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Operation Unfathomable
by Bret G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/12/2018 13:37:15

Loved this. Absolutely worth the softcover for the graphics alone. Even if you never run the adventure with the characters provided, it is filled with ideas which can be adapted to any game system. Worth the money.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Operation Unfathomable
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By this Poleaxe
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/15/2018 04:26:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little FREE pdf clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 3 pages of content.

This supplemental pdf basically provides a small-scale battle-rules variant of the mass combat system presented in “By this Axe.”

Each squad is made up of up to 5 combatants and is represented by a single figure.

Squads have 5 attributes: AV (attack value), DV (defense value), MV (morale value), HTK (hits to kill), M (movement).

Attack value is a squad’s ability to hit on a d10; total HD and divide by 5. A table of modifiers and AV by HD is provided. DV is calculated by averaging the AC of the squad and is used as a saving throw – I also assume that we use a d10 here, but I’m not 100% sure. Cover and defensive abilities modify this. Morale represents the value that you need to roll under to avoid breaking and running. Morale is checked when the squad takes a hit, when attacked from rear, flank or surprise or when friendlies are routed in line of sight. Footmen receiving a mounted charge must also check.

HtK is based on members of the squad and HD of the participants. A squad at 0 HtK is obviously out of the fight, and must roll on the table to determine how many are killed, with priests and druids helping the chances of surviving.

Movement is categorized in abstract move spaces, with common base move rates translated. Starting distance is an abstract 2d6 move spaces at the start of combat and missile/ranged weapon ranges are codified by move spaces as well.

Combat works as follows: Both sides declare movements/charges, then move half the distance. Missile fire and spells are next and then, both sides finish movement and melee is resolved last.

Nice: Spells and their effect on the squad are codified in a brief table, which is good to see.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious formal hiccups, though the rules of e.g. what to roll for DV could have been cleaner. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports public domain art. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Chris Kutalik’s skirmishing expansion for “By this Axe” makes for an intriguing little pdf – I actually liked this pdf more than its parent – mainly because I either want a hyper-detailed war-resolution OR a free-form mind’s eye solution. This pdf manages to be abstract, but actually doesn’t need minis, representing a synthesis of sorts of the two systems introduced in By this Axe. Speaking of which – this is intended, but it really pays off to read the parent pdf – without it, the system presented herein may seem a bit confusing.

That being said, the parent pdf is really inexpensive and this pdf is FREE. That’s a price that is hard to beat and allows you to check this pdf out without any risk whatsoever. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
By this Poleaxe
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By this Axe
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/15/2018 04:24:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, what is this? Well, it is basically a mass-combat mini-game system for Labyrinth Lord, and not, as the title may suggest, a Kull-reference.

The system wastes no time and immediately begins with its rules: There need to be 2 or more armies. Each army will have 2 or more units.

A unit of infantry consists of at least 3 figures, and may contain up to 25. Cavalry units contain at least 2 figures, up to 15. Players have free control over formation and how a unit is organized.

Each figure is an abstract representation and thus may represent any value of actual characters represented, with suggestions being there for 1:5 and 1:20 ratios.

Figures have attributes: FC (Fighting Capacity) represents skill, morale, cohesion, etc. In most combat, figures roll equal to or under its FC to hit. FC ranged from 1 – 5, with 5 being exclusive for heroes and monsters.

Str (Starting Strength)represents the number of figures in a unit as it begins. It is used for morale and identifying the unit.

AS (Armor Save) is the number under which a unit must roll when hit; “S” denotes shields – this bonus is canceled out if attacked from the rear or flank.

MV denotes Movement and should be self-explanatory. WP denotes the weapons carried. SA lists the special abilities of the unit.

Dice-wise, you only need d6s. You roll with a d6 for each figure, under or equal its modified FC – on a success, you hit. Same goes for AS; rolling under the value saves the figure.

PCs are not included in units – they are treated as individuals. Each army also has a general, who can only be killed in individual combat or when the unit led is reduced to a fraction of its size. Based on the general’s leadership ability, he may draw order cards per turn – one to 5, the more the better. This ties in with the optional control system – cards are drawn from a playing card deck, and they may be played by the players during a respective phase in combat. Up to 3 cards may be retained at the end of the turn, all others are shuffled back into the deck. The playing of cards adds a significant depth to the proceedings, with each suit offering usually 5-6 grades of different orders; diamonds provides the same benefit for all cards. This subsystem definitely can be expanded by the enterprising referee, and it emphasizes PC-relevance, which is a plus.

But let’s take a look at the combat round, shall we? Things proceed as follows: First, we draw order cards (if we’re using them – which we should); then, we move to the duel phase – here, you can obviously challenge foes to personal combat if close to them; declining costs all leadership benefits for the turn and prevents the leader from participating in an attack or rally a unit. Duels may obviously be resolved with your game-system of choice, but you can also use the quick resolution rules, which include 4 sample suggested die pools for a variety of hero-types. The duel—participants may then assign their dice in the areas for attack, parry and dirty tricks – only one die may be assigned to the latter, unless the character is a wizard. We all know they fight dirty. Dirty hits that are successful may cause targets to forfeit dice from atk and defense, then you roll attack, then parry. Quick, painless and still somewhat exciting.

After the duel phase, we move to the ranged phase, which includes its own to-hit table; after that, we cover movement and then, melee. It is relevant to note that distances for ranged weapons, challenges, etc. are based on inches, thus assuming that you use minis. This is relevant since e.g. terrain can influence your movement rates. Nice one: Musician in the unit increases movement.

Morale is checked after losing 3+ figures from either ranged fire or melee that turn; when at below ½ Str; when attacked in flank or rear and when a friendly unit routs in the vicinity. Minor complaint – “rangedfire” should probably read “ranged fire”; Morale is btw. tied to FC as well, and the system differentiates between ranged and other moral tests. Units failing the morale test will attempt to escape from the battlefield, but characters/generals can rally them, depending on their leadership levels.

The pdf provides rules for using truly larger than life heroes that can attack units on 1:5 and 1:20 rules, with a pretty smooth and basic system for mages in combat as well. Priests and high priests can cancel incoming attacks or add bonuses to the saves of allies. Both priests and mages are good for the morale of units in which they are embedded.

We also get a page in which monstrous units are covered – from Uruk-Hai Orcs and their regular brethren to Newhonian ghouls and serpent men. It is also here that a variety of special abilities are noted. Monsters with more than 3 HD are treated akin to fantasy heroes in the system. How does that help you to determine the strength of the PCs in this mini-game? Well, there is a pretty simple and painless guideline to translate characters to the system; same goes for determining leadership scores.

If you want a balanced encounter, there even is a Warhammer-esque point-cost list.

Don’t want to play Warhammer-lite? The pdf also features abstract mass combat: Add FC, AS and bonus modifiers together, multiply that with number of individuals in unit divided by 100 – you get the US, Unit Strength.

Before battle commences, both sides choose a stratagem – 8 are provided. Both sides declare troop numbers and describe units and choose their tactical posture.

To succeed, a stratagem requires a roll of 12+ with 2d6 + the general’s leadership value, with successes granting bonuses, though posture does modify the results here. E.g. Ambushes can only be prepared by defenders, and foes deciding for a screened attack modify this by one. There are 5 offensive and 5 defensive postures, with a handy table provided. After rolling, numbers are compared between total US and another table provides the means to determine how it went. Then, you roll casualties inflicted. Pursuit and long-term healing of a part of the casualties is also covered.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to a no-frills two--column b/w-standard and the pdf sports no artworks, but doesn’t need them at this length. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment.

Chris Kutalik’s “By this Axe” represents two takes on quick mass combat resolution: The first is basically a simplified version of Warhammer, while the second is more narrative and suitable for mind’s eye-theatre style games. Both have in common that they work surprisingly well and are presented in a succinct manner. At the same time, the pdf could be somewhat clearer in some minor instances – this may be due to the brevity, but I think the system could carry so much more if tied more tightly to OSR-rules. More importantly, there are a few instances, where the rules could be a bit cleaner - “modify by one” could denote +1 or -1, for example. While it is evident from context which is meant, instances like this detract slightly from how quickly you can implement the system. Still, considering the low and fair price point, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars – worth getting if you’re looking for an easy way to quickly resolve clashes of armies and command cards can easily be expanded by the enterprising referee.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
By this Axe
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Operation Unfathomable
by Kurt M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/26/2018 05:00:03

Brilliant! Baffling! Bizarre! Utterly confounding. Just the most amazing coagulation of weirdness I've seen in a long time. Perhaps the best thing about it is the complete lack of predictable OSR vermin. Not a Goblin Fight to be seen! EVERYthing is nonstandard, unique, or just too damn strange to be dealt with the Usual Way. Unique creatures, civilizations, and locales. Makes for incredible fun just reading. MUST find out how it runs. While the presentation leans toward the gonzo and humorously bizarre, it would be very, very easy to run it with a darker than darkly dark grim Lovecraftian tone. I want to see more of this Underground setting. I want to send Player Characters drifting on the Black Ooze River on an ill-advised mission of Corsair mayhem. I can barely wait to write my own adventures in this setting, after enough tasty beverages to get into the appropriate mind-set. In short... I have to kind of recommend it. Lots of fun with endless applications. ALL HAIL SHAGGATH KA THE WORM SULTAN. and stuff.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Operation Unfathomable
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Operation Unfathomable
by James H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/09/2018 09:40:00

Like all of this publisher's previous offerings, Operation Unfathomable is a work of pure, inspired, genius that boasts excellent words and similarly excellent editing (something I'm a bit of a stickler for). The artwork, the layout, the tools, and the adventure itself are all brilliant! Designed to be played at cons, Operation Unfathomable allows 1st-level characters to experience epic dungeon questing usually reserved for high-level parties (it even comes complete with some very colorful pre-gen characters that can be used as PCs or a rival party of adventurers). It's designed for Swords & Wizardry Core, but I'll probably be running it with Swords & Wizardry Continual Light and as a kind of tabletop rogue-like. I'm very excited about it!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Slumbering Ursine Dunes
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/08/2018 03:28:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure/location-supplement clocks in at 68 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 63 pages of content. It should be noted that the Cave Dwarf race/class and War Bear race/class take up 3.5 of these pages (including a nice war bear marching song) – both are also featured in the PWYW Hill Cantons Compendiums and I have covered them in my reviews of these files.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as requested by my patreons.

This module/location is written for the Labyrinth Lord rules and takes place in the world of Zĕm, which is inspired by Slavic folk tales and full-blown weirdness…at least partially. You see, a leitmotif here is that civilization and the Law it engenders is anathema to magic, while magic and the chaotic forces create strange areas in constant flux – it is in the frontier between these two forces that the Hill Cantons can be found – a proper and interesting area for adventurers to explore, as its stable enough, yet wondrous and suffused with magic. These dichotomous forces and their influence on the lands are responsible for a rather unique feeling: On one side, the influence of Law and vivilizations is reflected in a social structure and general underlying theme that seems closer to medieval times than the early modern period usually assumed by adventures; on the other hand, the influence of chaos and wonder is responsible for a pronounced and irreverent, creative and almost psychedelic punk aesthetic that prevents. The former prevents the latter from becoming too random; the latter prevents the former from being boring. It is in this interesting tension that we’re introduced.

If that sounded too theoretical for you, never mind – that is just my analysis and how I explained the appeal of the setting for myself. Sooo, what is this? Structure-wise, this adventure represents a so-called point-crawl, or, alternatively, a location-based adventure. We have a stretch of wilderness that is explored by the PCs, as they travel from hotspot to hotspot. The geography of the eponymous dunes creates organic pathways and while notes are presented for PCs to scale them, this is tiresome, to say the least. Beyond this aspect, the adventure also sports two different dungeons that may be found and explored. Officially, this is a level 2 – 4 adventure, and let me tell you, it is not for the faint of heart – so yeah, PCs can die, but when they do, it is not due to arbitrary decisions, but due to PC actions. In short: I consider this to be a hard, but fair adventure.

Theme-wise, this represents what I’d call, analogue to the term coined in literary studies, a weird geography. We have gigantic, majestic, red dunes rising from the landscape, including a hilariously irreverent origin myth for them. Unlike the more abstract weird geographies that can be found in e.g. the writings of China Miéville, the slumbering ursine dunes remain pretty down-to-earth, though: There is no complex academic concept of spatial overlapping or representation-congruence here, which, in less academic terms, means that old-school veterans who consider some of the newer books in the OSR movement to be too experimental, should have no issue with this…unless you have issues with Planescape etc. This is very much usable as written and can make for a weird place that could exist in most campaign worlds. While Zĕm-specific lore and “godlings” are contained herein, their power and specialized portfolio ultimately means that this can be plugged into most worlds sans any issues. Particularly DCC-judges will probably enjoy the blend of weird and grit featured here.

All right, so, structure-wise, we do get a random encounter table for the dunes and the respective dungeons; we get a 20-entry-strong rumor table as well as tables for 10 men-at-arms for hier and 12 other hirelings. Two new spells are included: Kazimir’s resplendent couture makes your dressing all the talk of the area, while summon and bind minor sandestin nets you a semi-permanent, if lazy and potentially hilarious variant of unseen servant. The module also sports an extensive bestiary section, which notes the rank-and-file soldiers of the factions of the dunes, two-headed vultures, weresharks as well as stats for vodniks or were-ocelots…and weirder creatures, thugh I will mention there in the spoiler-section below.

There is also a really nice randomization element that emphasizes player-agenda beyond what you get to see in most adventures, one that ties into the overall theme of the Hill Cantons – that tool would be the Chaos Index. The actions of the PCs have consequences: While there is fluctuation f the chaos rating, certain actions of the PCs, the elimination of certain NPCs, etc. all can raise or lower the chaos-index: The higher it rises, the more volatile the dunes becomes…and vice versa. As soon as players realize this, they can use it…to a degree. It also is a great tool for the referee to slowly amp up the pressure as the PCs explore the dunes. It should also be noted that the book does note and provide example of how the respective major characters talk and sports even a handy pronunciation guideline.

All right, this is as far as I can go regarding the formal criteria and supplemental material without going into MAJOR SPOILERS. If you plan to play in this module, stop reading now and skip ahead to the conclusion. Believe me, you don’t want this one spoiled.

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great!, So, beyond the PCs, there are multiple factions vying for control over the dunes to one degree or another, and these faction can be considered to be a great way to further structure the exploration. There would be Jaromir, the Old Smith – a surprisingly ambitionless and high-level retired hero come smith, who may be a nice trump-card if the PCs colossally botch everything; he and his place right before the dunes also makes for a nice base camp. Within the dunes, there is Medved the Master, ostensibly the godling of war bears, werebears, etc., the benignly neglectful master of the dunes. On the more dangerous side of things, there would be the Eld. The eld are basically extra-planar, lawful evil space-elves with a thing for David Bowie/80s-aesthetics and an unhealthy obsession with biomancy. (As an aside: If you run a game with the eld, get Necrotic Gnome Production’s stellar Complete Vivimancer right now!) Finally, there would be the disgusting wereshark-lord Ondrj the Reaver –he has not only collected a band of nasty folks and enjoys his symbiotic remora-“lovers” (they hang on his chest in the fantastic b/w-artwork), he is also on the cusp of achieving some sort of divinity, being related to Medved and all. While overtly somewhat civilized, he is a horrid brute, violence simmering beneath the surface. Oh, and he and his corsairs really hate the pirate-clichés. All of these factions have goals and notes on how they relate to the other factions, but they are far from all that can be found within the dunes.

Unless the PCs explore after the burned forest before the dunes and find the “local folks entry”, they’ll run afoul of local centaurs, collecting a tourist-like toll for admission to the place, which, on its own, felt so surreal and weird, I couldn’t help but smile. Beyond the small tribe of these local centaurs, the dunes hide for example the remnant of a gigantic iron statue, inhabited by a probably mad ascetic; rainbow sandstone, grues, a petrified grove and a bearling holy site can be found. More lethal would be the magic rye field inhabited by bloodthirsty poleviks (once again, rendered beautifully in b/w) and the other,d eadly fey creatures from Slavic lore that can be found. If the PCs find a cairn and interrupt it, they’ll be in for a brutal battle that will have them both sweat for the lives of their characters and laugh: Sealed beneath is the dread…Slothrog! Yep. A Balrog-y sloth. The idea is glorious. Have I mentioned the damn, faithfully maintained by giant beaver engineers? This region is both wondrous and funny, but feels, surprisingly, pretty concise and plausible if you can accept the premise of its weirdness. The fact that it manages to work sans copious pop-culture references is also a huge plus, as it strengthens the unique flavor of the region. Another monster that made me smile from ear to ear: Zombastodon. Come on. That is all kinds of cool!

Now, I mentioned two dungeons: Much like the dunes themselves, they are fully mapped in b/w, but, alas, we do not get player-friendly, key-less versions of any of the maps herein, which constitutes a comfort detriment. The first of the dungeons would be the Golden Barge, basically a plane/dimension-jumping, crashed ship of the eld that they try to salvage…which is btw. also why they try to tear asunder the fabric of reality here…basically, they try to “widen the road” for an equivalent of a tow truck. The casual disregard for life in the dunes ties in perfectly with that.

Anyway, the Golden Barge, while mostly deserted, is anything but simple to clear: For one, there is a powerful eld commander still here. The vessel also, being somewhat “alive” n the broadest application of the term, also creates a sort of antibody – Ghuls. These creatures have nearly translucent flesh and, instead of knowing of their actual fuction, they believe themselves to be practitioners of the Illuminated Doctrine of the Septuagint Anthropophagite. Women are beyond salvation, but by consuming the flesh of demi-humans and humans, they believe to make the environment spiritually more uplifting, which you can play up for maximum fun, make disturbing or anything in between. It’s a great way to illustrate the non-intrusive aspects of the module that can be played straight or with a comical bent. Have I mentioned the 4-armed, white ape-monstrosity throwing barrels? And yes, PCs can theoretically assume control of the barge. Granted, the device will drill a hole in their heads, potentially killing them. Granted, they need to be really clever and wise to have a chance…but the chance is there. No risk, no gain, right? Right?? So yeah, an amazing dungeon. Oh, but be careful when handling those weirdly warm (radiated) pieces of treasure…

The second dungeon would be the glittering tower, seat of Medved. It is, structurally, the weakest segment of the adventure, as Medved only controls one level of the tower: The upper floors have been taken over by the eld, while the lower, dungeon-floor is the domain of Ondrj – the godling is pretty evasive when it comes to why he doesn’t deal with these threats himself, but oh well. Both explorations make for pretty challenging undertakings and generally are interesting; in another adventure, these would be the highlights, but compared to barge and overall dune experience, these sections feel a bit more common and down to earth.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious accumulation of formal or aesthetic hiccups – spells are properly italicized, rules-relevant components are bolded, etc. Layout adheres to a nice and easy to read 1.column b/w-standard without any major frills. The b/w-artworks used throughout the module by David Lewis Johnson adhere to a uniform style (same one you see on the cover), lending a sense of aesthetic integrity to the supplement/adventure. The map for the dunes is nice, with those of the dungeon falling closer to the side of functional than aesthetically-pleasing. The lack of player-friendly maps is a comfort-detriment for referees like yours truly that really hate drawing maps. Key-less maps can be printed, cut-up and handed out to the players, speeding exploration along, so yeah – pity we don’t get those. In an utterly puzzling move, the pdf version lacks any bookmarks, making it annoying as heck to run the module in its electronic version. I strongly suggest you get the PoD softcover instead. While it does not note its name on the spine (in spite of sufficient space), it’s an adventure worth owning.

Chris Kutalik’s “Slumbering Ursine Dunes” is one of those very, very rare adventures. You see, when you have read and continue to read as many modules and supplements as I do, a sense of fatigue, of “been there, done that” often creeps in and smothers excitement. The palate becomes more refined, if you will. This adventure managed to scratch that itch for wonder; that desire to once more explore, wild-eyed, a strange and fabulous place where you don’t know that a skeleton has x HD, that ghouls cause paralysis and attack with claws and bite. Even the creatures from mythology, which serve as a grounding agent of sorts, are creative and belong to the lesser quoted beings. The exploration of fantastic, titanic red dunes makes for a great backdrop, even before the unique denizens and locales of the dunes enter the fray. Design-wise, the chaos-index adds a sense of further dynamics to the exploration. In short: This is not only a thoroughly captivating, inspiring reading experience; it does not forget that it’s supposed to be a gaming supplement and is a joy to play.

How much do I like this module? I honestly believe that, even if you do not play in an OSR-system, this is worth every cent of its asking price as well as the time conversion to your system of choice, whatever that may be, may take – this is worth converting to 5e, PFRPG, DCC, 13th Age, etc.pp. Yes, even worth converting for systems that literally drown in excellent modules. Why? Because this is playful and strange without being too whacked out; because it is unique and littered with creative jamais-vu-events. In short: Because it is inspiring. Apart from the slightly less impressive final dungeon, this blew me away. The print version has a permanent place among my RPG-books and should be considered a little masterpiece at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of most platforms + seal of approval. That being said, the absence of player-friendly maps in both versions is annoying; more jarringly, the lack of bookmarks for the pdf, is pretty much an insult that severely compromises the usefulness of the pdf. For the electronic version, you should detract both my seal of approval and a whole star. At this length, we need bookmarks. In short: Get this, get it in print, read it, and smile, as you once more feel a sense of wonder and elation suffuse your imagination.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Slumbering Ursine Dunes
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Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak
by Eric B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/27/2017 15:13:48

This is my new favorite! It's a combination of easily-usable-at-the-gaming-table adventure and gorgeous art object. I wish I had been fast enough to get it in print; I downloaded the pdf version long after the print copies had run out.

As you can see from the cover, it has the look of a Whitman Gold Key Comic from 1971. Fun drawings and useable but also fun maps continue throughout. Artist Jeff Call has really hit it out of the park. The art fits hand-in-glove with the tone of the adventure and the writing, by blogger and creative mastermind Trey Causey. The formatting is very good at pulling immediately-needed-by-the-GM-at-the-table elements into sidebars, but allowing the main text to describe things with a few more evocative words (but not too many - the reader never drowns in text, but always gets the flavor). Fun concepts such as Thedabara, a reminiscing undead celebrity whose name alludes to real-life silent film star Theda Bara, abound in the adventure. The adventure text is fun to read, even if you don't run it, but it's easily runnable for kids or adults. The humorous tone keeps things light, but there is always an element of internal logic and a serious enough core so that players won't find the humor excessive or too cheesy. The flavor is beyond the sum of its parts, and I'm sure Trey Causey had many additional and different inspirations, but I pick up notes in Mortzengersturm of: 1967 Rankin-Bass stop-motion kid's movie Mad Mad Monster Party, Alex Jordan's House on the Rock eccentric tourist attraction in Wisconsin, and Vincent Price and Peter Lorre in 1963's The Raven movie.

There is a humorously illustrated board game on two pages which points out features of the adventure graphically, but could also be played in lieu of D&D if you really wanted to. There are also a couple of "coming attractions" previews of other things in Trey Causey's game world. But these few things after the end of the adventure text don't distract or detract from what is an excellent product for running or just reading.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak
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Strange Stars
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/09/2017 05:13:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This setting book clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 29 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

This review was moved up in my review-queue as a non-prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

Old Earth isn’t even a legend anymore, even its location lost to the ravages and vastness of space and time. An undetermined time after humanity spread to the stars, the Archaics rose in their floating, crystalline cities, constructing a hyperspace travel network and engaged in planetary-scaled engineering; theirs was an age where a noble may rule a whole world – but, as Hari Seldon may have noted, all empires must end. The Great Collapse, which may have been as long as 1000 years past, took place, kickstarting a Dark Age of dissolution, where mysterious cultures rose and fell in what once was core human space: The mysterious Zurr, seemingly primitive, yet spread across planets, and the faceless ones, research-sadists, who replaced their faces with incredibly potent sensory apparatuses. When the long night ended, it was the radiant polity that rose, claiming stewardship of paleo-mankind and mastery over hyperspace travel: “We civilize; we do not govern. We end war; we do not wage it. We guard; we do not control. Our thoughts look always to the future.” – This is their creed and it reminded me in a positive manner of Rome’s excellent tripartite album “Die Aesthetik der Herrschaftsfreiheit” on the concept of anarchy as a philosophical world-view, but that as an aside.

The default setting of this space opera setting would be the Modern Age ushered in by the polity’s radiant lords. The book classifies the sentient beings as sophonts – biologics contain humans, Star Folk bioships, etc. Moravecs are sentient, self-replicating robots and infosophonts are basically AIs, digital minds and other entities sans physical form that choose to live in the noosphere. As you may have noted, the books makes admirable use of linguistic terms to classify and categorize the campaign setting’s reality. And no, the book never devolves into a garbled mess, though, as often in good fiction, it takes a bit to get into the terminology of the setting. Really cool: Sample artworks explain e.g. clothes worn, weaponry, etc. in a concise manner that manages to squeeze a surprising amount of information on each page – a picture of a space captain, the afro-wearing, badass lady Stella Starlight, for example, feature sidebars on salvage and the lost ancient starships.

The book also showcases the hyperspace gates and their connections between regions of space – which would be as well a place as any other to note how this pdf is laid out, for the layout is brilliant: The artworks and bits of information are depicted in a manner not unlike the Star Trek/Star Wars almanacs – artwork, explanations, trivia, graphics – the similarity even extends to the advertisement mentioned before, which included an “action figure” in the artwork.

Anyways, we continue from the big picture to the more detailed observations of the regions of hyperspace – from the Outer Rim, where the vaguely feline Djägga live and places of interest include Fortuna IV, a gambler’s planet, Gogmagog, the planet of giant robot battles (!!) and Boreas, an ice-covered moon, where boreal sea life was weaponized, including bacteria that reanimate the dead. Yes, amazing. There also would be the Alliance (think of a smaller Federation), the Instrumentality of Aom, a theocracy founded on cold practicality (with Illuminatus!-easter-egg-nod), the Coreward Reach…have I mentioned phantasists selling mass-produced neural dreams and oneiric experiences? There is also the Vokun Empire, once fearsome conquerors in decline, who even have a slave-race of humanoid computers….and we even take a look at a cantina (Star Wars association obviously intended), with several NPCs noted, each of which featuring his/her/their own angle for adventuring.

Nomadic clades (the name for race employed herein) sans homeworld are also covered and so are pirates and other criminals – the sample artwork for the latter looking like a cross between a yeti and a tarsier. A list of most wanted, notes on the pharesmid syndicate – there is a ton of adventuring potential here. Where there are species and more or less peaceful societies, there are bound to be those outside – hostile species generally considered to be bad news. These include the Kssa, oviparous humanoids with reptilian characteristics, ruled by the Cold Eggs, the Ssraad (coincidentally somewhat similar to the classic, closed IP Slaadi) and we also talk a bit about psi and psionics and their roles in the galaxy.

The book also sports notes on terminology, a pronunciation guideline and concludes with 5 basic operation guidelines, each of which coming in 8 variations – these are one-sentence hooks to develop.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. The layout by Lester B. Portlyis FANTASTIC: With the extremely high full-color artwork density (there is an original piece on almost EVERY page) and the cool structures reminiscent of classic scifi almanacs, the pdf is a beauty to behold. The pdf sports no bookmarks, which constitutes a serious comfort detriment – if you can afford it, I’d strongly suggest getting the PoD-version. The book is worth it, production value-wise.

Trey Causey’s Strange Stars is frankly inspiring in the best of ways. When I saw the page-count for the book, I did not expect much, particularly considering the density of artwork herein. It is BAFFLING how much flavor and information the author managed to cram into the pages – there are a ton of inspiring tidbits herein, enough to inspire campaigns galore. While I really wished this book was a really huge campaign setting, I have seen a ton of books with 3 or 4 times the pagecount deliver less – this is a great supplement if you’re looking for some inspiring nomenclature, ideas, etc.

As an aside: The astute reader may have noticed some serious potential for crossover regarding the history of Strange Stars and Starfinder – the ideas contained herein can be added to Starfinder pretty easily…and yes, the same holds obviously true for Traveller, Stars Without Number, etc.

How to rate this, then? Well, the lack of bookmarks for the electronic version costs that version a half a star (4.5 stars, rounded down), but the print-version I’d consider to be 5 stars + seal of approval. As mentioned, I’d suggest getting the PoD-version.

Endzeittgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Stars
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Strange Stars OSR Rule Book
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/09/2017 05:11:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The OSR rules-book for Strange Stars clocks in at 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was move up in my review-queue as a non-prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

Now, this is the rules-companion book for the system neutral Strange Stars-book – and as far as OSR-rules goes, it employs my favorite rules-set for space adventures, namely Sine Nomine Publishing’s excellent and deservedly acclaimed Stars Without Number. As you can glean, provided you’re familiar with SWN, the task of converting the rules material to another OSR-system is relatively simple, though some peculiarities are potentially lost in translation, as a system-immanent procedure of translation.

Anyway, we begin with a brief recap of the nomenclature of the setting, explaining terms like clade (referring to a group of organism derived from the same ancestor or template – relevant distinction in a setting where sentient robots are a thing), the definition of intelligent and self-aware being (sophont) etc. - it is with these that we begin:

Strange Stars knows the following types of sophonts: Biologics are either humans or aliens; it should be noted that Mandate Archive: Transhuman Tech’s body-swapping rules are more commonly used in Strange Stars. (Which should also provide a nice example how well this is ingrained in SWN’s possibilities.) Bioroids are artificially-created biological beings that are worn by a mind – whether it’s an infosophont (bodyless AI) or a Ghost, Ghost in the Shell-style – full-blown transhumanist options here. Finally, Moravecs constitute self-replicating, sentient machines.

From here, we move to the specific clades: More than 20 (!!!) are provided: From domed-skull humanoids capable of cataloging language to the insectoid Blesh, the feline Djägga, the engineer isopods (with a dditional limbs and body-swapping), gnomes, the bone-clawed hwuru, avian humanoids, humanoid computers…and yes, emerald-skinned humanoids…there is a wide array of races with concisely defined abilities here. Each race gets a brief note on physical and psychological characteristics and class preferences/restrictions, backgrounds available and attribute requirements, if any. The pdf also classifies the clades by hyperspace region, which is helpful. Now, there is a downside to the variety of races presented herein – that is that they very much are reliant on the GM/referee to properly account for differences in raw power: There are several races that obviously eclipse the others in sheer power, which means that some discretion and skill is advised here.

On a more positive aside, the pdf does contain a wide variety of backgrounds to expand the background system featured in SWN – from bureaucrat to business sophont, psytech or data prospector, there are several provided, with some allowing for choices within a skill’s arrays – other than that, we have the 4 skills per background you’d expect – with some backgrounds allwowing for one freely chosen skill. The backgrounds thus can be considered to be well-crafted – no complaints.

Chapter 2 deals with tedchnology in the context of Strange Stars, beginning with the metascape, the augmented reality that most people experience – and yes, it may be hacked. The Noosphere is the cyberspace of the far future, where disembodied AIs live, for example. Implanted cyberware and brain-computer interfaces are very common, which allows for some interesting uses of the Computer skill, obviously. Strange Stars also features Fabbers – matter compilers. These act as hyper-advanced 3D-printers, while programmable matter is…well, just what it says on the tin. That these technologies have a serious impact on economy should be pretty evident. Alien and archaic tech are also mentioned.

But how does space travel work? Well, per default, it uses the Hyperspace Network erected by the Archaic Oikumene prior to the dark age and Great Collapse. Think of these as somewhat akin to Mass Effect’s acceleration nodes. The tech is partially psionic, poorly understood and travel time depends an is color-coded: Travel time equals the color modifier (ranging from 18 to 6750) time the distance modifier (ranging from 1 – 5) in kiloseconds. This is for the range of the network, mind you – space is unfathomably huge. SWN fans will note that the FTL travel is very much different from Strange Stars’ node-based system. It should be noted, though, that these need not exclude one another: It is pretty easy to drop Strange Stars within the vast universe of Stars Without Number – FTL beyond the nodes, node-only in the Strange Stars-clusters. That as an aside.

Starships are discussed as well – gravity generators and inertial suppressors would be crucial pieces of tech. The rare and sought-after drive-boxes, hyperintelligent, but not self-aware AIs crafted by the Archaic also makes for an interesting aspect of piloting spaceshifts…with potential for adventuring galore.

Beyond these, we take a look at setting assumptions (with the Great Catastrophe accounting for vast differences in tech-levels) – and these include semi-hard scifi (as a fan of hard scifi, I wholly applaud the setting’s commitment to plausibility – it sets this space opera setting apart from others) as well as the fact that intersystem travel is fast, intrasystem travel slow, thanks to the mysterious hyperspace nodes. Post-internet and transhumanism and the evolution of fiath in the vastness of space similarly represent concise components of Strange Stars. As a whole, a complex of leitmotifs I thoroughly enjoy. GMs will also cherish a brief list of the hyperspace regions introduced in the setting book: Each comes with a brief one-sentence run-down, a note on what type of story it’s best suited for and some very much appreciated inspiration books for further reading: Mini Appendix N-sections, if you will – and yes, often quoting media beyond the scifi/space opera genres.

We also get a brief adventure base-line generator: 6 basic adventures are presented: The challenge, the heist, the hunt, the gauntlet, the rescue, the unexpected. Each sports at least 2 different d8 tables you can use to generate the adventure, with 3 featuring 3 tables instead.

Next up would be a massive bestiary/NPC-codex section, with SWN’s descending AC, atk bonus, etc. all concisely codified. The entries are brief and while each critter gets at least a short fluff-pragraph, it should be noted that we do not get artworks for these. Big plus as far as I’m concerned: The nice fraction-rules from SWN are properly supported with 7 factions and we also take a look at the worlds noted in the great campaign book: We codify these with world tags (some of which are new, some changed) – there is, for example, no perimeter agency in Strange Stars, and much forbidden tech is considered to be common instead; hence, the tag’s meaning is pretty much inverted and denotes an overly restrictive world. 6 new tags, from luddite worlds to banking centers, can be found and the pdf also sports a really cool habitat generator: Habitat shapes, population…from spheres to rings or Knights of Sidonia-style cylinders and classic asteroids, the pdf covers a lot of cool aspects, including a table of natural bioclimes.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard. Artwork partially reuses some assets from the campaign book in b/w, but also sports a couple of new pieces in b/w. The lack of bookmarks in the electronic version is galling – particularly considering that this is a rule-book you’ll consult more often. The electronic version hence should be considered to lose one star over the PoD-version.

Trey Causey’s OSR-rules for Strange Stars are surprisingly concise – no, really. They can definitely be considered to rank among the better OSR-rules out there, managing to implement the tight rules-language of Stars Without Numbers. Speaking of which: It is very much evident that the author is very familiar with SWN, using some of the more amazing aspects of the system in a concise manner. That is a big plus, as far as I’m concerned – too often, relatively rules-lite systems are used as an excuse for sloppy rules-language. This is thankfully not the case here: The material is concise and well-made. That being said, without the amazing flavor of the system-neutral setting book, this obviously loses a lot of its appeal. If I rated this on its own, I’d complain about it being sketch-like – but that’s pretty much the point here – the book is intended to supplement the setting book and I’ll rate it as such.

Now, as much as I love the vast majority of the content herein and the care which was taken to ensure SWN-compatibility, there are a couple of aspects I enjoy less: One would be that the races diverge in power – there is not a good baseline here and some species depicted here are simply, rules-wise superior. Whether you care about that or not depends on your game, but personally, I would have loved to see more advice on handling the more potent races regarding stigmas, flaws, etc. Secondly, the lack of bookmarks represents a serious detriment for the electronic version. For the print version, I think I’d rate this 4.5 stars; the electronic version loses half a star for the lack of bookmarks…and usually, I’d round up, but I feel that this is closer to the 4 for me. Hence, I will round down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Stars OSR Rule Book
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Weird Adventures
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/29/2017 10:39:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive sourcebook clocks in at 165 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 161 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, what is this? Well, picture a setting, the Strange New World, that puts fantasy tropes in an era reminiscent of the interim between the two World Wars, as seen through the lens of the classic pulp magazines of old. The history of the world is thus somewhat akin to what you'd expect, though it should be noted than nice, poster-style artworks provide cliff-notes versions of what once was. It should be noted, though, that the focus of this book lies exclusively on the New World - which sees enough problems of its own with drought, etc., spiraling the country towards a great depression. The pdf provides notes on days and months, holidays, etc.

Race-wise, the Ancients brought the Black Folk to the new world before the arrival of the Ealderish, the Europe-stand-in, if you'd like. Natives and Yianese also make for obvious substitutions and feature twists that set them slightly apart from real world equivalents. A similar approach is taken for religion - old-time religions would be those based on variations of the montheistic writings; Oecumenical hierarchate practices religion more stringently and adds saints and the like for a ore Catholicism-like version. Beyond that, eikones exist - i.e. personifications of concepts and yes, pagan gods do exist. It is interesting to observe that this book does talk about the ramifications of the possibility of journeys to hell and heaven, respectively!

Magic follows roughly two different paths: thaumaturgy, which denotes basically the scientific/academic form of magic, while mysticism is more intuitive - somewhat akin to the divide between prepared and spontaneous casters, though rules-wise, there is no difference here apart from the extensively elaborated upon different social ramifications. The continent, just fyi, is fully mapped in color and from here, we embark on the gazetteer-section of the book, which provides an interesting look at the nations, sometimes with a wink and a smile: The US-equivalent would be the "United Territories of Freedonia", for example, while Zingaro, the great Meso-American stand-in, mentions e.g. Sainted Mother Death and the like - we have magically icy winds in the north and little bits and pieces with crunch as well as plot-seeds galore. Have I mentioned the settlement Cuijatepec, where interred bodies mummify and walk the land (complete with a b/w-picture of a badass mummy mariachi gunslinger), deadly jungles, 10 sample ways to die in the deep - this chapter provides a nice "big picture"-view of the Americas in this setting.

From the big picture, we move inwards towards a tad bit more details, with the chapter "On the Weird Road" (nice Kerouac-nod there!), a chapter which goes into the details of the Union, including its currency (with fitting nicknames), explanations of the government and interesting twists - when e.g. monster-hunting paladins of great families inherit their father's swords to their offspring. Arkham, including a famous asylum, can be found...and then there is the City, whose hegemony extends beyond the holdings of the Five Baronies - the City is vast and its constituents include an alien city with an unstable topography that may or may not exist at any given time, the gambling paradise (or hell) of Faro City, a New Orleans equivalent...and the smaragdine mountains...have I mentioned the rules for magical bootleg alcohol, a dwarven city, an infernal mafia or the dustlands, haunted by wrathful elementals? The monster-haunted Grand Cany...eh, Chasm, rushes for the Black Gold and the center of the entertainment industry, Heliotrope, home of the legendary gunslinger hero Big Jim Trane, who is sometimes riding a giant prehistoric cat. Occult feminism, cigarette-"ads" for djinn cigarettes - it is nice touches like this that manage to lend a sense of authenticity to the proceedings.

From this, we move on to the City proper, which, as mentioned before, is roughly separated into 5 baronies. It should be noted that the map here is functional, but pretty barebones, with the exception of the fully depicted Empire Island, which contains the Central park equivalent as well as TON of highly detailed locales and hooks: From the slums of Hardluck to the financial district, we run a wide array of themes and tropes, supplemented by random encounters (fluff-only). Inevitables haunt those that would resist the taxation or wish harm on the Municipal Building (fitting!), while being an exterminator in such a setting, obvious, is a rather dangerous profession. Also cool: Little Carcosa. Just figured I'd mention that one. ;) Grimalkin village, ziggurats topped with Tesla coils, loan sharks and the race of barrow men ( CON and CHA +1, +2 to saves vs. poison, disease and contagion, can horrify targets with a variant of fascinate, penalizing saves), ghoulish undertown...have I mentioned the Lady of Amaranth Park, the airship dock contained in Grand Terminus, Dwergentown or the mysterious Mr. Nick Scratch? Or the degenerate, human-slaughtering eikomne? The charities that lord over the circus district?

Here, you can find phantom automats, meet gentlemen mentalists, realize that vampires are pretty much very dangerous addicts, go to "Sal's Paradise, Jump!", listen to magical jazz...and have I mentioned the area that now is straight out of The Magical Monarch of Mu (guess what that one is the analogue of...) or the theft of an elephantine colossus by notorious lich Hieronymus Gaunt?

The pdf also provides a variety of different monsters: These come with both ascending and descending AC-values, HD, number encountered and a general idea of movement rates ("fast flyer", for example), allowing for relatively easy integration into a given specific rules-set. These include black blizzards, undead, illithid-like brain-invaders, crabmen, hitfiends (hilarious!), gatormen, living ghost-towns, hill-billy giants, living totems, lounge lizards, murder ballads that conceal themselves in songs, pink elephants (!!!), the Reds (agents of the underground civilization!)...and much more.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has color maps that are decent and an amazing full-color artwork on the inside of the front cover. The interior-artwork is original and b/w and really nice. It should be noted that "advertisements" in the style of the 20s and 30s are littered throughout the book, adding a sense of authenticity to the file. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. I can't comment on the physical versions, since I only own the pdf-version.

Trey Causey's Weird Adventures did not have an easy standing with me. You see, I love the pulp genre and I love the fantasy genre. Thing is, I don't think they mix well. At all. Similarly, I have read so many allotopias and near-earth settings, they tend to end up boring my socks off. In short: This is one book I would have never bought or read, were it not for my reviewer status.

Guess what? I'm honestly glad I did read this! You see, this pdf actually manages to properly blend the fantastic and the pulp genre without getting bogged down in Tolkienesque tropes. It draws from a vast wealth of knowledge and obviously careful research and its ideas go beyond winking "add fantasy" variants of real world phenomena, creating a world that is at the same time radically different and thoroughly grounded in our cultures....while changing them rather drastically. In short, this actually manages the nigh-impossible task of blending the two genres with panache aplomb. Now personally, I do not necessarily love this - but I am absolutely impressed by the depth of imagination and by the obvious love that went into this book. This is obviously a labor of passion and it shows on pretty much every page. It is very rules-lite, which makes conversion to pretty much any system really easy as well - and what more can you ask for? My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars. If the ideas even remotely sound like they could interest you, check this out!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Weird Adventures
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Hill Cantons Compendium II
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/08/2017 08:10:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Now, I assume that you've read my review of the Hill Cantons Cosmology, for there, I explained the general make-up of this rather intriguing fantasy setting. It should be noted that, while this pdf explains the concept of corelands, borderlands and weird, I still maintain that it's smart to read up on the former pdf before reading the two flavor pages that kick off this book: In these, both the city of Kezmarok and Marlinko, both with brief notes on surrounding areas and the like, are presented and brief one-sentence notes on the weird similarly can be found here, providing a nice overview to build upon...and acting as a smart teaser for the Hill Cantons modules, obviously. ;)

The first massive section of this pfg, however, would be devoted to a massive array of classes/races that represent the slightly gonzo/weird theme of the Hill Cantons, so let's take a look, shall we?

The first of these would be the Black Hobbit, called so because of the color of their souls. These guys are not nice and need Dex and Con 9, get d6 HD and cap at level 8 (134K XP). At second level, they get Agitation, which increases their Cha to 18 1/day when inciting others to mischief. They gain an additional daily use at 4th and 8th level. At 3rd level, they may manufacture bombs - one per week (2/week at 6th level) and 30 gp. These deal 1d8+1 in a 10-foot radius. Sooo. for how much do they sell? Can others use them or does only the black hobbit know how to use them?

Chaos monks may not be eligible for the monk class and sport either Int or Wis below 10. They have 1d3 HD and no maximum level - which contradicts their table, which caps at 8th level. at 80,001 XP. After 5th level, they need to defeat lower level chaos monks to advance. They get Dex to AC and a further +1 for each 2 levels and may only use bo and jo sticks, nun-chucks [sic!] (yes, the sic erat scriptum is part of the pdf and intentional!), clubs, man-catchers, bowie knives, sais, metal claws and throwing stars. "Chaos monks are rarely surprised (a 1 on a d8) and then only if spoken to by a member of the opposite gender." That made me laugh, yes - but it has no place in rules-language. So, can a medusa surprise them? At 2nd level, they may perform kicks for d5 damage, +1 per level attained. 3rd level, they can speak with fungi. At 4th level, they can flip over the back of their opponents while making a high-pitched scream. Okay, funny. What does that do? The ability also allows for the use of samurai swords...and now notes that chaos monks risk self-injury when using swords at lower levels - something that the weapon rules above failed to specify. Also: Do sais or bowie knives count as swords? Because RAW, they can't even use swords at those levels. At 6th level, chaos monks can cast Confusion once a day "not just on themselves but others." So, does that mean that the chaos monk is affected as well? Or not? No idea. 8th level yields the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. "It is unclear whether this has any real mechanical effect however." Is this funny? Hell yes. Does it hold up as rules-language or actually have a proper use at the table? NOPE.

Feral Dwarves need Con 9, have Str as prime requisite, d8 HD and cap at level 12 (660,001 XP). They can detect by concentration slopes, shifting walls, etc, may only wear armor up to chain and use feral weapons (spears etc. - all properly codified). They also gain, hilariously, +1 to hit versus deodands, due to racial animosity. They may also throw small boulders in combat, with +1 to hit and damage, 1d4 base damage and Str modifier added. Throws from a higher latitude (again, properly codified), gain a +2 bonus instead. Some feral dwarves use polished flint mallets for 1d4+1. These render targets unconscious on a natural 20 for 1d6 rounds. They also begin play with a 30% chance to forage food, +3% per level gained and may start fires in any environment 9th level feral dwarves attract followers. The race comes with an alternate starting package and fight and save on the same table as robo dwarves...though these don't have such a table either. I assume defaulting to dwarves as a standard there.

Robo-dwarves need Con 9 and use Con as prime requisite. They have d8 HD and cap at level 12 and 750,001 XP. With a silvery skin, they have an AC of 8 if not wearing other armor and don't eat or drink - though milk has intoxicating effects. Regular food is toxic to them and they need to consume lamp oil as well as gravel and bits of rock. They may not wear armor made mostly of organic material, can see in the dark up to 60 ft. and have a 2 in 6 chance to spot weak spots, subtle slopes, traps, hidden doors, etc, but need to commune with the stone by placing a hand on it.

Half-ogres need Str and Con of 14+, Cha or less than 9, have Str as prime requisite and d10 HD. They cap at level 9 (294,000 XP). They can carry more gear than comparable races and may see in the dark up to 60 feet and fight/save as fighters of the same level. The pantsless barbarian needs Con 11, which also doubles as prime requisite, gets d10 HD and caps at 12th level at 660,001 XP. These guys and gals believe that their privates need to be close to the sun and thus may not use armor better than chain and takes a -1 penalty to AC. They do get +1 to hit with the preferred tribal weapon and every other level, they can take +1 to a "LotFP-like d6 skill in either Tracking or Wilderness Survival." That...is kinda problematic, as it suddenly assumes that the referee uses LotFP's skills per the game, when the rest of the pdf made no such assumptions.

The mountebank would be a variant thief who needs Int, Dex and Cha 13, has Cha as prime requisite and 1d4 HD. The class goes the full 20 levels, capping out at 1,300,001 XP. They may use disguises like an assassin and gain the Sleight of Hand skill at pick pocket + 15% to switch out/manipulate objects and may only use thief magic items until 9th level, where they may also use illusionist items. Also at this level, the mountebank attracts 2d6 followers.

From levels 1 - 10, they get new con-man style abilities that rely on language and being understood: At first level, Flim Flam temporarily raises Cha to 18, while at 5th level, he can manufacture flash powder for 150 gp. While these have durations, we have a collation of item and class feature once again here and the flash powder's blindness has no duration. Quite a few referees I know will also be somewhat appalled by the lack of a daily cap of uses here: At third level, the mountebank gains charm person, at 4th hypnotism, etc. - and these have no daily cap. In theory, you could RAW run around and charm everything.

The war bear (yes, you read right!) needs Str 13 and Con 14, has Con as prime requisite, d10 HD and caps at level 8 and 147, 200 XP. War bears wear no armor and instead determine AC by level, starting at 6 and decreasing that to 3 at level 8. Dex bonus, if available, can be added. War bears gain +1 to hit and damage when using polearms and they are REALLY obsessive about the weapons, losing Wisdom if separated too long from a polearm. At 6th level, they can invent and name a polearm, which hits and damages at +2 in his paws and may injure creatures only affected by magical weapons. At level 8, provided he has a sufficient underground complex, he attracts a band of war bears. These guys save as dwarves and fight like fighters of their levels.

Finally, there would be White Wizards, who need Int and Wis 12, use Wis as prime requisite and get 1d4 HD. They cap at level 21 and 1, 696,001 XP and learn spells of up to 7th level. They save as magic-users and need spellbooks. They may only use simple non-edged weapons and may not wear armor, but may cast spells from cleric and druid spell lists, but these spells are treated as arcane, not divine. They may use druid and cleric as well as magic-user magic items, but may not use magic items that directly inflict damage. The pdf sports an optional rule that allows them to create cleric scrolls at 75 gp times spell level, taking 1 week per spell level to complete.

So, that would be the first half of the pdf. The second half presents an alternate and pretty amazing character creation system - and these tables represent one of the most extensive ones I have seen so far: You roll for birth order, parent occupation (which net an attribute die and starting gear)...and then, you roll again: Nobility, merchants, clergy - all have their own subtables. Then, you roll for significant events during childhood and adolescence, which once again nets attribute dice and further rolls for relatives, crimes, guardians, etc. Military service, virtues and vices, religious experiences, magical occurrences - there is a TON of tables here and the system actually yields a great background. Extra dice are added to the default 3d6 rolled for attributes in character creation - this obviously generates more potent characters than the default roll 3d6 method, but is tweaked easily enough - even as fluff-only, this is really amazing and holds up. That being said, I think the pdf should specify that the usual caps still apply - otherwise, you can end theoretically up with characters that have ludicrous attributes.

The pdf also has a page devoted to starting equipment generation, though, while okay, it is a bit rudimentary for my tastes. The pdf also provides a page of funnel (0-level) rules and the final page is devoted to attribute checks -roll under attribute, with the default task being 3d6. Decent, I guess, but not something that blew me away.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good on a formal level. On a rules-language level, the supplement could be more precise. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf features a nice b/w-artwork beyond the cool full-color cover. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment. I got the softcover booklet, which btw. adheres to the standard letterpack/A4-size.

I love Chris Kutalik's humor and this is actually a nice read. However, as a rules-supplement, the humor gets in the way and makes the content needlessly opaque in several cases - as a rules-supplement, I do not consider this a success. I can hear the hissing and booing, but know what all good OSR-systems have in common? They may be rules-lite, but they are PRECISE. This is not precise, not even close. It suddenly talks about sub-systems in a class/race, lacks durations etc. and while it is imaginative, creative and hilarious, it is simply not a good rules-supplement, no matter how you try to spin it The first half of this pdf did nothing for me, apart from the admittedly amazing concepts. This booklet, for me, is remedied by its second half: While these tables and rules may not universally appeal to me, I adore the character creation tables and here, suddenly, the rules are significantly more precise. In fact, even before, the precision oscillates.

Now, would I get this in print again? Honestly...no. But it is worth checking out, considering the PWYW-nature of the pdf. This may not be for everyone, but chances are you can at least mine some nice ideas from the pdf. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up only due to the PWYW-status of the pdf.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hill Cantons Compendium II
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Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak
by Matthew W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/05/2017 10:26:39

Hey Folks, we’re putting together another one of our mystery box series. Today we’re looking at an adventure from RPGnow, created by an independent publisher . This adventure, written by Trey Causey and published by The Hydra Cooperative, features a wonderful departure from the norm and has such a wonderfully different style. There’s a mansion in need of visiting, and the hijinks are just getting started as we explore Mortzengersturm the Mad Manticore of Prismatic Peak.

Setup

The Adventure is written for characters around level 3-4. It uses the standard rules for experience gain. Party size is of less concern than ingenuity, as some of the encounters are not appropriate for characters of this level, but can be avoided with quick thinking and smart decision making. This is an adventure that believes in the motto of “There are alternatives to fighting.”

There are a couple of hooks in this adventure depending on how you are planning on using it. The writers have a very different way of approaching setting and adventure design, and if you’re used to a more typical (or more serious) fantasy setting, this may put you off a little. I would encourage you to embrace the fun and give it a try.

The Adventure

This adventure is actually fairly straightforward and only 13 encounter areas deep. What it lacks in depth it more than makes up for it in flavor and complexity. By hook or by crook, the characters have to gain access to the Whim-Wham Stone (I kid you not), and either return it, or a sample of its energy to their employer. The Stone is currently in the possession of a wizard named Mortzengersturm, and his remote mansion is the location that the characters will have to travel to in order to secure access to the Stone. Once the characters arrive at the Mansion, something is terribly wrong, and the characters will have to figure out how to complete their mission and survive their expedition to the Mansion.

The Aftermath

The characters will have to successfully find the Stone or its energies and escape the Mansion with their lives. Depending on how they resolve the adventure, there are plenty of follow ups, including getting the Stone back to their employer, exploring the area around the Mansion, finding the potential victims of the Evil wizard, and possibly having to come back at a later time to put the Wizard down for good. As an introduction to this world, this is a wonderful starting point to get your feet wet and explore the world. I want to see more of this setting, and this adventure gives you a lot of ways to get into the larger region.

What I like about this adventure

The author has put together a wonderfully complex adventure that is short enough that you could play it in an evening, but it doesn’t feel rushed. There’s a certain pacing required to put something like this together, and the author has done a great job of putting together a different style of adventure. It still plays like dungeons and dragons, but it’s got a healthy dose of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and other equally absurd ideas. It’s odd, but it’s a good odd.

The other thing that’s very helpful for this adventure is that it includes pre generated characters. It’s perfect for a one shot (i’m not sure i would use this is an introduction to Dungeons and Dragons unless i was dealing with experienced players) and is a delight to work with. The other thing that i really like about this is that it includes a sidebar on each page that gives the DM the important things that he or she needs to know about each area. That’s a really handy tool for a new DM, and i like that the adventure has the sidebar bulletpoints to help the DM keep focused around the descriptive text. This adventure is just a different way of looking at how you can put together a Dungeons and Dragons adventure, and i am a fan of this style. It’s quirky and it’s a little off center, but it’s enjoyable without being over the top levels of whimsy. (Your mileage may vary and you may have a different tolerance for whimsy than i do)

Issues with the adventure

The only major concern i have with this adventure is that it’s greatest strength (the whimsical nature of how it’s put together) can be a detriment. If your players are straightforward concrete thinkers, this adventure may cause some trouble for them. It’s full of wordplay and puns, and it may cause problems for some players. This adventure encourages creative thinking and different approaches to handling problems. If your players aren’t the type that want to explore and try alternative solutions, this adventure may not be the thing for that group. I think it’s an absolute delight as a one shot (and use the pre-generated characters). The one critique i have is that there aren’t any text boxes to provide descriptions of rooms and encounter areas to the players, and the map is not set to a scale, so the DM is going to have to puzzle out how big things are.

Conclusions

Mortzengersturm the Mad Manticore of Prismatic Peak is a very different feel from a typical Dungeons and Dragons adventure and it’s wonderful. Encouraging creative thinking, and a mind for mischief, this adventure is a delightful romp that can give the characters an interesting change of pace. It can also be used to kick off a hell of a groovy campaign for a remarkable breath of fresh air. You aren’t likely to find anything else like it, and that’s a delightful change of pace to stave off campaign fatigue. I give this adventure 5 stars, and i enjoy Mr. Causey’s work. I am interested in perusing more of his work and i will likely be spending more time on Drivethru RPG checking him out. That’s our review of Mortzengersturm the Mad Manticore of Prismatic Peak, from Trey Causey.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak
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The Hill Cantons Cosmology
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/25/2017 10:56:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This brief cosmology clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, this pdf is exactly what is says on the tin - a description of the cosmology of the Hill Cantons, which serve as a backdrop for several of the modules put out by the Hydra Collective. But it is frankly more than that.

The world described here would be called Zěm, and after the header, which explains how the world came to be, we begin with a dialog-like frame-narrative that is hilariously irreverent. In the beginning, there was void (or has world-matter existed before?) and all Void was divided in 3 parts - the space of demons, the transitional zone haunted by the Uquitani and the sector inhabited by the mortals, the "Insufferable Void."

A somewhat doofy Overgod toiled...and then created drink, in order to stop caring. He got horrible drunk, danced upon a gas giant shouted (with a curse) and slipped from it, sleeping for aeons. His spilled drink would become the oceans and when he awoke, he watched. Before inventing Drink. Again. And so he languishes in drunken stupor, while petty demons and gods rage and fight, and below that, the mortals toil.

The world itself has a strong law-chaos leitmotif, realized in a rather intriuing manner: The world is separated in roughly three regions: The corelands, which are akin to our medieval age; no magic, rigid structure, no weird stuff. Contrasted with that would be the Weird, basically pure chaos and your excuse as a GM to throw anything at players. Planar instabilities? Temporal rifts? Every creature you can dream off, from the heaves to the realms of fey....it can just stumble out of the highly magical Weird.

Between the realms of Gonzo weirdness exemplified by the Weird and the rigid Corelands, there lie the Borderlands, where the fantastic exists, but is still beholden to at least some natural laws; it is in this hazy, dream-like in-between-realm that the Hill Cantons and the vast amount of adventure they offer, can be found.

Have I mentioned that this pdf actually managed to make me laugh? Let me quote from the section "On Alignment": "In his famous treatise Annals of the Fold-Fold Path, Gaxx the Jerk-King teaches us that five-fold alignment (LG, CG, N, LE, CE) is humanity's limited, warped, half-right theoretical view (or ontology, if you want to get really high-falutin') of how Zěm's cosmos works."

Regarding religion, we have Solarity (Praise the sun!...Dark Souls fans got a chuckle out of that...) and the ancient space gods. Gods are not beholden to mortal alignments and and the pdf goes on to explain various solarist sects, including the "official" one. We are told about the orders that serve the church and the other deities - Hebeka, the Celestial Lady, Ha-Vul the antagonist and also the Old Gods of Pahr.

Similarly, the first beasts, quasi-deific beings created by the grand god - these include the Regimental Goat Koza and Vlenosh, the angry sloth...and beyond these entities, there are the atrophied gods, for all things must wane and perish, even the deities. Finally, the silent god exists, enigmatically, a divine wildcard, whose endgame is yet to be understood.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though a few typo-level glitches can be found, most notably that the "cosmology"-header on each pages reads "cosnology"[sic!]. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard with solid stock art. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Chris Kutalik's cosmology is an irreverent, fun short pdf that made me smile more than once. It is creative, weird and at times even funny. The cosmology presented features several components I consider to be rather enticing and helps illustrate a creative and intriguing world. In short: This is a very fun read. Now, this also is PWYW, which should be considered to be an excellent reason to get this gem right now. It is fun,a good read and even inspiring - whether for scavenging purposes, as a mythology or to add further facets to Hill Canton-modules, this is very much worth getting and leaving a tip for. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Hill Cantons Cosmology
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Strange Stars Fate Rule Book
by Dillard R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/18/2017 23:04:34

Splendid. In the review of the Setting Book I stated that Art took precedence over content. Way more art in the first book than in this one. This book however is chock full of content. Everything is fully explained in Fate Core rules.

The first section of the book is taken up with how Strange Stars differs from regular Fate (not much). You could even run a game without the Fate Core rules if you wanted (but why since you can get the Fate Core rules for free on this site?).

The remaining sections cover character creation. You have High Concept, Trouble and Stangeness as your first three Aspects. Strangeness should add some weirdness to the mix. Life in the Strange Stars is going to leave you affected--maybe you have an unusual gadget, or ethos, what have you.

Clade templates--Each clade is referenced with page number in the Setting Book. There are aliens galore in the Strange Stars and most of them are "human". Every clade mentioned in the Setting book is here and encouragement abounds to make your own.

Adventures and campaigns. If you are used to Fate Core the lightness of this section will not daunt you. There are enough ideas here to get your juices flowing.

Threats. A plethora of threats to use, but not enough to fill a universe. Just enough to figure out how to create your own to match your weird universe.

Worlds and Cluster creation I'll lump together. If you have played Diaspora (for sale on this site) you will understand how this works. Several differences bear mentioning. You are not tied to just the worlds of a cluster. Hyper Gates connect to at least one other of the areas in the Setting book. Higher technology is sought after not feared.

Finally, Factions are given several pages and a reason for existence. Many Fate Core books mention factions but this is the first time I remember any one discussing how they impact the PCs during roleplay.

Overall this is a very good addition to the Fate Core products that exist out there. It will take a bit of work to create your universe, but that is unlikely to deter anyone used to many of the Fate products out there.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Stars Fate Rule Book
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Strange Stars
by Dillard R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/16/2017 10:04:18

A bit expensive for just 32 pages...if you want your books to be jam packed with writing. If you go with the author's "bottom up" method of universe creation it won't be such a problem. And if you like evocative art to get your juices flowing then this is right up your alley.

If you were to cross Guardians of the Galaxy with the Heavy Metal movie and toss in a dash of MST3K you are begining to get the idea of what this setting can be. However, since this is a Player driven creation you could really use whatever comparisons you want.

This would be a great framework for any group that wants to explore/create their setting as they go, because it has enough info to get your creative juices flowing without putting you in a strait-jacket.

There is a Fate Core add on that you can purchase separately, because this is a system agnostic product.

I didn't give it 5 stars because I wanted more. However the concept is intriguing and well executed.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Stars
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