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Wicked Fantasy: Elves: Guardians of the Wood
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/23/2012 07:11:42
This pdf is 31 pages long, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover/full-color artwork, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1.5 pages ToC/foreword, leaving us with 25.5 pages of content, so let's check this out!
John Wick's Wicked Fantasy-series has provided us with some rather interesting takes on classic fantasy races and this pdf takes the elves and gives them the wicked fantasy treatment. Based thematically on the Tolkien-elves, the elves introduced to us in this tome are quintessentially tragic. Elves in this tome are immortal and essentially bored - uninterested in most material things, the decadent elves pass their immortality by engaging in politics and petty squabbles. Or at least they used to, for the elves herein are inextricably linked to two concepts: Their rigid class-system and the Aelenderon, the Great Trees. When an elf is born, the priest caste ties the newborn's lifeforce to either the soil or one of the ancient Aelenderon-trees, determining whether the elf in question is a mortal servitor (in case of the soil-born) or one of the immortal guardians of the trees. Unbound elves wither and die, so abstinence from the ceremony is no solution. If the tree is cut down, then the respective elf also is doomed to perish. Worse, there is something mankind figured out in the war for the forest: Cwth, the wretched thing - Iron. Put an iron ring, an iron shackle on an elf and you sever his connection with his tree. Permanently. Not only does this break the elf's spirit, it also means that a lifespan measure in millennia is cut down to a scale that is not measured in years anymore, but rather in days, usually resulting in a spiraling depression or a manic thrill-seeking to burn out the painfully short remainder of their days. Now guess what mankind is doing to the elves. It's only a matter of time before the armies return...with a lot of iron bands.

Rules-wise, Wicked Fantasy Elves get +2 to Dex and Cha, low-light vision and can nourish themselves via photosynthesis, which enables the elf to work sans food and water if they spend 6 hours per day in daylight. At 1st level and on 5th and all 5 levels after that, they can mix their saliva with soil or sap to create a salve that heals 1d6 points. Unfortunately, the saliva-salve does not specify what action it is to apply the salve. Depending on your heritage, you also get additional abilities. Cyffathelean, the tree-bound, get abilities depending on the tree they bond with and may take a feat that grants them a weapon from a great tree that is treated as masterwork and can be enchanted. Still, for a feat, this is a bad reward for the investment of a feat.

Oak-Bound gain the two-weapon fighting feat and when in melee combat in a one-on-one situation, you treat your Dex-score as 4 higher. Birch-bound elves can render opponents unconscious with a kiss that is delivered via a-5 attack roll. This ability is usable 1/day and an additional time at 4th level and every 3 levels afterwards. They can also force enemies to keep on looking at them on a failed save. Unfortunately, the kiss-ability, while providing a scaling DC, lacks a duration - as does the fascination that forces individuals to look at the elf. Does this preclude the person in question attacking the elf? Penalize attacks on foes that are not the elf? I don't know for the pdf omits this crucial information. Elm Bound elves can speak via trees with people holding a branch of one of the tree's branches. They can also withhold their actions against a declared target for a +1 bonus to attack against the target up to the maximum of their character levels. The pdf fails to clarify how long these bonuses are retained and on how many attacks the bonus is granted. Ash-bound elves gain precise shot as a feat and always get at least 1 action in any surprise round - but it is not specified WHAT kind of action - Full-Round? Move? Standard? Swift? I don't friggin know! Blackthorn-bound elves can make a coup-de-grace as a standard action (or a full-round action against a target with total concealment) and at 1st level, again at 5th and all 5 levels after that, the Blackthorn Bound can automatically succeed a bluff check 1/day. Read that again. Automatically. Succeed. A. Bluff. Check. "Bluff, bluff, bluff the stupid deity?" F*** this ability!

The soil-bound treat their tr-score as 4 higher in non-combat situations, age as humans and gain a DR 1/bludgeoning (+1 at 5th and +1 further every 5 levels) and may later take a feat that further increases the power of their thick skin. The Iron-bound cannot be magically aged, but measure their lives in days, advancing age categories in the span of years. They also don't gain the dying condition until they reach their will-save modifier in negative hit points. Again, cool idea, but does this include the wis-modifier or not? Again, the pdf fails to specify crucial information. They can also literally sacrifice parts of their life, up to their level in days, to add a likewise bonus to any of their rolls. Cool idea! Fool's Luck and Lucky Fool are two feats that reward death-defying actions by iron-bound elves, Fool's Luck granting them a +2 luck bonus to e.g. jump in the way of a brabarian's axe to save an ally. The second feat, available at 10th level, scales an attack you got hit by via the usage of Fool's Luck down to rendering you stable and unconscious at 1 HP instead of killing you. Per se a cool idea. I can see players abusing the hell out of it though: Elf jumps in front of wizard: Would die. Goes down. One healing spell and smelling salts by the cleric later and the elf does it again - ad infinitum. An elf with this feat and an enterprising party could soak ALL damage with this feat. Broken. Why isn't this tied to the iron bound's days, with each usage draining away his/her life? That would have been a cool and easily implemented way of balancing the ability.

From the enslavement of iron and conflict sprang the Dzunkaveth, literally "Abominations" - Half-elves. Half-elves can take home cities from "Wicked Fantasy: The Reign of Men" and can take a feat to trade their +2 to Dex to +2 to Con or Str or their +2 to Cha to +2 to Int or Wis at character creation to represent half-elves born and raised by humans. I don't like how this is a feat - by all accounts and PFRPG-design standards, this should be an alternate racial trait, not a feat.
There are also so-called mistletoe feats that allow you to get a poisonous touch-attack if you're a tree-bound. Depending on the type of tree you're bound to, you can also add acid damage to your touch, add it to your kiss ability, deal damage and regenerate minor damage that you deal or even add the poison to all wooden arrow attacks. I'm not particularly comfortable with a PC-race gaining an unlimited touch attack that deals attribute damage (or any damage at all, for that matter), but the blackthorn's mistletoe feat takes the unbalanced cake, rendering the target incapable of speech. Yes, that's instant game-over for just about every spellcaster - without a save! Yeah! No save to retain speech. At least unless I misread the ability. Even if the save's applied (DC 10 + 1/2 level +Con-mod, btw.), the ability is sickeningly powerful, having no limit on how often it can be used. Worse, none of the mistletoe feats specify that it's a poison effect, rendering protection against it impossible as written. Classic examples of great idea and horridly flawed execution.

The elven Priest-caste is represented by the Cyllawellan, a new druid archetype.They can take racial abilities on the respective tree-bound types of elves, but unfortunately e.g. neither the birch's "gaze at me", nor the elm's "patience-ability" are clarified, rendering both abilities just as useless in game as for the base-race: We just don't have a clue on how they are supposed to wwork. They also gain an NPC-cohort with whom they may share an empathic link and even spells - per se a nice idea, but the specifically mentioned option to make another PC the cohort means that this feature is barn-door-wide open for abuse. These guardians can also deliver touch spells held by their masters - again: Abuse. As if this wasn't bad enough, they also get spell resistance, can cast tree shape at will. Unbalanced to the point of being broken, the archetype is a cool idea that just doesn't work as intended.

And then there are the Durzhah, the alabaster-skinned, black blooded dark elves who have sold their souls to darkness in order to regain the immortality they lost to iron. And no, there are thankfully no good dark elves. Three of the base-classes are available to Wicked Fantasy elves exclusively via being Durzhah - to be precise, arcane classes. Only Half-elves may be wizards and summoners, sorcerors and witches all are exclusively Durzhah. Thus. dark elves are essentially represented by a common line of abilities of 3 different archetypes: All Durzhah replace low-light vision with darkvision 60 ft., halve their physical attributes when in direct sunlight, cannot be aged by any means and may change hair, nails, skin color etc. - all but the black color of their blood. Oghzhan summoners summon their eidolon into intelligent willing (or dead) vessels, enabling their eidolons to keep the vessel's int-modifier and subsuming most of the vessel's abilities under the eidolon's powers. Per se a cool idea, but what about undead?

Do they count as dead or as beings that require consent to act as an eidolon's host? Anyways, a rather cool idea. They also can summon their eidolons faster at higher levels. Szhaszh, the sorceror archetype, must select from a restrictive list of bloodlines, but replaces the first bloodline power with a touch that deals scaling "necrotic" damage, healing half of the damage. Thankfully, the ability has a limit on how often it can be used, but the fact is that there's no established damage-type called "necrotic" - I assume the authors meant "negative energy". Why am I so nitpicky? Because there are spells that protect against negative energy, but none that protect against the mumbo-jumbo "necrotic" type of damage. They may also freeze others in place via their eyes, also dealing 1d4 damage to Str, Dex and Con. While the effect ends as soon as the sorceror does anything, there's NO LIMIT imposed on a friggin' gaze attack that deals 1d4 to all physical attributes! No limit! And a DC of 10+Cha-mod+ CASTER level. Not character level, but caster level. You know, the one you can easily enhance via feats etc.? AHHHRGHHHH! This is so terribly broken, I don't even know where to start. Finally, the Vezhma, the witch is essentially an insult of an archetype. They get a limited patron selection and must choose a viper familiar. The viper can speak and if the witch takes the improved familiar feat, it gets the entropic or fiendish template and some bonus languages. That's it. Yep. You read it. Bland? Yes. No signature ability? Yes. An utter failure and the worst witch archetype I've seen so far.

Finally, for all the romantics among you, there's a new PrC, the Heart-bound Elf: The requirements mention "Charisma skills"[sic!] and 4 ranks in each, which does not adhere to standard formatting. Essentially, the elf finds a soul-mate, a love who accepts the elf and shares its soul with the iron-bound, thus providing the option of healing the partner when adjacent by transferring character level HP per day. They also die when their bound non-elven partner dies. They gain d8, full spell-progression, an improved version of Fool's luck almost identical to the Lucky Fool-feat, though stronger when protecting the partner, a scaling massive DR against iron weapons, an empathic aura that makes it hard to lie to them as well as the option to take negative conditions onto themselves and become immune to fear and even death effects. They also gain 3/4 BAB and unfortunately, the otherwise rather cool PrC suffers from two weird design-choices: First, they get +1 to both fort and will-saves PER LEVEL, meaning these two saving throws scale faster than even the best save-progression. This is simply ignorant design that flaunts the very basics of PFRPG-rules. The ref-save-progression is 1/2. Secondly, the class gets 5+Int skills per level, with odd numbers being non-standard in PFRPG and another design-flaw. Worse, the class only gets 4 class skills. They actually have fewer class skills than skills! Oo

The pdf also provides 2 pages of pronunciation primers on the Gaelic-influenced elven language (and its dissonant secret subscript) and a table of prohibited classes. That's one thing I hate about Wicked Fantasy races: There are VERY much classes that are simply forbidden for the respective races, which makes no damn sense to me. Why don't these elves get good nature-sorcerors? Clerics (of nature)? Inquisitors? Cavaliers? Magi? Alchemists? Tables like this make me always feel as if someone else wants to impose their home game's restrictions on my own game - indirectly.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are a train-wreck. The pdf is much harder to read than it needs to be: From class abilities that are not bold, spells that are not in italics to a vast array of abilities in dire need of clarification, I can only consider it baffling how this pdf managed to get past even a casual editing pass. Layout adheres to a used-parchment 2-column look, is ok and features some nice artworks. The pdf is bookmarked, but lacks a proper printer-friendly version. Wicked Fantasy pdfs have always had some wonky abilities and uncommon mechanics, but until now, they all had some limitations and felt CLEAR in what the abilities/feats/etc. were supposed to do.

Until now. As always with the series, the reimagination of the race is awesome, interesting well-written and compelling. The fluff is simply stellar. And then I read the crunch. It's almost universally broken. From non-standard design-choices that are not intentional, but stem from a lack of understanding of the system, its language and register to faulty formatting, missing information etc., the amount of grossly offensive design-blunders is baffling, especially by such an established designer. I wouldn't harp as much on it, would the glitches not reach a level where the race is essentially impossible to use as written. And then there's the class/race-restrictions: Half-elves are relegated to an origin and a feat, which is the culmination of faulty, non-standard design, doing what should be an alternate racial trait via a feat, a bad throwback to 3.X-design. Or take the dark elves: I love their fluff. But the whole race obviously consists only of summoners, witches and sorcerors. Since the racial traits are subsumed under the three archetypes, they alongside the prohibited class table e.g. show that there are no dark elves fighters, antipaladins (WHY?), Magi etc. - again, driving home what feels like an amateurish insistence on forcing the author's vision down the customer's throat. Why? Because the dark elven racial features obviously are supposed to be balanced within the archetypes.

I get restrictiveness. In fact, I encourage it. But a commercial product is supposed to enhance the customer's creativity and his/her respective vision, not stifle it and this pdf unfortunately does so via bad design-choices that provide you with excellent ideas, but fail to balance them and put them into a solid context of rules while at the same time, via omission and design-choices prohibiting you from making the necessary changes to properly use and modify these rules yourself. From racial traits to feats to archetypes and the PrC, the crunch is universally flawed.

This pdf made me angry. Very, very angry. Since the potential, the good, even genius ideas, are there. But the execution, be it via formatting or crunch, is sloppy beyond compare. This pdf needs a complete revision. Better editing. Better crunch. The stellar fluff deserves so much more than what this pdf provides. If it's not abundantly clear by now, my final verdict will be 1 star - for the high price of 5 bucks, a sloppy mess of design like this is unacceptable.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Wicked Fantasy: Elves: Guardians of the Wood
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Play Dirty
by Andrew M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/21/2012 12:02:47
The advice is hit and miss - some of it is very helpful even to the most advanced GM, cutting straight to the essence of tabletop RPGs, while some of it is not particularly useful except in the most extreme cases where you might be better off just asking problem players not to return anyhow. However, where the book hits, it critically hits, and does so with a tone that can cure the most doormat-like of any GM. The book is also full of many entertaining stories from John Wick's own gaming table, which makes the book extremely easy reading and difficult to put down. I can't help but wish that I had the opportunity to have a character "Wick'ed", I think it would have been one of the best roleplaying experiences that one could have.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Play Dirty
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Play Dirty
by Robert S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/26/2012 18:50:36
Unfortunately I cannot agree with the other reviews. I found the topics in this book not new, not "dangerous" and not innovative. They are not bad either, but this book is not the best since sliced bred as so many say. I would rate it average and most of the advices are found in the GM chapter of every RPG.
Well, any except of (A)D&D as it seems as the author is talking about 50% the time about how to enhance your D&D game. Or Champions.

Anyway, not a bad product, but nothing new in it as well. So, what is he actually talking about? He starts the book with "I kill players". Now that's new ;) He continues "I hit them where it hurts" and starts talking about how to use players (Dis-)Advantages against them. If I remember right, a lot of RPG GM sections tell the GM how to do this.
The method he provides is nothing new and only a good campaign plot: a traitor in the midst. Yes, it works, yes it is fun, but is it THAT cool plot I never thought about? No.

Chapter 3 talks about how the players take roles of citizen (good or evil ones) to take the burden from the GM and create a living city. Nothing new as well, done many times, especially when one PC dies and that player would otherwise no longer participate actively in the game session.
Also, he gives hints how to use and interact with the environment. Hm. Well. Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.

I could go on and dissect chapter for chapter, but it would just repeat itself.

Here is a preview of chapter one:
http://gamingoutpost.com/article/hit_em_where_it_hurts/<-
br />
Conclusion:
Well, to be frank, to me the book sounds like a 23 year old experienced cool GM ;) is telling the story of his life to 16 year old players. Maybe if you are new to the hobby or coming from a life-long tabletop-battlegame you will find something new in here. But if you have tried out 10+ RPG systems, I bet you'll find nothing new in here.

Rating:
So I'll give it 3 stars for content, but the price tag lowers it to 2.
If you want to print it, be prepared to invest into a lot of ink, as the chapter titles have a huge solid black background and the page borders consist of black&grey.
Because of this (there is no printer friendly version) I would lower the overall product rating to 1 - sorry, guys.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Wicked Fantasy: Haffuns: Seeming Servants
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/20/2012 07:56:11
This pdf is 28 pages long, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/prelude, 1 page advertisement, 1 page front cover and 1 page SRD, leaving 23 pages of content, so let's check this out!

Halfings are not exactly a sexy race and have often been neglected in fantasy - recently, 4 Wind Fantasy Gaming released a nice supplement and now Wicked Fantasy reimagines the Halfling-race.

Perhaps the one factor that makes halflings problematic, at least for me, is that they don't essentially fill a crucial role in most fantasy settings. Haffuns are different. Ever since the dug up from the ground, escaping some undefined threat on the other side of the world, and immediately were able to communicate with the humans, they have ingratiated themselves into human society by their uncanny virtues.

Haffuns gain 2 to Dex and Wis, are small, get a bonus to hearing-based perception, professions depending on their family and temporarily learn just about every language. And then there's Talda, the "Seeming Way" - essentially the ability to blend in the background, this art not only makes the Haffuns the perfect butlers, it also makes them potentially creepy.

Creepy? Yes, for the Haffuns tend to adopt human families to serve them and woe to those who dare threaten the Haffun's family - they take any means necessary to protect it, preferably without making the people they care about even aware of their accomplishments. And then there are the homeless ones, essentially a halfling mob. Have I mentioned a kind of Halfling-pride movement preparing for war/open conflict with the humans? Or the fact that 20 legendary Haffuns grant their names and several abilities to their people, overseeing them as a strange shadow council?

That's not where the race stops, though: Another interesting twist is the halfling's secret, unknown language, one of many secrets the tall ones know nothing about. Another, not widely known one, is Ghuva, the giving curse. If you look a Haffun in the eye and really wish for something from the bottom of your heart, he/she has to try to fulfill your request or suffer from penalties. If they fulfill a request, the recipient gets a neat 2 bonus to attack for 24 hours.
There are 5 new feats, 3 of which enhance the Talda-abilities of the Haffuns - all of which ROCK. And then there's the new Jorsha archetype for the cleric - essentially a spirit shaman, they can see the departed souls - which is quite important, for the Haffuns tend to secretly link the souls of their departed to the houses in which they died.

Finally, there's the new Butler-class: The Butler gets d8, 6+Int skills, bonuses depending on the ancestor's name, up to 10d6 sneak attack, 3/4 BAB, good fort and ref-saves and access to a total of 30 special marks - a butler's marks help him take care of his family, taste and see from a distance etc. - this class utterly ROCKS and makes for a stellar alternate to regular roguish halflings.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the piece of good full color artwork rocks. The pdf is fully bookmarked, but no printer-friendly version is included in the deal, which is a bummer. Formatting features some minor non-standard uses of signs, but nothing too jarring.

Not only is the reimagined halfling awesome, it's easily inserted in any campaign setting and essentially comes with ingrained seeds for not only an adventure, but a whole campaign of conspiracies, be the benevolent or malign, on behalf of the Haffuns. This pdf ROCKS and in fact made me immediately want to introduce them into my campaign. Even better, you don't have to get rid of Halflings in order to introduce Haffuns to your setting - they easily work as another race! Seeing that mechanically, I didn't have any significant gripes, the potential of the race, the imaginative fluff and brilliant ideas like the Talda and Ghuva, I'll practically have to settle for a final verdict of 5 stars endzeitgeist seal of approval. Go check these out - halfling secret agents rock.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wicked Fantasy: Haffuns: Seeming Servants
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Wicked Fantasy: The Reign of Men
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/31/2012 06:39:58
This pdf is 32 pages long, 1 page editorial, 1 page cover, 1 page SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving 28 pages of content, so let's check this out!

John Wick's Wicked Fantasy seeks to redefine the traditional races of fantasy and add new twists to the tired old tropes. So, what has been done with the humans?

Rules-wise, they get +2 to a physical and +2 to a mental attribute, +1 to will saves (and further +1 every 5 levels), humans count as having each member of their party having their teamwork feats, can choose a skill as an additional class skill, and gain advantages based on their hometown - both in skills and a +2 favored terrain (hometown). They can also rally their allies - when a human threatens a critical, they can grant rally bonuses to their allies - I think that these should be morale bonuses from their fluff.

There's a focus there on hometowns and that makes for the true central focus of this product: It introduces us to a nation, the Reign of Men. Essentially, the humans in this product stem from an unique cultural background inspired by ancient Greece and the Roman Empire - devoted to philosophy, the central force of will and the betterment of their whole species is the focus of this reimagined mankind. The cities of the reign are detailed in intriguing detail and several gazetteers out there should take at look at this: The cities not only influence the bonuses humans get from their race, but also make for an intriguing, cool setting. On the other hand, though, the entwinement of the race and its fluff also makes it somewhat harder than usual for such supplements.

The pdf also includes 9 new feats, 6 of which add effects/expand the rally ability, with one being a sufficiently powerful capstone feat. The feats per se are ok, but use some strange mechanics: Inspirational rally, for example, lets allies make a melee, ranged, touch or ranged touch attack against a foe if you succeed at a check. This action-granting by criticals is uncommon and VERY powerful and generally not exactly standard - its emphasis on luck of the player to make use of the feats and the new human's signature ability focus on luck is problematic in my book.

The pdf also includes two new archetypes: The Philosopher (cleric archetype) gets a modified skill-list, 5+Int skills per level and two new godless domains. The Palantine, a variant archetype of the paladin that gets an intelligent horse, reliefs instead of mercies and an aura granting bonuses to will-saves to allies. I really liked both archetypes and the twists they gave the old classes.

The pdf, however, also includes a list of "appropriate" classes for the Reign of Men - all classes from the APG, UM and UC but the cavalier are banned per default - that's lame. No new tools for cavaliers (though the an alternate archetype of the Palantine could have been easily inserted), no Inquisitors (WHY??? The new human almost SCREAMS Inquisitor to me...), no oracles in spite of the Greek/Roman fluff and its ease of tying in etc. That's just sad.

Conclusion:
Editing is rather good, I noticed only a couple of glitches. Formatting is somewhat non-standard - e.g. asterisks are used to represent multipliers, when usually, "X"s are used. Layout adheres to a used-parchment look and the 3 pieces of full color artwork are nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, but without a printer-friendly version, which is a minor bummer. This pdf is somewhat hard to rate - on the one hand, it's an awesome gazetteer of an alternate human realm that feels distinct and different from almost any other one. Its attention to detail is nice, its fully detailed system of government is awesome. Unfortunately, the crunch feels somewhat wonky in comparison, its focus on critical hits to make unique rallies is too reliant on luck/crit-range builds. The second signature ability, the hometown-based feats etc., are unfortunately very much tied to the respective hometowns, making integration into an ongoing campaign/ established campaign setting rather difficult. The new archetypes and the concept of a godless humanity, driven by its collective force of will and the ideal of human advancement is awesome and something I'd love to see expanded upon. On the other hand, though, the lack of support for APG, UM and UC is disappointing at best. As a racial supplement, the reign of men fell somewhat flat of my expectations, as a gazetteer of an unconventional nation, it works just fine. Mechanics-wise, I wasn't impressed by the pdf. In the end, the pros and cons mostly even out for a nice purchase, but not a stellar one. My final verdict will thus be 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Wicked Fantasy: The Reign of Men
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Wicked Fantasy: Orks: Children of Pain
by Robert S. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/04/2012 08:08:44
This week I am reviewing Children of Pain, by john wick, a short PDF on orcs using the Pathfinder rules set.
In an old game in which I participated once described goblins, orcs and smilar races as potato chips – crunch all you want, we’ll make more.
The flip side of that is I have never been comfortable with the depictions of most so-called evil demi-human races since reading “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” The descriptions in RPG works of the races and why they need to die too much like 19th century descriptions of Indian tribes and why they needed to die.
I, much like other reviewers and apparently Wick, feel orcs – among other monsters – are more interesting when they are more flexible, rather than simply violent potato chips in serve to some wretched evil bastard of a sorcerer who keeps failing in their plots to take over the world.
This book is Wick effort at doing just that – make orcs more flexible and interesting.
The overall book is 26 pages long, though not-counting the title pages, license and advertisements the actual text about the orcs is only 22 pages long. Children of Pain is admirably concise, short and to the point, with no wasted text or words – a definite plus. It leaves you wanting more in the right kind of way.
Though short, the PDF features a good set of bookmarks and internal hyperlinks. However, some curious errors, which probably occurred when the places were marked in the first draft of the document, appear in the document. These errors include the letters “C” and “D” which appear just as letters in the bookmark list, but not as something notable in document. These and a few other minor errors do not detract from Children of Pain, but they are present.
Text comes in a standard two-column format, with a pseudo-parchment background that is a touch too dark – not enough to be a problem, but it reduces the contract between the text and the page, potentially making it difficult to read.
There is very limited art in the book, namely only three works and that counts the image on the cover. The art is competent, though the orcs are depicted as too human – they mostly look like ugly humans. Given some of the choices Wick made in the text – including the fact orcs and humans are not biologically compatible and thus cannot produce half-orcs - the art should have depicted them as more distantly non-human.
Wick does an interesting trick with the orcs – they are the usual violent, torturous warriors they are usually depicted as in pop fantasy. They are also anthrophagic – it is cannibalism when you eat others of your species, and anthrophagic when you eat other species. However, Wick unusually trick is taking this to its logical conclusion – the orcs take their war making to their own gods, whom they defeat and consume.
This development means the orcs no longer are bound to their evil gods and freed from that fate, but this is not the same as saying the orcs have become, nice and popular. Further, this battle with the gods occurred about 20 years ago – relatively few non-orcs may even know the event occurred.
As presented here, orcs are rather like the Klingons of Star Trek – this is probably an accident. Wick writes the orcs as warriors, obsessed with prowess and pain to test themselves and prove their worth. They also destroyed their own gods. All these characteristics are true of the Klingons, at least as depicted in the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine and the orcs in this book. Wick was not ripping off Star Trek – it just appears his thinking about the orcs went in similar paths.
The book details the society of orcs at a reasonable level – they are tribal and live in the tundra. However, given that I wonder how often they would encounter dwarves and orcs who do not normally live close to the tundra. As depicted here, orcs worship pain as a sentient force and practice ritual scarring as a kind of writing, among other things. Wick also include some words in the orc language and these are well used in text, but it suffers from a lack of a lexicon to refer to for the words.
Children of pain present six orc tribes, each of which includes its own particular set of advantages. Specifically these follow the six abilities, strength, dexterity, constitution, wisdom, intelligence and even charisma – something not normally associated with the orc. The ability of the tribe depends on which god it devoured.
A variation of the orc racial traits is presented, as are a set of feats and other mechanical fiddly bits – many of which involve pain and scarring. This is ultimately a theoretical review – I have read the book, but not tested it in actual play. However, it all appears solid and well balanced. The only part I did not care for was the Feth'Ork, which lets orcs take normal animals and turn them into mutants bonded to the orcs. It just struck me as unnecessary and too hobbled.
I give Children of Pain, a 15 on a d20 roll. The book does not radically redefine orcs, but hones the concept into something interesting and useful. It certainly beats them being potato chip monsters and Wick deserves credit for succeeding in that goal. And if you want potato chip monsters, there are still undead of all type, outsiders and great big bugs.
Ironically, that does run into a potential problem with the book – is it mostly for players who want to run an orc. That is also a full orcs, as in the text as written, half-orcs do not exist. To get full use out of the work, you will need a campaign were orcs operate along side the other races.
Those are probably few and far between – running orcs and nothing but potato chip monsters is too traditional and too much a given part of the way most fantasy world operate. Before broaching the subject, a player should understand the vibe at their table and if it will be acceptable to the other players. It probably will not be, at least not with out causing too much disruption to the grou. Gamers are people and people will want their fantasy to be familiar, where they can enact a race war by proxy and play soccer with orc babies.
Which is unfortunate. But it is the way things are.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Wicked Fantasy: Orks: Children of Pain
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Houses of the Blooded
by Robert F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/23/2012 15:55:48
Seems like a very fun competitive system. I really like the fake academic fluff.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Houses of the Blooded
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Curse of the Yellow Sign, Act I: Digging for a Dead God
by Aaron H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/19/2012 17:45:06
The following review was originally posted at Roleplayers Chronicle and can be read in its entirety at http://roleplayerschronicle.com/?p=19449.

Digging for a Dead God is a story module for Call of Cthulhu set in Africa just before the outbreak of World War II. I say story module in echo of John Wick’s own words. Rather than being an adventure full of things like stats and a boss fight, Digging for a Dead God contains a few key events, but otherwise leaves everything up to the GM. Mr. Wick provides a helpful section at the end of the story to help flesh things out into an adventure as well as the six characters intended to be used in the scenario.

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 9 out of 10
The production quality of Digging for a Dead God is quite high from what I can tell from the PDF. The layout is logical with easy to read fonts. The artwork is well-selected and doesn’t distract from the text. Not much else to say. If you printed it out on nice paper and bound it, I expect it would be a great looking product. The only two things I didn’t like about it was how the sidebar John Wick mentions appears suddenly and occupies an entire page, which interrupts the flow on a straight read through, and the stats of the pre-generated characters are hard to read.

Before the review continues, let it do so with the understanding that I am assessing this product under the assumption that the person using it will be happy to invent most of the details of the story, aren’t adverse to inter-PC conflict, and likes horror. If that isn’t the case, you should drop the following two scores by half.

Storyline: 9 out of 10
The adventure is both internally consistent as well as the type of story one associates with Call of Cthulhu; that is to say, horror, rather than a shoot ‘em up. The story also lends itself to being the kickoff for a larger campaign set during World War II. As previously mentioned, there is a lot of room for a GM to make the module fit whatever they had in mind for their campaign. Alternatively, it can be used as designed, as a one-off, without any trouble.

Desire to Play: 8 out of 10
This is a refreshing way to spend an evening or kick off a new campaign. Depending on your group though, it might be more fun to make up 6 PCs rather than use the ones provided, although that will disrupt certain interparty dynamics. Compared to similar adventures I have seen in, for lack of a better term, skeletal form, this one is quite good. It lays out what you need to play and not much else, allowing for plenty of customization either beforehand or on the fly.

Overall: 9 out of 10
As I said, what you get out of this adventure really has to do with your taste in adventure design. Personally, my PCs always just blow the plot up anyways, so I find something like Digging for a Dead God’s design, with only the major plot points established, to be highly useful. John Wick’s plot isn’t the sort of thing I would normally come up with, but there is enough room in his design for the addition of elements that I like and that I am comfortable using. I typically don’t do one-offs and I’m more of a fantasy guy, so the premade PCs and default setting are a bit of a turn-off. That said, the beauty of having only the theme mechanics of the system mean it can be moved easily not only within setting, but also rule sets.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Curse of the Yellow Sign, Act I: Digging for a Dead God
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Wicked Fantasy: Haffuns: Seeming Servants
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/17/2012 20:48:08
One of the most critical, and most accurate, critiques of the standard races in Pathfinder is that they’re prosaic. They have little identity to them, and what identity they do have is so broad and shallow as to be little more than caricature. One of the worst offenders in this regard are the halflings, which with the revisions of the last few editions of the game, tend to lack any real racial definition whatsoever.

That’s what John Wick sets out to change in Wicked Fantasy: Haffuns: Seeming Servants.

Haffuns: Seeming Servants is twenty-eight pages long, and hits most of the high-water marks for a PDF product. Copy and paste is enabled, and the file is quite easy to navigate having full, nested bookmarks and a hyperlinked table of contents. I did frown slightly, however, at the file having no printer-friendly version (or, for those that prefer it, an epublishing version).

The lack of a printer-friendly file isn’t too big a deal given the book’s size, but it’s not something I can write off, either. The entire book is set against a cream-colored background, as though the text were written on parchment. Moreover, this background has some very lightly-drawn designs on it; in some places these designs actually fade the text laid over them, causing the lettering to appear to change its shading, which is slightly bothersome to the eye. There are only two illustrations in the book, both full-page color pieces (though one is done in a very muted style). I quite enjoyed the artwork here, and do wish that there’d been more of it, but what’s here is quite impressive given the space of each picture.

Haffuns: Seeming Servants gives us a very different version of halflings than has been seen before. While halflings in contemporary RPGs seem to be something of an adjunct to human culture, Seeming Servants takes this to a more literal degree. Haffuns, a name the race adopted from the humans, appeared two centuries ago, fleeing an unknown terror from below the earth. Since then, they’ve ingratiated themselves into human society as a servitor race; they’re the “support staff” to affluent human households, serving as the porters, maids, cooks, and other servants of humans. This, however, is more than it seems…

The book can be roughly divided into two parts. The first half of the book focuses entirely on establishing the flavor of haffuns. While I was expecting this to focus on fairly broad overviews of their psychology and physique, I was pleasantly surprised that instead, there are several smaller sections that discuss particular aspects of what make haffuns unique. We’re told about things like taunken, their secret language that can be used in front of others without anyone knowing it’s being used at all, or tatura, the agenda and motivation of those haffuns that serve human families.

It’s only in the second half of the book that these concepts are finally put into Pathfinder mechanics. Following an initial overview of haffun racial traits, we’re then given an overview of a haffun family (though oddly, a few paragraphs of text seem to repeat themselves here). Not just a designation of relatives, a haffun family affects their stats, as does the number of family members present. For all this, I do wish that there had been more of the recent “Pathfinder-isms” regarding new races here; alternate racial traits and favored class abilities would have been a nice extra.

Several new haffun feats are present which help to flesh out their previously-described abilities, along with a final mechanic that helps to quantify what it is that haffuns are hiding from humans, before we move into classes.

The first part of this section is a new cleric archetype, the jorsha, which has a close affinity with the dead. This is not your classical necromancer, as a jorsha’s powers are largely focused around detection and expulsion. Interestingly, a jorsha’s focus of worship is not a deity, but their ancestors – given that this affects their domain choices, I wish that we’d gotten some sample ancestors, as it seems like this is a large enough thematic change to the cleric that some additional material would have been helpful.

The final part of the book deals with the new haffun base class: the butler. While I can imagine some jokes being made at the class name, the concept that it provides is quite interesting in its execution. While this is obviously a “support” class, it goes about it in ways that are, for the most part, unique. I say “for the most part” because it does include an unavoidable nod towards combat utility in that it can sneak attack. But the rest of its abilities are quite innovative (though some of them are essentially some of the feats presented earlier); while it can (like a rogue) pick from a list of abilities every few levels – a list that expands as it gains levels – these are not rogue talents. The number of abilities here is quite interesting in what it offers, such as marking a person to know when they’re in danger, even if the person doesn’t know it herself; or being able to make an item hidden on someone’s person completely undetectable. This is a class whose utility extends further than just combat.

Overall, Haffuns: Seeming Servants is a product that does a great job giving a fairly uninspired race a new identity. Rather than try to radically reinvent halflings, this book plays up their post-modern identity, and in the process makes them something that looks familiar, but becomes more and more new as you peel back the surface. If not for a few minor technical issues, and that certain areas could have been fleshed out more, this book would be perfect. As it is, the book’s problem areas are deficiencies more than errors, don’t detract from what is here. Double your halflings’ utility in your game with Wicked Fantasy: Haffuns: Seeming Servants.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wicked Fantasy: Haffuns: Seeming Servants
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Cat (Revised & Expanded)
by Bryan I. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/12/2012 11:58:17
Cat is a 49 page PDF by John Wick in which players take on the roll of a cat in a dark fantasy setting that is based upon our own world but in which strange things are going on and humans can't see them. Cats are our protectors, set to the task of looking after humanity and protecting us from the dark forces that prey upon our fears and base emotions.

Okay so far.

To begin with, let me make it clear that I am a cat person. Very much so. As such, I was always going to want to give this game a try, however, conversely this also means I probably had reasonably high standards for any product relating to my favourite animal.

The rules are very light, with your cat defined by 6 traits rated from best to good and given 9 lives (as befits the folklore). Cats can also have reputation, which helps them with any action that involves the thing for which they are renowned. (Hmm, in which case my real world cats presumably have reputation in “devour cat treats at high speed” and “Avoid cat carrier when Vets appointment is due”).

Combat is quick and comes in two forms, cat-on-cat which is only ever for dominance and cat-on-non-cat which may be to the death, or may not. Damage is in the form of “scars” which impede a particular attribute unless and until they are healed, although your cat can sacrifice a life to avoid scars from a round of combat.

It is all remarkably efficient and rather charming, and I speak as some one who generally dislikes “light” systems. I tend to find they feel as if something has been sacrificed for speed of play. Cat, however, is not such a game. You instead feel the light rule system works perfectly, serves it's purpose (or should that be purr-pose – sorry, sorry, I'll stop now) and actually enhances play, not to mention it is such that it is hard to think of a situation it won't handle well indeed. If I have any criticism of the system it would have to be that I didn't think of it first!

Towards the end is a section on cat magic, which is also both simple and very flexible, a similar system could work well in just about any RPG of any setting, yet this particular interpretation conjures up (excuse the pun), exactly the right feel for the subject matter.

As I read the rules my own cats were in the room. One was trying to eat my pen whilst the other was falling off the desk in my studio whilst trying to get to her favourite sleeping spot. As a consequence the fantasy element of the game – in which cats are highly intelligent masters of creation was very much highlighted in my mind as fantasy, but the writing is such that even with real world examples staring me in the face I was still more or less able to suspend disbelief, now that has to be the mark of a good game!

In places one gets the feeling that the writing style is very much aimed at experienced RPG players, and may not be the easiest for new comers, some knowledge seems to be assumed on the part of the reader, by way of RPG conventions and tropes and so forth, but not so much that it matters greatly.

I bought this game as a beer and pretzels game to trot out now and again when we needed to fill and because... well... cats! However, now I'm really looking forward to trotting this one out and running it. It can be by turns dark and humours, sort of like a cat.

Now if I can just stop my two from batting my dice under the couch long enough, I'll run a few games.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cat (Revised & Expanded)
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Wilderness of Mirrors 002 Edition
by Elliot I. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/03/2012 09:08:54
This is an improvement over the first edition. First and most obviously you've got classy silhouette illustrating the pages and the planet names for skill/class names have been replaced with something more workable and quicker to grasp.

Minor Grumbles: Error on page eleven as 'Saturn' skill level is mentioned as a way to pick the Team Leader but I can find no mention of an equivalent skill in this second edition to match that from first edition. And I would have liked to have seen a page or two with a transcript of play detailing how narrative control works, (especially how bad a fail the GM should make a failed roll). Also an example of a groups' plan and a brief sketch of the resulting scenario would be helpful for potential GMs to see how to pluck threads from what the players give them and expand them.

In Summary: I love this paired to the bone rules-lite way of doing things, the less rules in your head the more you can concentrate on plot. Reading it makes me want to go back and watch 'Callan', and 'The Sandbaggers' to mine them for ideas, if you like spy telly and haven't checked these out you should do so!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Wilderness of Mirrors 002 Edition
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Wilderness of Mirrors 002 Edition
by Paul S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/02/2012 05:51:43
If you value your games by their number of pages ignore my rating. From the starting 20 pages only about ten are the actual mechanics of the game. There are a few pages of setting information, and a lot of background to the decisions made in the game design.

If you want quality rather than quantity give it a read.

Great value if you want a quick workshop in game design, not so good if you like your games laid out on a plate.

At the end of the day it's John Wicks if you like his gaming philosophy you'll like ti, I doubt it will convert anyone though.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wicked Fantasy: Orks: Children of Pain
by Joseph W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/28/2012 09:27:19
I have always been fascinated with taking “evil” creatures and making them more sympathetic. I think orks (to use the nomenclature of this book) should be more than faceless minions of evil sorcerers. They should have their own motivations for what they do. In many ways, I always thought of orks most like the Mongols of Genghis Khan: expansionist and obsessed with taking tribute. However, John Wick’s new book Children of Pain is a really cool take on orks and what role they can play in a Pathfinder (or retro-clone) campaign.

According to the prelude, this book comes out of a series of “Ecology of…” type columns from Kobold Quarterly. Mr. Wick wished to glimpse each major race through a mirror darkly, to change the basic assumptions of a race, to “give them a different feel. A different taste. A different style.” Children of Pain does a good job of that.

Fluff-wise, Children of Pain discusses how the orks rose up and slew their gods, eating them in the process and forming clans based on the powers gained by the deophages. From the book, it appears this happened in recent memory, which makes the world much more magical than I am used to running. I would ignore that part, and make the slaying of the gods as a kind of origin story.

Children of Pain devotes a lot of time to describing the tribal society of the orks. They are nomadic hunter gatherers who cross a tundra-like landscape. Their society is fairly well detailed, with sages, warlords and tribes. I think the concept of their religion is really cool. The orks believe pain is a sentient being that links them all together. They also have a system of storytelling tied to the scars on their bodies. Some scars are self-inflicted, but that only occurs for something significant that doesn’t necessarily cause physical pain. Mr. Wick certainly creates an evocative world, including some linguistic snippets to give the reader an idea of how the ork language works.

I am not the person to speak to mechanics, normally, especially as someone who doesn’t own Pathfinder. However, I will attempt that here, to give you an idea of what’s included. The first half of the book is all fluff, no mechanics are included. The end is almost all mechanics, and very little fluff hidden amongst it. However, there are some things revealed about ork culture in the powers, so they remain evocative without dominating the text.

First we have a list of ork racial traits. There are several things added to this list that bring standard orks in line with the fluff. First, they have the ability to feed animals their own blood to create hunting or riding companions. They also gain bonuses to attacks rolls when they are hurt (to represent their masochism), bonuses from their tribe (gods’ powers from their slaying), and psychological bonuses based on their own view of their reputation.

Class wise, there are three: a Blood Cleric, a Barbarian Archetype and a Bard Archetype. The Oracle of Blood is mentioned as a “new Oracle Mystery,” which I presume is a Pathfinder thing. There are all sorts of powers linked to using blood in lieu of other material components. From what I gather, the ork cuts him or herself and uses pints of blood to cast spells. They also have a series of other powers tied to level. The Barbarian Archetype (Gahthrak) replaces some of the Barbarian class features, as does the Bard Archetype (Fala).

Mr. Wick has been doing this for a while, and of course he produces top-notch work. The implied setting for th eorks is evocative and interesting. Orks from this culture of pain are a really cool enemy in a misunderstood, “noble savage” kind of way. They can also be bloodthirsty monsters. What I really like about this treatment of orks is that they can still be frightening enemies while being a real culture with real motivations for their bloodthirsty ways. This book is sympathetic to the orks, but doesn’t hinder the GM from making them villains. I highly recommend it!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Wicked Fantasy: Orks: Children of Pain
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Wicked Fantasy: Orks: Children of Pain
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/27/2012 09:58:40
This pdf by John Wick Presents is 26 pages long, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/prelude, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement and 1 page SRD, leaving 21 pages of content, so what exactly do we get with these Orks (yeah, with "k", just like in German!)?

You have probably read the Wicked Fantasy-series of articles in KQ, but just to be sure: Wicked Fantasy centers on a new takes on classic fantasy races, a reimagining so to speak. An example would be the Uvandir, genderless (but male-looking), eternal dwarves who can toil all day and night, never starve etc. In this pdf, we get an expansive take on the Orks in the vein of a widely-expanded ecology-article.

The reimagining of the race essentially makes the Orks what you've come to know: An evil race, created by evil gods. Orkish doctrine, for ages, had them consume their foes to take in their strength and worship pain - until they evolved. For which foe might offer more strength than one's god? In a feat of unheard-of racial uprising, the orks stormed their god's sacred hall, vanquished their pantheon and ate them, thus gaining their strength. (Though some sages speculate that some orkish gods may have escaped...)

Thus, via the divinely-infused bloodlines, Orks changed and diversified and had to deal with the lifting of the red haze of rage, for now, they encountered a state of mind as of yet unknown - free will.

The nomadic tribes have made tentative peace with the other races, as they seek to understand the powers their newfound freedom and the darkness of their ancestors blood offer them. Depending on the bloodline of one's ancestors, special abilities and dispositions are available to the green-skins. 6 of these divine bloodlines are included.

The Orks can also create so-called Feth'Ork-creatures by feeding animals and beasts their blood in order to mutate the critters into allies and negate the loathing regular animals exhibit when encountered by Orks.

I mentioned the worship of pain as well and it defines Orkish culture to this date - their sacred scars, the Va, all come with their stories and knowing these has to be earned. More importantly, 5 masochistic feats enable Orks to harness the power of pain and actually get stronger via hurt, pain and punishment. I really loved these feats and while they seem to be kind of powerful, the steep price they demand is worth the benefit. 3 feats are focused on the divine bloodlines and we get a new mystery for the oracles, the so-called blood mystery, which essentially provides the tribal shamans and makes for a neat piece of writing. We also get a new archetype for barbarians and one for bards, the latter being rather interesting, as it focuses on insulting foes and bolstering allies via epic story-telling, thus hearkening back to our own world's intricate webs of poetic allusions displayed in saga-literature and Heian romances like the Tale of Genji, to quote only two.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good, though not stellar: I did notice about 7 glitches on my first read-through and an additional pass at editing would have been nice, as some of the extensive bookmarks consist of only one letter. layout adheres to a 2-column standard and comes in full-color, with a parchment-like background and neat pieces of artwork. I really liked the writing, which makes this pdf rank among the most compelling ecology-articles I have ever read. On the other hand, though, I feel that some of the pieces of writing like the feats could be more concisely-written: I had to re-read some of the feats before I got how exactly how the crunch is supposed to work. Were I to rate only the quality of the writing, I'd settle for a higher rating, but as presented the glitches and minor hick-ups just accumulated and thus I'll settle for a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Aegis Project
by Victor J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/21/2012 12:25:20
This game is full of great ideas for military and mecha games that I have wanted to see in print for some time. The rules seem to support the proper feel of play to go with these ideas. In particular, the three historical periods presented have differences in how some aspects of play are handled within them that would seem to give each a different flavor.

There are numerous typographical, grammatical, and other errors, however, which can get quite distracting and are not at all what one expects from a finished product presented by such a vaunted creator. This feels like a good, solid rough draft, and I would dearly love to see it get the polishing it deserves. In its current state, however, I must regrettably give "The Aegis Project" two stars.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
The Aegis Project
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