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Frostgrave: Into the Breeding Pits
Publisher: Osprey Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/05/2016 10:15:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second expansion to the cool wargaming/RPG-hybrid Frostgrave clocks in at 62 pages, minus 3 if you do not count editorial, etc., leaving us with59 pages of content.

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

All right, let's begin this review with a kind of template, the most unique modification to the wizard you may achieve while using this supplement. The dungeons below Frostgrave, the eponymous breeding pits, were the haunting ground of the beastcrafters...and their tradition can be experienced in a novel manner: Provided the wizard finds the right grimoire, he may attempt to brew the elixir of the beastcrafter via the Brew Potion spell. In order to benefit from it, the wizard basically has to have 100 experience points for a level-up ready and expend these; an apprentice has to drink alongside his wizard. Successfully drinking the elixir nets you bonuses to cast certain spells and adds new Animal Companion options...however, you also take on bestial features, increasing the cost of all soldiers hired but war hounds. The elixir needs a minimum level of 5, with stage 2 and 3 of the transformation, with progressively better benefits increasing the minimum required level by +5 respectively. And yes, higher levels net special benefits like wings, scales, etc. The pdf also introduces two school-less beastcrafter spells and may only be cast by beastcrafters. Effect-wise, they allow for the temporary or permanent mutation/modification of animals.

Speaking of spellcasting: The book increases the dynamics of spellcasting significantly with so-called reaction spells; as long as the spell's conditions are met, it may be cast at any time...but upon the next activation, the respective spellcaster is considered to have already cast the spell in question. 5 of these are provided -and frankly, I wished we got more...and a new out-game spell of a now extinct magic tradition that allows you to penalize experience points gained. Yup, your foes will hate you for it. Yup, it is incredibly gratifying to cast. Now I already mentioned the eponymous breeding pits being subterranean...and this is basically what this is about: This book allows for DUNGEON-EXPLORATION!!!

Yep, you read right - a whole new gaming experience. The book concisely defines underground exploration: The effects or lack thereof from Crumble to Plane Walk are covered and setting up walls, doors and doorways and ceilings are concisely presented alongside restrictions of lighting. Burrowing creatures can make for nasty surprises...and speaking of which, the book presents rules for the vast amount of traps - a total of 20 unique and evocative traps are provided and yes, depending on the character affected, they may gain bonuses to resist the nasty effects of these obstacles. Traps are sprung, btw., when someone rolls a 1 on an initiative roll...and said player may CHOOSE who is affected by the trap! This can turn a dismal frown to cheers at the table and is extremely rewarding. From magic-cancelling waves to gaining a personal demon, they are very diverse and, more importantly, fun.

Speaking of fun - on the other side of the spectrum, rolling a 20 on an initiative roll means that the player's squad has discovered a secret passage. When any figure of the player's choice is activated, said figure may move THROUGH dead space like walls etc. - but only alone, unless used in conjunction with group activation. Cool: Both of these work in conjunction with both regular AND dungeon set-up, taking spells and options into account.

These two amazing subsystems also tie into the new soldiers: Trap Experts are superb at resisting traps and extends the "trap range" from rolling a "1" to also applying when rolling a "2", but only 1/game. Tunnel Fighter similarly extend the "secret passage found"-range to also apply on 19s, but only for the tunnel fighter. Costs and stats are well-balanced, considering the effect of these abilities.

The book also features new magic items, including a proper table - a total of 17 such items are provided and they actually leave the game better balanced than before, with e.g. chronomancy gaining some seriously cool options via items. A random encounter table for the breeding pits can be found herein alongside 12 critters - from hyena and gnolls to poisonous amplipedes, petrifying basilisks, the book has some classics, including nasty giant worms, minotaurs and hydras - the latter of which come with modifications that represent rare strains and rules for multiple headed hydras. Finally, there are devourers - huge, nasty and very powerful beetles that are harmless...until angered, when they become a superb force of burrowing destruction. In the hands of the right player's schemes, they can be utilized in game-changing manners.

Anyways, the book also features scenarios that make use of the amazing rules presented herein: The Moving Maze represents the exploration of a maze f fungoid structures - it's alive and the player with the lowest initiative may actually move terrain! This is exceedingly rewarding and can lead to amazing games. "Here comes the Flood" is similarly cool: Exploring a canal, there is a flood approaching; after a couple of turns, there is a chance every round for the flood to hit...with devastating consequences if you're caught...and yep, this can make for a perfect "RUN!!!"-moments. The Breeding Pit is less interesting - basically it is a random monster-spawn scenario, mainly here to get a Book of the Beastcrafter. "The Rats in the Walls" spawns giant rats near treasures and dumps them on characters instead of trap effects for a simple, but efficient tweak of the engine. My favorite scenario herein would be "Breeding Season" - basically, it's the devourer showcase - they get a modified "AI" and move towards one another...but when ANY of them is damaged OR when they get close to one another, they start berserking! This can allow you to royally screw over the other player...or have all wizard parties caught in a nightmarish fury of killer beetles!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though not as precise as in the other Frostgrave supplements; I noticed a couple of small hiccups, but none pertaining the exceedingly precise rules-language. Layout adheres to Frostgrave's neat 1-column full-color standard and, once again, we get cool evocative flavor test in sideboxes. Artwork features both photography of full-color minis and excellent full-clor artwork. The physical version is a nice softcover with high-quality, thick, glossy paper. I can't comment on the electronic version.

James A. McCullough's "Into the Breeding Pits" is one phenomenal supplement; I mean it. If you get any of the expansions, get this one. Where "Thaw of the Lich Lord" added to the options, this one MULTIPLIES them. From the amazing trap and secret tunnel rules (which you can easily modify to happen more often, if you wish to) to the concise presentation of subterranean adventuring, the book is glorious. Reaction spells and the new soldiers add further tactical depth to the game and after you've added these rules, I guarantee you will never want to play a Frostgrave game without them ever again. This is a great game-changer for the engine of the game and superb in every way....though the RPG-dude in me wished it had a campaign. Then again, who cares? The scenarios, with one filler-exception, are fresh and cool and the book, as a whole, is worth every cent. If you play Frostgrave, then you NEED this book. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Frostgrave: Into the Breeding Pits
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Mythic Monsters #37: Robots
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/05/2016 10:11:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Legendary Games' critically acclaimed mythic monsters-series clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages introduction/how to use, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of raw content, so let's take a look!

All right, the Technology Guide introduced Cybertech to PFRPG and, fittingly, this installment's introductory bonus content deals with such options; namely, robotic implants, of which a total of 5 are provided. The first of these would be the cyberlink, which attaches to the frontal cortex (occupying the brain slot, implantation 4, if you want to know) and nets the user telepathy witha range of 120 feet, but only for the purpose of "speaking" with roboters, computers, etc. Cool: This also allows you to remotely access computers within the range without requiring input means like keyboards and the like. Additionally, you may 3/day overwrite a robot's programming, adding in a suggestion. Damn cool item that can carry a whole adventure, if need be. Magfeet occupy the leg slot and rank as implantation 2 and allow you to gain +2 to CMD when standing upright on a horizontal metal surface. Much cooler, though: They allow you to go all dead space and walk on walls and even ceilings, provided they're metallic. Yeah, I can see myself using that for some seriously cool encounters.

Also at implantation 2, but associated with the head slot would be the sensory transmitter and featrues basically an antenna, providing a livefeed of visuals and audio information for the wielder at up to 1 mile range. The signal can be picked up with commsets, obviously, and comes with information on how to block it. Cool: Beyond that, the item takes the existence of signal boosters into account - kudos! Subdermal explosives occupy the body slot, feature implantation 6, and makes properly hitting you a nasty proposition for your foe: Whenever you are subject to a non-reach, non-ranged critical hit caused by a piercing or slashing weapon, you inflict 3d6 fire damage to the unfortunate. Oh, and if you die, after 1d4 rounds, you erupt in a 20-ft. 6d6 blast. Yeah, pretty cool. The final implant would be the implantation 5 thought harvester, which occupies both arm and brain slots. The implant provides a needle in your palm that allows you to use it via an attack. On a hit, you inflict 1d3 piercing damage and the target must succeed a Fort save. On a failure, the nanites you injected directly transmit the memories of the subject into your brain, as though share memory was used; memory selection is also covered.

So yep, this time around, the supplemental material is pretty awesome...and they often note from which robots they can be "harvested" as a nice touch. But you're here for the critters, right? So let's take a look at those fellows! At CR 2/MR 1, the android would be the first and the mythic iteration comes equipped with a repulsor: 3/day, they can use these as a ranged touch with a 10 ft. reach. Creatures hit take force damage and must save or be knocked prone; expenditure of mythic power increases the potency slightly and adds minor pseudo-splash damage to the effect. Solid. At CR 1/MR 1, the arachnid robot (which comes with a nice artwork) gets a more powerful explosion when destroyed while still retaining mythic power. Additionally, as a unique new ability, they emit arcs of lightning if below 50% maximum hit points in a 15-ft.cone...which adds a fitting, concise theme and unique little surprise to the robot. The CR 4/MR 1 collector robot (first featured in Fires of Creation, if my memory doesn't betray me) has tracking chips that perform better and are harder to remove and as a standard action, these guys may expend mythic power fire a blast of nonlethal sonic energy at a target, also prompting a save to avoid being stunned...which significantly increases the efficiency of implanting chips, obviously...

At CR 5/MR 2, the gearsman gets more potent charges of his weapon - the unfortunate victim of a critical hit not only suffers from more shock, the electricity may actually bypasses resistances...and potentially thus even dispel non-mythic spell granted immunities to electricity. Additionally, these guys may expend mythic power to significantly increase their self-repair options, using it as a swift action and at no cost towards the daily limit...and it eliminates negative conditions! Finally, the adaptive angle is used in a new ability that makes the robot more effective versus targets that attack it, boosting atk and damage, AC versus ranged attacks as well as doubling the threat range. Awesome upgrade!

The CR 9/MR 4 terraformer robot gets a massive and pretty cool modification: Instead of the standard poison, they may tailor their poison to a single creature type (and subtype), increasing its DC and modifying the effects for the chosen species, but at the cost of decreased efficiency versus others. The damage output of the drill is increased to 2d6/x3 and the damn cool reprogram terrain can by improved as well: Expenditure of mythic power allows these guys to not have the ability uses count towards the total daily uses and further greatly increases the options at the robot's disposal. Oh, and absolutely amazing: By spending two weeks, they actually can permanently change an area in sensibly defined ways! Have I mentioned that, for 2 uses of mythic power, they can actually duplicate high-level natural disasters via their nanites? Yeah, absolutely glorious critter.

At 1 CR higher (CR 10/MR 4), torturer robots can boost their force fields via mythic power...of, and they may use mythic power to use their interrogate ability to affect non-helpless targets...oh, and they may inject truth serums in targets, which is an ability I was frankly missing from the original creature. Kudos! The CR 11/MR 5 version of the warden robot (from The Choking Tower) not only comes with a cool full-color artwork (one of multiple pieces herein!), he may also boost his intrasonic shields, use his sonic disruptors in conjunction with AoOs and gets scanners that duplicate arcane eye and may analyze metals. Via mythic power, these guys can stun creatures hit...or shift the mode of their armor, temporarily losing light fortification, but gaining a potentially lethal reflexive 15-ft. conical blast when hit. VERY cool!

The pdf also features two robots at CR 12/MR 5, the first of which would e the observer swarm from Lords of Rust; this one may use mythic power to enhance its camouflage. The transmit senses ability has been significantly streamlined and makes now more sense, which would be pretty neat. Oh, the swarm also has integrated laser torches that allow it to cut through obstacles (or enemies), potentially even the hardest ones via mythic power. Reflexive evasion versus AoE effects via mythic power and the option to coordinate for nonlethal blasts greatly increase the flexibility and flavor of these beings. The second robot at this CR/MR is the director, may move while maintaining a grapple and use mythic power to increase the range and potency of electromagnetic pulses emitted, while also retaining its daily use array. Oh, and his force field has fast healing...12. Until you break it down to 0 for the day, that is.

There also are two robots at CR 13/MR 5, the first of which would be the thought harvester. These guys may supercharge their shots to deafen targets and use mythic power to boost his force field and once these guys have your memories, they may access the information...again and again. Which makes sense from an internal cohesion point of view, as well as from the perspective of narrative options. Speaking of which: They actually may implant memories. Alternatively to the thoughts, they may also inject Dex-damage-causing numbing agents (that also act as an anti-pain-buff), with mythic power to create more doses. Oh, and for 2 mythic power, they can enter stealth-mode: Combined silence + invisibility. NICE! The myrmidon would be the second robot at this CR/MR and they are...painful: 3/day they may fire a combined dispel magic/disintegration, with mythic power as a flexible means of upgrading either spell effect. They may boost their force field. Speaking of which: They may willingly incur damage to the force field (or electricity damage, in absence of a force field) to further enhance their offensive capabilities...oh, and they may actually quantum shift teleport, potentially flat-footing foes. Oh, and they may see invisible creatures and can use mythic power to maximize their rockets. Yeah, these guys can SHRED even mythic characters...which is exactly what they're supposed to be capable of!

Speaking of shredding foes: The pdf also features the CR 20/MR 8 annihilator robot: These guys may, as a free action, use mythic power to increase all their save DCs by half tier (OUCH), boost the power of their force field, deafen, sicken and stagger foes in a huge area and they add half tier to saves. They may overload their plasma lances to continue to inflict damage (and increase it!), but at the cost of a cooldown, forego melee attacks for better ranged attacks...and use mythic power to automatically dispel non-mythic magical and technological affects...so yeah, an appropriately lethal engine of destruction.

The new critter herein is actually a kind of update - at CR 1/MR 1, we get the cyberphrenic tadpole, first featured in "The Mad Doctor's Formulary"; the mythic iteration grants the creator status and share senses as if it were a familiar. The telepathic relay may also be used more than once per day, with mythic upgrades possible. When it would be destroyed and still has a mythic power, the tadpole may insert a half-strength replicant in the host body...so yeah, amazing upgrade of an already very, very cool low-CR-critter that is truly useful.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to legendary Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports several new, unique artworks for the robots; not all of them, but there are a couple of nice iterations. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Alex Riggs, Russ Taylor and Jason Nelson had an interesting task here: Robots are created and as such, their abilities must make sense to some extent and feel like they effectively supplement the function of the robot. At the same time, adhering too strictly to these aspects may make builds predictable...but you have to have some consistency regarding the options. The force field overload and variations of the overcharge-modes for several robots herein achieve exactly that; they establish a cohesion in design and at the same time do unique things with the options available. There is some serious consistency in the quality of the mythic upgrades, with only the android falling slightly short of the sheer amazing creativity oozing from these robots. In fact, e.g. the observer swarm, whose vanilla build imho failed at its intended raison d'être, is now excellent what it's supposed to do. Similarly, the sheer potency of these robots, their built-in phases/modes etc., all that helps making them excellent bosses to challenge veterans...or, obviously, mythic characters. Anyways, this certainly is one of the gems of the series and considering the exceedingly high quality of the Mythic Monsters-series, that's meaning something. I am often saying that this series really spoiled me regarding bestiaries...and pdfs like this are the reason. Excellence, from start to finish, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Monsters #37: Robots
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U03: Death Comes to Stoneholme
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/05/2016 10:09:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third of the underworld-adventures set in the dwarven city of Stoneholme clocks in at 52 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 48 pages of content, so let's take a look!

While it is not required to have played "Dark Days in Stoneholme" and "Murder in Stoneholme" to enjoy this module, I strongly suggest doing so, for this adds a) more player-investment and b) more gravitas to the module's plot.

Since I played the module as Part III of this series of adventures, the following review will contain minor SPOILERS for the previous modules as well as, obviously, SPOILERS for this one. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

...

..

.

The worship of the archdevil Dispater has been prohibited in Stoneholme since its inception, but like the proverbial worm in the apple, it had a way of coming back. After the alliance with a house of devil-worshipping dwarves allied with a tribe of goblins has been squashed by the PCs, ending their quasi-terrorist attacks, the PC's patron, Lord Deppenkht, has risen in prominence. A general, schematic map of the city is provided alongside some rumors.

A friend of said patron, Lord Aldarn Starkherk, reports receiving death threats and since the PCs have a reputation of being capable in dealing with such issues, it is they who'll get the job of securing the good lord - probably after saving him from some nasty dark creeper assassins in the streets. Deppenkhut, after providing a sumptuous feast for the PCs, thus beseeches the PCs of fulfilling their bodyguard duties for the lord. Thus, the PCs are invited into the house of the good lord, which is btw. fully mapped and comes with a player-friendly iteration - kudos!

All right, after foiling an attack of even more of the uncommon assassins, day 2 already goes pretty damn wrong - and astute (or paranoid) PCs may notice an unexplainable gloating component in Starkherk's reception of them. The dwarven lord ventures into his room - and there meets his fate. When the PCs enter, they'll find him dead by an overdose of concentrated hemlock...that and a LOT of incriminating evidence: From letters to diaries, Starkherk's study contains a lot of incriminating evidence that Deppenkhut, the PC's benefactor, is in fact in league with their opposition, leading a double life...

The city guard then begins to investigate and the module becomes pretty freeform; Deppenkhut begs the PCs to clear his name and is actually arrested - making inquiries is something the pdf handles uncharacteristically well, including the means of actually purchasing divination among the notes. Following the trail of the poison, the wine, Deppenkhut and Starkherk all yield pieces of the puzzle. Complicating manners would be a drunken dwarven mob, an elven paladin horribly out of her element and a spreading sickness do not bode well...not to speak of the hit the PC's hard-won reputation may take due to their association with Deppenkhut...

Speaking of the disease, analyzing it may point out that it is an infernal, nastier variant of ghoul fever...which points towards the massive cave adjacent to Stoneholme, the city tombs, a massive necropolis found in two caverns on top of one another - with a nice sideways full-color map depicting this gigantic area as well. In case your PCs are suspecting Deppenkhut themselves (or are stuck), there is a chance of him actually being seen near the metropolis, the options of the PCs witnessing an infernal ghoul transformation...it's impossible to get stuck in this investigation, which is very much a good thing. You see Deppenkhut is pretty much the Dispater-kingpin in the city...and Starkherk, being just as devious, has actually known all along and makes this his bid of power. Deppenkhut, in the meanwhile, can use his cleverly concealed magic power and items to actually react dynamically to the investigation's process with the perfect alibi, namely being in prison. Obviously, he can thus, mastermind style, easily vanish to plague the PCs another day...and frankly, he kinda deserves the chance.

Within the necropolis, capable trackers may follow the trails found there to either a tomb adjacent to Starkherk's sealed tomb or to the hidden lair of the dark folk that had been assailing the PCs and their allies. The dark folk lair not only contains a couple of powerful adversaries (with class levels and an imho underpriced magical club), but also moldants, poisonous, fungoid watchdogs that erupt in spores, potentially infesting whole areas. Area number 2 would pertain the aforementioned tomb complex and has a distinctly infernal theme, with aforementioned infernal ghouls, a devil, a ghoul wizard and the now-undead Aldarn awaiting as the BBEG in a challenging, nice dungeon.

Beyond the already-mentioned moldants, the infernal ghouls used in the adventure also get their stats - not, they are not simply ghouls with the template of the same name added! As before, the complexes in the Necropolis feature player-friendly versions - sans secret door and trap markers and, better yet, even sans headers. You definitely won't have to cut anything out when using the module.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good; while I noticed a couple of minor formatting hiccups, they did not impede in any way, shape or form my ability to run this module. Layout adheres to a nice, two-column full-color standard. The pdf's art employs a combination of previously used and new full-color artwork - nothing to complain about here. The cartography by Tommi Salama and Jonathan G. Nelson is of the usual high quality for AAW Games -and deserves special praise for the neat player-friendly versions and the overview maps that present the side-view of the city tombs - it's little touches like this that separate "good" from "very good." The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jonathan McAnulty's 3rd trip to Stoneholme is the best so far; in particularly the middle section, the book features a level of detail and consideration for the GM I rarely see in such a set-up. The adversaries the PCs will have to face are pretty powerful and well-crafted and the respective environments are thematically concise. The best thing about this module, though, is honestly that it manages to depict a smart villain who continues to act smart throughout the module; and said villain isn't even the BBEG and may be used by the enterprising GM as a kind of Moriarty-like foil; if your players and PCs are in any way like, mine, this guy may act as a perfect way to lure them anywhere...for after playing Part I - III, they will hate him and be out for blood...or, well, still believe him. This makes the module so fun, at least to me - it is actually a module that dares to play its foes smart and in a way that is both logical and concise. There are modules out there with more far-out concepts, sure; but if you're looking for a module that makes "realistic" sense or a nice investigation, then this most certainly is for you, particularly if your players already enjoyed the first 2 modules in the series. My final verdict for this nice module will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform; however, if you're planning to use this as a stand-alone, it'll lose some of its flair. As a standalone, I'd round down instead.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
U03: Death Comes to Stoneholme
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Mini-Dungeon #033: The Legacy of Theft
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/05/2016 10:07:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map (alas, sans player-friendly version) and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM.

Since this product line's goal is providing short diversions, side-quest dungeons etc., I will not expect mind-shattering revelations, massive plots or particularly smart or detailed depictions, instead tackling the line for what it is. Got that? Great!

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

...

..

.

Still here?

All right!

When recent construction of an inn revealed the presence of a presumably abandoned complex, the owners of the inn to be constructed, Edwyn and Jackson Cairn decided to explore the complex. Dumb idea. It's been 3 days and now it's up to the PCs to find out what happened. The PCs get into a long corridor with decayed doors; 8 to be more prices. While footpaths can be seen in the dust, there seems to be no discernible pattern. Beyond nasty traps and doors slamming shut, the complex presented may look dull on the map, but it isn't - it manages to evoke a concise, creepy atmosphere supplemented well by the traps and adversaries faced. That being said, this is primarily about the atmosphere that you can generate via the crypt thing herein. The module's theme of an abandoned thieves guild is supplemented well by the traps and secret doors featured, though personally, I consider its rewards to be slightly too generous for the challenge posed by it.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art - kudos!

Michael Smith's "Legacy of Theft" is well-presented, manages to evoke a nice atmosphere and is, as a whole, a truly useful mini-dungeon. Its set-up lets you put it frankly just about everywhere, making is very easy to use without any hassle; whether as a dungeon-sub-level, a rescue mission or below any structure, it requires no set-up. As a whole, it is a rewarding, well-made mini-dungeon that is well worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars, though I can't round up for it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mini-Dungeon #033: The Legacy of Theft
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Crawthorne's Catalog of Creatures: Storm Serpent
Publisher: Misfit Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/05/2016 10:05:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Crawthorne's Catalog of Creatures series clocks in at 5 pages - the front cover containing the header, creature artwork and the social media icons/homepage of misfit studios. The SRD takes up 1 1/3 pages and the editorial is in a sidebar - to get all the material you thus have to print out the cover with the icons as well.

So, what is the storm serpent? Well, in short, it is a CR 10 magical beast that has an interesting assortment of abilities: They can basically cause their bite attack at range via concussive bolts (failing to specify the damage type, alas) and, as a standard action, they may call down vertical bolts of lightning as a standard action, causing "electrical" damage - which should be "electricity", but I'm nitpicking here. The storm serpent may breathe even in the airless void and is immune to harmful effects of weather and natural environments...which is a bit odd, considering that RAW this makes them immune versus lightning storms, but not lightning bolts hurled at them via a spell. Odd: What about the druidic spells? Do they qualify? Honestly not sure. They also gain an extra standard action, which may only be used to execute attacks and concealment when activating other abilities. As a move action, they may generate difficult terrain within 20 ft. and may maintain a dance that allows them to shift weather patterns "for several days" - okay, how long? I get that this is supposed to be a story-ability, but its execution still leaves something to be desired.

As always, we get 3 solid adventure hooks to supplement the critter presented here.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good, I noticed no severe formal glitches, though tehre are some deviations in the rules-language. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard of the series and while I'm not big on the social icons and dispersal of non-gaming parts through the pdf, from an aesthetic point of view, there is not much to complain about. The pdf comes with the classic Crawthorne-artwork as well as the storm serpent artwork, which is kind of CGI-y, which is not bad per se...however, the artwork does become pixelated on the edges. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly iteration, which is nice to see. The book has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Emily Brumfield's storm serpent has all the makings of an amazing critter - a bunch of cool and evocative abilities, some neat ideas and a strong theme. Alas, and this weighs heavily on this pdf, the small hiccups accumulate more in it than I would have liked. The glitches are mostly cosmetic, sure - but in a pdf of this size, their presence still baffles me a bit...and at least partially, they influence the mechanics of how the monster works. While by no means bad, the critter thus, alas, does lose some of its appeal to me. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Crawthorne's Catalog of Creatures: Storm Serpent
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Frostgrave: Thaw of the Lich Lord
Publisher: Osprey Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/02/2016 09:06:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first expansion-book to Frostgrave clocks in at 62 pages, minus 4 if you subtract editorial, ToC, etc., leaving us with 58 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This supplement/expansion is the first big campaign for Frostgrave, and it is a cool one (pardon the pun) - but before we go to the linked scenarios, let's take a look at the supplemental material, shall we? The first of these would be the bard - at 100 gc, he clocks in at the upper end of the soldier cost-spectrum, and at Fight +2, Armor 11, he looks like a pretty sucky choice; however, he has a phenomenal Will +4 and conveys a +1 bonus to Will to all soldiers within 6'' of him, but only if they have line of sight. Nice: These benefits cannot be stacked. The Crow Master is just as expensive,, but has both Fight and Shoot +0, armor 11 and +2 Will...so why get him? Well, each crow master comes with a domesticated blood crow that has Move 9, flies, armor 14 and +3 Will...but only 1 Health. So yeah, deadly skirmisher-potential held in check by low Health...and by the restriction that your base needs to have one Blood Crow Roost per such soldier hired...and these restrictions better should be in place, for the blood crow does not count towards the soldier maximum.

Can't afford an archer or crossbowman, but need ranged capability? The javelineer, for only 25 gc delivers that. These guys can use their weapons in melee and ranged combat, but only have a range of 10'' and +0 Fight and SHoot - you get what you pay for, but a couple of these guys still can wreck your day. Finally, for 20 gold crowns, you can recruit a quasi-noncombatant with only a dagger and +0 in all relevant stats as well as armor 10. This would be the pack mule and his draw is that he may carry up to three items and hand them to other characters as an action. Wizards may use actions to take the item from the mule as well....or exchange it. All soldiers presented here have in common that they enrich the tactical options of the game in pretty interesting manners - Blood Crows can e.g. easily follow wizards abusing the Leap spell.

Speaking of spells - in that regard, the book offer three out-of-combat options: Witches may create homunculi; these miniature versions of the wizard decrease his health while in existence, but if he dies during survival checks, his homunculus grows to full size; this is basically an extra life. The other two spells pertaining the ascendency to lichdom; these guys are VERY powerful, but pay for that with increased experience point requirements to level...and, well, obviously, being undead. Thirdly, soldiers that died may be reanimated as revenants by necromancers...though that wrecks the reanimated corpse's Will down to +0.

The book also features a new treasure table alongside 23 new magic itens...some of which become relevant in the aforementioned campaign...while others simply allow for something pretty cool: Crystal Roses that help survival, a book that allows for the recruitment of a rangifier (think savage, undead-hating elk-humanoids introduced in the book's bestiary that are pretty badass: At M 7, F +2,A 12, W +3 and H 12 plus attacks count as magic versus undead and are made at +1.) or the eyes of amoto deserve special mention. The latter is a set of two amulets that allow the caster to cast 1/game through the line of sight of the wearer of the other amulet.

As already mentioned, the pdf does have a new bestiary, including random encounter table - the bestiary spans 10 creatures, two of which I have already mentioned; beyond death cultists (who have a REALLY good Will - +5!), the rest, surprise, would be undead of various powers...including zombie trolls or wraith knights. And yep, several are immaterial and may move through obstacles...which can be really painful. The most impressive creature here, obviously, would be the lich lord, though: His "AI", i.e. his priority list, contains no less than 9 conditions, which makes facing him surprisingly difficult. That being said, the book does suggest to get a player/GM-like entity to play the part of the monsters in the finale of the campaign and I get why.

Now how does the campaign play out? Are the scenarios worthwhile? Well, it all begins as ominous as it gets - in scenario 1, there is a timer running down towards a total eclipse that is accompanied by a significant surge in magical power...but which also limits line of sight while in progress, allowing for some cool tactics and gameplay - this one's mechanics can easily be scavenged and yes, there are bonus experience points for actually being on the table when the eclipse happens, so wizards have a reason to wait at least until it happens before vacating the premises. Scenario number 2 is slightly more complex in its set-up: It takes place on the Meregile, the frozen river; the first 6'' from the tables edge are land---beyond that, you have the river's unsure footing. From a barge on that river, a spellcasting servant of the lich lord sooner or later will emerge and taking the guy out before he can flee would be the primary goal here...though it's easier said than done in the nasty terrain. Scenario 3 is simpler: The PCs basically attempt to loot a caravan of death cultists that had bad luck and a broken down wagon; while reinforcements arrive, they proved to be not too big of a hassle in my tests.

Scenario 4 ups the ante and is called "Storm of Undeath"; not only is a magically charged snowstorm reducing sight, the goal is also risky - in the middle of the table, there'll be pylons with corpses. Each round, there is a chance for magic lightning to hit the pylons, with potentially lethal consequences...of, and the dead may be animated...but being in the area is also the way to gain the big experience points here. Just be careful to not die, or you'll have a revenant on your hands. In #5, the evocative rangifers are in the center - and they are deadly...and it's up to the wizards to prevent them being killed by a deadly wraith knight...problem is, that the rangifers are NOT nice guys...they prioritize destroying undead...but are not above splitting some wizard skull...

In Scenario #6, you best have a second table or cordoned area - the second are, ideally 1' by 1', represents a treasure room: Arcs and doors placed have a chance of teleporting those passing through to the second area, the fallen house's treasure room...problem is, you can also be teleported out of the game or killed by the attempt...risky and interesting. Oh, and if you botch it, you may well end up facing death cultists all alone in the room... One of my favorites in the campaign, however, would be #7, the "lair of the ghoul king": Situated in a vast underground chamber, the players are trapped in the ghoul king's throne room. On his throne are levers that may allow for escape...but you have to get there first. The chamber is also dark and limits sight and makes for an amazing playing experience. Scenario 8 and 9 are somewhat similar - they focus on one unique aspect: In #8, you have the Black Cauldron in the middle, which continuously spawns zombies: Tipping it over is the goal here. In #9, the center of the scenario would be a bone wheel with sacrifices to be in the middle; freeing these guys and getting the treasure is hard, as the wheel is ever turning...oh, and there are the banshees.

After all of that, the lich lord has had enough: Exerting his magical might, he lets his castle fly above the city, held in place by taut chains; escape is not an option and lethal (unless you have the amulet to slow falls...) and the lich lord is a deadly foe...oh, and if you kill him, a generous countdown's running down...be too slow and you die. Yes, DIE. This one has a very real chance of failure and is really epic in its feel. If the wizard persists, he does get bragging rights and cheaper recruitment from there on out, though.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches in either formal or rules-language criteria. Layout adheres to a beautiful one-column full-color standard and the pdf sports several evocative pieces of fluffy sideboxes. Artworks are the usual blend of amazing artworks and color-photographs of minis. I can't comment on the electronic version, since I don't have it, but the softcover is a nice little book with high-quality, glossy paper.

James A. McCullough's "Thaw of the Lich Lord" is an evocative expansion - the new soldiers in particular are great paradigm-changers and the scenarios allow for cool tweaks that can easily be combined, changed, modified - but it is also here that the campaign varies a bit in its set-up: You see, there are a couple of scenarios that play like truly unique, interesting experiences...while a few feel a bit more like filler or don't make maximum use of their modifications. The bone wheel is cool, but it's engine tweak could have, for example been expanded upon. The book improves the base Frostgrave, though, and playing the campaign certainly is a rewarding experience. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Frostgrave: Thaw of the Lich Lord
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Samurai of Porphyra
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/02/2016 09:01:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Porphyran class-option series clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 27 pages of content, though it should be noted that the content is formatted for A5 (6'' by 9''). So what do we get?

The samurai has always been a class defined by culture as much as by mechanics and as such, it is only suitable that this pdf begins with a contextualization of the samurai class within the framework of Porphyra....but after this brief piece of fluff, we begin with the first archetype almost immediately. This one would be the Blade of Two Minds, torn between the ideals of two orders...which also tells you from the get-go what the shtick of this archetype is: You choose two orders. You gain both class skills, but only receive the skill bonus of one; challenge bonuses may be switched via a swift action. The archetype must also select one order ability at 2nd, 8th and 15th level - though she may take one from a lower level. Beyond the obvious issue of juggling the strict requirements of two edicts (seriously, try playing that cool imba combo you came up with sans screwing up...), the archetype also loses weapon expertise. Solid, no balance-complaints here.

The second archetype would be the daimyo, who gains a banner at first level that grants its bonus to all attacks, but pays for this ability with the powerful resolve. 5th level does net resolve...but at -4 levels. 4th level nets something unique as well: If an ally within banner reach takes a penalty to atk due to using a feat (as Power Attack et al.), he decreases the penalty by 1 and by a further 1 at 10th and 16th level. This replaces mounted archery. At 8th level, allies receive +1 to damage on all attacks, increasing that by 1 at 10th level and every 5 levels thereafter. Honorable Stand's benefits are extended to all allies in reach of the banner and 17th level allows for the expenditure of two resolve to save an ally in range of the banner, instead letting him survive at -1 hit points. These banner tricks, though, eliminate the whole resolve-improving progression. Basically a samurai with a powerful buff-aura...fits thematically.

Kajiya are master blacksmiths and add their class level to Craft (weapons) and Craft (armor), forged himself, treated as though he had Master Craftsman and gains Craft Magic Weapons and Armor at 4th level. His weapon expertise extends to all weapons he has crafted himself (nice!) and 5th level provides weapon training with weapons he forged, with each additional 5 levels either increasing it or providing an advanced weapons training. He does pay for this with the mounted tricks as well as banner, though.

The Kamen Blade receives basically the vigilante's dual identity, with his identities being designated as either "social" or "masked." Kamen Blade transformation is facilitated by a special, magical mask and takes but 5 rounds...but is accompanied by loud noises, lights...if you have ever seen a kamen rider, power rangers, sailor moon, etc. episode, you'll get the drift. 7th level nets the quick change talent, 11th the immediate change talent...but these do eliminate the samurai's order. 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter, the archetype receives an avenger vigilante talent instead of bonus feats, though combat skill is prohibited. 8th level has a glitch - it notes that you may use bladed dash 1/day as a SP...got ya. However, +1/day at level 5 and every 5 levels thereafter makes no sense in that context...I think something went awry in ccp here...also since it replaces the order ability "gained at '8nd' [sic!] level." 15th level upgrades this to greater bladed dash.

The Kyudojin's challenge affects ranged, rather than melee attacks and is treated as having point Blank Shot for the purpose of feat prerequisites. He also gains Precise Shot at 1st level and may ignore the cover granted to a target by an ally for one round, usable 1/day, +1/day for every two class levels thereafter. The ability fails to mention an activation action, but I assume free...still, can it be used in conjunction with AoOs? Do you have to decide to ignore cover prior to shooting or can you decide retroactively? A bit of clarification would be in order here. This sniping prowess replaces, just fyi, resolve, but is counted as such for the purposes of feat prereqs etc. 4th level eliminates the penalty to atk when a mount's moving and reduces that of running mounts to -2. 9th level provides a trick shot bonus feat, even if he does not meet the prerequisites, chosen from Ace Disarm, Ace Trip or Ricochet Shot. The aforementioned careful shot ability that replaces resolve is used as a substitute grit for these, in case you were wondering. During a honorable stand, he may use careful shot to fire sans provoking AoOs. As a damn amazing level 17th ability, he can fire an arrow as basically a line - for each careful shot spent, he may hit another foe in line with the respective piece of ammunition.

The Lotus Exile begins play sans order and may never become a member of the order of the lotus...but he may attain membership in another order. He gains a more intelligent mount and Horse Master as a bonus feat at 1st level as well as Mounted Combat. Speaking of which: At 9th level, he may use Mounted Combat up to Dexterity modifier times per round (minimum 2).

Additionally, at 4th and every 3 levels thereafter, he does receive another bonus feat building on Mounted Combat as a prereq, additionally adding half his level to Ride's ranks for the purpose of qualification, unlocking mounted feats earlier than usual. 5th level and every 5 levels after that net the archetype a teamwork feat that is automatically shared with the mount. 14th level is brutal: At the cost of losing one attack, the lotus exile may still make a full attack when his mount moves or charges, though all attacks are executed at -2 to atk. 17th level nets +2 Str, Dex and Con for the mount. It should come as no surprise that this archetype pays for the mounted mastery with pretty much the whole resolve and banner sequences of abilities. One note: In absence of an order, I assume challenge to be locked at the start of the game for the archetype - some explicit confirmation/information pertaining this would have been appreciated.

The Seishin replaces challenge at first level with an oracle revelation from the Ancestor mystery, with additional revelations being unlocked every 3 levels thereafter. The revelations are governed by Cha, just fyi. The ability comes with full oracle-multiclassing synergy notes...which is neat. As befitting of the theme, the seishin replaces the order abilities gained at 2md, 8th and 15th level with the oracle's haunted curse. Brief, but flavorful.

The yamabushi must be lawful and loses armor and shield proficiency, but gains a monk's Wisdom-based, scaling AC-bonus. Similarly, mount is replaced with the monk's fast movement. 3rd level provides access to a ki pool equal to 1/2 class level + Wis-mod and ki may be expended as a swift action to grant the archetype +1 attack at the highest attack bonus when used in conjunction with a full attack, stacking with haste (not properly italicized) etc. The access to ki eliminates weapon expertise, though it does have more uses, for at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the yamabushi may select a ki power from the unchained monk's arsenal, applying them to weapons the yamabushi is proficient with instead of unarmed or natural attacks. Te archetype does pay for this with mount and weapon expertise...making this a fragile, if interesting glass cannon-y take on the samurai.

I mentioned the order of the lotus before, so what does it do? Well, members of the order may inflict only +1/4 class level (min 1) bonus damage on challenges, but their allies also gain this bonus! Now I'd like to know whether multiple samurai can grant the benefits of this ability to their allies. Usually, the reply'd be obviously no, but due to the unytped nature of the bonus damage, I am not entirely sure.Skill-wise, they add Knowledge (local) and Knowledge (nature) and receive 1/2 class level to social skills, depending on the attitude of the person interacted with: Diplomacy for friendly and helpful, Bluff and Intimidate for the other attitudes. 2nd level allows for the sharing of teamwork feats with allies for 30 minutes per class level and yes, the ability does feature synergy with tactician et al. 8th level is wonky: When a samurai and an ally hit the same target in a given round, they deal additional damage...but since rounds happen in sequence, is the first character's damage increased retroactively? Or is only the second hit increased thus? That one could be a bit clearer in its wording. 15th level allows the samurai to take the damage of an ally as an immediate action if that damage would bring the ally below 0 hp.

Members of the order of the pack MUST have a mount and when flanking a challenge target, both he and his mount gain Outflank. If they already have it, they instead gain a +5 bonus. Skill-wise, they gain Knowledge (nature) and Knowledge (geography) and add 1/2 class level to Handle Animal checks pertaining their mount. Instead of a 2nd level ability, they begin play at 1st level with a wolf or dog as the mount. 8th level grants a teamwork feat to the mount. 15th level lets them emit a howl as a full round action 1/day, granting allies within 30 feet all teamwork feats and haste (not properly italicized) for 1 minute. The ability's ex and should be Su. Additionally, how does it work? No, seriously. Animal companions have their own initiative, so how do they spend the action with the samurai? This becomes very important to determine when the ability goes off and looks like the pretty common houserule of collated initiatives creeping into mechanics. I like the idea, but it doesn't work as written.

Members of the order of the peacock may switch challenge targets as a swift action, but at the cost of losing the damage bonus upon switching. Skill-wise, they gain Knowledge (local) and Knowledge (nobility) and add the usual skill bonus to Intimidate uses in conjunction with the Antagonize feat, which is gained as a 2nd level bonus feat and may be used up to class level times per day versus challenge targets...which is a bit weirdly worded, as it implies that Antagonize can only be used so often, when in fact, the limit pertains a single given creature. Considering how often the feat can be used against a single target, getting rid of the limit for you would have been the more elegant idea here. 8th level lets the samurai expend resolve as an immediate action to gain temporary hit points equal to twice his class level, but only for one round - neat idea! 15th level allows the samurai to Antagonize targets of his challenge as an immediate action when they attempt to harm others.

The order of the shadow doubles his challenge damage bonus on the first attack if the target is unaware of him. Skill-wise, he gets Knowledge (local) and Stealth and subtracts 1/2 class level from his armor check penalty for Stealth purposes. NICE! 2nd level nets either darkvision or increase of darkvision range and 8th level hide in plain sight. 15th level allows for full attacks or movement + attack in a surprise round, provided a challenge is made against the target of the attack. Okay one.

The pdf goes on to present a new mount the qi dragon, which is based on a new CR 3 critter that is actually an animal, so balance type-wise is maintained. However, it sports 1d2 bleed on bites...that stacks with itself. Now I am a big fan of stacking bleed....but RAW, it shouldn't do that. The qi dragon also receives +2 to saves versus spells. Mount stat-wise, the qi dragon's balanced, though, considering the acidic breath weapon which may not do much damage, but can be used indefinitely with only a cooldown, I would have moved advancement not to 4th, but 7th level. Still, this guy should not break any games....and it is kinda cool.

Now I mentioned Horse Lord - that feat would let you use character level instead of class level to determine your effective druid level for animal companion purposes. Katana Mastery increases your effective weapon size when drawing a katana, which you draw as part of an attack action. Improved Katana Mastery extends the benefits of the former to a full attack...and adds Vital Strike's benefits to the first of the attacks...which imho is pretty overkill in conjunction with the sword saint archetype or similar iaijutsu masters - the feats do offer synergy here. Vital Strike does not need to be part of a Katana Mastery full attack. Improved Mounted Archery negates any penalties to atk for using a ranged weapon while mounted. Inspiring Resolve is neat: When you use resolve to end a condition, you may extend the benefit to all allies within 30 ft. - powerful and very unique and samurai-y in feeling. Interior Resolve lets you expend 3 resolve to become immune to precision damage for one attack, but you must do so after the attack has hit, but before effects are made known. Peacock Fan is basically a variant of Dazzling Display, antagonizing every foe within 30 ft. as a full-round action. Resolute Body nets you twice class level temporary hit points via the expenditure of 2 resolve, with the points lasting for one hour...however, you may only use this 1/day. I think I may have added a scaling daily-use on level increments of 5 here. Resolute Strike can be activated only when you have at least 2 resolve and lets you expend all of your remaining resolve as a free action upon causing damage - if you do, you inflict maximum damage, but also end your turn.

The pdf also covers new magic item abilities: Iaijutsu adds precision damage on a round a blade is drawn; resolute lets you reroll misses due to natural 1s via resolve (but fails to specify whether this is an action - I assume it's part of the attack.) and thirdly, retracting weapons may, as a move action, shift between reach and non-reach...which is pretty damn cool. Resolute armor nets the resolve class feature 1/day or +1 daily use.

A fire-light-themed katana named Amaterasu, a shocking naginata named Susano'o, a faerie fire inflicting animal bone longbow named Tsukoyomi - those even halfway cognizant of Japanese mythology will enjoy the respective twists of the tropes and adaptations to the Porphyran context, even if the names imply power far beyond what the items offer. Armor-wise, Sosen, the armor of the ancestors, allows for access of the spirit of the warrior revelation in addition to its protective properties. Nice: The duration of said power may be extended by the expenditure of resolve. The Banner of the Unyielding Legion may be driven into the ground by a cavalier or samurai, acting as their banner...but samurai may also use it to grant allies within the banner's range access to their resolve. Shogun Kabuto is pretty much a must-have item for quite a few builds - beyond a bonus to Diplomacy and Intimidate, it also decreases the activation action of Dazzling Display and Peacock fan from a full-round action to a standard action.

The pdf concludes with several nice favored class options for porphyran races and a CR 10 sample character, Ec'sa Thisasaa, a saurian daimyo, complete with background story.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-level - while some abilities can use a bit of clarification, as a whole, the pdf is precise - the orders sport some minor hiccups, but with one exception, nothing too grievous. On a formal level, there are a couple of wordings and italicizations and similar minor hiccups. Layout adheres to Purple Duck games' 1-column standard, is pretty printer-friendly and employs an appropriately Asian-font, which is a nice touch. The pdf sports 2 nice pieces of full-color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

This is the first book by Nathan Reinecke as a lead designer I have tackled (though Perry Fehr, N. Jolly and Shinigami02, the contributing authors have, for the most part, had the dubious pleasure) - and frankly, I am more impressed than I expected to be. The designs herein are not earth-shattering or wild, sure - but they do their job damn well. The archetypes universally find a very sweet balance in their new features and what they lose; the respective specialists actually excel at their fields of expertise sans becoming complete one-trick ponies...and they are flavorful. While the orders contain a couple more hiccups than I like to see, the feats have some seriously neat ideas and the magic items or mount left me sans complaints.

Here's the thing that made me really like this: It makes the samurai feel more like a samurai. It has a couple of rough edges, yes. But it adds some staying power to the guys, emphasizes commands, social banter, iaijutsu, etc. - particularly the temporary hit points buffer-shield options feel very appropriate for the class with its emphasis on honorable combat, standing one's ground, etc. While I really disliked the order of the pack and the order of the shadow, both peacock and lotus have some serious potential and did not bore me...which is saying something after the number of orders I've read. Traditionally, first time authors get a bit of leeway from yours truly and hence, I will round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars for the purpose of this platform, in spite of the glitches. If you want to play a samurai, this very much is a book you should get.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Samurai of Porphyra
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The Player's Guide to Skybourne
Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/02/2016 08:56:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 109 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 104 pages of content, so let's take a look!

"I have become the destroyer of worlds." With Oppenheimer's famous quote, we begin the flavor-introduction of this massive book of rules-supplemental material for the world of Skybourne. When the Walkways that joined the planes shattered, the Great Forest began growing and every civilization built in millennia was irrevocably destroyed, consumed by the growth of nature's retribution; it is beneath the waves, in the mountain tops, where the last fragments of civilization remain, where the forest cannot yet reach. The old world is gone and this is a world of a new, deadly and green frontier, one where adventurers literally are the first and last line of defense. Tone-wise, skybourne basically takes the tropes of space opera and translates them to a somewhat post-apocalyptic fantasy context, though one that inverses the classic theme of desolation and replaces it with abundance - though an abundance that is pretty hostile towards the established cultures.

The first chapter, which spans a significant portion of the pdf, does cover a ton of races that can be found in skybourne - in the case of established races, we get racial archetypes and options; in the case of new races, we get proper racial write-ups...so let's not lose any time. Aasimar may elect to become God-blessed Thaumaturges...wait, what? Yup, skybourne uses the evocative and interesting Spheres of power-rules. God-blooded thaumaturges get a domain's powers (a second domain is gained at 10th level) instead of occult knowledge and a different capstone that lets him grant cleric and divine petitioners magic alongside DR and an end of aging.

Next up would be a new race - the alraun...and they are creepy. Plants with humanoid shapes, they mimic other races and can be either Medium or Small and do not incur penalties to pass as a member of the race they're fashioned after. They get low-light vision and at-will detect poison (divine to detect poisons when using Spheres of Power) and may use scent to track foes at below 25% hp or bleeding. They may form prehensile vines that can hold objects, which may then be retrieved as a swift action. They get +2 Diplomacy and Bluff and may shift attitudes via Diplomacy by two steps. They also gain +4 Cha, -2 Con and Wis, which gears them too much towards Cha-based classes for my tastes. Another issue: They are humanoids with "the plant subtype" - which is not something PFRPG has per default; there is a plant TYPE, but not a SUBYTPE - so ultimately, I have no idea how many/if any of the immunities the race receives. That's not all, btw. - each alraun also has one of 5 subtypes; these net climb speeds and more vines, a non-save penalty aura, water breathing and swim speeds, poison eating (and poison), critical hits with bleed - the general ideas are nice, but as a whole, the race is too focused on Cha-based classes and suffers from a bit of feature creep when compared to even the powerful races like aasimar.

The racial archetype, however, is disturbing and amazing - the body snatcher rogue is better at nonlethal sneak attacking and may better impersonate others; moreover, at higher levels, the archetype has a cool 8th+ level ability that lets them make cocoons to keep creatures asleep and tap their knowledge. shudder As a minor nitpick, the ability does not specify a maximum number of cocoons the archetype can maintain and nope, no unchained rogue alternative.

The next new race is the Cecaelia, who get +2 Dex and Int, -2 Wis and Cha. 30 ft. swim speed, immunity to low-depth pressure, 120 ft. sight in darkness, but only under water, are amphibious, may 1/day as a standard action emit an ink jet (sphere underwater, touch on land) with different effects on land and under water. As half-tentacled humanoids, they get +4 CMD and may use two tentacles as hands and while these may not use weapons etc., they can hold or manipulate objects. I assume they don't provide more slots. As a swift action while not grappling or grappled, they can use their tentacles to grant them blindsight 10 ft., but may neither move or attack with the tentacles. I love this ability! The alternate racial traits include increased land speed + climb speed to replace the water-based abilities and +2 Dex and Wis for -2 Int and Cha. I love this race's concept and some abilities it has...but it imho suffers from unnecessary feature bloat that makes it stronger than the more powerful races...though said strength is predicated on environments and as such, can be offset and controlled by a GM...so they get a tentative pass. The racial archetype presented would be a monk, who may wield weapons in tentacles, but gains no additional attacks - basically, you can have more weapons drawn at a given time and instead of stunning fist, they gain more AoOs. They also gain a sequence of Tentacle-based racial feats as bonus feats on 1st, 2nd and 6th level. - these btw. are the sequence of Style-feats for the race and enhance grappling etc.

The Cherufe would be basically dinosaur-people and have two different castes: Amet gain +2 Wis and Cha, -2 Con, and Zavr receive +2 Str and Dex, -2 Int. They have 40 ft. land speed, reptilian humanoids, have low-light vision, fire resistance 5, are always treated as having a running jump. Amet can 3 + Cha-mod times as a swift action sweat lava and fling it as a ranged weapon or enhance their weapon attacks with it. The ability should imho specify ability type - is it EX? I assume it is. Zavr instead get a 1d4 primary bit, secondary when used in conjunction with manufactured weapons. They also have a tail attack at 1d8 - I assume tail standard here, but for convenience's sake, specifying primary/secondary would have been nice to see. Cool: They are xenophobic and suffer from a language-restriction. The race once again is very clearly geared towards certain classes; more so than I personally like to see. The supplemental material contains the magma sorceror bloodline, which enhances the amet's magma sweat - and generally is a nice, fun option. The primordial leaper barbarian archetype is a minor engine tweak that emphasizes better leaping and leaping charges.

The Created suffer from much like the same issue as the Alraun regarding type/subtype, being denoted as subtype construct, when there is only a type, which makes it impossible to know what kind of immunities/resistances etc. they get. They gain +2 to an attribute of their choice and begin play with a head, torso and 2 arms, but no legs. They may be Small or Medium. Unless they have other movement means, they need two free hands to get a speed of 20 ft., otherwise having only 5 ft. They may ignore crits or precision damage 15% of the cases (stacks with fortification) and get created traits - 4 creation points are gained. If the created wants to, he can get rid of arms for +1 creation point. A massive 1-page list lets them purchase abilities, with each costing 1 of these points. These include additional arms, heads, legs, senses, natural attacks, fins or even wings - for 2 points, these provide first level unassisted flight, which many a GM considers problematic. The balance of the respective abilities is pretty nice - but the race has one issue: How do the flexible limbs influence magic item slots? No idea. The race comes with the Deathmachine fighter archetype, who may install internalized weapons and gains more creation points at higher levels, allowing for a brutal natural attack-shredder, if you want to. Still, pretty creative.

The kind-of draconic-looking Cuazaj gain +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Str and Con, gain +2 to saves versus diseases, mind-affecting effects, poison and exhaustion/fatigue-causing effects. They have gliding wings and may use the Lighten Enhancement sphere talent, but only when not wearing medium or heavy armor or heavy load and may even travel straight up in the air via jumps for not-really flight and some unique tactical options. They treat Acrobatics and Fly as class skills and may 1/day breathe a cone of electricity. They also get 5 acid and electricity resistance, +2 natural armor and vulnerability to cold and sonic damage. Instead of the lightning cones, they may learn to add +1d8 acid or electricity damage for a limited number of rounds. This is the first of the new races that feels diverse, versatile and bereft of anything I could complain about. The racial archetype is the dragon mimic sorceror, who basically gets the breath-enhancing feats, claws, flight at higher levels and resistances; standard and none-too-interesting draconic apotheosis.

Dwarves of the setting replace the Wis-bonus with one to Int and the racial archetype is a machinist alchemist gets slightly less extracts and no mutagen, but actually a mechanical companion with improving construction points, Craft feats, etc. - per se a solid pet-alchemist. Elves in Skybourne were once immortal - and like famous Joneleth Irenicus, they did not take their fall to being mortal well. They have developed a unique sphere for use with spheres of power, the fallen fey sphere. This sphere allows nets +1 to ini, Knowledge (geography), Survival, Stealth and Perception within a terrain of choice, increasing the bonus at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. It also allows you to be treated as a fey as a swift action via activation of the so-called fey-link; when thus affected, you may spend spell points to activate fey blessings, a subtype of magic talents granted by the sphere. WEIRD: Aforementioned terrain-centric ability is called fey blessing, even though it obviously is not a fey blessing, making me think of some development or cut-copy-paste snafu at work here. Oh, and no advanced talents, making this a sucky choice in most contexts.

The fenghuang (erroneously called "fenghaung" in their header, of all things) would basically be somewhat phoenix-style creatures of the fey type, who gain +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Con, get 2 languages for every rank in Linguistics, low-light vision, Knowledge (history) and (local) as class skills, +4 Diplomacy to gather info, fire resistance 5 and are fingerless and as such gain modified item slots (this races takes that into account...odd, but who am I to complain). They also begin play with 30 ft. unassisted flight, which may be somewhat problematic for some GMs. Alternate racial trait wise, social skill bonuses can be replaced with fire resistance 20 (ouch) and they may "change their resistance from fire to frost" - being an ice-themed fenghuang. There is no such thing as frost in PFRPG-rules-terminology. It's cold. The racial archetype provided would be the frenzied dancer, who replace fast movement with better AoO-AC and the 2nd level rage power with a 1/day wild card rage power. Not a fan.

Two ethnicities of gnomes are provided with minor modifications to their racial traits and a hedgewitch archetype, the forest trickster, who may sniff out the badly wounded and dead and feed on the dead for bonuses. Alas, while duration is tied to creature HD, the lack of a minimum means that you just have to bring enough kittens with you to keep munching them. Other than that, they're illusion specialists.

Goblins of Khrone are organized by clan and generally get 2 or 3 skills to which skilled is applied, with merchants and craftsmen gaining also an edge when using Diplomacy or handling one's own crafted weapons. Ability score modifications would be +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Str; +2 Dex and Wis; +2 Dex and Cha; -2 Str +4 Dex, -2 Cha (too minmaxy for my tastes); +2 Dex and Int,-2 Str. The Goblin Expert rogue archetype enhances clan skills and gains bonus feats, but loses sneak attack advancement. Odd: The archetype may use free variant multiclassing from PFU and depicts it as basically optional, when it's the one thing the archetype has going for it that is remotely interesting. Haflings in the setting replace sure-footed with +4 to Ride-checks and there is a cavalier archetype called hafling dragonrider, who only gets light armor and shield proficiency and can best be summed up by being designated as a blending of the conjuration sphere's rules blended with the dragonriding rules released by Rogue Genius Games. Nice to see the shout-out here. Human fighters may elect to become sky sailors, gaining 4 + Int skills (thank you!) and replaces bravery and 2nd level's bonus feat with skill bonuses and armor training with even more bonus feats. Not very exciting.

Leshy would be more humanoids with the non-existent plant-subtype, +2 Con and Int, -2 Dex and may be affected by spells that affect only plants, but gain +2 to saves vs. types of effects and conditions plants are resilient to. They breathe, but don't need to sleep and when they used xylem healing, they don't need to eat. Xylem healing means basically planting yourself in soil - which generally would be nice, but the book fails to specify whether uprooting/rooting would take actions or not or how much soil's required. Can you carry around your own soil like a bedroll? The plant body resistances also make me wonder about the Alraun and how/what the effects of the plant subtype are supposed to be. Anyway, they have a 20 ft. land speed, gain +1 to all knowledge skills and these are class skills for them. They also gain Endurance as a bonus feat and are vulnerable to fire. Generally, a pretty balanced take on the plant race, though the subtype-hiccup galls me. There is a brawler archetype that replaces maneuver training with scaling DR and weapon mastery with woodland stride. I wouldn't take the archetype; its intentions are flavorful, its execution is bland.

Merfolk may elect to choose the soul weaver shepard [sic!] -which would be a common misspelling of shepherd...and an archetype that may "expand" the energy of one of their souls to attempt an exorcism vs. an undead with HD < the shepArd's level. The ability fails to specify activation action, is save or suck and riddled with deviations from rules language defaults...extending also to the mass version gained at 8th level. Non-functional. Orcs of Khrone come in two variants - the default race and noble orcs - the latter gain +2 Str and Wis, -2 Int and lose light sensitivity. Their archetype would be the elemental druid; the best thing I can say about it is that it maintains compatibility with the sphere druid...other than that, it's a bland domain-based option. The Sidhier, progeny of the fey, gain +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Str, low-light vision, 1/day reroll of 1s (2/day at 10th level), get +1 to all saves, always are treated as having a running start, gain two favored classes at 1st level and may turn themselves into a planar anchor with increasing range and potency - which is an amazing ability...kudos there! They also are adept at using Enthrall, which fits the theme. The race is one of my favorites herein regarding its options and while I consider it slightly too strong, it has something unique going for it. The racial archetype the skyscourge swashbuckler gets bonuses when airborne or using flying vehicles and also makes ample use of Planar Swing - which let you expend uses of the anchoring ability to swift action move. Generally a solid one.

Speaking of one of the better races: The Tatulani would basically be Thri-Kreen by another name, stranded on Khrone and only finding its place. The 4-armed race may not use the additional arms for full-blown weapon-wielding, but allows for the balanced wielding of 1-handed weapons when TWFing or even wielding oversized monster-weapons. They also begin play with claws (1d4) and +2 to Knowledge (engineering) and a Craft skill. The claws may be replaced with +2 to Disable Device. The tech-savvy may be replaced with +2 to Survival/Diplomacy. Cool: The racial archetype here is for the artisan class and provides functionality with the Technology Guide (and alternative abilities when playing without it). As a whole, the tatulani's racil entry is my favorite in the book - it's also pretty consistent and the only racial entry that managed to elicit a contemplation on whether I'd allow it or not in my non-playtesting games. Tieflings in Khrone may elect to become Dominator eliciters, who replace convincing with the Mind Control advanced talent at 9th level. Yeah, that's it. Pretty cookie-cutting. Oh, no FCOs for any of the new races.

Okay, the racial section done, next up would be magic traditions, which include two drawbacks and the bound creature boon and over 10 new traditions - the cool thing here would be that the traditions actually acknowledge both Pact Magic and Psionics; while the traditions themselves are decent, this little inclusion is well-intentioned...but how do they actually interact with traditions? I read that a couple of times...and simply didn't get it. These traditions, obviously, have also brought forth professions; notes are provided for the roles of classes within a tradition and...we get EVEN MORE ARCHETYPES! So please, bear with me, the book just offers a ton of material! The Gun Chemist alchemist replaces bombs with gunslinging and gets a slightly modified deed-list, with explosive and poisonous shots. Tranquil barbarians gain inner peace instead of rage, which provides a bonus to AC as well as Ref- and Will-saves. Generally decent modification, but I've seen the trope done more interestingly. Now, on the fluff-side, the chapter has some nice ideas for the place of the respective classes and yes, occult classes are included in the deal.

The pdf also sports a diverse selection of feats, upon some of which I have touched before: Better engine-coaxing (more on that later), speak with plants, reduced speed, but better defenses via Steel Skeletons for the created...some nice customization options can be found here. When a character multiclasses and gets two traditions of the same general type, they choose a dominant tradition which then provides drawbacks, benefits etc. of the tradition; to gain more, you need the corresponding tradition trait. These...well, are problematic. There would be, for example, one that lets you use on casting attribute for all your psychic class casting ability modifiers. Trait. Yeah....others, like affecting vermin with Expanded Charm...are pretty much significantly weaker, so not really sure where the balancing/devs looked here; it's not that the traits are bad, but they're all over the place regarding their balance. Oh, and they are utterly confusing - the verbiage implies you get them when multiclassing and never mentions it again; the interaction is messed up...in short, I'd strongly suggest pretending that this chapter does not exist.

On the plus-side, the skill-chapter is interesting, providing concise and neat rules for Craft (cartography), Profession (navigator). Gods are opposed by the "fiends", the dark gods of the setting and philosophies as well as nature gods can be found...that being said, each deity-entry is very short: No aphorisms, no obediences...and while domains are listed, the presentation of favored weapon at the end of the little write-ups deviates from how deity write-ups are usually handled. That being said, it's nice to get symbols for each deity. The ritual writing and creation rules presented next are tight, concise and one of the highlights of the book.

But...skybourne's SKYbourne, right? Well, this is where we finally get to that part, the unique selling proposition of the system, if you will: Airship sailing and combat. This system generally makes use of some optional rules, the first of which would be the overland round: An overland standard action takes 8 hours, an overland move action 4 and an overland swift action 1 hour. Simple. Reputation, as presented here, may range from 0 to 100. Reputation is equal to character level + Cha-mod + modifiers accrued and mythic tier, if applicable. Additionally, fame and infamy are tracked - from -100 to 100 on both the law-chaos and good-evil-axis. Deeds and behavior is codified in a handy table, with alignments notes, if required. Temporary increases are noted and the effects and even secret identities are accounted for. Simulationalists like yours truly may also enjoy the optional rule of reputation distances. This system basically allows the PCs to potentially recognize it if they're about to bite off more than they can chew and steer clear of trouble/gain appropriate options. Thirdly, the pdf employs the GMG's upkeep rules to potentially cap PC power.

Okay, got that? Onwards to airships: Airships are generally defined by hardpoints: One hardpoint is a 10 ft. cube and are used for hull, sails and dirigibles, etc. They determine hit points and carrying capacity. When a ship's so large hardpoints become stupid to track, you track by deck instead; each deck is a collection o 9 connected hardpoints. Airships larger than 5 decks start having locations, which track HP separately -basically, they are treated as connected, Colossal objects. With not enough crew, you get increasingly less power output. Vehicles spaces are 30 ft. Base AC is determined by ship size (Between 4 and -3) and so is ship CMB/D and saves. A handy tables collates movement in spaces per round, ft. per round, miles per hours, etc. Shipsize affects the maneuverability of the vessel, obviously, and the pdf covers siege engines and their use as well. Environmental considerations (wing speed and altitudes) are also covered...so how does airship combat work?

Well, first of all, a ship has a facing. D'uh. At the end of a round, all ships move separately from the creatures involved in the combat, in a sequence from highest to lowest rolled Profession (sailor) check by the pilots, with uncontrolled ships moving as though they had rolled an unmodified 1. Kinda lame: Instead of providing a more fluid system, the rules here just tell us to use group initiative for ship + crew combats...and I HATE group initiative. I don't need a book to tell me that I could use it. On the plus side, hiding in a vehicle's shadow, sharp turns, diving etc. are all covered regarding special maneuvers, though the 20 base DC is pretty high...and the really weird, far-out ace-pilot maneuvers...aren't covered. More space devoted to that aspect would have been really nice to see. Now where I once again start smiling from ear to ear is with the vehicle conditions: From on fire to freefall or rolling, these add a nice tactical edge to combat and are something that I most certainly will employ.

Now here is my main gripe with the system presented herein: It, much like almost every d20-based vehicular combat system, is...just not that exciting for players. The system presents a number of crew roles with special actions that bestow benefits...but with the exception of the head engineer, the roles don't have much to offer in actual combat. I sincerely hoped the aerial combat would offer more things to do for each player...but nope. So, is the whole system flawed here? Not exactly - it just fell short of providing a truly dynamic experience. That being said, the pdf does achieve a resounding success in one component featured here: The crew-rules, which basically represent a twist on the troop-subtype that is EXTREMELY modular, with scaling potency, racial benefits, levels, saves, siege attack bonuses and special perks to further customize them. Even the equipment you buy for them has direct consequences! Yeah, crew-rules here are just as cool and surprisingly rewarding for players and GMs alike and definitely constitute a big highlight here. They may, depending on what you're planning, warrant the pdf's asking price.

The need to hire officers and a ton of tables as well as loyalty checks and modifiers can similarly be found here. The pdf also features some nice mundane weapons as well as several new items tied to the respective races of the themes of the setting and the pdf also offers several magic items, ranging in price point from 42K to 750 gp. From an ersatz appendage that may act as a crawling claw to arm-prosthetics that act as a mighty 4d8 ranged attack that regrows to a conch that draws gigantic creatures closer, the selection is pretty decent, if not mind-boggling.

After that, we're back to ships (slightly odd - why splice the single-character item-info in there?) and their 6 engine-types as well as 14 room types and several direct and indirect siege engines to outfit the vessel with, including modifications of siege engines like weapon swivels and bottom mounts. Dirigibles, pumps and goods are similarly covered, as are trade goods and various fuel types. Trading of goods is a good idea, with settlements being suggested to feature modifiers for the goods, with each modifier influencing the price by 10%. The pdf concludes with 7 sample ships.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are inconsistent: There are some sections that get everything right; then, suddenly, bonus types are not properly allocated or crunch suddenly does no longer adhere to rules-language conventions. The lack of a truly experienced, nit-picky rules-developer that was NOT one of the authors to bring the disparate elements in line. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard with a mix of stock-art and original pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Adam Meyers, Mike Myler and David Silver's Player's Guide to Skybourne...is, as much as I'm loathe to say, a mess. The races and racial options provided are mostly cookie-cutter options and failed to grasp my interest; the takes on the races can't decide on a power-level, they have min-maxy lopsided races and worse, are inconsistent with internal rules-terminology and wording. The races, in power, oscillate between slightly over core-level to above and beyond that of aasimar and tieflings. There is no internal consistency regarding the racial power-levels whatsoever. The racial feats have some decent ideas...but ultimately, are based on flawed races and hence will not see use at my table. One final issue I have with the races: I have seen each and every twist before: Evil gnomes? Noble orcs? Yeah, not excited there, seen that done x times, often better.

As mentioned, the tradition-section similarly falls behind, is inconsistent...and then, we come to the aerial combat/airship-rules. And here the problems begin for real. Noticed something above? Yeah, I commented about the parts of the system like liking the crew system; like enjoying the conditions and the general way in which the ships can be constructed...but here's the issue: I have not talked about how everything comes together. Because...frankly, it doesn't. Beyond the organization being pretty bad (why slip character-equipment smack in the middle of the ship-rules?), I had a very hard time actually using this system as presented here; frankly, I think I would have failed, if I didn't have experience with a whole array of ship-building/customization systems for d20-games. I think I have managed to use the rules properly...but it wasn't easy. If I went be just the text here...no dice. I was also shocked to see, instead of a cool system that switches between characters, crews and vessels, this lazy group-initiative solution. It doesn't do a good job simulating aerial combat.

Similarly, the actual way in which aerial ship combat works basically has to be deduced from several disparate locations and then you still have blanks to be filled up. And it frustrates me to no end, because frankly, the system presented here, or what I can see, has the potential for being absolutely amazing, but it suffers from a fatal case of what I'd call designer blindness: When you know how something's supposed to work...and then write it down and it makes sense in your head...but to another person, to the reader not familiar with your background knowledge, it becomes opaque and puzzling. The whole presentation here is so confused, even I, with years of experience regarding systems like this, had to halt and look stuff up. Multiple times. Worse, the individual character options to influence ships...are all over the place and similarly confused.

The system looks like it tries to take some of the amazing ideas of Fire as She Bears and adapt them, but gets totally lost along the way...which is an adapt metaphor for the pdf, considering the nice Navigation-rules. The reputation-system, as far as I can see, has no immediate benefits that influence mechanics; the trading system is needlessly complicated and the modifiers suggested add a TON of numbers to a settlement; so many that even I, as a passionately simulationalist GM who loves tracking numbers, equipment, etc., throw the towel and handwave it. The fact that the pdf ignores downtime rules in favor of its own system would be no issue - if the system presented was a bit more concise.

Oh damn. This book is not all bad...but I sure as hell know almost nothing about the world after reading it; so in that aspect, it's not a good player's guide either. I don't want to play any of the races and there are plenty of better takes on each and every concept featured herein out there, both in AAW Games' Underworld Races-series and Purple Duck Games' Porphyran player-guides. Let's sum it up, shall we: The PC-level options failed to impress me; the ship-level system is flawed and obtuse. There are gems here, but ultimately, this whole book feels like it has been pushed out the door to meet a deadline or like the designers had lost interest halfway through. It tries to be many things and fails to get even one truly right. The different voices of the authors never gel, never blend and come together.

As written, there is not a single system I will use in my games in this book; I will scavenge vehicle conditions and a couple of components...and take Fire as She Bears by Frog God Games and modify that system to present aerial combat...or go get Ships of Skybourne, but skip this. FaSB's quick, easy to understand and concisely presented...so adding aerial options isn't that hard. Oh, and each PC gets a ton of cool, relevant stuff to do. Yeah, I know. Where does this leave this pdf? As a book that feels half-finished; that had desperately needed a dev who said: "These archetypes are bland, boring and cookie-cutter-designs"; as a book that needed someone to streamline rules-language and presentation. There is a spark of greatness here, but it is buried deep. I certainly hope we'll get to see a more concise presentation of these rules at some point. As a player's guide, this book sadly fails and leaves me hoping that Skybourne's evocative setting and concepts will receive better treatment in the future. My final verdict will clock in at 2 stars, due to the scavenging potential; if you have some serious time on your hand and want to flex your design-muscles, this may be for you.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
The Player's Guide to Skybourne
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Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City
Publisher: Osprey Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/01/2016 11:45:39

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This rule-book clocks in at 136 pages, minus 4 if you take away ToC, editorial and the like.

This review was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book in question.

So, what is Frostgrave? Well, in-game it was once the center of magics, a metropolis of ridiculous power, steeped in arcane might; then, the ice came and swallowed the city; winter had come and devoured it wholesale. For untold years, the powerful magics of the place had been kept below the grinding glaciers...but now, thaw has come, unearthing ever more of the labyrinthine ruins that make up the city, unearthing countless mystical treasures, rife for the taking for those foolhardy or brave enough to venture inside. From all traditions and lands, wizards and their entourages flock to the place, all hoping for supreme magical power...

So that would be the in-game reply. Out-game, Frostgrave can best be pictured as a beer-and-pretzels, quick-play hybrid between fantasy wargaming and roleplaiyng, one that requires no GM and yes, the game supports more than two players. So how exactly does it work?

Well, you need a couple of things to play, but significantly less than for similar games: You need miniatures...but not more than the average gaming group has on its hands; 28 mm miniatures are assumed as default. Per player, you cannot have more than 10 minis under your command, so the game's pretty tame as far as that's concerned. You also need dice - one d20 suffices, though one per player is better. Frostgrave can be played easily on most household tables; 2' by 2' is enough for quick games, 4' by 4' or larger tables allow for more impressive games, though. A crucial difference between Frostgrave and other games of this type is the emphasis on terrain - the game taking place in the frozen ruins of the eponymous city also means that the ruins are supposed to be crowded and maze-like; if you have a ton of terrain, well, perfect; if not, anything from clothes to books suffices. Heck, I once played a game with clothes and coins for a lack of minis (I always carry dice with me) and it worked.

So, the "avatar" and most important figure under the command of each player would be the wizard. The wizard is further diversified by his focus on one of ten schools of magic, specializations, if you will. Each of the schools has one opposed school, 5 neutral schools and 3 aligned schools - these represent the grades and ease with which you can cast spells beyond your school's field. Aligned schools increase the DC by +2, neutral ones by +4 and opposed school spells by +6. In case you're interested, the specializations are Chronomancer, Elementalist, Enchanter, Illusionist, Necromancer, Sigilist, Soothsayer, Summoner, Thaumaturge and Witch. For most people with any degree of familiarity with fantasy traditions, these should be pretty self-explanatory. When creating a wizard, you begin play with 8 spells: 4 from your own school; 1 must come from each of the aligned schools and finally, 2 are chosen from the neutral schools, but each must come from a different school.

This choice made, we must talk a bit about the stats: Creatures have 6 stats: Move (M) denotes how far a character can move per turn. Fight (F) is the character's melee capability. Shoot (S) depicts the ranged capability. Armour (A) represents the armor of the creature - natural or otherwise. Will (W) is the character's willpower and ability to resist spells. Finally, Health (H) is basically the hit points of the character. Fight, Shoot and Will are noted with plusses, denoting the modification to the roll - for roleplayers, think of that as basically the respective BAB or base save. In some cases, stats will be noted with splits, like +2/+3, for example - the first stat denotes the actual stat, the second the effective stat, modified by magic, items, etc..

A wizard's unmodified stats are M6, F +2, S +0, A 10, W +4 and H 14. All creatures in Frostgrave can carry items. Wizards can carry up to 5 of them, apprentices 4 and soldiers 1. Wizards begin play with a staff or hand weapon and may buy a dagger, two-handed weapon, bow or crossbow for 5 gold. Dual-wielding sword + dagger nets you +1 effective Fight. This would be the most important character all done...now let's assemble our warband.

I already mentioned the apprentice, who is the most important character beyond the wizard - you may never have more than one and the apprentice costs a whopping 200 gp. The apprentice is the only way to have a second spellcaster and his F, S and W-values are based on the wizard: The wizard's stats -2, to be more precise. Health is equal to the wizard's -4. They get the wizard's spells, but cast each spell at -2. The system also provides a total of 15 types of soldiers you can hire, ranging in price from 10 gp war hounds to the costly 100 gp veterans. The price for these guys, just btw., goes up exponentially with skill. The stats of these soldiers never increase via spells or magic items - they are basically your lackeys or mooks. The system does not distinguish between races - elven or dwarven soldiers use the same stats, though admittedly, you can easily introduce racial modifiers, if you so choose.

Frostgrave knows a total of 6 item classes: Daggers reduce damage by 1; two-handed weapons increase it by +2; staves come at -1 damage, but also decrease the damage received in hand-to-hand combat by -1. Bows have a maximum range of 24''; crossbows take one action to load and one to fire, but hit at +2 damage, with a maximum range of 24''. Finally, unarmed combat means -2 Fight and -2 damage.

Now, since I already talked about setting up the table, let me mention that, at the beginning of the game, after terrain has been placed, the players put 3 treasure tokens per player on the ruins, taking turns when doing so. The tokens must be placed at least 9'' from a player's table edge. After placing the tokens, you do roll which designated player side becomes your starting side...so just placing them close for convenience may fire back big time.

Ok, that covered, we have begun talking about actions, let's take a look at the structure of turns. At the beginning of each turn, every player rolls initiative, ties are rerolled and players act in sequence of the result rolled. Each turn is divided in 4 phases, which, in sequence, are as follows:

The wizard is activated (the term for using a miniature) first and may also activate up to 3 soldiers within 3'' of the wizard alongside with him. When a figure is activated, it gets to perform two actions, one of which MUST be movement. The other action may be a second move, fighting, shooting, spellcasting r any special actions eligible. A figure may only perform one action, if it so chooses or is otherwise handicapped. The use in conjunction with the nearby soldiers is called group activation. During the wizard and apprentice phase, soldiers within 3'' of the caster may be activated alongside him/her/it. The thus activated soldiers must all move in conjunction and the first action of group activation must be movement. All figures thus activated get to act. Once a wizard's turn is done, the next wizard may act. Yep, you don't have to wait through x phases to act - this keeps the game pretty dynamic. After the wizard phase, it's time for the apprentice phase - which follows the basically same structure. Then, it's the soldier phase and after that, the creature phase.

Movement is pretty simple in general: The first move is at the full Move stat in ''; any subsequent move takes half the Move stat; a character with move 6 could e.g. use both actions to move 9''. Moving over obstructions (you agree on those when setting up the table) costs 2'' per inch; rough ground similarly halves movement. Which brings me to one of the very few rough edges of the system - as you may have noted, there is some halving going on. The lack of a grid means that you don't have something and you don't round up or down. For people used to the metric system, this becomes slightly more annoying; at least alternate distances may have helped there and rounding guidelines would have sped up play; in my playtests, the lack of rounding up/down constitutes one of the few instances where the game did not play as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. When two creatures are in contact, they are designated as "in combat" and may not move. Why am I talking about this now? When a figure moves within 1'' of another creature, said creature may force combat, placed immediately next to the creature passing. Movement by spell etc. is btw. not considered to count as movement, but any creature using this that ends movement within 1'' is forced into combat.

Figures moving off the board are out of the game and may not be involuntarily be forced off the board. A creature can jump as part of the movement if it moved at least an equal distance prior to jumping - a creature with move 4 can e.g. jump up to 2'' after moving 2''. If a creature falls more than 3'', the critter takes 1.5 times the number of excess inches in damage.

Combat is simple: You spend one action and both figures involved roll 1d20 and add their Fight stat plus any additional modifiers. The figure with the highest number wins. After that, you subtract the armor score from the winner's roll. If the score is positive after detracting the armor score, the target takes damage equal to the remaining points. In the case of both rolls being equal, the combatants hit each other and cause damage to one another, allowing for double K.O.s. After determining damage caused, the winner can decide to either remain in combat or push back either figure by 1'', directly away from the opposing figure. Figures thus moved are no longer in combat, Combats with multiple figures are slightly more complex, but they are explained in a very concise and easy to grasp manner. The system, as you can see, is pretty lethal due to its swingy nature of opposing d20s - which means that it emphasizes tactics over strategy. You can, if you'd like to, also use a critical hit optional rules for even more lethal combat.

Shooting has two terms to keep in mind: In range, which means within 24'' and line of sight, which is self-explanatory. The comparison here is btw. 1d20 + Shoot vs. 1d20 + Fight., with damage being determined analogue to melee, though cover types and terrain hamper shooting with modifiers. Shooting into melee is random: You have a random chance to hit any participant. Creatures reduced to 0 health are presumed killed, unless you're playing in a campaign (more on that later); as an optional rule, characters reduced to 4 or less health are considered to be wounded, taking -2 to all die rolls and only gaining one move; I'd strongly suggest playing with this rule, it adds some neat drama to the games.

Spellcasting is handled similarly: You roll a d20 and compare that to the spell's casting number; on a success, you cast the spell. The game has a degree of failure system; the worse you fail the casting, the more risky it gets; on a failure, you can take damage. Spellcasters may empower spells, which is determined after the casting roll is made, but before effects are determined. The spellcaster may choose to lose health to increase the roll; if a spellcaster would, for example, fail a spellcasting roll by 4, he may sacrifice 4 health to still succeed. When a wizard colossally fails at casting a spell by 20+, he may empower spells to actually take less net damage. This is intended. The target resisted by the spell rolls 1d20 and adds the Will stat; if the target succeeds, he resists the spell. Spellcasters may empower Will rolls by expending Health on a 1:1-basis akin to how empowering spells work.

The game is about treasure, and a character next to a treasure token may use an action to pick it up; thereafter, it moves with the creature. If the creature carrying treasure is killed, the token remains there, ready to be picked up again. A character can only carry one treasure token. In order to secure a treasure token, the carrying figure must move off the board. Now, Frostgrave features more than just competing warbands - the ruins are haunted by various creatures. The system presents basically the analogue version of an AI for them; simple steps of handling them and priority sequences. So no, you do not need a GM, though obviously, it is possible to play the game with a referee/GM. A game of Frostgrave usually ends when the last treasure token has left the board or when one side has been completely wiped out.

So yeah, short instant games are fast play and can last between 10 minutes and an hour....but you'll get the most out of Frostgrave when playing a campaign. Ina campaign, a creature reduced to 0 Health is not considered to be killed, but out of combat, which means you get to roll on a survival table; wizards and apprentices have better chances to live...and yep, you can suffer permanent injuries; a total of 9 of which are provided with rules-relevant repercussions. After a game in a campaign, you award experience to the participants: Successfully cast spells, enemy soldiers, apprentices or wizards defeated and treasure tokens secured net experience per default. Every full 100 experience points for a wizard grants the character a level, which can be used to improve a stat, a spell (granting +1 to its spellcasting level) or learning a new spell. Each treasure token secured in a campaign nets a roll on the treasure table. There is also a potion table. Scrolls are one-use fire and forget spells; grimoires are books that allow a wizard to learn a specific spell and, if you choose to, you can determine spells randomly with a table. Magic Weapons and armor, magic items, etc. - there is a lot of material here - and yes, the magic items come with concise rules.

Gold crowns accumulated allow the wizard to replace slain apprentices, hire new soldiers, buy items, etc. However, in a campaign game of Frostgrave, the game adds another cool option to using your hard-earned gold: Namely establishing a base, which may contain labs, inns, breweries, etc. - the rules presented here are concise and have relevant repercussions in game. Kudos for that addition!

Now obviously, a game focused as strongly on spellcasters needs a massive magic chapter - and indeed, it is BIG. Some spells are out-of-game spells and happen "off screen"; other are self only, have line of effect, area of effect or a range of touch; each spell has a base casting number, as mentioned before...and that's pretty much already the extent of the framework's rules - concise, easy to grasp and elegant...with a couple of minor hiccups: The damage-causing elemental spells or poison dart are very powerful if a wizard increases the quickly, making the respective character a nasty arcane artillery. The other spell that is somewhat OP is Leap. Yeah, I know, I didn't expect that either until I started testing the system. Leap's benefits: Immediate 10'' move, not hindered by terrain. Considering table size, it's very easy to grab treasure and jump off the board with this one, basically grab and run. Having the spell scale with table size and nerfing it, may be a smart choice; similarly, including a caveat that you can't jump off the table would be appreciated - getting at least one turn to defeat the escaping wizard would be nice. As an optional spell-goal for campaigns, researching transcendence and successfully casting it can be used as a generic campaign goal.

Now, while campaigns make Frostgrave more rewarding, this also holds true for playing scenarios - these would be games with unique rules modifications. Creature spawns are very conservative in the default game and e.g. in "The Mausoleum", you get infinite skeleton spawns; Genie in the bottle unleashes a very powerful and nasty genie when picking up a treasure and being unlucky. Featuring a tower that kills all magic inside and has the best treasure. Libraries with limited exits; museums where statues may come to life, exploring an area where giant worms dwell, exploring a haunted house...pretty cool. Or what about the super-lethal well that also may grant health when drunk from? The keep with the teleportation arcs? These modifications, which may btw. be combined, greatly diversify the game - and they engender roleplaying...when you and your fellow player agree on the need to research and thus pit your wizards against one another in a library...it's an easy means of generating a bit of roleplaying. Speaking of inspiration and dressing - the book features a ton of small boxes that contain VERY evocative little quotes describing the wonders and horrors of the frozen city, acting as a great way to make the reading experience more inspiring and pleasant.

Now, I already mentioned creatures and the optional rule for very limited random encounters...but the book also features a ton of monsters that range from undead to animals and yetis/werewolves or trolls.

The book also contains handy spellcards by school and an easily used wizard sheet; speaking of which - I happen to have a nice, high-quality cardstock version of the sheet, which actually manages to collect the crucial rules of the book on this one less-than-GM-screen-sized sheet.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent; I noticed no significant glitches in either the formal criteria or the rules-language criteria. Layout adheres to a mixture of a two-column and a one-column standard and is in full-color and aesthetically pleasing. The artwork is copious and features both pictures of neat minis in full color...as well as absolutely stunning artworks of the same quality as featured on the cover. This is, in short, a beautiful book. The hardcover I receives has nice binding and has borne the brunt of all my use well. I can't comment on the electronic version.

Joseph A. McCullough's Frostgrave is an amazing game. I came to RPGs from a wargaming background and this book should prove to be amazing for both types of gamers. Wargaming strategists that want to have an edge via placement etc. will not be too keen on it, but personally, I loved the swingy nature of the game here; Frostgrave keeps you on your toes and features these unique moments where victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat. The focus of the game is certainly PvP, but you can actually roleplay; wizards clashing again and again will enact feuds over campaigns and the game becomes particularly amazing when using more than 2 players, as alliances are formed and abandoned; if you have a passionate GM who likes making complex scenarios, you can bring a campaign up to a whole new level and increase the nastiness of the creatures featured; potentially, you can make scenarios where the wizards have to ally themselves against superior odds, etc. - in short, you can play this wargame like a wargame, like an RPG or like a mix. It's also very fast play: I managed to run a 10-game campaign in a single day without any problems and had a blast.

More important for a core rulebook, the Frostgrave-system used here is extremely simple. Anyone who has ever played a d20-based game will immediately get how to play this. Reading the totality f the rules takes about an hour, tops; you can explain them in 5 minutes to someone else, though. Frostgrave is easy to learn and the presentation of the rules is EXTREMELY concise and well-structured. At no point did I think I could have presented the rules in a more concise, stringent manner. That being said, as mentioned before, there are a couple of rough edges; the lack of rounding up/down guidelines was remedied by house-rule in my games after a few playtesting games. Leap and the wizard artillery spells can imho use a bit of a nerf and thus, balance is not always perfect; so tournament style gaming, admittedly not the focus of the system, is not something it does too well.

If you are looking for an atmospheric, easy to learn and play game that allows you to play a game or two during lunch break and scratch that gaming-itch, then this absolutely delivers perfectly. The game may not be perfect, but it is a good offering...though one that fully comes into its own when adding in more material...and yep, I have the expansions...so expect to see those reviews soon!

The core book, on its own, is a fun, evocative and easy to learn beer-and-pretzels style game with a ton of narrative potential. While short of perfection when played on its own, the core book as a stand-alone still manages to score an impressive 4.5 stars, though for the book on its own, I'd have to round down; if you want to get the game, I'd strongly suggest also getting at least one expansion; with more material (or a creative GM/players designing more), Frostgrave does become 5 star-material, though I can't represent that in the core book's rating.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Frostgrave: Fantasy Wargames in the Frozen City
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Tinkering 302: Modules - Tinker Magic Items
Publisher: Interjection Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/01/2016 11:37:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion for the Tinker class clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!

All right, the tinker class by Interjection games, by now, has a ton of amazing expansions and we begin this pdf with a recap of the invention subtype introduced so far in a handy cheat sheet. The pdf also offers a crucial component missing from the tinker class so far, namely magic items for the Tinker-class. These are called modules and can be fashioned via the Craft Module feat, which btw. requires CL 1st and deploy automaton, and yep, even though the tinker has no CL per se, only a quasi-CL, the feat explicitly notes that he qualifies.

The pdf offers 4 innovations to work in conjunction with modules: Juryrigged modules lets you improvise one module of less than 100 gp cost for the day; and no, it can't be stacked upon itself. Mastermaker increases your CL by +4 for crafting purposes as well as quicker module crafting. Module Maximizer lets you employ a module with a CL less than or equal o 1/2 your class level 2/day instead of 1/day and Rapid Infiltration lets you apply modules to yourself as a swift action via the organic infiltrator greater innovation.

Wait, what? Yep, there are 4 greater innovations here as well: Organic Infiltration lets you apply up to 3 modules to yourself, as though you were a better automaton cap. (More on that below!) Master Modifier allows you to change deploy automaton's activation action to a full-round, but also lets you add two modules to the automaton deployed. Energy Capture is an amazing high-level option with combo-potential galore: When using a module, you gain the benefits of the module until the end of your next turn. Finally, Alpha Modifier lets you add modules to your alpha and change it when you regain your daily deploy automaton class feature.

I mentioned the automaton cap - this is basically the item that makes it possible to apply modules to non-automatons - 1/day. The Directive Beacon is absolutely amazing: It lets you program a directive into an automaton, which is then stored - this directive can then be activated as an immediate action. The next item herein would be a whole class - inventor's helpers exist in 6 different categories. These contain a non-alpha, non-design, non-arcanotech invention or a series of inventions wherein one both requires and replaces another invention contained - basically, they can contain inventions with prereqs that build/expand a basic concept. Maximum BP-value for these is determined by the category of helper employed. The contained invention may 1/day spontaneously add its contained invention to a given automaton, allowing you to transcend the BP-cost maximum for the automaton thus, which is an interesting option.

Obsidian-Lead Spray Coating grants your automata scaling SR. Omega Modules allow for a more reliable hitting/damage. Overcharger allows for more uses of limited use inventions. Peepers are cool - they allow other characters to peer through automaton eyes in a certain range. Plasticizers also come in various versions, allowing you to add temporary hit points to automata. Propellant Pumps allow for the addition of propellants to a single firework, whereas Protectors can increase the AC of deployed automata. Refraction Modules provide invisible automata, while Spray Paint allows for the replacing of paint inventions - amazing! Now many of these modules need to be held like a one-handed weapon to be applied...and this is where the utility belt comes in - it lets you use a module sans holding it thus.

And finally, there would be weaponized backup, which is a gigadroid-only: 1/day, when wielded as a two-handed weapon, this one lets you substitute your gigadoid's blueprint with that of your alpha. Yep. This allows you to have an autonomous mecha with rudimentary intelligence. OH YES!!!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' printer-friendly, elegant 2-column b/w-standard with fitting b/w-stock art and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none.

Whenever I think I'm done with the tinker, that I have seen everything Bradley Crouch can coax out of this amazing class, he one-ups himself. The modules presented herein are absolutely phenomenal and allow not only for a wide array of new combos, they also retain compatibility with the more complex components the tinker-engine by now offers. The enrichment the options herein provide and the added flexibility make this an absolutely must-have iteration for the tinker-class, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval. Can we get more modules...like...now? I haven't been this excited about the class since the combo-fest of paints was introduced...

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tinkering 302: Modules - Tinker Magic Items
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Chemist Base Class
Publisher: ARMR Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/01/2016 11:35:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This base-class clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let's take a look!

The chemist-base class presented here receives d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and alchemical weapons as well as all armors and shields, excluding tower shields. The class gets full BAB-progression as well as good Fort-saves.

Unfortunately, we have a minor hiccup in the first ability of the class alchemical study, namely that they add + level, not class level, to Craft (alchemy)-checks. The class begins play with 1/day alchemical smite: This is activated as a move action and adds acid, cold, electricity or fire damage equal to the class level. The ability lasts for class level + Int-mod rounds and a weapon thus modified is treated as an alchemical weapon for master of alchemy. You get +1/day uses at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter.

2nd level nets poison resistance, which improves by +1 every 3 levels thereafter. 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter net you your choice of either a bonus feat (combat feat or Brew Potion, the latter not being properly capitalized) or an alchemist discovery chosen from a small selection, with most focusing on gaining mutagen/enhancing it. 4th level unlocks extracts, which proceed to scale up to 4th level, acting as basically alchemist -3 levels, akin to how ranger, pala, et al deal with delayed spellcasting.

5th level provides some serious overkill regarding math: +1/2 class level "to all saving throws allowed by his alchemical weapons or items" - or at least that's what I think it's supposed to do. It could also mean that the class gains this bonus to avoid damage from his own alchemical items...but ultimately, no matter how you read it, the ability is lacking in precision. 13th level nets resistance 5 to acid, cold, electricity and fire, which increases by +5 at 16th and 19th level. The aforementioned master of alchemy wold be the capstone, which doubles the threat range when using alchemical weapons and also lacks a verb somewhere. I don't know what "their damage improved one step" is supposed to mean. Additionally, crit multiplier is increased by one and they cannot be disarmed or sundered...which is a sucky flat-out immunity. Not even gods? Seriously? When not go with a big bonus instead?

The pdf also offers a new discovery: Variable smite lets you change the smite element at the "Cost of an additional turn of his alchemical smite" - does that mean round? Or activation? No idea, opaque, next.

The pdf then concludes with 3 alchemical weapons, all of which come with nice b/w-drawings/artworks. The first would be a 1d8 touch AC-attacking palm that deals 1d8 acid damage that can be opened as a move action, lasting one minute after being opened. Chilled Scourges would do the same for cold, but open up a question: The palm is, flavorwise, a glove, which eliminates that item-slot. The scourge is not...so...why? Finally, the lightning rod would do the same...well, for electricity. Same question applies.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good on a formal level. On a rules-language-level, some ambiguities have crept in, though. Layout adheres to a solid two-column b/w-standard and the b/w-artworks provided are nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Angel "ARMR" Miranda's chemist is per se a decent class in theme; the full BAB-alchemy-user is a neat idea and one I most certainly can get behind as a huge fan of the witcher; that being said, it falls pretty flat. Alchemical smite, the one active class feature at low levels, sucks hard and the class, as a whole, just feels wrong; just feels like it doesn't really get to do what it's supposed to do. The chemist presented here isn't that good at blowing stuff up, at adding cool effects to his weapons...at pretty much the niche chosen for it, theme-wise. It is not a bad class per se, but it certainly can use a power-upgrade, more options...you get the idea. As a whole, in spite of the fair proposition of this being PWYW, I can't go higher than 3 stars on this fellow.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Chemist Base Class
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5th Edition Module: Fire & Ice (5E)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/30/2016 10:02:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

This revised edition of this module for 5e clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?

Wait, Fire and Ice? Sounds familiar, right? And indeed, this module has previously been released as part of Adventure Quarterly #6 for PFRPG, so let's check how well it translates to 5e, shall we?

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. ... .. . All right, only GMs left? Great! This adventure begins with the annihilation of an adventuring party. No, not the PCs. A company of competing adventurers has been all but wiped out while trying to thwart an evil organization's plan to harvest divine essences - this organization, the Godling Cabal, is NOT fooling around. The sole survivor of the adventuring party, as it happens, is on the same longship as the PCs, the Brightstar - which, strangely, seems to be making a detour, as PCs with the appropriate background can determine. The tranquility of the journey is interrupted rather harshly, as an icy finger of an iceberg-vessel (!!) hits the ship and the vessel is boarded by magelings and a being called Malkin, who doubles as the primary antagonist. In the first encounter. How does that work? Well, turns out that Malkin is frickin' immortal.

In the original iteration, this was represented with a variety of unique rules-operations and they have been translated here -and it is here that the revised edition does the RITE thing: Where before, we had serious issues, now the revision sports lavish, detailed NPCs with unique abilities and tactical options, with the statblock-formatting and general integrity improved by more than just a bit. Kudos for going the extra mile here!

Upon temporarily defeating the threat, the poor survivor comes clean and asks the PCs for aid and so they're off to the island of pleasure, Mibre - including a gorgeous map, mind you. This place is a small paradise, where an order of enigmatic monks poses an interesting puzzle (including trouble-shooting advice and means t brute-force it) - here, the conversion is working as intended. The strange order of monks living here will prove to be pretty important, for without their help, the PCs will have a hard time bringing the magical crystal to the plane of fire to sunder it and thwart the plans of the evil cabal. Only by understanding the monks and participating in their tests (sans being killed by the cabal's forces!) do they have a solid chance to destroy the crystal in the plane of fire. The whole structure of the module and its use of 5e-mechanics has improved dramatically. The pdf does feature notes on the iceberg vessel, but don't expect a write-up as a full vehicle; the maps are functional, but not high-res version of player-friendly iterations are provided...which is puzzling, considering that the AQ-issue that featured the module had high-res jpgs of the maps included!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting have improved significantly on a formal level, but more importantly, are now up to the task on a rules-level as well! Layout adheres to Rite Publishing's two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. The artworks featured are solid full-color and the cartography by Tommi Salama is nice, though the absence of the existing high-res map-versions feels odd; indeed, since they act as handouts/ready to go, the rather small depictions of the maps in this iteration of the module is odd - in the Mibre map, you can barely make out the places!

The original 5e of Bret Boyd & Keith Byers' "Fire and Ice" was a horrid mess...and Rite Publishing did the RITE thing here and got the 5e-specialist of the Four Horsemen, Dan Dillon, on board - and Dan delivers. In spades. He has basically taken a bad conversion and improved it to the point where the book now really works, where it is a fun, challenging high-concept 5e-module...just goes to show what a good dev can do. Anyways, the revised edition, superior in every way to the original, receives an updated rating of 4.5 stars, though I do still have to round down; this should not, however, keep you from checking this out - now 5e players may quake and shake before the Terminator-level assassin as well!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
5th Edition Module: Fire & Ice (5E)
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Scorpions of Perdition
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/30/2016 09:23:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction/how to use, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 31 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This module is intended for 8th and 9th level characters and can be easily inserted into Iron Gods, obviously...

...and that is pretty much as far as I can go without going into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

...

..

.

All right, only GMs left? Great! The Drifter has wandered the ominously named region of "The Dust" for as long as anyone can remember, hunting a similarly long-lived outlaw named Shadrax. The drifter was once in charge of a prison ship that crashed on Golarion - and he is basically android Clint Eastwood with a laser gun. He has spent hundreds of years hunting down the escaped convicts, but Shadrax, the engineer of the riot that caused the ship to crash, has evaded him. Since then, his programming has changed and he considers himself the law in the region of "The Dust", hunting down evildoers and seeking his nemesis. Shadrax, meanwhile, is as nasty as it gets: Infused with nanites, the xill has time galore and as such, has tried breeding out the nanites that keep it confined to the material plane over generations, but to no avail; worse, her little slave empire has fallen, the dread xill buried in a stasis pod...and now, hundreds of years later, the Drifter's fuel starts running out. When the PCs, by one of the angles, come to the region and hopefully help him taking care of some harpies, he already shows signs of decreasing efficiency.

The dialog with the drifter does feature some read-aloud text (nice!) and the drifter tries to recruit the PCs to help him acquire a means of charging him - he knows where the object is, but needs help getting it. Oh, and if you're wondering: Shadrax' spawn do get modified abilities noted in a sidebar. Arriving at Perdition (fully statted, fyi), the overseer Perdy is facing down a mob of people who want to leave; as its name points out, Perdition has seen better days...and thus, the PCs are off into the mine to deal with the issues of the town...only that this is easier said than done. You see, there is a so-called mud-spawn of shadrax stalking the mine and it is a delightfully sadistic critter with paralysis and earth glide, a perfect adversary to generate paranoia, fear and an atmosphere of frickin' HORROR. Oh, and it is glorious - you see the mud-spawn pretty much is a puzzle boss that you can try fighting fairly, but a massive 1-page guideline of running the critter should make sure that that doesn't happen - instead, exploring the complex and paying attention as well as clever problem solutions will be required by the PCs to defeat this adversary. And yes, there are other critters in the dungeon as well...so yeah... in the best of ways, the module rewards smart actions here.

Making their way through the mine, the PCs find a location both wondrous and frightening, a massive necropolis with a palace and an irradiated river, all under the ground and lavishly illustrated with a one-page artwork that doubles as a cool handouts. The map provided here, just fyi, is player-friendly and in the place, Shadrax awaits with its priests - the progenitor is deadly indeed: A xill gunslinger (depicted with a cigar in one of the 4 hands!) makes for a truly deadly adversary.

The second part of the module deals with the so-called "Temple of the Burning God", aka the wreckage of the ship...part of which hangs over a cliff, vertically, only attached to the remainder by a catwalk. Yep, vertical dungeon exploration. Yes, the adversaries obviously make good use of this uncommon environment. Yep, the dungeon is amazing and one of the few places where paltry CR 2 adversaries will really make the PCs sweat. As a minor complaint, the maps of the ship and the aforementioned palace do not come with player-friendly, key-less versions, so if you're like me, that may be slightly annoying.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to legendary Games' neat 2-column full-color standard for Iron Gods-plug-ins and the pdf sports a mix of previously used full-color artworks and amazing new pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the cartography in full color is nice, though the lack of player-friendly maps for some of the adventuring locales does constitute a downside in my book.

Alex Riggs and Nicholas Logue deliver a wonderful lovesong to Clint Eastwood's legendary "High Plains Drifter" - I adore the dirty, grimy Westerns and, seen through the lens of science-fantasy, with ample horror spliced in, Scorpions of Perdition can be considered to be one amazing module indeed, with the Drifter making for a potentially glorious ally for the PCs. The flavor of each and every location is unique and internally consistent; the locations themselves sport details galore and represent unconventional, intriguing challenges for the PCs. In short, this module does everything right apart from the lack of player-friendly maps. That being said, this should NOT keep you from getting this inspired, amazing module - it ranks as one of the best Legendary Games modules released so far. It should also be noted that, much like the excellent Starfall, this module very much works perfectly on its own - in fact, I'd encourage getting it for a taste of the unusual in just about any context.

My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Scorpions of Perdition
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Fat Goblin Games Presents - Creating New Armors
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/30/2016 09:22:01

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little pdf clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, we have all probably been there, at least the GMs and designers among us - the point where you want to make a new armor. The system presented herein is simple - there are 3 base armor types and shields featured: First, you take the basics and base-price...and then you multiply the price by the DP - the design points. You can have armors or shields of horn or stone and then you determine the armor qualities.

The heavier the armor, the more often you can gain additional design points, a 0 DP quality. Adding boots, helmet and gauntlets is covered and modifies cost, but not DP; camouflages/muffled armor etc. and the different base types, like chain, can be added via DP to modify the basics of the respective armor, fleshing out the abstract proto-armors. Pretty amazing: Lamellar material, dependent on the base material, can be found. The book is also VERY useful in that an easy one-glance table codifies the DP for the respective qualities and to which type of armor they can be applied: Once glance, done. Two thumbs up!

Obviously, there need to be shield-only options as well - want a lightweight tower shield with a blinder? Sure, why not. Quickdraw, weapons and weapon slits...really neat! The pdf also presents two sample items created with the system. Oh, have I btw. mentioned that NOT using the points makes the armor/shield less expensive? Yep, rewards for not going feature-bloat! Cool!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column, full-color standard. The pdf sports nice full-color art and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience - with nested bookmarks. Kudos for going the extra mile for the brief pdf!

Garrett Guillotte's little system is amazing; for the low-price point, it provides a balanced, immediately useful design tool at the tip of your fingertips. Simple, elegant and fun, the system is easy to use, fun, inexpensive...in short, this pdf is awesome and more than worth the fair asking price. Can we have expansions for special materials, please? This is a fine purchase, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fat Goblin Games Presents - Creating New Armors
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Mariner Hybrid Class
Publisher: Wayward Rogues Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/30/2016 09:20:41

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This hybrid class clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages, so let's take a look!

The mariner as presented her gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as all armors and shields except tower shields. As a minor complaint: The header is not bolded here. The class gets a full BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Ref-saves and begins play with +4 to Swim checks (untyped) that is increased to +6 when the mariner has 10 ranks in the skills. The mariner gets +1/2 class level (minimum 1) to Survival checks made to follow ships and aquatic creatures. The class also gains +1 to Bluff, Knowledge, Perception, Survival and Sense Motive checks and +1 to atk and damage, increasing by +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. They may also make untrained Knowledge checks to identify marine creatures.

2nd level provides the net and trident style - basically a nice combat style, but the feats may only be used while in medium armor or less. 3rd level provides endurance as well as aquatic armor training, which is represented by the fighter's armor training and being treated as class level +4 fighter levels for the purpose of armor training. A slight complaint here. The ability mentions the "normal swim speed" - but swim speed is a rules term of its own. It's clear that it's supposed to apply to the speed reduction inherent in wearing medium armor. Anyways, 4th level lets the mariner spend a move action to gain allies flanking with him or an ally +2 to atk; range here's 30 feet. 4th level provides limited prepared spellcasting that goes up to 4th level, governed by Wis. Spells are drawn from the ranger list. 5th level provides weapon training, with every 4 levels after that adding another group.

At 7th level, the mariner gets a coastal variety of woodland stride as well as +4 to Swim checks. 8th level unlocks scent, 9th evasion, 16th level improved evasion. 12th level renders you immune to the detrimental effects of the depths of the ocean (like pressure etc.) as well as the option to hide in aquatic terrain sans cover or concealment. 17th level provides a kind of Hide in Plain Sight you may use in aquatic terrain and 19th level nets you DR 5/- when wearing armor or using a shield. As a capstone, the class gets Weapon Mastery, may move at full speed while using Survival to track underwater and make an attack as a standard action against an aquatic enemy (Does that refer to the subtype or the environment he's in?) - on a hit, it's save-or-die. Alternatively, there's a nonlethal option. It can be used 5/day.

The pdf also contains 8 feats: Fast Folder lets you fold nets faster, Net Combat increase the DCs to escape your DCs and concentration to use it. Improved Net Combat provides quicker trailing rope control. Ocean Brawler lets you use a bludgeoning or slashing weapon sans penalty as long as you're not off-balance. Sudden Brace lets you use an immediate action to brace 1/round. Wiggle Free nets you + 2 CMD versus a grapple by a net...which may be too specific. Finally, Underwater Shot helps using thrown and ranged missile weapons underwater - it's still not perfect, but you can at least use them! The pdf ends with a quick note on tracking underwater.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are solid; I noticed some minor editing/formatting hiccups, but nothing too serious. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The pdf's art is solid and full-color - one piece original, one I have seen before.

Robert Gresham's mariner is pretty much what you'd expect - a coastal themed ranger with bits of fighter sprinkled in. It's not brilliant or mega-creative, but a couple of the net-feats are pretty worthwhile and before you design the material yourself...well, you can get this. Personally, I think the class should probably grant swim speed at some point instead of piling ever more Swim-bonuses on it, but that's an aesthetic gripe. It should be noted that this is a PWYW-book - and as such, it is definitely worth downloading the book and then, if you like what you see, leave a tip you consider appropriate. Personally, I'll settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, and while I like it's PWYW-nature, I can't really round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mariner Hybrid Class
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