieves to hide inside - the spells have a very classic touch to them that should assure them finding homes in plenty a campaign. What about trapping foes in a giant hourglass of sand? While not all of the spells herein can be considered truly iconic or glorious, there is quite an assortment that does feel magical. The core classes also receive ample support in the guide of archetypes (and in the sorceror's case, respective exclusive bloodlines) - from camel-riding mounted barbarians to scalp-takers, seductive concubines, the genie-hunting sha'ir, the keepers of the dead, palace guards, dervishs, sadhus, janissaries, to trance warriors, bazaar thieves and Viziers - while mechanically, these archetypes have in common that they're solid, if not awe-inspiring, they do have something different going for them - they are unique. They feel right and concise and they are anchored within the context of the environment and setting. Their very concepts resonate and make them feel...cool. Yes, preventing foes from attacking you is one thing that can be achieved via many means, but as soon as your courtesan PC accomplishes this with an ability called "1001 Nights", you'll be grinning a bit broader, won't you?


The massively detailed chapter on religions follows this level of detail - providing essentially a massive origin myth, an explanation for the providence of the churches that adhere to one faith, but still are very distinct and different, taking cues from what amounts to saints turned deities, this chapter is massive in detail and the primary deities come in excessive detail - while sans e.g. obediences and the like , they otherwise stand in no way behind the deities provided by e.g. the Inner Sea Gods, with copious information on doctrine, clothing, clergy etc. being provided Comparably in short-hand, but also there would be two full additional pantheons, adding ample chance for religious strife, cults, etc.


And here begins the section of the 3 adventures, so players beware, for the djinn pronounce woe upon the thousand year damnation of those players bound to tread within the following paragraphs and their SPOILERS.


All right, DMs only remaining? Great! The first module, Child's Play, is nasty - a particularly sadistic efreet has crafted a devious scheme - in the House of Thousan Delights, he grants people everything they ever wished for, offering for them to stay forever or return to their downtrodden, despondent existence - with the other option, of course, being a trap most foul, sending them to an extradimensional dollhouse replica of his palace to be hunted down there. When a djinn-blooded child runs afoul of this dastardly plot, her unusual physiognomy instead transports her brain and other parts of her into dolls - enter the PCs, who have to willingly enter the deadly playing ground and rescue her...of course, unbeknownst to the PCs, everything is MUCH more complicated, starting with the true master of the place being not as he seems - but in the case of nosy players still straying, I will not spoil the reveals - HINT: They're awesome.


The second module, King of Beasts, begins with beasts suddenly targeting men and becoming aggressive - coinciding with the notorious hunting troupe "Game Over" - to unearth the truth behind the attacks, the PCs have to deal with the grief of a sphinx in the guise of the lionweres serving it, prevent a dread curse from spreading, brave the desert sands in a rather epic trek through the hostile terrain, hone their detective-skills and finally, hopefully, manage to wrest the soul of an erstwhile force from good from the metaphorical clutches of a grimoire most foul.


The final module, My Blue Oasis, asks the question when it is required to let go of life-long obsessions and dreams and what kind of cost one is willing to pay for a change for the better. Oh, have I mentioned that a dragon, derro, and a potentially cataclysmic 42 million tons of water are there to unleash upon the world? Yeah, if you want to make your world Cerulean Seas as a change of pace, here's a very good option - and yes, here we have a type of artifcat that may spawn whole campaigns...wars even.


The pdf concludes with a random encounters-table for desert creatures and a table of random desert events, much like a miniature wilderness dressing.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are excellent - in spite of the book's size, it sports next to no glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the book comes with MANY awesome, original b/w-artworks. I have rarely seen this amount of great art in a non-kickstarter book - this one is beautiful in all the right ways. The massive tome also comes with neat cartography, though I wished key-less versions of the maps t hand out to players had been provided in an appendix. The pdf comes excessively bookmarked with nested bookmarks. I can't comment on the print-version since I don't have it yet.


Designer Tom Knauss and conversion content editors Erica Balsley, Skeeter Green and John Ling have done a great job here: Frog God Games is not known for crunch-mastery or the like, but among the crunchy bits in their supplements, this ranks as one of the best so far. But you don't buy this for the crunch, anyways, do you? Figured. At least if you're ticking like me, you get Frog God Games-supplements because they feel concise, because they have this mythical flair, because they treat magic and the fantastical not as a commodity, while still managing to instill a sense of logical cohesion that makes the supplements and modules plausible and ultimately, relatable.


This ephemeral quality extends to just about everything herein - even the crunch; The material provided herein in that regard is superior to Dead Man's Chest and Glades of Death...and indeed, this is one glorious beast of an environmental source-book...even before the modules. Kudos to the conversion team and the obvious effort that has gone into making the feats et al. actually contribute something neat to the game - crunch-wise, this is perhaps the best book by FGG so far. And the monsters and modules...let's just say there's a reason I've been this opaque. Even in Frog God Games' oeuvre, they stand out. The 3 modules are detailed, breathe the spirit of Arabian Nights and the fantastic in equal measures and deserve the moniker "...of Desolation" in that they do not stand one inch behind the legendary boxed set in imaginative potential and believability, perhaps even transcending it.


Now in a book of this size, not all crunch is perfect, not every item can be a winner, not every spell mind-boggling - I do not claim that it is. What I can wholeheartedly claim is that this is the type of book that makes reviewing worthwhile - the writing is actually so good, I felt hard-pressed at times to step away and let sink what I've read. This made me dust off my 6 Arabian Nights-print-out and makes for a superb addition to any desert-campaign, even if you choose to ignore the Lost Lands-fluff. Add to that the low price-point and superb production values, and we have a collection of adventures that no self-respecting DM should pass by....whether you go for the Desert of Desolation, the Southlands of Midgard or to unearth the Legacy of Fire/Mummy's Mask - I guarantee that this tome will make your desert more alive, more real. This is a glorious tome, a fun read, and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval, while also qualifying as a candidate for my best-of 2014 - get this awesome beast of a book!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dunes of Desolation
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Cyclopean Deeps Volume 1 Pathfinder
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/08/2016 07:31:13

An Endzeitgeist.com review


An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Conclusion:


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


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


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


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


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


Endzeitgeist out.



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

An Endzeitgeist.com review


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Conclusion:


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


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


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


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Lost City of Barakus--Pathfinder
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