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The Dracula Dossier: Director's Handbook
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2016 04:18:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive hardcover clocks in at 372 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial/backer-lists, 4 pages detailed ToC, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 362 (!!!) pages of raw content, so let's take a look!


This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a critical, unbiased review.


So, what is this book? Well, first of all, this is the companion tome to the Dracula Unredacted-tome, which is perhaps the most detailed, massive handout ever crafted for a roleplaying game. I'd like to urge you to read my review of this book first before taking a gander at this review here, if only so we're all on the same page. I'll wait here.


whistles badly


tries to look inconspicuous


Okay, back? I know I'd be a sucky agent. Anyways, this is, in a nut-shell, the Director's book for the campaign. Surprise. If you were btw. thinking how you, as a GM, can keep tabs of the intentional inconsistencies, vaguenesses and hooks contained in the glorious tome called Dracula Unredacted...well, remember me mentioning the numbers in the review of Dracula Unredacted? You have an index of those here, one that supplement the massive index provided for this book and helps you stay one step ahead of the players. Properly depicted workname-lists and checklists further enhance the options of running this campaign.


Still, structure-wise, this book very much differs from the classic mega-adventure/AP/what-have-you-not. Why? Well, this campaign understands itself as an improvisational campaign -which, I can see, already has some of you roll your eyes. Well, wait a second - basically, this book can be considered to be the single most massively free-form campaign I have ever read...but it doesn't feel like it - at all.


What do I mean by this? Well, the book is meticulously structured. At this point, we are already familiar with the structuring elements of the Conspyramid and Vampyramid as established structuring elements in Night's Black Agents-games - but the level of detail that has been provided herein is...well, staggering. If you take one of these and the respective levels inside, you'll notice detailed, crunch-supported responses to what is happening. From basic information-gathering to burning agents, the response/assault structure of the adversaries in this book, ultimately, is exceedingly, stunningly detailed and sensible - and yes, the stakes are high. Wait, stakes...good note: The book does offer advice on different playstyles - from stakes to burn and dust and mirror, different takes on the subject matter and advice for thematic modifications can be found in this tome.


Another simple reason why this does not feel like a typical free-form-GM-does-all-the-work-campaign is simply the staggering level of detail that has been provided in order to make running this massive campaign easier on the GM: Over 60 location, over 60 NPCs, almost30 strange objects - basically, even if you are not interested AT ALL in running a Dracula-themed campaign, this still remains a superb toolkit for your perusal.


But all those details don't sound very improvisational, right? Well, here a genius element of this book comes into play. Everything, and I mean friggin' everything, is utterly and completely customizable. The NPCs? They represent, in many cases, archetypes - but they also are characters: The Icelandic Diplomat, for example, is a fully developed character, with quirky mannerisms, history, ideology - true. But there are alternate names and looks, for one. Secondly, the entries focus on different options - generally, you get at least 3 options out of each character depicted - as an innocent, as a member of the conspiracy and as a direct minion of Dracula - and no, these are not the same, but more on that in the SPOILER-section, Similarly, from photos to jeweled daggers or Báthory's journals, the artifacts and objects have multiple iterations - they can be major items, often with rules-relevant repercussions upon being used, less important items, fraudulent -and all has been carefully laid out for the director's perusal.


Players stumble over item xyz too early? Okay, so you change it on the fly to a different iteration of its own, thus retaining control over this part of the campaign. This attention to detail btw. also extends to organizations and locales - from the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels to the Echipa Mortii or the al-Qaeda in Rûm, the respective organizations can have wildly different roles from campaign to campaign and this vast arsenal of different interpretations, ultimately, also lets you maintain control - and easily switch-bait one iteration into another: "While these guys have been made to look like Dracula's minions, your painstakingly gathered intel now shows..." Similarly, the Rumanian government's branches have undergone a treatment just as detailed - which, alongside the locations themselves, does show one thing: Authors Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan are history buffs and not only excel at the research of literature and its conventions as depicted in the Dracula Unredacted book - they also did their research here. Admirably so.


Know how impressed I was about Dracula Unredacted making use of the Icelandic Jack the Ripper-note? Well guess what? Their meticulously researched take on the locations and organization and history suffuses this book. I feel obliged to explicitly comment on this due to several facts: For one, a large part of Night's Black Agent's appeal lies in the realism of the setting, of it being "our" world. Particularly in research-heavy scenarios with historical figures, there is nothing that demotivates extremely involved players that do research in their spare time more than botching facts, dates, knowing nothing about structure xyz -it breaks the suspension of disbelief and is highly destructive and unpleasant when encountered. You'll find no such instance herein - the respective locations, with handy maps of both dilapidated oil platforms (that may be prisons or not), cities and castles is precise and steeped deeply in real world lore - both historic and fantastic. Living a short drive away from Munich, I know about quite a few locales; similarly, as someone who had the chance to visit a lot of Rumanian castles, London and Iceland, I can verify that the depiction of these locations is downright uncanny in its presentation. I grossly, grossly underestimated the amount of work the Dracula Dossier would require for a fair assessment - I did research. A lot of it.


And the intriguing component is this: These real-life locations, organizations, etc. - they are fictional...and they are not. While the horrific threat obviously suffuses these places, they also remain grounded in reality - it's almost to the point at which I'd consider this book's depiction of places a form of augmented reality. If history is a grand narrative, a conventionalized consensus, then the accomplishment of this book lies in being almost too feasible, like an unredacted version of the things that could be, were vampires real. I may be too cerebral, I don't know - but to me, this vastly enhanced the overall fear and tension while playing this book - and it enhances the sense of immersion of the players.


More important, should you not care (or care less) about accuracy, will be that, even in this level of detail, the game-play elements are never lost - each entry and locale, everything is simply chockfull with things to do, stability to lose, traps, responses and, ultimately, fun. Have I btw. mentioned that this modularity also extends to the very identity of Dracula and his castle? There are multiple, thoroughly compelling candidates - which you can actually research. Yep. Lunch-break, thinking about the week-end's campaign? Interested in who the hell this one guy was? Research...and bam, you have meta-game and game generate a cohesive whole. Oh, have I mentioned maps for them? There is a second customization option for Dracula I consider very interesting -but that is, frankly, SPOILER-material and will feature in that section of the review.


But perhaps, just perhaps, all of these tools, all of these details, in spite of the thorough indexing and massive amount of ideas, still feels like it's not enough to you. Perhaps, you want to have a bit more handholding, a skeleton to put your plot-meat on, if you will? Well, fret notes - beyond the spines depicting how to craft a scenario from Dracula Unredacted annotations, the book also offers alternate ends, campaign frames (think of them as massive templates for the campaign) and an exceedingly-detailed looking glass chapter on Bucharest....but this is where I'm at an end regarding the SPOILER-free territory - I'll now go into the nit and grit of this tome.


Highly classified! Agents reading further will get BURNED and lose all stability! Agents should, at any cost, refrain from reading on and instead jump to the conclusion. Only Directors are classified to read further. CLASSIFIED. SPOILERS ABOUND.


...


..


.


Okay, so you're a director and know how to handle this precarious information. Good. What I intentionally failed to mention above pertains to the nature of Dracula. You may not like the idea of supernatural, classic vampires, satanic adversaries of the like - the full book contains a massive selection of items and story-hooks that are based on a scientific interpretation of vampirism, tying Dracula to tellurgic energies, electromagnetism and thus manages to add a new and evocative potential twist to the subject matter - yes, including potentially an experimental rifle with a LONG recharge duration. More importantly, though, this does allow you to mix and match the classic and the unconventional ideas to create your own, unique take on Dracula and his spawn.


The book also has a vast selection of supernatural threats that brim with creativity and, combined with Drac's stats, make this worth it for the stats alone. But what do we get exactly? Well, beyond the obvious Báthory (who is a capital threat in her own right) to Lilith (an ancient vampire posing as the goddess...) we also cover more exotic characters: - from Abhartach, the blood-drinking dwarf of Irish myth to the Chinese Jin-Gui to Orlok, Jack the Ripper (in a classic, interesting take) and various national vampire programs, we also get some truly exotic beings: Alraune, a plant-like Übermensch-experiment gone rogue or Queen Tera, the supernatural cast of optional characters is glorious. Similarly, EDOM's forces and the cast of the novel and their descendants in different epochs are covered.


EDOM? Yep, for now things get VERY spoilery - basically, the central focus of the campaign can be summed up as that this branch of MI6, which is btw. also the "conspiracy" beyond Dracula's own, seeks to recruit vampires for Britain as super-agents. This nefarious cabal operates in the shadows beyond even mainstream espionage and conspiracies and thus is a lethal foe indeed - and reading the unredacted file...well, puts the agents in danger by this force and Dracula - pincered between two truly lethal forces. More intriguing, by the way - the organization's handlers, potential for double-agents among the player, organization-responses and facilities - all of these can be found within the superbly detailed pages contained herein. Similarly, the cast of characters of Stoker's novel and their descendants may still be around, may be working for EDOM, Dracula, both or neither - the possibilities, literally, are almost endless and up to the creativity of the director and the responses of the players.


Now I mentioned alternate capstones, right? The expected one, no surprise there, is the showdown with nigh-demi-god Dracula in his own castle. But the alternatives are no less compelling: Whether Dracula's endgame is becoming a god by ferreting out Zalmoxis, hijacking Russia by subduing Vladimir Putin or a showdown in the remote caverns beyond the inhospitable, exceedingly lethal wilderness beyond the Dracula's Mill-water fall or bringing final death at his unique, original tomb - the capstones, once again, can be mixed and matched to suit your individual campaign and resonate with diverse, unique ideas and leitmotifs as well as metaphorical charges. And yes, with ample unique challenges and even new characters, these are no mere sketches - they are distinct and lend a unique flair to the respective finales.


I did mention campaign frames, right? Well, the first of these allows you to run a Mythos-version of the whole campaign, completely compatible with Trail of Cthulhu, including a wide array of potential servants, threats and similar mythos-themed notions - AWESOME...and yes, this means that this should be in the library of any self-respecting ToC-keeper, complete with star-spawn and black monoliths. The second frame would be a stakes-frame, wherein a third faction enters the game - the Fourth Reich. Basically, here we have a less realistic blend of Nazi-super-science, pulpy aesthetics and the Dracula myth - including underground cities, powerful super-Nazi-bosses and the like...and yes, emphasis on the occult or the scientific both are possible in equal measure. Finally, the "Onto the Fourth Generation"-frame takes the generation-spanning plot and begins with 1894, then proceeds to 1940, then 1977 and then to the present day, weaving an epic yarn that begins with players directly involved in the incident that actually generated the Dracula-novel in the first place. These alternatives, obviously, can be extensively scavenged by the director to create a thoroughly unique vision of an individual campaign.


There is one more fact: The Dracula Dossier's Director's Handbook is not simply a free-form espionage campaign. It also has tie-ins. Particularly novice directors that are a bit out of their league with the free-form structure of this campaign will certainly appreciate that the book ties in with the superb Zalozhniy Quartet campaign and, obviously, The EDOM files. Though, unfortunately, I do not own the latter adventure-collection, I have tried the transition from the former to the Dossier and it worked seamlessly smooth.


It should also be noted that a list of recommend reading has been included for your convenience!


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch - I only noticed a handful of glitches in a book of this impressive size, making this one of the most refined books you can find. Layout adheres to Pelgrane Press' superb 3-column full-color standard for Night's Black Agents and the book is chockfull with awesome full-color artwork - if there is an NPC, he or she will have a great artwork. Add to that great establishing shots and a high art-density in general and we have a gorgeous book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks, while the print copy (which you should get) is a high-quality hardcover with glossy, thick paper - a book made to last. My copy also featured a gorgeous cardboard 1-page-sized rendition of the glorious artwork of a potential castle of Dracula.


Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, with support from Heather Albano, Paul Baldowski, Kennon Bauman, Walt Ciechenowski, Justin Farquhar, Elsa S. Henry, Carol Johnson, Marissa Kelly, Shoshana Kessock, Shawn Merwin, James Palmer, Nathan Paoletta, Will Plant, Wes Schneider, Christopher Sniezak and Paul Veccione have created a book that can only be described as a master-piece...and then, it still doesn't doe the experience of the Dracula Dossier justice.


If you read my reviews of Esoterrorists, Eyes of the Stone Thief or similar books, you'll notice a tendency: Pelgrane Press is actually becoming rapidly one of my favorite publishers. Much like these absolutely superb tomes, the Dracula Dossier can be considered to be a book that pushes the envelope by means of its depth, customization options and the vast, ridiculous array of unique options herein. Suffused by truly unique ideas and historic accuracy, a humbling amount of unique details and more material than you can shake a stick at, the Dracula Dossier as a whole is an experience that not only ranks among my favorites in my whole reviewer-career, it is also simply superb in just about every way. Its careful research and level of detail, its interaction with Dracula Unredacted - both conspire to basically render this book a nigh unprecedented experience: The fact that Dracula Unredacted generates a real-world experience supported by research undertaken by players enhances the immersion in unprecedented ways. Better yet, this colossal tome's genius organization renders actually running the campaign a feasible task, even for directors that are new to the GUMSHOE-rules-set: The tie-ins with the Zalozhniy Quartet allow for easier, more structured beginnings to get used to the themes of the game, while also planting the seeds for the highly modular campaign-smörgåsbord contained within these pages.


This book cannot only be considered to be excellence in game-design, it is also educational and pretty much the pinnacle of careful, deliberate and capable research. I honestly sat down with my own copy of Dracula and compared texts. I did research...and ended up being more impressed rather than less by the attention to detail and care that went into this book. Note that most texts, whether academic or otherwise, tend to elicit the opposite response from me.


This is, pretty much, a system-seller experience unlike any other you may have encountered during your experiences with investigative RPGs. It's, in one sentence, a milestone for our hobby as a whole. Obviously, my rating cannot be anything but a full 5 stars + seal of approval for this masterpiece. And yes, this is obviously a candidate for my Top Ten of this year; in fact, it is a hot contender for the number 1 spot! Seriously - even if you aren't interested in Night's Black Agent's - at least get the Dracula Unredacted book...though, if my prediction holds up, that book will make you get this Director's Handbook as well. They are simply too good to pass up. And yes, I hope I'll be able to review more of these absolutely superb GUMSHOE-books in the future!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Dracula Dossier: Director's Handbook
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The Dracula Dossier: Dracula Unredacted
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2016 04:15:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive hardcover clocks in at 476 pages (489 in pdf form, with cover etc. being counted among the pages), so let's take a look!


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


In a nut-shell, this is a twist of the original Dracula-novel as penned by Bram Stoker, with annotations. "I don't need to read that, I know Dracula's story already!" - I can see this impulse in at least some readers out there. You'd be wrong, for the text actually has been expanded by roughly 1/5 - 1/4 of its size, with characters like Kate Reed introduced to the fray, providing additional depth and perspectives. This only in the beginning to keep you reading - this is not vanilla-Dracula: The premise is that the unredacted Dracula is an after-action field report that has been censored and changed in the published version. So, please, indulge me and follow me on a little excursion - I guarantee that the following analysis may actually make you reconsider.


Blood. It is impossible to talk about Dracula without first going on a brief tangent pertaining this most fascinating of bodily fluids. No other fluid alarms us to its extent - we are hard-wired to instinctually consider red an attention-catching color because of it: The blue or green blood of other species does not alarm us in the slightest, but red blood...there is something primal in its look, smell and taste and throughout recorded human history, blood has been a central component of our mythology - it is the gradient of life and the currency of death itself for our kind. We "spill blood" when we kill, the implication of casual shedding of it conjuring up an excess, a transgression against the "civilized" code of conduct we based our societies on. Perhaps most famously in recent TV-history, Dexter the serial killer ultimately is what? Bingo - a blood-spatter analyst, signifying his killer-nature - he reads, in blood. He divines with it, though he does so at the altar of science.


Altar? Yes, for at the same time, blood has always held more meaning - the sacral component is prevalent to this date: While we may have, for the most part, abolished the notion of offering blood to deities and spirits, sacrificial practices have been an integral part of religions all around the globe and indeed, continues to be. Before you shake your head and point towards your enlightened Christianity or other religion, please consider symbolism like "partaking in the blood of Christ" or similar practices. To paraphrase Sir James Frazer: We have moved up in our level of abstraction, but the thematic core remains; the original religion fades, but the icon remains and takes on a new mantle and guise. The haruspex of our day and age is the blood-spatter analyst.


Where there is the sacred, however, there also is the profane and nary a thing that exists in our world has as significant a powerful symbolic charge as blood - we associate its transgressive excess with connotations of evil, of the vile and debauchery. There is spectacle in fascination in blood, the grimy lair of an insane butcher that reverberates with the middle ages' social stigma of the meat-processing professions. A sense of revulsion, in this day and age more than ever, is associated with slaughter and death of animals - mainly due to the spilling of blood - for do we not all bleed red?


Bleeding red...it evokes an instinctual sympathetic response, triggering flight or the notion to help in most human beings...and here we have yet another intriguing component: This sympathetic response can obviously rise: For as long as there was fiction of blood, there also was a connotation of the sexual inherent in its appearance. From the bodily fluid of the female menstruation to the child-birth, the connotations of a triumphant hunt or battle - in no other symbolically charged part of our bodies has there ever been more of a blending, more of a fusion of Eros and Thanatos than in the blood that courses through our veins. Beyond the obvious requirement of blood flow for intercourse, the red lipstick, rouge on the cheeks, the red, sweaty lips set against a dark beard - all of these and infinitely more signify the passion of blood. We blush due to it. Our blood pump, commonly known as heart, accelerates when we are aroused. It does not require a fetish of blood drinking or any sort of kink to appreciate the powerful imagery and functionality that is associated with blood.


While the history of the non-folklore-vampire is a relatively brief one, our mythologies are stuffed to the brim with creatures feasting upon the blood of the mortals, prolonging their life and that often in sexually charged ways, coupling a thirst for blood with a thirst for a deviantly-coded sexuality free of the fetters of concern and empathy: The excess of spilled blood collocated into sexuality, blending the adrenaline-charged association of triumphantly dancing on the verge of death with the ample linguistically implied associations with La petite mort.


This is an intriguing turn of phrase, mind you: It originally pointed towards not our commonly used synonym for orgasm, but simply denoted a loss of consciousness and control. Consciousness and control - two factors that we value as a species, that we need to survive...and that, ultimately are NOT associated with any of the nigh-indefinite connotations we have with blood when we take a look at the above. Blood is excess, passion and ID running rampant - it is NOT control.


Against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise that there frankly is no tale in horror as well-known; none that has been adapted in this staggering amount of guises. The themes, ultimately remain - but they change. Oh, how do they change. Ask any person on the street whether they know what "Dracula" is and they'll know. Only...they don't. You see, we all have probably encountered the count in one of his hundreds of incarnations in various media and forms of art and when we haven't encountered him, we have encountered mythology derived from the original tale of the bloodsucking vampire, charged with eroticism. Take a look at any given array of vampire novels, from the infamous Twilight-books to the Shadow Chronicles or similar works of fiction and you'll find a plethora of narratives sporting a female (or male - this is 2016, after all!) heroine/hero who has to tame the dark and brooding vampire, come to terms with the associations and implicit violence and thus, ultimately, transcend death itself. It's basically a twist on the beauty and the beast-narrative, a tale, literally as old as time.


This, however, was not always so - the folkloristic origins of Dracula and many a bloodsucking mythological creature often were that of...well. Corpses. Decaying, foul corpses rising from the grave to kill their families. The sexual connotation only has been a relatively recent invention, with the eponymous novel Dracula by Bram Stoker being one of the first to exemplify just this. And while we all know the plot of Dracula, supposedly, precious few of us actually do. I mean...we all have heard about Van Helsing, Harker, Mina and the Count himself, obviously. Perhaps we have since then, via one of the countless vampire anime or adaptations heard about Renfield as a servant of Dracula and nebulously picture a kind of vampiric Igor or dashing, subservient underling who homoerotically serves his dominant master. We all know how Dracula and vampires in general have to return to their coffins at dawn, how they are destroyed by the purging rays of light unless they are daywalker-dhampir-half-breeds...you know, one of the most prolific angsty-teen-power-fantasies ever devised in the last generation? Well, if your conceptions of Dracula contained any of these tropes, if you thought by yourself "I don't need to read this, I know it already!" - then you'd be wrong. All of the above is not necessarily so in Bram Stoker's original novel. Come on, if you haven't read this one, then I did blow your mind there, at least a little, right?


And see, that is the point I wanted to make...or at least, it is the first point I wanted to make. Nary an iconic figure has so thoroughly underwent the transformative progress and process of popular culture like Dracula: We know Frankenstein's Monster, Jekyll/Hyde, we have werewolf-lore galore and still, none of these classic creatures of anthropomorphized IDs of the dark romanticism have had quite this impact; much less changed to quite this extent. In Bram Stoker's Dracula, there is, no kidding, a scene wherein the count walks the daylit streets of London with a straw hat on his head. Let that sink in.


How did this come to pass that we know so little about the Dracula we all ostensibly know? Well, to point to the above - the icon remains. Dracula is a symbolic vessel for our anxieties and agendas of a given day and age. When Bram Stoker's original novel gave voice to Mina Harker as a capable, female protagonist whose moral fiber outclassed that of their male brethren throughout most of the novel, later interpretations of the material had different foci: While Mrs. Harker, in the original, ultimately was re-absorbed into the norms and ideas of mainstream society in a lackluster addendum written to appease moral guardians or Stoker's own sensibilities, there can still be no doubt that she already exemplifies a new breed of female character, one beholden neither to the ever more normative feminist movement of her day and age, nor to the patriarchal structures of established mainstream British society- the transgressive element lies not simply in her actions, but also in her skill-set and when she chillingly remarks Dracula as her approaching husband, she is performing two subversions at the same time: On the one hand, this state, sprung from her spoiling through Dracula's blood has explicit connotations with rape and the breaking of one's spirit. In the context of Victorian and fin-de-siècle England, this can be seen as a scathing, sympathy-inducing attack on the angel in the house-ideal of the demure, passion-less woman. At the same time, however, it is also an equalization - for one devotion is replaced with another, with Dracula, according to previous observations, being obviously highly sexualized in his coded depiction.


In later adaptations of Dracula, a subtext of a less obvious nature suddenly sprang to life - namely the matter of fact that he is also a nostalgic relic. A book written in the fin-de-siècle-era obviously needs to contend and address a changing of values and the fears associated with the new world order, the anticipation of upheavals the like of which our species had heretofore never chronicled. English society, at this point, was suffused with a slowly shaking foundation - the 3 grand psychological malaises cast their shadow, as a mankind devoted to science and reason has to come to terms with neither being the center of the universe, nor a creator's chosen master creation, nor master of one's own faculties.


The rise of fascist ideology as an international phenomenon and the anxiety a devolution or degeneration of mankind could bring can perhaps be quoted as one of the reasons why Dracula's original at that time did not elicit the same manner of controversy as The Island of Dr. Moreau. Dracula's theme, though, proved to be the more stable one: For in the Count's nobility, in his origin deep within the Carpathians, he pointed for his contemporary audience towards a literally darker, but also nostalgic time, where science, something the characters in Dracula constantly, obsessively use, was of no importance. Indeed, Dracula requires a return to sacral rites of Catholicism of all religions (quite scandalous in Britain) and folklore; the light of enlightenment, metaphorically and physically, can't seem to touch him. This association with ages past, with "simpler" times is a universal human notion - it was then and still is today. Dracula, in many a rendition in media, is a nostalgic atavism for us as a society, but he is, at the same time the exact opposite.


Above anything else, Dracula is transgression. When a given incarnation depicts him as beholden to the mast, it is to a potentially more romantic past; even if historically this was not true, he still remains sexually charged, emotionally vibrant; he still has all the trappings of the Beauty and the Beast-romantic. Even the number of his brides and his flaunting of conventionalized relationship-paradigms is ultimately transgressive. And when the present is mired in tradition, cluttered by an antique aesthetic, then it's Dracula's task to counteract exactly this with radical modernism and a violation of the aesthetics that have brought him forth - where once, Dracula rose and crept from the shadows, he'll later look down upon humans in the depth. And so, in time, I believe that Dracula will once again walk in sunlight.


Ultimately, the Dracula-characters throughout history remain a grand projection of empowerment...and interestingly, one for both males and females. He is the way out of normative patriarchal structures and suffocating, abuse relationships and familial structures, he is the easy hand to grasp, the male ID fulfilled. He is nostalgia and exactly the character a given generation wants - whether romantic and non-phallic, dominant and suave or bestial and brutal - Dracula has been coded in a myriad of ways in a plethora of movies, books, screen-plays...and games. Obviously. There is a reason why Vampire: The Masquerade had such a huge appeal - it was a fin-de-siècle fantasy for the 21st century, resonating with all of the aforementioned tropes and so much more, without the perceived clutter of the "old" structures and sentences.


You see, having read pretty much all of the classic pieces of dark romantic literature, I can, without a doubt say, that many of them, to our day and age's sensibilities, are somewhat plodding. Conditioned to enjoy short-lived and to the point entertainment and immediate gratification, I have witnessed, though never quite understood, the frustration with this literature. Until I had to read it all during my MA. Oh boy. Confession-time: I'll never, ever touch Dickens out of my own volition again. And "Wieland", the first American gothic novel actually made me fall asleep while reading it - a feat only a select few tomes have accomplished. I'm not the biggest fan of this kind of prose, preferring more the engaging and challenging works of Modernism and Post-Modernism. HOWEVER, I also encountered a lot of gems - I won't have to tell you that Poe holds up to this date. You know it. And while e.g. "The String of Pearls", the basis for the recently adapted Sweeny Todd-story was a chore to read, other books weren't. Cue in Bram Stoker's Dracula. While less frantic than most contemporary novels, this book remains, to this date, a page-turner. The constantly changing perspectives of narrators and their letters, diary entries etc. keep you engaged as you try to puzzle together the components. And the book actually wastes no time for the "big reveal" - you don't lose anything by knowing that Dracula is a vampire, nay, THE vampire. The book, pretty much from the get-go, makes this clear and then is all about struggling with this threat. And, from a gamer's perspective, the characters actually behave pretty much like a roleplaying group in CoC, ToC, or Night's Black Agents - you see different attributes and skills if you closely look; you see the drives of the characters. One could almost ostensibly assume it was a work penned about a certain horror campaign in Night's Black Agents Stoker personally played...


Which brings me full circle to this book - this is literature, yes. This is the original Dracula...but it is more. The premise of this book is deceptively simple: Dracula is real, there was a conspiracy, things went horribly wrong. Now the original file has fallen into your hands - with annotations by no less than three generations of agents fighting the vampiric conspiracy...or are they? Dracula has always existed in the fringes, in the haze; the demarcation line between light and day, passion and control, norms and rebellion - and now, once again, his narrative is put into the context of a new age, a new medium that is, much like Dracula, at the same time an old medium: This is a gaming supplement and it is literature. It is a fusion of the old and new, of nostalgia framed by no less than 3 meta-narratives - whose intrusion into the text is handled surprisingly smart. In color-coded hand-written notes and annotations, they tend to ultimately crop up in the filler-scenes, remark upon small, seemingly unremarkable details...and add whole new meaning and ultimately, terror to the book. When one can see the inevitable happy end approaching, one knows that it's, in fact, not the end - and we get to know why.


One of the achievements of the annotations and new content is that they take the small bits and pieces and point them out to the readers; Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan did their research: Did you know that the first, Icelandic edition (Makt Myrkranna - Sagan af Drakúla greifa) of this book has a preface that mentions Jack the Ripper? Well, I did, but only because I studied both Icelandic and English literature extensively. Well, this book is full of such interesting tidbits...and the sheer fact that the original Dracula and his behaviors have become alien to our sensibilities, that he, indeed at this point is different from our expectations of what Dracula is, makes reading this book intriguing to say the least. But what about the clash of narrative voices? I actually indulged in a little experiment and handed this book to a friend of mine who had not read the original Dracula - and guess what? She was flabbergasted when she realized that this was not all penned by Mr. Stoker - Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan have mastered the peculiarities of Stoker's style and vocabulary to the dot and, as a whole, this rendered "re-reading" Dracula actually a fulfilling experience, in spite of my excellent memory..


How good is my memory? Well, unless I have to look up a particular wording, I do not read any books twice. I can still recall the plots of movies, books, comics...the whole shebang I have consumed. My memory, at least for the purpose of retaining this type of information, seems to be quite pronounced. This means I basically remembered the whole original book. I still had more than just a bit of fun - the 3 meta-narratives and their epochs that are reflected in verbiage and in how they interact, lend a whole new dimension to an already inspired, intriguing book and the new bits and pieces integrate so seamlessly into the overarcing structure, they actually enhance the plot rather than just stretching it - this is, in fact, a better piece of literature than the original.


We are gamers. We are roleplayers. This is literature and, at the same time, the most massive hand-out I have ever held in my hands. So go out there, get this book, preferably in print - and when your investigators or agents or simply bibliophile players find a strange unredacted file, just hand them this book. It's perhaps the most awesome set-up for a campaign you can wish for, a huge, immersive facilitator of play, a book that they can analyze, engage and pick apart - this is a gaming supplement, exceedingly educational for players and GMs alike and a glorious supplement beyond the confines of Night's Black Agents, though, obviously playing The Dracula Dossier will amplify the experience beyond belief. By the way - those strange notes spread throughout the text? Those numbers? They are here for a reason, but since that reason is relevant to the gaming aspect and not necessarily required for the enjoyment of this book, I'll cover them in the second part of this review - the one on the game mechanics book, the Director's Handbook.


For now, let me express my gratitude for reading my rambling analysis of this wonderful supplement...and then go. Get this.


I'm old-school, I'd suggest the bound hardcover I used when writing this. But the pdf has also its glorious charm: Why? Because it's a glorious handout as well - you can tease this book...perhaps the PCs find some pages with one annotation type...and others that have another: You see, the pdf is layered and allows you to turn on and off the annotations of the respective agents and even the text. Hand them a white paper with only some cryptic annotations and watch agents trying to find the obscure means of making the text reappear. Yes - this is awesome from both an in-game and out-game point of view, exceedingly ambitious and a sheer joy to read and digest - a Dracula for our age. Now go ahead and weave your story with this, read a tale both old and new, literature that is a game in its experience and in its nature as a supplement. You won't regret it.


My final verdict, obviously, will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and though this was released last year, I only managed to read an analyze it now - hence it is nominated as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016. Get this and read Dracula like you've never read or experienced the yarn before.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Dracula Dossier: Dracula Unredacted
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New Fighter Maneuvers & Talents (13th Age Compatible)
Publisher: Quasar Knight Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2016 04:13:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This expansion for the fighter-class clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page artist contacts, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The 13th Age fighter, as this pdf aptly observes, is a significant step up in usefulness and player enjoyment over most iterations in any d20-based gaming system, but there are some holes in the fighter's arsenal: In the introduction, the author aptly observes the odd lack of flexible attack triggers on odd results (haha...sorry, I'll punch myself later for that one) and the relative dearth of ranged attack compatible maneuvers. This pdf, thus, introduces the concept of martial schools that can be pictured as a fluffy umbrella for new feats and maneuvers, with the core book's array being treated as unaligned or basic tricks - this fluffy diversification tactic is not necessarily a bad idea, since it allows a GM to create local differences in martial traditions and control access to certain combinations of tricks.


The first of the martial traditions herein would be the Glimmering Cloak, which sports 3 talents and 10 maneuvers, many of which can be upgraded via feats. A thing you'll notice if you are a purist for formatting is that the presentation of the feat-component of the respective pieces of crunch, while formally in line with 13th Age, does not sport the respective "boxes" - while this will not influence the final verdict, I felt obliged to mention it nonetheless. So, what can we do? Well, via En Guarde!, we can declare duels that penalize first nearby enemy, with feat-support also targets that are further away. The targeted creature suffers penalties while trying to attack creatures that are not you, with higher tier feats allowing crit-range increases and increased penalties - and no, you can't abuse this since it only works once per battle - still, nice way of drawing aggro from foes.


Panache is somewhat of a pet-peeve of mine, particularly when using 13th Age's multiclassing rules - it lets you use Cha instead of Str (and instead of Dex for ranged attacks via the Adventurer-feat)...but is balanced by only allowing that for basic melee attacks. A bit odd: "Additionally, once per battle, you may add your Charisma modifier to the die roll of a save ends the effect."[sic!] - I'm pretty sure, a part of the sentence is missing. Pretty cool - the higher tier feats allow you to temporarily add 1/2 escalation die to MD and later PD as well for a limited amount of time. Via the parkour talent, you gain 5 free background points to assign to appropriate backgrounds like acrobat, cat burglar, etc., while also unlocking an escalation die-tied Flowing Movement. This tie can be eliminated via the champion feat, but at epic tier, you can use haste as a wizard of equivalent level...which feels odd to me, since haste targets yourself or an ally - and I can't really see this technique grant it to an ally. That may just be me, though.


Distracting Swish is intriguing in that it allows, on odd hits, to have allies disengage - pretty cool. Now Impressive Flourish lets you add Dex or Cha, whichever is higher, to damage, with higher levels providing 2x/3x that amount. The feats decrease the triggering roll required and ties it to the escalation die. MD-enhancing Buffs, penalizing foes you miss, switching places with engaged allies (limited to 1/round), allowing allies to spend a recovery - all in all, an interesting array of maneuvers, some of which allow you to turn really sucky luck into wins - natural 1-reroll, plus, potentially rendering the foe vulnerable. The editing, however, is a bit flawed in some of these - enemy instead of enemies for the 9th level maneuver, for example. That being said, while glitches like this are jarring, they generally do not negatively influence the respective functionality of the crunch in this pdf.


The second martial arts-school in this pdf would be Heaven's Eye, with 2 talents and 9 maneuvers, which provides solid options for ranged fighters - which include extended aiming capacity and acid arrow as well as the option to call forth supernatural storms that can deal different types of damage to foes moving closer towards you- some more guidance would have been nice here, since the pdf does mention different types of damage available, but not any suggestions for when to choose which. This still is, obviously, mostly a cosmetic complaint, though. Ricochet Shots, hails of arrows, sniping and allowing allies to disengage - all in all, a great selection of tricks for ranged fighters, with particularly the option to perform regular attacks as interrupt actions being pretty intriguing.


The Iron Hand tradition would be an unarmed - and focused on Wisdom. Now, as you probably know, unarmed strikes, RAW, are pretty subpar...which is why this pdf has a bit of an oddly phrased suggestion: "While one could reflavor unarmed strikes as heavy or martial one-handed weapons, by extension all Iron Hand talents and maneuvers should be reflavored this way as a default." This sentence is odd - I think it means that the Iron Hand talents and maneuvers are assuming this change, but I'm not sure. Cleaned up wording would certainly help here. This type of glitch is even more odd, considering that the pdf generally manages to get the interesting crunchy bits often right: E.g. ranged blast ki attacks, options to charge them, ki-based miss damage to nearby targets and critical stuns...all in all a fun martial tradition.


Reaper's Field would be the martial tradition focused on heavy weapons like greatswords and polearms. The practitioners of this style can cause damage even while disengaging. Decreasing enemy PD for one turn upon any even hit or miss - basically, this tradition exemplifies hitting hard and manages to get the feeling right rather well - hitting so hard that, when you have a natural even miss, the enemy loses his next move action, for example...is pretty dang cool. And striking with a 9th level maneuver so hard the ground quakes and causes nearby foes miss damage...yeah, this is cool - mainly because it feels like the guy with the big weapon hitting hard.


Sanguineous Rack would be the "evil" fighting style - with fear-instilling in enemies, negative energy damage, harming yourself to enhance your strikes, rerolling villainous relationship dice and even gaining options to reduce MD. Ongoing damage, with feat-upgrades allowing for the increase of the save from default 11+ to 16+...envenomed blades that can also cause the vulnerable, shadow-jumper-style short range teleportation - a cool, dark-themed and pretty trick/debuff-heavy tradition.


The final one would be the Second Soul - said to be either guarded by ancient spirits or perhaps even possessed, these fighters can draw upon a limited array of cantrips, petition the aid of spirits in combat and are, unsurprisingly, particularly adept at hunting the undead, gaining background points via one of the talents. With spirits mirroring your even hits at escalation die 1+, ranged attacks that allow you to teleport to the target, attack of opportunity-causing poltergeist allies...all in all, a cool take on the benevolent, if slightly creepy "heir to greatness"/spirit-themed fighter.


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are ODD in this one. Whyß Because, on a rules-language level, for the most part, this pdf is exceedingly precise and well-crafted. At the same time, there are more than a few typo-level hiccups, punctuation issues and some wonky and confusing sentence-structures in here...which is particularly baffling since Ray Chapel's writing is generally precise and to the point in that regard. So yeah, another editing pass would have done this pdf good. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, with each tradition gaining a neat full-color stock art that fits well with the respective theme. Annoyingly, the pdf has no bookmarks - but at least an internally linked ToC. Still, navigation is a bit annoying here.


You know, this pdf made me pretty happy - this is Ray Chapel's first 13th Age supplement, at least to my knowledge, and he exhibits a detailed and well-versed grasp on the rule-set and its peculiarities. More important than that, the fighting styles/traditions introduced herein lend a sense of more unique identity to the fighter class in the 13th Age rules, making the actual playing experience for practitioners of different traditions completely different. Personally, I'm not a big fan of the attribute-substitution-tricks since they produce a bit of unnecessary optimization cheeses with the multiclassing options...but even in that context, they still work. Also important, at least to me, would be that the styles generally seem to be pretty much on par with one another. They feature solid tricks and are sufficiently distinct to play almost like sub-classes of fighter. Now, there is a reason for these traditions to be thus structured and I urge groups out there to retain this structure - cherry-picking options herein can lead to some pretty powerful builds, so unless that's the focus of your group anyways, I'd suggest retaining the suggested tradition structure.


But how to rate this? Well, as mentioned, I actually really like the crunch and tricks this lets you pull. At the same time, lack of bookmarks, somewhat inconsistent editing and a select few minor hiccups do result in this falling slightly short of its own potential. However, what's here most certainly is worth getting for the fair price-point. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars. I certainly hope to see more such pdfs!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
New Fighter Maneuvers & Talents (13th Age Compatible)
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Mythic Monsters #33: Norse
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/03/2016 07:49:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Mythic Monsters-series clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 23 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Okay, we begin this installment of mythic monsters not with feats or the like - no, we begin this with a pretty glorious array of monster options - namely 3 templates. It should be noted that both this series' installment on giants and colossal threats work exceedingly well with these: Two are relatively simple: The MR 1 CR +1 Runecaster and Tricksome Traveler templates are neat - beyond codifying teh tropes of the runecaster like absorbing magic and that of the trickster traveler with many faces that can't be tied down, they are cool. More interesting than those two (which are already pretty damn cool), at least to me, would be the MR 3 CR +3 Jotun Thane template, which requires the base creature already have the giant and jotunblood giant templates - generating a mass of difficult terrain, unshakeable and suffused with mythic might conspire to make this template one of my go-to-upgrades for the often rather weak builds of giants in published modules. The pdf also sports some advice for building not yet fully grown linnorms, including an array of abilities associated with them -once again providing a helpful, cool selection of options for the GM.


But we're all here for the monsters, right? So let's see what this has to offer: We begin with the Cr 12/MR 5 Einherji: Beyond making the Challenge of Single Combat, the base creature's signature ability more potent, these beings gain a complex, evocative form of ecstatic rage - including mythic power-based option to insert intervals of calm. Oh, and they are potent versus giants and emit an appropriately unearthly golden aura. All in all, a thoroughly well-crafted upgrade for a cool base creature. One of the most popular and well-known legends in the North pertains to the waterfall-inhabiting Fossegrim, which is represented here in a CR 5/MR 2-iteration that features a powerful means of inciting unnatural lust as well as powerful, water-based abilities, the option to assume treasure forms and gain strange gifts from these watery tempters. The additional abilities here deserve special mention, for they allow the crature to function as our own mythology dictates instead of as a slimmed down version. The creature also comes with a neat full-color artwork, just fyi.


At the same CR and MR, the mythic Huldra is upgraded by getting increases of the base creature's abilities as well as access to a captivating song ability, once again coming closer to the real world mythological approximations. And then, there are the linnorms - and boyo, are they impressive: The cairn linnorm clocks in at CR 22/MR 9 and wrecks terrain as easily as the walking dead - it can even consume ghosts and become incorporeal! And you thought corporeal dragons were bad news... The CR 17/MR 7 crag linnorm may ignite creatures with his breath or poison and turn even exceedingly potent metal items into useless slag. This would btw. as good a place as any to comment on the options to enhance linnorm death curses with mythic power to really make the slayers rue the day they buried their weapons in the body of these fearsome predators.


The fjord linnorm clocks in at CR 20/MR 8 may forego tail attacks in favor of lethal blasts of water and devastate whole coastlines with their mythic power-enhanced tidal waves. They btw. also get a 1-page artwork. The ice linnorm at CR 21/ MR 8 can encapsulate itself in a powerful ice shell, greatly increasing the staying power of these adversaries...oh, and said shell can be detonated in an eruption of devastating shards. The CR 23/MR 9 Taiga linnorm can extend its spikes and awaken the forests to annihilate the foolish mortals that dared to intrude upon their territory. The CR 25/MR 10 tarn linnorm can not only use multiple breath weapon forms, it can modify the cooldown of them via the surge die - which is an awesome idea!. Oh, and assuming a fluid form makes them more durable and dangerous...not that their lethal build would have required that, mind you!


The legendary norns, at CR 22/MR 9, lavishly depicted with a great piece of full color artwork, receives all the powerful abilities associated with the threads of fate - these can be manipulated to exert control over mortals...and manipulated to destroy them. Their shears are brutal and...snipping the threads is actually represented via a powerful save-or-die ability with a cooldown...nasty! At CR 10/MR 4 the svartalfar all get death attacks and may deliver a select array of SPs via a quickened variant of spellstrike...and their shadow dodge can be used more often via mythic power. The absolutely lavishly-rendered CR 15/MR 6 mythic valkyrie can negate death effects, fight on when mortals would have been eviscerated and they have a cool blessing that renders them nigh-unstoppable through metal...oh, and they can properly evoke the memories of battles once fought, both with magic and their powerful skald abilities...and constitute the very best take on the concept I have ever seen for any d20-iteration. Pure awesomeness that is only enhanced by the glorious artwork. While no Sleipnir is in here, an artwork of the creature can btw. be found.


And then there would be a single creature, which, on its own, is already more than ample reason to get this pdf - the most majestic build for the Fenris Wolf I have ever seen -at CR 30/MR 10, this beast can bite of hands (Hej Baldr!), emit a dread howl, grow to Huge size, create friggin' rivers with his saliva, burst forth with ridiculous speed, control all kinds of wolves - glorious. The one-page artwork of the chained wolf, standing in a sea of blood and armors of the slain is probably one of the coolest renditions of the creature I have ever seen. On a minor nitpick - two paragraphs of its fluff are bolded when they shouldn't be - but that's cosmetic.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no grievous glitches. Layout adheres to Legendary Games two-column full color standard. The original pieces of full color art provided are high-quality and awesome - particularly the one-page full-color picture of the Fenris Wolf is simply awesome -if I had the financial means, I'd hang that as an original in print in my home...yeah, that awesome. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Mike Welham, Jason Nelson, Alistair Rigg - gentlemen, you did it. Whenever I think I have seen the best this series has to offer, you one-up yourselves. The linnorms herein are consistent and sport similar abilities, but also feature very distinct and unique modifications. The supplemental templates are great. The artworks are simply superb (Kudos to Michael Jaecks, Matt Lewis, Chris McFann, Andrea Saavedra and Tanyaporn Sangsnit!) and the builds are as brutal as northern mythology. When I return to the savage north with my campaigns, be it via the Northlands Saga or AAW games' frontier-modules in Rybalka, I'll take this book and cackle with glee - what is in here simply makes you gush, grin and dream about the evocative, legendary confrontations awaiting -a true beauty, well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Monsters #33: Norse
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Lovecraft Fantasy Gaming Toolkit
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/03/2016 07:48:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This pdf clocks in at 70 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC,2 pages of SRD, 1 page blank, leaving us with a massive 65 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Okay, so lovecraftian horror =/= lovecraftian fantasy. We need to get that out of the way right from the bat. When I'm playing CoC and ToC, I lean towards a more purist bent and tend to prefer investigation-heavy, deadly scenarios, where, more often than not, everyone dies or becomes insane, even if they win. This is not for everyone, though; most of my players prefer a less bleak perspective.


The pulpy side of those aforementioned systems never was really something I fancied. At the same time, I do enjoy a hefty dose of weird fantasy and lovecraftian themes in my fantasy, which is a completely different beast - ultimately, the constant presence of magic and increased PC-capabilities result in you telling different stories that blend the tropes of Lovecratiana with heroic fantasy for a dark edge.


The problem is that fantasy roleplaying games like PFRPG, as a default, aren't really intended and geared up to represent the aforementioned tropes in a concise and consistent manner, an issue this pdf seeks to remedy. Hence, to cut a long ramble short, this book covers basically a campaign template that allows you to play lovecraftian fantasy while still sticking to PFRPG's design-paradigms. As such, this book covers A LOT of ground and in the interest of readability, I will not go into the nitty and gritty details of all the components herein, instead trying to highlight what this book, as a whole, has to offer.


We begin with a smattering of lovecraftian-lore inspired settlements, which, while originally taken from Porphyra's Dunmark-region, pretty much can be inserted into any game - from Frog's Crossing to Eelsmarch and Port Akham, the themes are here, resound and the solid settlement statblocks, supported by a smattering of settlement rules, make for a nice introduction to the subject matter.


Now the next course would pertain the core races and their respective roles within the panorama of races in a lovecraftian fantasy setting. Each of the races sports default niches (read: ethnicities and roles) for races to fill, with e.g. being Asian conferring a +1 bonus to Spellcraft. Slightly annoying - the bonuses granted are not properly codified by type - I assume them to be racial bonuses, but ultimately remain unsure. Due to the relatively small nature of them, though, it is hard to construct a scenario in which this would lead to any significant issues. Beyond some adventure hooks, the pdf also provides a concise list of themes to remember - and this includes the relative rarity of class'd characters. Also important: Maintaining a sense of normalcy. Most of the pitfalls of the genre stem from people becoming blasé about threats - without establishing a sense of normalcy, all threats lose and impact. These considerations, mind you, should not only be remembered by GMs using this book - they also can prove to be quite helpful in dark fantasy, weird fantasy and similar genres.


Okay, this section out of the way, we begin to dive into class options - and there is a metric ton of those inside this book. The chapter on archetypes is vast and over 20 pages long! The archetypes themselves are thematically fitting, if a bit conservative - but they do one interesting thing: You see, there is a lovecraftian spell-list which is assumed to be the default for all classes unless otherwise noted, putting a severe complexity (and power) nerf on spellcasting that fits the genre well - though e.g. the surgeon alchemist retains the default formulae-list. Antipaladins sworn to Dagon (with amphibian apotheosis), mental patient barbarians, journalist bards, clergymen clerics, hermit druids, investigator inquisitors that can draw the elder sign, soldiers and lawmen, cultists of Leng monks (think qinggong variant), oracles with the apocalypse mystery (still as problematic and OP as when I first encountered it...but also still as cool), sorcerors with bloodlines from the old ones or elder gods, cryptozoologist summoners, cultist witches and antiquarian wizards - there are even more than I mentioned in this chapter and each character type receives a sample NPC, adding to the usefulness of this chapter. While overall, I wasn't too blown away by it, the majority of the content herein remains valid, though some minor balance hiccups do exist.


Beyond this significant array of archetypes, the pdf also sports a few bardic masterpieces, including, how could it be any other way, the famous King in Yellow and the Music of Erich Zann (not Eric, as this book calls it, at least according to my collected works). Similarly, there are a couple or arcane discoveries (available in lieu of bonus feats) for casters. The new feats generally are pretty cool - and may save your life in a game based on Lovecraftiana - 1/day running from a foe sans incurring ANY AoOs (neither from the target, nor from others) while you run is very useful and increases your survival-rate significantly. Gaining the Innsmouth Look is also an option and indeed, several cool traits can be found here - including heirloom documents.


Speaking of documents: The maleficent tomes of the Lovecraftian mythos are an integral component of the tropes of this genre - but apart from Legendary Games' Gothic Grimoires, there simply aren't that many of them out there. Enter this one. Each book herein has an EDF - an Eldritch Document Factor and a somewhat clumsily named Power Call (abbreviated PC - because that will not get confusing at all...). Level-related powers are cast at a level equal to the EDF. For each month of possession of such a document, you have to roll on the CA-table, with CA standing for cosmic attention. Yes, this is usually bad news. Similarly PC of 5 and above equals a CA-check. To check for CA, one adds EDF, character level of owner and the accumulated Power Call Factor and roll a d% - here, the pdf fails to specify that the above is added to the d%, but the intention is at least relatively clear from the context. Oh, and destroying or selling such a book? BAD idea. Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten (correctly written for once 75% of publications get this one wrong!!) to Zanthu Tablets - quite an array.


Beyond these vile tomes, reskins of some classic magic items as well as new ones can be found herein: Mnar Stones, Alhazred's Lamp, Voorish Talismans - nice. Oh, and yeah - apart from the weaker ones, these have no construction-notes...thankfully. Nothing ruins horror more than being able to assembly-line-craft anti-horror items.


Now I already mentioned the lovecraftian spell-list before - but I did not note that spells cast require a Will-save - on a failure, the caster loses 1 point of Wisdom. No damage. No drain. LOSS. You better not throw magic around all the time - there is always a 5%-chance of failing this throw of the bones, no matter how much you power-game. While I use a more complex system in my horror-games, this is still a pretty easy and elegant representation of the trope. Some sample "forbidden" magics are also provided.


Beyond all those PC-centric options, monstrous adversaries obviously also need their due - with a simple fear/pseudo-SAN/panic-mechanic (fear effects dealing Wis-damage equal to creature CR) and considerations by creature type - e.g. did you know that 10% of cats have human-like Intelligence? Or that whippoorwills can touch ghosts and spirits? Similarly, a lot of the outsiders and creatures are analyzed in details for their respective usefulness in lovecraftian fantasy. The pdf also provides templates - the Batrachian template, one for making cephalopoids or pallid creatures as well as stats for Tcho-Tcho (CR 3), Teuthonians (CR 12) and general basic statblocks for mythos avatars or great old ones, to which micro-templates can be applied on the fly to represent a variety of different creatures.


The pdf also features a nice sample mini-adventure that takes place in a twisted circus, which comes with a nice, fully-depicted map in b/w. The adventure as such it pretty sketchy and I think a GM is better off considering this a sample environment/location-sketch. While there is quite a bit going on and there are tables for rumors and crowd reactions, as a module, this one does fall a bit short in that it does not really present a concise structure of events due to the space constraints - it's basically a nice, detailed environment...but not an adventure. Why it's billed as an adventure in the first place, I don't know.


The pdf closes with a nice list of recommended reading.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect - I noticed some minor hiccups and minor issues with rules-language here and there, though, overall, this book is pretty solid in that regard and the issues generally do not break the content per se. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' two-column standard, is pretty printer-friendly and sports several gorgeous pieces of full-color artwork. The pdf, bafflingly, is not bookmarked, which means that you should probably get the print-version. For a toolkit of this size, the lack of bookmarks is a comfort detriment. EDIT: I have been notified by the master of the Purple Duck that bookmarks will be added to this pdf, which nets it +0.5 stars.


Perry Fehr, David Pryzbyla and Stefen Styrsky have crafted a book I ended up enjoying more than I expected. You see, I already have several rock-solid sanity-systems, horror-systems and the like. This book's take on those concepts is minimalistic, generally pretty elegant and functional, and while I prefer more complexity, there is beauty in the simplicity here. The important observations regarding themes, conversion, etc. are more than useful and, as a grab-bag of ideas and considerations, this does make for an interesting addition to a GM's arsenal - even if you ignore the subsystems, there is quite a bit of rules-scavenging material in this book. While there are some hiccups and the rather glaring lack of bookmarks for the electronic version (probably rectified by the time you read this review), I still consider this a good, if not perfect addition to one's GM-arsenal. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars, +0.5 stars for the added bookmarks...but I still feel I have to round down.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lovecraft Fantasy Gaming Toolkit
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Four Horsemen Present: Hybrid Class: Blasphemer
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/03/2016 07:42:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This hybrid class clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The blasphemer, as a chassis, is a blending of antipaladin and bard and as such, must be evil. The class gets d8 HD, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves, 6+Int skills per level and proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as all types of armor and shields, excluding tower shields. The class begins play with an aura of evil and gets access to cantrips. The class draws its spells from the antipaladin and bard spell lists (with certain spells added and summons only being able to call forth evil creatures) and gains up to 6th level spontaneous spellcasting governed by Charisma.


They get at-will detect good and the Charisma-based pernicious performance, which can be likened to bardic performance in a way. 4 + Cha-mod rounds, +2 per level of this performance are available, with action economy to activate it decreasing from standard action to move action at 7th level and 13th level unlocking the option to start the performance as a swift action - though it should be noted that the other action types still remain feasible, should you find yourself in need of e.g. a swift action. Interaction with deafness of both blasphemer and audience are covered. Here's the catch, though: While the basics of the ability are set in stone, at 2nd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the class chooses from an array of wicked words - which double as basically a set of talents that unlocks new performances for the blasphemer with every-increasing potency and, obviously, different minimum levels required. So yeah, the class has more player-agenda - that's a good thing.


Lowering the attitudes of all hearing them towards every other creature in hearing range by one step via Diplomacy is pretty cool - but tying the Will-save DC to resist it to the skill-check...is not. I can make this an unwinnable save pretty easily and RAW, this means that blasphemers could basically make a group of even high-level holy, pious men slaughter each other, provided they have a sufficiently powerful array of items/buffs. Sure, a good GM can handle this...but still...why not tie it simple to the usual class formula that isn't this easily cheesed? It is also here I feel obliged to mention that formatting in this pdf isn't as clear as in most Rogue Genius Games-books - the class table sports some lines where everything is italicized and the talent-section has a part, where a lot of hyperlink-underlined blue is in the book...sans the hyperlinks. Interesting, just fyi - instead of providing simply an array of diverse performances, the class gets options to add spells with certain themes to their roster and may even learn hexes etc. - which then are powered by rounds of the song expended. Similarly, passive abilities can be found here as well...alongside a bunch of unique ones - like uttering words in the vile language to make objects rot.


Wait, I have heard that one before, right? Well, yeah - thematically, the blasphemer takes a cue from 3.X's book of vile darkness, with references to this primal tongue - which makes me happy from a continuity point of view. 3rd level provides unholy resilience, 4th smite (with an upgrade available as a wicked word - and thus only while performing). Fiendish boon is gained at 5th level..or was that 7th? Hey wait - yup. The table contradicts the text. Great. I love it when that happens. Seriously, though - since the text is consistent in referring to 5th level, I assume that's the right one...but I'm honestly not sure, since this means 7th level is dead apart from the spellcasting and action increase of the performance. Vile resistance is gained at 15th level, providing better saves and half damage versus evil effects (none at 19th level) and 15th level allows the class to use 2 uses of its limited contingency of smites to grant smite to non-good allies within 10 feet. Capstones are handled via e.g. save or suck wicked words.


The Flame-Tongue is a hellfire-themed archetype with a modified spell-list, Fire Music as a bonus feat at, at 11th level, 1/2 fire damage// 1/2 divine damage for fire spells cast - which is powerful, yes, but up till then, your fire specialist has no means of bypassing even a bit of fire resistance...which is kind of annoying. Some minor scaling would have been nice to see here. The second archetype would be the Scale-Tongue, who gets a modified spell-list as well and unlocks Pathfinder Unchained's skill unlocks for social skills (Bluff, Diplomacy and Intimidate) at 5th level. Okay, I get that...but which ones? The 5-rank unlocks? The 10 rank-unlocks? ALL of them? I have no idea and the pdf fails to specify anything in that manner. At 11th level, these guys may spit a flexible variant of poison...which is rather cool!


It should also be noted that the pdf provides 3 of the "Plus-X"-type of feats for class abilities and 4 new spells that also take the occult classes into account...and while the formatting of this page is also a bit wonky regarding bolded text, the spells themselves, which make good creatures hearing your uttering nauseated, undo targets by vile language, hamper concentration or incite murderous rages, can be considered pretty cool.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting aren't bad, but not as tight as we've come to expect from Rogue Genius Games - as mentioned, there are a couple pretty glaring, but mostly aesthetic hiccups that even a cursory last glance could have caught. Layout adheres to RGG's two-column full-color standard for the series and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


I really want to like the blasphemer more than I actually do, and I was not the only one - my players reported a similar experience. We thoroughly enjoyed the idea of the evil instigator; we loved, from a flavor-point of view, the nod towards the BoVD, And we generally enjoyed the framework of the class. The blasphemer isn't bad by any means...but it also feels...less like a unique class. I like the hex-resource-management; like quite a few things...but ultimately, the class feels a bit frankensteinish to me. Let me elaborate: The better hybrid classes in the ACG, the more popular ones, sport something rather unique.


In 3pp-publishing, I can actually name several that do a better job than the ACG at that, including classes crafted by the four horsemen...but oh well. The blasphemer, while not bad by any means, can be considered an evil-coated bard with a bit of smiting (max 3/day at 16th level sans feats) and antipaladin spells and a few unique options thrown in. If that's what you're looking for, this class may just be what you needed. If you're like me and wished it had more of its unique focus...well, then you may end up disappointed on a high level.


Steven T. Helt's rules usually are characterized by a pronounced quality, a tightness, a very smooth elegance that doesn't need complexity to be complex or new for novelty's sake. Here, though, from formatting to some design decisions, I couldn't help but feel that this pdf was a bit rushed. The high level ability that suddenly lets you use smite as a resource to power an aura? Cool! But it feels tacked on and like a foreign body in the total concept of the class since otherwise, smite and auras remain an afterthought.


Similarly, the archetypes aren't too impressive in my book and some uncharacteristic blunders have crawled into this book beyond the formatting hiccups, rendering it less refined than usual for the Four Horsemen, who usually absolutely excel at these components. Similarly, from a balance standpoint, I think the more powerful antipaladin spell-list should have been weighed as higher level spells as opposed to the bard spells.


The Blasphemer, ultimately, may not be a bad class - but it also falls short of being truly great. My final verdict hence will clock in at 3.5 stars, but I have to round down here due to the blend of hiccups and aforementioned considerations.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Four Horsemen Present: Hybrid Class: Blasphemer
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Ponyfinder - Campaign Setting
Publisher: Silver Games LLC
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/02/2016 04:37:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The campaign setting and freshman offering for Ponyfinder clocks in at 122 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 115 pages of content, so let's take a look!


Wait. before we do, I have to go on a brief tangent: I'm not the best guy to review Ponyfinder-material. I'm only doing this due to requests continuously piling up. The first couple of those, I pretty much asked my groups and both refused. (Yep, my kiddies want to play Red Sonja, not ponies...go figure...) I told David Silver of Silver Games the whole story and now I'm telling you. I'm not a brony or particularly enamored with ponies. I tried watching MLP and it neither elicited joy, nor a negative response. I get what people like it in, but it's not made for me. I learned some important facts from the author in that regard: While this does feature ponies, it is decisively NOT MLP.


Okay, I got that. Secondly, he was okay with me not going the usual in-depth playtesting route due to my parties' refusal. So here I am. The dark fantasy/horror-aficionado reviewing ponyfinder. It's what you, my patreons, wanted - and I'm not one to refuse you, at least not for long. Hence, I'll put on my reviewer's hat, put my own predilections aside and take you on a journey to the lands of Everglow and analyze the mechanics of Ponyfinder. Cue insert Robot Unicorn Attack, Blind Guardian's Battlefield Metal-edition in the background. Don't say I didn't warn you! ;P


Okay, the first thing we notice after a brief piece of introductory prose, would be the general ponykind racial traits. Ponykind are fey, medium-sized and gain +2 Con and Wis. They have a quadruped speed of 40 ft., 20 ft. when walking on two legs. They get low-light vision, +2 to saves vs. poison, spells and SPs and Endurance as a bonus feat. Being quadrupeds, they get +4 to CMD versus trips and +50% carrying capacity and they get a Unique Destiny bonus feat at first level. All in all, the total race is strong. So, how does the setting handle being fingerless - pretty smoothly. Components of spells, unarmed attacks, touch attacks, wielding items - all covered. Basically, as envisioned here, ponies don't really suffer from any penalties of require complex modifications - no barding restrictions, they still have hand and ring slots, etc. So if you're a fan of simulationalist approaches, that may potentially dissatisfy you, though it makes integration of ponies in a given context very easy. Pegasi and Unicorns are covered as pretty common alternate racial trait-packages, with pegasi gaining fly speed 30 ft at clumsy maneuverability - which can potentially cause issues in grim, low-magic settings that...wait. Sorry. Force of habit. We're talking about a magical setting where talking ponies that wield wands and weapons in their mouths garner a shrug at best. Ignore that. Kidding aside - you should be aware of many a module not taking flight into account until 5th-6th level. Still, generally no issue there and the formatting of the race is according to the specifications established in Pathfinder books - kudos!


Beyond these more common of alternate pony-breeds, we are introduced to chaos hunters, clockwork ponies (a template you can basically apply to other pony-subtypes), doppelgänger ponies, gem ponies that can deflect rays 1/day as via Deflect Arrow, leather wings, sea horses and zebras - If I'm skimming over these, then mainly since they represent relative smooth modifications of teh base chassis - and fluff-wise, the Tribes of Everglow-book (review coming very soon) covers them in more detail. After covering thus the base ponykind racial framework, we address the question of class options and ponykind's relation with classes next - beginning with two sorceror bloodlines: The unification bloodline is all about gaining some traits from ponykind subtypes -from canines to wings and horns, this one basically codifies an über-pony as a progression of the bloodline and features some player-agenda, which is always nice to see in the otherwise linear bloodlines - and yes, including multiple capstones.


The second one would be the vampiric bloodline that gain vampire-themed abilities - generally solid with the usual suspect like children of the night, gaseous form and similar options providing what you'd expect, theme-wise. Solid. The take of ponies on the respective classes and favored class options for the classic paizo-classes (Core + APG) are covered before we get racial archetypes: Aerial Warriors (barbarian) are about aerial mobility, artifact tender rogues can UMD items with charges to use two charges in activation instead, increasing the CL of the effect by +2. Slightly problematic at 10th level with this one - an option to use UMD to prevent the loss of charges when activating items. While the action required is a massive full-round, this can still be abused pretty badly and should be carefully contemplated - a more complex formula for the DC would have helped here...perhaps increasing the DC on consecutive uses per day? Elemental Savant druids get an elemental-themed domain and can call forth elementals. Okay, so far, so common. Know what has a rather awesome visual? The mobile cannon gunslinger. These quadrupeds can utilize guns on their back and may, at later levels, use Large two-handed firearms; at higher levels even two! Pretty damn cool...I can see ponies with friggin' huge guns strapped to their backs and sides wrecking havoc...Wait. Damn. Did I just write this?


Mystic Prancer bards basically are faces that can modify their fascinate effect to also include a pied piper of Hamelin-style effect. Natural Magi gain no armor proficiency, but may expend SPs with 3/day uses to refill their arcane pool and they get the options to perform melee attacks at range, though these cost arcane pool points. However, they pay for this flexibility by gaining a stunted armor proficiency progression. And this archetype would be well a place as any to remark upon one particular facet of this book: While, for the most part, the editing is more than solid on a rules-language level, there are quite a few instances where e.g. attributes are not capitalized and a couple of instances where the rules-language deviates from the established standard. Now, in favor of this book: The rules-language generally does work, even if it is not always particularly elegant - which is more than one could say about quite a few freshman offerings.


The Pony Scholar is an interesting wizard archetype at higher levels, when he can elect to become fatigued/exhausted/etc. instead of losing a prepared spell - the daily cap prevents bad abuse, though a caveat to prevent the ability use for characters immune to fatigue would have been appreciated. The scholar of the tribes wizard, finally, is all about the tribes and emulating them. Tribal thieves are alchemists that have mutagens that can feature tribal peculiarities (the mage hand spell isn't properly italicized here). Wardens of the Night paladins can make for an interesting exercise in illustrating what I mean by wonky wording: "When they channel to harm, it manifests in a bright glow of silvery moonlight as per daylight with a duration of 1 round per paladin level. It is effective against shapeshifters and aberrations, but only half damage to undead. Wardens may not channel to heal." It is pretty apparent how this ability works, but it does offer a couple of deviations from standardized wording. It can't be abused and isn't problematic, but the rules language aesthetes among you may cringe a bit. That being said, other than that, the archetype, as well as the witch doctor witch, are solid, though the latter does sport an instance of missing italicization.


The pdf also provides an array of eidolon evolutions, some of which are tribe-exclusive - they generally are solid, though having eidolons healed by heat can be pretty easily abused. Then again, 7th level prereq and tribe-exclusivity render that one still feasible. The pdf also sports a ton of racial feats that range from better Disguise for Doppelgänger-ponies to the Gunnery Squad teamwork feat that allows adjacent allies to reload your gun. Similarly, action-economy powered blindsense that can be upgraded via follow-up feats and the like is interesting. Gaining a gore attack is evocative, but specification on how it behaves regarding primary/secondary attacks and damage type would have been appreciated here. Half-constructs can net themselves light fortification (non-stackable caveat included!) and a couple of SPs that thematically fit are also included.


Takes a deep breath This, however, is NOT where the book stops - the goat-like cloven, quadruped fey, gain +2 to one ability score of their choice, 40 feet movement rate (20 feet on two legs), low-light vision, immunity to altitude sickness and retain Dex-mod while Climbing/Acrobatics-using on narrow/slippery surfaces. They get a 1d4 gore attack (see above - no primary/secondary/damage type included, though that can be looked up) and "Cloven get a bonus against poison equal to their hit dice." We know what's meant, but this still makes me cringe. Bonus-type? I assume racial. It's also "bonus to saves against..." sigh Anyways, they also get +2 to Perception and Appraise for certain checks and are, obviously, fingerless. Their racial feats allow them to eat basically anything, jump better, get better horns and FCOs are provided.


Flutterponies gain +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Str, are medium, have a base speed of 30 ft. (bipedal: 20 ft.), a fly speed of 30 ft (average maneuverability) and may reduce person themselves 1/day. They are treated as ponykind and can, at will, emit light from their antennae. They are, obviously, fingerless and quadruped. These strange ponies began as basically pony-shaped swarms of aggressive, vermin-like nuisances, but evolved to increase in size and intelligence and become more agreeable - but they still are considered to be somewhat alien. Conversely, their racial feats reflect the somewhat fey-ish theme. Their agility allows them, with the right feat, to 1/round use Fly via an immediate action as their AC, which, while it may be cheesed, is limited enough to not become problematic. Pretty impressive - there is a "share the same space"-teamwork-feat that actually works. I've seen a lot designers fail at these.


Griffons get +2 Str and Wis, -2 Cha, have a fly speed of 400 ft. (poor maneuverability), base speed 30 ft. (20 ft. bipedal), a 1d6 bite attack (again, yaddayadda primary/secondary...), low-light vision and...they may treat clouds, mist or fog as solid. This last ability, flavor-wise, is gold - though I wished it specified how exactly that interacts with e.g. stinking cloud, cloudkill, etc. - can these guys walk on these clouds? If so, are the affected by the negative effects of the spells or unharmed? Now before you start asking these questions yourself - there is a racial feat, Cloud Surfing, that addresses these questions and makes you capable of being pushed away by them, which is awesome...but the info should not be hidden in a feat, but part of the damn cool, evocative base ability. And yes, FCOs, once again, are provided for a couple of classes.


Phoenix Wolves get +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Int, have a base speed of 40 ft, 20 ft bipedal, geta 1d6 bite attack, fire resistance 5, increase CL of fire-descriptor spells, fire domain, fire bloodline, flame mystery...you get the idea. Phoenix wolves with Cha of 11+ also get some nice SPs and they get +2 to feints and against being feinted as well as low-light vision. Bred from hellhounds purged of evil, these creatures feast on ash, cinders and coal and make for interesting creatures. They can use racial feats to gain wings, increase their fire resistance, etc. and even get a 1/day breath weapon. Once again, favored class options included.


Purrsians would be the winged cats of Everglow and gain +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Wis, base speed 40 ft. (half bipedal), fly speed at 3o ft with clumsy maneuverability, a weak 1d3 bite, can retry not too horribly botched attempts to change a creature's attitude and +10 ft. when charging, running or withdrawing. They gain low-light vision as well. Nomadic and driven to amass wealth, they represent an interesting blending of tropes and can gain claw attacks, which can be upgraded to allow them to steal objects when hitting with both. The FCOs provided are solid. Nice for simulationalists - the option to replace costly components for spells sans level-increase, but via money -


Steelhearts would be half-construct fey that have a base speed of 30 ft, bipedal speed 20 ft, get +2 to saves vs. disease, mind-affecting effects, poison, fatigue and exhaustion, can't be resurrected and do not need to eat, breathe, sleep. They get electricity resistance 5 and low-light vision. These pony-shaped horses are pretty much an enigma - they guard their origins with zeal and hence, once a war with ponykind resulted...now, relations are a bit strained and part of the deal was that ponykind would refrain from trying to unearth their origins. Unique: A racial feat that lets you ground electricity, lessening the effect for all affected.


After the steelheart's favored class options, the sun cats are next: They gain +2 Str and Wis, -2 Int, base speed 40 ft., bipedal speed 20 ft, always treat Perception and Stealth as class skills, +10 ft when charging, withdrawing or running, a 1d3 bite, 2 1d4 claws (both lacking primary/secondary classification and damage types), scent and low-light vision. Proud, nomadic predators, sun cats can use racial feats to AoE-demoralizes that can also deal channel damage. Pretty OP: When you make a save, you can grant all allies within 30 ft a reroll....that one overshoots the target a bit for a relatively easy to get feat. Still, overall, an interesting race. To nitpick, one of the feats is based on a 75% of maximum hp threshold to work, which can be a bit clunky.


Beyond all of these races, which generally are well-balanced internally, a full-blown pantheon of gods is provided and the pdf sports extensive age, height and weight tables. As for balancing with other races, the relative easy means of acquiring flight does change the dynamics of low-level gameplay in particular, so that's something to look out for. Still, as a whole and within its own context, the races are generally well-balanced among themselves - slightly above PFRPG-core races, with an increased emphasis on mobility. The number of problematic options here is very small and overall, the chapter can be considered to be pretty impressive.


But perhaps you are not that interested in going full-blown Everglow? Fret not -the pdf provides stats for earth-bound ponykind animal companions and familiars. The pdf also suggests optional rules for more realistic deficiencies or more relaxed takes on fingerless characters - in case you're not like me and don't get an aneurysm trying to picture ponies using hooves for fine manipulation - mind you, I don't judge - it's certainly cool that the options are here! But this is a campaign setting and thus, after a brief history of Everglow, we get an in-depth background story of these lands...including notes of diverse factions with associated faction traits. And yes, they get trait type and bonuses right AND matter for the most part! While this iteration of the base setting of Ponyfinder assumes an age wherein the grand empire has fallen, there are some notes on alternate era ponies, including a Large alternative race, the anteans and ghost ponies. And yes, these do receive their own array of racial feats, though they do not gain any unique FCOs.


Wait, wait, wait - what? Iteration? Era? Well, yeah - and this is pretty intriguing: The campaign setting proceeds to grant us glimpses into the respective eras of the empire and Everglow, with faction advantages and liabilities, traits and alternate ponykind-versions and associated racial feats for the associated era. One result is that the GM has some control over tones and themes, can still blend the topics at hand...and the pdf, ultimately, thus already has a bare-bones set-up for an era-spanning type of campaign ingrained in its DNA.


But settings are more than just timelines and factions - they require locales and the book does not disappoint: This book sports basically a gazillion of well-crafted settlement entries with ample of intriguing hooks and cool ideas included. The one thing I was missing here would be the settlement statblocks - none are provided with only basic breakdown of the bare minimum of demographics provided. Apart from that, prose-wise, this chapter was a surprisingly well-crafted and easy to read section. Beyond these notes, the movers and shakers, famous and infamous among ponykind, from the cool rebel to the legendary scholar, are provided with detailed fluff-only write-ups - so no, the statblocks for these guys will have to wait for a later book. Still, once again, a significantly more nuanced array of characters than I expected, since some of the names and artworks do point a bit towards "this is the cliché-XYZ-guy"; instead, most have some component that sets them somewhat apart. The chapter also includes an array of adventure hooks and groupings to provide more subject matter for the GM to develop.


Beyond this massive chapter, the pdf also sports an assortment of items, mundane and magical for your perusal - crystalline slippers fit for a queen, enchanted spectacles and a small assortment of spells, including a stunning lightning wall, is nice, though e.g. non-italicized saves and the like can prove to be a bit galling for the rules-language sticklers like yours truly. Oh, and a spell to temporarily grant you hands? Covered. So if you really want ponies with hands - here is the tool for just that.


Beyond even more nice, properly codified traits, we arrive at the brief Everglow bestiary in the back of the book, where creatures illustrated in full color, from the CR 1/3 flutters to the CR 12 inevitable vanguard and a ghost variant await. These monsters are okay and generally pretty neat, though there are some minor hiccups here and there in the math and formatting.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are the weak spots of this pdf - while pretty impressive on a formal level, the rules-language does show that this book is the work of a then inexperienced company and sports some deviations from the default. On the plus-side, the pdf, most intriguingly, in spite of this, manages to work mostly sans ambiguities or issues. While there are some issues that extend into the rules, they are few and far in between - as a whole, this is an impressive freshman offering. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard with a solid background and generally nice artworks, though at the end of some racial entries and chapters, there are a couple of pages that are mostly blank and feature only a bit of text - not a big fan of those. I don't have the print-version of this one, but if the other Silver Games print copies are any indicator, print would be the way to go here. Why? Simple. Unfortunately, the pdf has no bookmarks, which is pretty annoying for a book of this density and size. Artworks range from superb to okay and are generally original pieces, which is nice. The cartography of the continent of Everglow is colorful and nice.


Stephen Ritterbush, David Silver and Anthony McKaskle's Ponyfinder...is much better than I expected it to be. In fact, while suffused with a spirit of cheerfulness, you won't find the level of saccharine "Friendship solves everything"-approach in this book: And that's a good thing, even if you are an MLP-fan. Why? Because, let's be honest - that simply does not make for that interesting fantasy gaming. That being said, this still is the antithesis of the grimdark setting - this is cheerful, positive high-fantasy. Surprisingly, the tight racial balancing is consistent throughout in its valuing of racial abilities. The basic premise of assumed flight as relatively widely available means that other narratives can be crafted and are supported. The presentation is surprisingly professional, in particular for a freshman offering...and. Wait.


Okay, imagine jaded, cynical grimdark-loving me sitting in front of the screen with a black metal corpse paint for maximum comedic effect, gnashing his teeth and blurting out...I actually kind of liked the setting. No, seriously. I am so not the target audience of this campaign setting and I still managed to take some cool ideas out of this pdf. At the same time, I should emphasize that this is not a hyper-detailed campaign setting - this should instead be considered to be basically the Ponyfinder core-rules, with a bunch of setting information...but if you're looking for in-depth information, that will have to wait for future books. Still, this setting is significantly better and more evocative than quite a few I have read. It's not for everyone and if you hate the very idea of ponies, you probably won't be convinced anyways. But if you're like me and indifferent to the concept, you'll probably find quite a few cool tricks in this book and be just as surprised by a well-crafted, unique setting with ample potential.


Rules-language purists may shudder sometimes while reading this, get annoyed by e.g. how natural weapons are treated, etc., but as a whole, significantly less often than one would expect from the baseline - the majority of content herein is solid.


How to rate this, then? Well, while there are a couple of rules/balance-hiccups and issues, they are pretty few and far in-between. While the rules-language is wobbly, it generally maintains an unambiguous functionality and, more importantly, establishes a solid balance baseline for the setting regarding the options it provides. This may not be perfect, but it is an impressive first book and well worth a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up due to the freshman offering bonus. See you around next time, when I'll pick apart the Tribes of Everglow hardcover...


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ponyfinder - Campaign Setting
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Mortars & Miniguns 5E: Zane's Guide to Pistols
Publisher: One Dwarf Army
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/02/2016 04:35:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition


This pdf depicting pistols for 5e clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page foreword/editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page almost blank (only a small part of a sentence is on it, so I'm counting it as blank), leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let's take a look!


After a brief introduction, we are introduced to the general gun rules herein: Basically, on a 1 on an attack roll, a weapon jams and can't be used until you spend an action to clear it. Guns as portrayed here have a rate of fire - a single shot is just that. A burst of fire consumes 3 rounds of ammo, but adds +1 damage die to the damage output of the weapon - 2d6 become 3d6, for example. This increased power, however, also means that the weapon can jam on a 1-2. Finally, there would be full auto fire, which allows you to target a single 10-ft. cube within long range: Every creature in the area must succeed a Dexterity saving throw (DC 8+ your Dexterity modifier, + proficiency bonus, if any) or suffer the weapon's damage on a failed save, none on a successful save. Creatures beyond the normal range have advantage on the save, which mathematically and logic-wise makes sense. Saves in 5e are pretty swingy and advantage somewhat alleviates this. Auto fire consumes 10 rounds of ammo and most weapons cannot perform more than one such shot, even if you otherwise would be capable of attacking multiple times. Auto also can jam the weapon on a 1-3.


Additionally, every weapon has an ammo score, which denotes the number of pieces of ammo it can hold before requiring reloading, which consumes an action. Guns can prematurely be reloaded. The pricing for the ammo is pretty pricey, btw. - the least expensive bullets, for .38-guns, costs 30 gp per 50 bullets, which renders this ammunition significantly more expensive than e.g. crossbow bolts or arrows (1 gp net you 20 of those, in case you need a direct comparison). The revised edition now clearly states that gun ammo cannot be retrieved - good!


The pdf then goes on to depict the classic guns - a total of 7 such guns are depicted, all with a nice bit of in-character prose by Zane Ironheart, dwarven mercenary. Since the gun-rules obviously are a tad bit more complicated than the base weapon rules, each of the weapons gets a short mini table listing its respective quality, making presentation of autoloader, combat magnum, etc. pretty concise. And better yet - there also is a classic at a glance table in the PHB's style. No complaints! Most guns depicted here are simple ranged weapons that range in damage from 2d4 to 2d6, but vary in the details: Autoloaders are light weapons, whereas hand cannons do not suffer from malfunctions and allow you to move only up to half your speed while reloading...but these get the option to reroll the lowest damage die and keep the new result. Mini-shottys get +1 to attack rolls versus foes up to 10 feet away, but deal only half damage at close range. To make up for that, their scattershot also allows you to make bonus attacks against a creature within 5 ft. of the original target when scoring a 15-20; on the downside, this goes both ways and, when botching, you can similarly be forced to make attacks versus allies - friendly fire. One important balancing factor here would also be Heavy Recoil - the more efficient of these weapons have a minimum Strength score - not meeting this score means you'll suffer disadvantage on attack rolls. OUCH. Cool, btw.: It makes a difference for the purposes of this drawback whether you one-hand or two-hand-wield the gun.


So what do the martial guns provide? Well, for one, the machine gun gets burst fire and full auto, even if the other traits aren't that impressive and the one-shot express...shoots basically one round and then is toast...so make it count. So that would be the basic framework.


After this, the pdf goes on to depict "the exotic stuff" - i.e. a collection of diverse magic guns - interestingly, not just sporting a general scarcity, but also providing a more fine-grained value, which is a nice touch for control-freak bastard GMs like me. Now the respective items run quite a broad gamut: There would be an autoloader that allows you to mark a foe as a bonus action, gaining +2 to attack and damage rolls versus said foe, whereas a mini-shotty deals +1d4 damage on a damage die roll of 4 - and now, the previously ambiguous wording has been cleaned up. Better sniping can be achieved via the aptly-named Bullseye. The one-shot express cannibal-gun can be enhanced by sacrificing life to it, while another gun fires corrosive bullets that have a chance of ruining a target's armor...which is pretty interesting, particularly considering that the pdf manages to take natural armor healing into account and now also includes a note on interaction with magic - once again, great work cleaning that one up and yes, this does include notes on interaction with resistance/immunity!


Increased ammo-expenditure for increased damage can be found as well. A very powerful weapon, Deadly Scanner, is pretty nasty - it's threat range for critical hits increases by +1 for each subsequent shot fired at a target, whether it hits or misses...and the gun deals bonus damage on crits. Lightning-laced six-shooters that can stun the target - resistance and immunity do feature herein and the effect now is properly balanced!


One of the most visually stunning guns now also works perfectly - a magnum that deals bonus lightning damage and has a chance to spawn single-target arcs of electricity - the Electrifying Cueball. And no, I can't misread that one any more- it's proper and precise. Kudos!


The fire gun now allows for a save to avoid being ignited by the shot and the cold gun can paralyze you, all while taking defenses into account. Pretty cool: There is a MIB-style thunder-damage causing legendary autoloader that has enormous recoil, while the Lucky Punk is an obvious nod to Dirty Harry - any roll of 5+ does not consume any ammo...which is pretty powerful, considering the high costs of ammo. A nod to Judge Dredd can also gbe found within these pages alongside charge-based, life-leeching gun...there are quite some solid ideas here. The bolter than can inject microexplosives into targets now also features a properly cleaned up entry and can now stand as an epitome of the most awesome guns in this book.


The pdf also sports two new feats, Guns Akimbo and Pistol Expert. While nice, the former does not account for potential heavy firearms a GM may devise, which is a bit of a pity. Pistol Expert allows, among other things to reduce recoil and reroll 1s of damage dice AND increases the reload action economy penalty, which may be a bit much for one feat. The pdf also allows for a double tap fighting style and provides the gunslinger martial archetype for the fighter, which generally can be considered a cool take on the tropes - at 15th level, you can e.g. do the Lucky Luke and take reactions to ranged attacks before the triggering ranged attack is resolved. The interesting thing of this one, mainly, is that it allows for extra control regarding attacks via luck and a bit of ability control, providing some serious bonus attack combo potential - whether you like or dislike that ultimately is up to taste.


Conclusion:


The editing and formatting of the revised edition are cleaned up and significantly smoother on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column full-color standard and the pdf has no artworks apart from the cover, but comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. As a minor nitpick, one page is almost empty - that does not feature in the final verdict, but in case you're particular about that kind of stuff


Georgios Chatzipetros of One Dwarf Army's freshman offering is much tighter than I honestly expected it to be: The basic firearm rules follow the time-honored tradition of power at a price, with ample subsets of rules to make them feel different from crossbows etc. I like the frame and the pricing is also pretty tight, with none of the clutter/issues that other systems have. The focus lies very much on MOAR damage - to the point where you can outclass all other weapon types easily. This may be an issue in mixed settings, so beware of that - a focus on more utility, less damage escalation via exploding dice-like mechanics may be prudent. And mind you, I like exploding dice. I'll never forget a PC of mine blowing a BBEG's head clean off with 5 consecutive maximum d10s on a musket in a previous edition, thus saving the whole group from a TPK...but in view of the small die-sizes employed, you'll statistically get quite a bunch of rerolls/bonus damage. How and whether that still works in the context of later installments, where auto- and burst fire are more common...we'll see.


More important than that, though, would be the simple fact that the author took the time to clean up and vastly improve the weaknesses in the previous iteration of this pdf, replacing minor glitches with pure awesomeness and, in many cases, juggling relatively complex concepts. The revised version has thus earned a rating-upgrade - this is now a 5 star-purchase, well worth the more than fair asking price!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mortars & Miniguns 5E: Zane's Guide to Pistols
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In The Company of Unicorns (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/01/2016 03:11:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of Rite Publishing's series of racial sourcebooks clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 36 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


So, this time around, it's unicorns - but what type? Well, obviously not the classic arcane mysticism of the middle ages that equated the unicorn with Jesus Christ - but neither is this just a rehash of the classic, noble trope, though this does feature in the equation. The unicorns, or re'em as they call themselves, as depicted herein, are a noble breed with a tendency towards good and an ancient history. The re'em, as depicted herein in vivid prose, do feature a long and storied history and they have, indeed, retreated from many interactions with fickle men. If anything, the theme and general feeling the prose evoked was one of subdued melancholy and yet, hope - the closest emotional analogue would probably be the blending of the aesthetics and mindset of the wonderful classic "The Last Unicorn" with a fantasy world - with e.g. traditions like the Great Gallop of the herds both making sense from an in-game point of view and aptly taking visual associations from the classic piece of animation, blending them in an evocative manner. And yes, should you be new to the series - this reads well, for the prose and racial information is written from the perspective of one of these unicorns and yes, there are regional differences in fluff, with unobtrusive nods to the implicit Questhaven setting of Rite Publishing shining through here and there sans compromising adaptability.


Racial stats-wise, the re'em receive +2 Con and Wis, -2 Dex, are small magical beasts (but do not gain any traits save those listed), have low-light vision and darkvision 60 ft and are quadrupeds, which modifies carrying capacity and limits slots and armors. They gain +2 to Knowledge (Nature) and Survival and increase all conjuration (healing) spell CLs cast within 10 ft. of them by +1. Re'em get +2 natural AC and a 1d4 natural horn attack that receives 1.5 times Str-mod to damage. It should be noted that the latter may not specify that it's obviously a primary natural attack, but since they don't gain hoof-attacks per default, I'll let that stand as an obvious and negligible minor gripe.


The Re'em get a full-blown age, height and weight-table and may choose two alternate arrays of ability modifiers: +2 Int and Wis, -2 Con (not a fan, a bit lopsided) and +2 Str and Cha, -2 Int. Interesting: These choices do also modify the "minor" racial traits for a better rounded variant than usual in each. A powerful aura of corruption (+1 CL for negative energy-based spells and SPs), walking across water, fire resistance 5, endure elements vs. the cold and +1 to atk. vs. lions and leonine foes (like chimeras, dragonnes, etc.) can be found. Battling unnatural foes, SR equal to 6 + level, free movement over desert terrain, swim speed-transformation as a swift action...the alternate racial traits are diverse and varied...and they come with an important secondary balancing mechanism beyond the limited slots. Unicorns, obviously...have no hands, which makes certain operations not as simple as one would expect them to be.


The race also sports FCOs for the druid, fighter, hunter, magister, oracle, paladin, ranger, sorceror, taskshaper and witch hunter classes as well as for the racial paragon class introduced in this book, the Silvermane Exemplar.


However, unlike many a racial booklet, this sports an intriguing component - the Re'em Hero universal archetype, which nets the racial paragon's natural attack progression and a very limited array of alicorn abilities and options for growth (Medium at 5th, Large at 10th level) - however, at the same time, this archetype does cost the classes: Re'em alchemists lose throw anything and bombs, for example. Similarly, the class-array, which cover the traditional classes and the ACG-array alongside some classics from Rite Publishing and Rogue Genius Games is extensive and varied in the modifications employed - sorcerors are, for example, locked into the new unicorn bloodline, though the progression of bloodline powers and feats. These, just fyi, allow you to alleviate certain conditions a limited amount of times per day, cleanse targets and later gain some immunities traditionally associated with unicorns.


Beyond this universal archetype, the pdf also sports two class-specific ones, with the Forest Guardian Druid gaining the option to attune herself to a limited selection of domains and spontaneously cast the attuned domain spells, while the Arboreal Equine ranger gains woodland stride and basically is a hunter-themed short and simple archetype.


Now I already mentioned the racial paragon class - so what does it offer? The Silvermane Exemplar gets 2+Int-mod skills per level, d10 and only proficiency with natural attacks. The class gains full BAB-progression and good Fort- and Ref-saves. At 1st level and every odd level thereafter, the class gains a so-called alicorn ability. These abilities are powered by a pool equal to 1/2 class level (min 1) + Charisma modifier. For as long as the character has at least one of these pool points, they can manifest mage hand at will as an SP, eliminating the crippling factor of not having hands - which is btw. pretty important for the universal archetype also has this option. Additionally, a point from this pool can be expended to enhance temporarily the silvermane's horn in a way similar to the magus' enhancements, with net bonuses increasing by +1 every 4 levels thereafter. At 5th level, a similar weapon property-exchange can be used.


So that would be the base functionality. Beyond this, the alicorn abilities are pretty diverse: The Alicorn charm allows the silvermane to expend a point from her pool to create a talisman that cannot be regained while it exists. Said charm can then be enchanted and reabsorbed, granting potentially, at least for some time, a significantly powerful god-horn at higher levels...though only for a couple of days and the higher the power, the lesser its duration will be. Not for every campaign great...but unique and costly enough. The abilities thus run a gamut between unique utility and modifications and active/passive benefits - increased reach while the silvermane has at least one point in her pool. Short-range, scaling and upgradeable teleportation makes for a pretty powerful tool for a full BAB-class, particularly since it is available at 1st level. However, the fact that it is limited by the pool and that it has a mishap chance when teleporting beyond line of sight act as balancing mechanisms here. Shape-changing into an alternate form, increased damage output foe ONE natural attack, better armor...pretty cool. At the same time, first level unassisted flight powered by the pool can be problematic, though, once again, the pool does limit this sufficiently for most rounds. At 7th level, pounce can be chosen and evil exemplars can ooze powerful toxins. And yes, at high levels, telekinesis and trampling is possible. Limited SPs can also be found. I mentioned natural attacks, right? Well, 6th level provides hooves 11th bite and 16th a tail attack, all of which are properly codified regarding their type. (Though, as a nitpick you should ignore, damage-type, if relevant, needs to be looked up.) Now, like the universal archetype, these exemplars grow - to Medium size at 4th, to Large size at 8th level, with both allowing for investments to be used to further enhance the bonuses gained.


Investments? Yep, for the silvermane exemplar chooses at herd at first level, of which 6 are provided. Herds may be changed at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, also allowing for the reassignment of the investments chosen and reflect changing playstyles and party-dynamics. Each herd grants a herd ability that ranges from active at-will stabilize per touch to adding Cha instead of Con to Fort-saves and maximum negative hit points. A minor complaint: Some of these grant class skills - I assume the bonus is lost upon changing herds? Or isn't it? I'm not sure whether this is considered to be retraining or more akin to a multiclass operation in terms of its rules. Still, a none-too-grievous glitch. Each herd also sports several investments to choose from - these are gained at 2nd level and every even level thereafter and determine the capstone final investment gained. Unless otherwise noted, these investments have a save of DC 10 + 1/2 class level + Cha-mod when required and generally, the abilities tend to be less directed at resource management, though tie-ins do exist - certain alicorn abilities like Trample, etc. that only work while the silvermane has points can e.g. be made available at all times with one such investment of the ferocity herd, which btw. can also gain DR, combat feats - you get the idea.


Basically, each herd is somewhat akin to a mystery with a huge bunch of revelations you can freely choose. On a formal level, I noticed e.g. a non-italicized ability header here and one instance of the investment-header missing between herd ability and investment list. Indeed, the editing here is not as tight as in the rest of the pdf - take e.g. the Magic herd's alicorn bolt that can cause class level x d6 untyped magical damage a very limited amount of times per day in a 60 ft.-line....only to then talk about "damage of the selected type." I think this ought to instead provide a proper damage type...untyped damage, in spite of daily limitations, is always clunky in its interactions with creatures, defensive capabilities etc. Overall, somewhat baffling since e.g. the rune-traps they can make get the usual energy type codification done right. Pretty cool - one ability takes the "hit chance"-idea and provides it as a quasi-hex. In case you missed that Rite Publishing-idea: It's pretty much the opposite of a miss chance: When you'd miss, you still have a chance to hit the target! And yep, hex-24-hour-caveat keeps it in line. I also like an exclusive resistance to antimagic effects and spells, representing the uniquely magical nature of these beings.


If you'd prefer your silvermanes less magical, I'd like to point you towards the nature herd, where dominating enemies, alicorn pool-powered fascinate effects via tail whirling, favored terrain and an animal companion at -3 levels beckon. On the downside, the moonlight globe gained here once again deals untyped damage...and by now we all know how I think about that...even though I do love the visuals evoked here. One ability that may be in line with lore and restricted in daily uses, but also remains very frustrating, would be a curse available at 12th level: Save or suck, spellcasters - if you fail, that's it - no more arcane spellcasting. Not even SPs. Curse. Have fun. I've seen those mechanics before and I didn't like them back then - I still don't like them here, though at least the limited uses mean that this won't be used all the time...and it requires an attack. Still: GMs beware, silvermanes are very mobile and one attack can wreck your BBEG. Cool on the other hand: Size-increases to a maximum of HUGE and a cornucopia of alternate movement rates...which are somewhat underpriced at 10th level: Burrow 30, Climb 90, Fly (good ) 90 ft, Swim 90 ft, blindsense 30 ft., scent, constrict (which attacks?), ferocity, grab, jet, poison, pounce, rake, trample, trip, web, +6 Str, -4 Dex, +6 natural armor. Granted, this lasts only one minute per level and has a daily cap...but still. Look at these qualities! Seriously??? All of them? At once? WTF?? I am pretty positive that this was supposed to be a list to select some of these abilities and not the totality, for trying to get all of these via buffs etc. is exceedingly costly...plus, the silvermane already is a pretty powerful class. As written, this ability's pretty broken, in spite of its limitations.


That being said, while there are some problematic components herein, there similarly are some awesome bits and pieces to be found here - the purity herd, for example, gains a pala-like lay on horn, use alicorn points to enhance saves of allies, send the undead to their resting places and tear down illusions with their horns and even reduce the severity of the most problematic of conditions. Silvermanes belonging to the proud herd gain a kind of resistance against being forced to roll multiple times and take the worse result and, at 10th level, they may perform combat maneuvers sans incurring AoOs - which is cool, particularly since the investment has the prerequisite of requiring 2 combat maneuver feats - but what constitutes a "combat maneuver feat" - I assume the usual Improved Trip/Disarm/etc., but cases could be made for diverging interpretations. This is particularly baffling to me since the unseen herd actually properly specifies feat-types when it comes to Blind Sense and Blindsight as abilities gained. Still - the proud and unseen herd, with focuses on not being impeded and stealth respectively probably constitute my favorites herein.


Beyond the final investment granted by the herd, the class gains aa winged apotheosis with wing attacks, Leadership and similar powerful tricks as a capstone, making the character truly formidable...and very hard to kill. The class also has archetypes - the honored companion is an interesting one: Basically, you get a Bonded Rider (as per the new feat) and play the mount...which is interesting. And yes, regular re'em will NOT be ridden! Blackmanes would be the corrupt anti-silvermanes - with auras of corruption, alternate alicorn abilities and the corruption herd, these would be the evil unicorns so dreaded. Oh, and the specialize in Betrayal feats - basically the evil brother of teamwork feats, which alongside a selection of racial feats, close this pdf - these btw. can grant you an alicorn ability, more investments, mighty kicks...the like. And yes, I really get some evil ideas while looking at these betrayal feats.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are rather good - though admittedly not as tight throughout the whole pdf as in quite a few Rite Publishing releases. There are some hiccups on a formal level, though none too much. More significant would be that the rules-language sports some instances where damage-type classification or slightly more precise rules-language would have helped. Layout adheres to Rite's two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports gorgeous artworks and comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


BJ Hensley and Steven D. Russell have glimpsed into my twisted mind. Why? Because, believe it or not...I absolutely adore "The Last Unicorn." I always have the track on my MP3 player and have, unlike 98% of movies, watched it more than once without being bored out of my wits. (Yes, I mean America's version of the song, just fyi.)


Yeah, I'm a guy and I love the iconography, the subtext - everything about unicorns is simply evocative to me. And know what? I really like this pdf. I really enjoy how the hand-less/shapechange-issues have been addressed. I love how many aspects work. At the same time, though, there are some grains of sand in the machinery of this pdf - while the majority of options works exceedingly well, even while juggling complex concepts, there are a couple of hiccups. Take e.g. the aforementioned short-range teleportation that is a component of how the silvermane retains its movement superiority (powerful for full BAB-classes) - it does not note that it is a conjuration [teleportation]-effect, nor a CL, which means that its upgrade at 8th level, which duplicates dimension door, may now suddenly no longer work under certain conditions, while the teleport worked before. YES. I know, I know. I'm a stupid bastard. Any GM worth her or his salt can handle that and knows how it works. I know. Still, RAW, this is in here.


Still, the like would not and does not sink the pdf. While the silvermane is a very powerful melee combatant, the slot-restrictions and later, size-increases alongside the pool-based mechanics sans means of regaining the points actually evens out what looks much worse on paper than one would expect - while not too great for low-magic campaigns and grittier adventuring, in most campaigns the silvermane and options herein will even out as a balanced option. In grittier campaigns, less combat-focused silvermanes will probably still work if predicated by a proper agreement between players and GM...so yeah, overall, this is a nice job. At the same time, a couple of the abilities do sport some uncharacteristic oversights pertaining damage-type, some minor paste-errors...and some less minor hiccups. Similarly, not a fan of the save-or-suck tricks or the use of untyped damage in some cool abilities.


But then again, this is pretty much "The Last Unicorn - the class"...with literally everything you expect to see. And it's a great read that actually gets me excited, that inspires me. So...how do I rate this? Well, I have to say, I do consider this somewhat less refined that the take on rakshasa and the hiccups do extend to the mechanics in some instances. However, at the same time, this does make up for a lot in evocative prose, unique abilities and the sheer fact that it does not go the easy route - the vast majority of options in this book are unique and not something other classes could do - so it's not a "I poach class feature xyz" experience and when it does stumble, it at least does so valiantly in the pursuit of uniqueness instead of redundancy. In the end, I will hence settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform, with the caveat that GMs should take a good look at how some of the abilities interact before allowing them.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
In The Company of Unicorns (PFRPG)
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Four Horsemen Present: Hybrid Class - Fury
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/31/2016 07:16:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This base class clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let's take a look!


The fury as presented herein is a barbarian/monk-hybrid and gets d8 HD, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-save progression, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons, but not with any armor or shield. At 3rd level, the fury gets fast movement + 10 ft., which increases by +10 ft. again at 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter. Similarly, the fury gains an AC-bonus while unarmored and unencumbered based on Cha-mod, with 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter increasing the bonus thus granted by +1.


A fury receives focused rage at 1st level governed by Cha - 4 + Cha-mod rounds per level, +2 rounds per class level. Temporary increases to Charisma do not increase focused rage. While in such a rage, furies gain +2 to Strength and Constitution as well as a +2 bonus to Will-save. Additionally, while in such a rage, they can perform basically flurry-based additional attacks, at the cost of a -2 penalty to all attacks - the impressive component here would be the fact that both TWFing and attack-dispersion between attacks in the focused rage is accounted for. More impressive, even, considering that the focused rage has full BAB for these attacks and yes, the fury takes a -2 penalty to AC. Similarly, the ability manages to get the Str-score limitations of off-hand attacks right and, while in focused rage, the fury may not use Cha-, Dex- or Int-based skills - excluding Acrobatics, Fly, Intimidate and Ride. Furies are fatigued post rage for 2 rounds per round spent in focused rage and thankfully, the class feature comes with a handy list of focused rage attacks in a separate table, making the class here pretty user-friendly.


Speaking of user-friendly - base unarmed damage for Small, Medium and Large characters similarly gets its own little table, with particularly the nod towards Large characters being nice. And yes, damage increases parallel to the monk. 2nd level provides uncanny dodge and takes into account when a multiclass character already has the class feature. Which is as good a point as any to mention that rage powers and interaction with barbarian class levels and rage are covered - so no, these are not mutually exclusive per se. Rage powers are gained at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter. 3rd level provides maneuver training and 4th nets the class the ki pool - which is based on 1/2 class level + Cha-mod, with ki strikes scaling from magic at 4th to adamantine at 16th level. Interesting and perhaps one of the core cool abilities here: The fury may elect to take 2 points of Cha-damage which can only be healed naturally to end the fatigued condition, allowing for potentially quicker rage-cycling. (13th level can similarly get rid of exhaustion.)


7th level provides DR, +1 every 6 levels thereafter. Here's an interesting mechanic - the fury may also take hit point damage equal to class level instead of using a daily round of rage of point of ki...but said damage can only be healed naturally, effectively reducing the maximum hit points of the character. This allows for significant control over the resources...but also imposes the toll of a swift action as activation...and makes the fury potentially ever more fragile and thus should be well-contemplated. Mid-dungeon, burning through resources like this can result in some nasty rest required... 9th level provides improved uncanny dodge, again, with multiclass info.


11th level upgrades the benefits of focused rage to +4 and Will-save to +3 while also increasing the attacks, with 20th level providing +6/+4 and another upgrade, respectively. 15th level provides a brutal throat strike attack that makes the target potentially suffocate. 17th level provides a Diehard-granted option with ki pool-synergy. At 19th level, the fury can take negative levels as a swift action to double bonuses - and indeed, the class allows the fury to maintain the power of this ability by incurring cumulative negative levels - and yes, the ability cannot be cheesed via immunity to negative energy/level drain, etc. and cannot be magically removed.


The fury gets archetypes as well - The maimed gets a disfigurement instead of the 6th, 12th and 18th-level rage power - these basically would be 5 different micro-curses: Psychically broken characters are immune to morale bonuses or penalties, with immunities to confused conditions at 6th level, 12th level at charm spells and effects and 18th level, providing immunity to fear. Maimed furies have a clouded vision, but gain ever increasing senses. Enslaved characters have some penalized ability scores, but get ever increasing options to escape grapples and shackles etc. You get the idea.


The second archetype would be the revenant, who does not gain additional attacks from focused rage, but may suppress bleed and sleep and also gains immunity to death from massive damage. The archetype also gains morale bonuses to saves versus death, disease, poison, ability damage/drain, energy drain, paralysis and stunning. Here's the interesting component, though - at 5th level, the revenant may cause Cha-damage with a touch attack while in focused rage - if successful and the target fails to beat the scaling save, the fury will not have to deal with fatigue after the focused rage - basically, instead of burning your own body, a revenant focuses on dealing this type of drain. When a creature is killed with such a strike by the revenant, he may regain 1 ki, which would be very problematic...but basically, due to action-economy, it amounts to exchanging rage for ki, which also means that the kitten-ing of the ability can't really be used in any efficient manner. The interesting component here - the high-level abilities of the archetype can deal significantly more Cha-damage and even drain...but at the cost of significant amounts of ki. I really like this archetype's fluid resource management.


The final archetype would be the vengeful, who gets bonuses to atk and damage versus creatures that hit her, with the threshold ever increasing and the bonus scaling as well. Instead of fast movement, these characters gain a sworn enemy chosen from ranger favored enemies. The interesting component of this archetype is that they may expend 2 points of ki - to gain +Cha-mod to atk and damage and ignore all DR of the target...which is not something I am fond of. A fluid scaling of DR ignored, with more powerful DRs being unlocked at later levels would have probably been appropriate. 9th level provides a final retributive strike before going down.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no issues apart from ki not always being italicized, but ultimately, I never really got the reason why it was treated differently in some publications from talents et al in that regard, so yeah. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games' 2-column full-color standard for the series and the pdf features a mix of b/w and full-color artwork - generally solid. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Stephen Rowe's Fury was a class I did not look forward to tackling - after all, I already had a damn cool monk/barbarian-hybrid, namely Forest Guardian Press' Savage. The most astounding component here would certainly be the fact that the two classes are radically different from one another. The fury can be basically summed up as "sudden death mode, the class" - you can deliver some brutal damage, yes, but at the cost of increasing vulnerability. And more importantly, the class actually uses a complex resource-management as an ingrained component of its design that renders the playing experience rather interesting. The fury, as a stand-alone, is pretty awesome, with only the vengeful feeling like an afterthought that falls short of the other two damn cool archetypes. That being said, this class does require some GM-oversight: Since it makes hit points a balancing factor and at the same time delimits ki as a limited resource, it can be cheesed via multiclassing and option-combinations, in harder ways the more ki-based options your game has.


Thus, I can't unanimously recommend the class for all tables; what I can do, however, is say that the class as such makes sense and, on its own, as a closed system, works rather well. Hence, I'm going to rate this one 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform, though with the express recommendation to GMs to limit the multiclassing capabilities of furies and their access to all those nifty ki-based options out there. Don't say I didn't warn you if you forego this precaution!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Four Horsemen Present: Hybrid Class - Fury
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The Mists of Akuma - Imperial Dragons
Publisher: Storm Bunny Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/31/2016 07:14:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The fourth free preview-pdf for Mists of Akuma clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page list of things to expect, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, one of which, as always, is devoted to the continent of Soburin, so let's take a look!


After a gorgeous art and proverb, we dive into the wonderfully crafted prose that details the history and nature of Imperial dragons - and no, they're not conveniently color-coded. The pdf's crunchy meat supplementing this prose would be three sample dragons - the wyrmling underworld dragon (challenge 6) that gets a nasty multiattack, necrotic breath and frightful presence. The adult variant of this dragon already has challenge 12,c an disguise itself and has legendary actions...and, at challenge 18, the ancient Hakanokishi is a pretty impressive example for the most powerful of these dragons - including legendary wing attacks. The underworld breath of the dragons gets easier to recharge at higher levels and the more powerful of these guys add exhaustion levels to the deadly breaths. Nice.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Mists of Akuma's full-color two-column standard and the pdf features neat full color artworks of stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Mike Myler's Imperial dragons are a fun glimpse of the things to come in this regard, with particularly the fluff of these dragons being very interesting. While personally, I considered the tsukumogami more intriguing and unique than these dragons, the pdf still is FREE and a no-brainer, easy download that makes you excited about the setting - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Mists of Akuma - Imperial Dragons
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Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2016 09:29:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This adventure clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC (including tables for statblocks by CR), 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page of advice on how to read statblocks, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let's take a look!


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


All right, so what do we get here? Well, first of all, we get a incredibly gorgeous b/w-map of the Duchy of Ashlar: The cartography by Simon Butler, Dan Dyson and Tommi Salama employed herein is...well glorious. Oh, and guess what? If you're like me and get a LOT of Raging Swan Press books to supplement your gaming experience...you'll notice something. The map tells you, which direction the lonely coast is, where deksport can be found - and indeed, in this duchy, you can see Wellswood, longbridge, ashford -some of the unique villages and places my groups have visited and come to love (or abhor) - oh, and the map also sports a wide array of as of yet unexplored places. And, in case you're asking - this whole region, contextualized, can easily be dropped into just about any campaign setting, though theme-wise, settings like Greyhawk, The Lost Lands or the like probably work best - and yep, the Shadowed Keep of the Borderlands is also mentioned.


There is a second important thing to note about this module: It is explicitly made for (relatively) new players - Core is assumed to be known, but that's basically about it. Hence, the challenges in this adventure are somewhat less pronounced than veterans would expect. At the same time, it should be noted that this pdf does not necessarily feature themes explicitly designated as "kid-theme" - it is not gory or grimdark or anything...it is just fantasy. I tested this module with my kid-group and ran into no issues. This is very much an adventure that allows the GM to utilize tropes of adventuring and fantasy, but sans being inappropriate. So yes, I'd consider this appropriate for all but the youngest and most sensitive of kids. The pdf also provides extensive scaling advice for each encounter - by +1/-1, which means that you can also run this for more seasoned adventurers sans the players becoming bored. One more thing - while this module introduces PCs and players to some of the classics, its structure allows the GM to include ample options for rest...or not, allowing for pretty concise control over the pacing of the module itself. And no, thankfully my most loathed adventuring clichés, the shadow and ogre bosses are absent from these pages. Thank Gygax!


All right, this is as far as I can get sans diving into SPOILERS. Potential players of this module should jump to the conclusion NOW.


...


..


.


All right, only GMs around? Good. We begin this module in the town of Dulwich, with 3 basic adventuring hooks and 4 entries of village lore being provided - this, as a whole, sets the stage for the motivation to explore the valley. A table of 6 rumors, some of which are false, some of which are correct, provide further information and, as a whole, this section of setting-up the module already indirectly teaches the value of doing one's legwork. The overland journey by movement speed has convenient travel durations noted and sports the option of getting lost. a brief 12-entry table of minor events during the journey features mechanically-relevant, fun little encounters that range from woodland critters to deep gulleys and streams.


The valley itself can be pictured as one that sports, obviously, multiple tombs - said tombs are the mini-dungeons in this book, but they are not the only graves there: Cairns can be looted and a table of items can be found there. Similarly, an 8-entry dressing table for the valley allows you to customized the dressing and generate more atmosphere. From the small waterfall to tracks, the valley has several interesting locations as such - but the interesting component, at least to me, would be that the mini-dungeons (usually only a couple of rooms) sport unique challenges: In the tomb of the stone woman, one can, for example, face an animated statue, with some traps that are painful, but not necessarily lethal, teaching this component of adventuring. And yes, from chests to sarcophagi, the level of detail provided in this pdf is excessive and makes running this very easy.


The tomb of the champions features unique adversaries and has a completely different flavor - inside lie the now undead remains of two erstwhile champions of the hobgoblins, emphasizing the component of combat in the exploration here. Finally, there would be a third mini-complex, wherein an owlbear and its young lair - these caves can be seen as introductions to animals and terrain - with bat guano, a bat swarm, uneven footing and the like, the focus here is admirably different.


This, however, is not nearly the extent of adventuring the pdf contains - beyond fully depicted random encounters, the module also sports a rival adventuring group that can act as a major complication for the PCs, feigning friendship and loyalty, while waiting to backstab them. Beyond these low-lives, there is another optional encounter that will introduce the necessity of ROLEplaying to PCs and players alike: The ghost of a perished adventurer haunts this valley's lake and putting her to rest is one of the more unique challenges in this pdf. It's not hard, mind you - but it makes it clear that sometimes, words are more powerful than thrown spells and drawn swords. These add-in-encounters, including an owlbear, obviously can also be used to save the PCs - if the aforementioned adventuring group's too much to handle...well, then the arrival of a pack of wolves or said owlbear may act as a save...and teach the valuable lesson of considering that the world is dynamic. (Fyi, in case anyone wondered: My kids are worse munchkins and power-gamers than my adults and walked all over the combat challenges...but still had a lot of fun, particularly relishing the chance of putting the ghost to sleep!)


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf features copious b/w-artworks (some of which I've seen before). The cartography is excellent, though no map-key-less versions are included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and in two versions - one optimized for screen-use and one for the printer. Kudos!


Creighton Broadhurst's Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs is a great example of a first level module I would have loved to have back in the day. Why? Because it actually teaches the basics of adventuring. Watching for traps, not assuming that violence is always the solution, taking care of terrain, knowing that the world's dynamic...all those important little lessons are taught in a pretty concise manner by showing, not telling. The challenges are sufficiently moderate to make sure that the players don't get wiped out while learning these, though this does not mean that they can act foolhardily: This is an adventure and as such, it sports danger. Now granted, veterans may not necessarily be too blown away by the mechanic components, but the dressing and atmosphere may make this a feasible option for these as well, particularly if they prefer a campaign's start to be less lethal than the things to come.


Beautiful in its simplicity and level of detail, this is a great introductory module for the game we all know and love - and for this purpose, it should be considered to be a 5 star+ seal of approval module. Veterans and grognards who have seen it all may be slightly less intrigued, though the old-school vibe and aesthetic employed here may tug at one's heart's string. Still, for experienced and jaded audiences, this may be slightly less compelling and should be considered the equivalent of a 4 star module. One final note: Fans of Raging Swan press need this module -the contextualizing map of the duchy is awesome and truly evocative!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs
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Letters from the Flaming Crab: Culinary Magic
Publisher: Flaming Crab Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2016 09:25:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This installment of the Letters from the Flaming Crab series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 3/4 pages of SRD, leaving us with 8 1/4 pages of content, so let's take a look!


As in the first installment, we begin with a missive from captain Kelly Shell, captain of the planes- and worlds-jumping eponymous Flaming Crab, conveniently translated and compiled for us by J Gray. This page also consolidates Craft (cooking) and Craft (baking) into Craft (culinary), which is a sensible step.


So, how does culinary magic work? Well, each dish has a name, a difficulty for Craft (culinary) to make the dish, a description, list of ingredients, how many servings the dish yields, how long it takes to make the dish, actual directions for making the dish...and, obviously, magical benefits for consuming the dish. It should be noted that the cost for the dishes has been left open - since e.g. availability of owlbear eggs etc. fluctuates widely. While this does leave quite a bit of control in the hands of the GM, it ultimately does feel like a bit of a cop-out: At least a guideline for pricing (perhaps akin to how 5e classifies its items by scarcity?) would imho have been appreciated.


Now here is a cool benefit for all of us who are inclined to actually try recipes from books like this - one can actually create these dishes - sure, IRL I don't have manticore meat for the respective chilli - but I can substitute other meat for it! The relatively detailed step-by-step cooking directions make this component rather interesting, particularly if you're like me and enjoy making food. Benefits-wise, we can find coin-like cookies that enhance one's Appraise-checks, tacos that provide temporary hit points or fire resistance providing curry - though that requires a Fort-save to consume. Also irl. Why? It includes a naga jolokia - a ghost pepper, one of the hottest ingredients known to man. As a dedicated chilli head, I urge caution in this one regard - ghost peppers are ONLY for the dedicated chilli head, so if habaneros already pose an insurmountable obstacle for you, I'd suggest confining this recipe to the realm f fantasy alone...however, if you are like me and LOVE the really brutal heat...well, then this one can be pretty awesome!


Polymorph-duration enhancing sandwiches, black-eyed peas that grant you low-light vision and darkvision, Diplomacy-enhancing herb twists - I really, really enjoyed these recipes - not only for their benefits, but also due to their quality of breaking down the line between in- and out-game.


This is not where the pdf ends, though -a total of 9 traits provide connoisseur-options for the core races, longer duration from magical food or better Craft (culinary) - and yes, they get bonus type/trait-class right. 4 feats provide means to get more magical recipes, more servings and even ingredient substitution.


The pdf also sports mundane items - from the armored apron that nets you DR 2/slashing and fire resistance 2 (and may be a bit too inexpensive) to batter mixes, frying pans or hand juicers, these are generally cool. 4 magic items further complement this book, including declouding whisks, vessels that grant resistances to the consumer based on the food's temperature, breadboards that can generate food...pretty cool. The pdf also sports the culinary weapon property that enhances cooking and reduces prep time.


Finally, the pdf offers two archetypes - the kitchen witch gets a special athame that provides spells (but unlike a familiar can't learn new ones apart from leveling). To make up for his shortcoming, the athame increases autonomously in power and the kitchen witch receives 4 more hexes chosen from a list. Finally, at 4th level, the kitchen witch gets a unique and cool ability - they can bake hexes into their food, which allows them to either affect targets or share the hex's effects with allies. This can be used 3+ athame's enhancement bonus+ Int-mod times per day and allows you to grant some otherwise less useful hexes to allies...or royally screw over any adversaries you tricked into eating your food. And guess what? I really like this archetype. It does something unique. Kudos!


The second one would be the Performing Chef bard, who gets Culinary Magic as a bonus feat, diminished spellcasting and an appropriately modified proficiency list. Instead of some of the classic performances, the archetype gains a nauseating performance, TWF-ing and an attack that adds Intimidate to his assault...and they use Perform (culinary) instead of Craft (culinary) while also being capable of quickly storing and drawing items. Once again, a fun archetype.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch this time around - I noticed no hiccups or issues. Layout adheres to Flaming Crab Games' 2-column full-color standard and the pdf has some nice interior artworks in B/w. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


J Gray, David S McCrae, Angel "ARMR" Miranda -congratulations! Why? Because this humble little pdf is imho all killer, no filler. Get it? Filler? Culinary...All right, I'll hit myself for that one later. But for now: This is a surprisingly well-crafted, humble and inspiring pdf - the recipes are neat and work IRL and are appropriate for just about every table - from the gritty to the fantastic, one could make a point that these could even make sense in a no-magic setting. Yeah, that is pretty awesome. The supplemental material provides similarly is rather tight - from the neat traits to the items and archetypes, there is not much to complain about. Scratch that - I actually have no viable gripes, only criticism on the level of "okay, I would have done this slightly different, but it works this way and conforms to the requirements of concise rules-language."


In short - after the already very promising first letter, this one knocks the ball right out of the park - culinary magic herein is balanced fun, and can actually provide some different snacks for you and your group, irl. What more to ask? Well...I, for one...want seconds! The concise presentation and balanced archetypes provide a great addition and make sure that this pdf will leave you wanting more. Fun, unique and flavorful, this is a great example for a 5 star + seal of approval pdf.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Letters from the Flaming Crab: Culinary Magic
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Sir Reginald Lichlyter's Magical Beers, Tankards, & Other Inebrious Items
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2016 09:23:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This tome detailing the latest in inebriation-themed objects and concoctions clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let's take a look!


We begin this tome with basically a rehash of the basic "how to get drunk"-rules from the last tome, though the approach has been streamlined with more precise rules - and yes, the hangover now comes with a proper duration, which renders these rules, overall, more concise. Additionally, the section now sports game-mechanics for a general alcohol addiction as well as three sample addictions for other spirits - though these suffer from a formatting glitch (or unfortunate decision), wherein their headers are white letters on a grey background, rendering the headers a bit hard to read. Beyond that, a sidebox notes Profession (Brewer)'s interaction with the creation of magical ales before diving right into the collection of magical ales the book provides.


And they are, generally, interesting: Acidblood ale, for example, not only grants acid resistance 5 - any bite attack dealing damage to the target also results in the unfortunate attacker being subject to the acidic blood. Altbeer of vareless travel increases overland travel speed, while drinking a brett of softened bones fortifies the imbiber against massive damage and provides a bonus to Escape Artist checks. Beer of Sobriety would be THE drink IRL - drinking it removes one drink from your system. SO AWESOME. Very cool for complex investigations - Blackout Brew: Upon consuming this beer and reaching a certain level of drunkenness, you'll lose all memory of the events transpired. Yep, this can make for a superb narrative tool. Bloodbeer can instill vampiric hunger in you, while a proper Doppelbock can grant you natural AC and DR, but also make you susceptible to fire. and reduce your movement. (Btw.: The reduced movement rate is accurate - give me a couple of Doppelbocks and I'm much slower... ;P) Potentially problematic can be the happoshu of ki recovery, which allows you to regain ki, usually a limited resource - so depending on the amount of ki-based options, that one may make some trouble in your campaign.


Absolutely evocative - imperial stouts of teleporting toasts - you drink these with multiple people, each toasting to a location. The one that got the most toasts is the destination. Similarly cool - a delicious Schwarzbier that allows you to scry on the target of the toast. Once again, we get a gender-reversing beer and there is also a disgusting one with zombie bits in it that nets you undead anatomy I... and a taste for corpses...


This pdf also contains a whole smörgåsbord of magical drinking containers - from cups that help you with social interactions to a drinking horn that grants you increasing benefits, the more you drink from it in one go. I'm not a big fan of the flagon of healing brew - any alcohol consumed from it heals 1d4 points of damage (slightly annoying, btw. - instead of "1d4", the pdf often uses "d4" in a minor formatting glitch) - while this should not break any game (you still get drunk, thus limiting the use of the item...), it's still exceedingly inexpensive healing that can wreck havoc in some low fantasy settings - so take heed here. A jug of everflowing beer...is pretty much many a person's dream come true. Obviously. And in connection with the aforementioned item...well...does provide infinite healing...Q.E.D. That being said, it has a no-selling-caveat, which is very much awesome. A tankard that can untie ropes and improves saves is nice, though the formatting did overlook the italicization of a spell referenced in the item's text...still: Cool.


Beyond tankards and mugs, the book also contains an assortment of diverse miscellaneous items - a bag of cheap ale (that the text calls bag of infinite alcohol) allows you to draw forth okay ales...which is cool. But why is there no non-selling caveat this time around? The brooch of slowed metabolism is interesting - it doubles the duration of any magical item or drink with at least one drink of alcohol in it when drunk by the wearer...okay, got that. Sooo...how does this interact with extracts and mutagens? Do these contain alcohol? On the cool side - what about an enchanted coin that makes any drink bought with it a potential agent for charming the drinker? VERY interesting. Gloves that grant you 3 brawling-related feats also should be considered to be intriguing. Oh...and there is a staff that can turn water to ale....which can drown aquatic creatures. Not the worst way to go, I'd wager... Really intriguing: armor enchanted to make creatures swallowing the wearer intoxicated! Can you see the drunk and hungover purple worms barfing in the desert? I can! Oh, and a weapon that inflicts drunkenness on targets can also be pretty funny...


The pdf also sports cursed items - ales that result in instant addiction or that teleport you into very odd locales, flagons that provide a false sense of confidence, curses that deprive you of sleep...quite an assortment here. The pdf also sports an array of alchemical items, including basically an alchemist's version of AlkaSeltzer, bricks that can be dissolved in water to turn to ale or powdered alcohol. Cool array! The final section of this pdf is devoted to an assortment of alcohol-themed spells, with various inebriation-causing spells, a versatile panacea, a nasty spell that turns beer to poison (what many large breweries IRL cast on their whole supply...)...some nice ones here. I also consider the low-level spell that transforms poison for the duration into inebriation actually not only potentially fun, but also very useful. Magically modifying the drink limit of the creatures targeted is also covered. All in all, a fun selection of spells.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are pretty good on a formal and rules level - while there are a few hiccups here, they are scarce and show Fat Goblin Games' increased prowess in these fields. The pdf sports a two-column full-color layout and has several gorgeous full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Jeff Gomez' take on a Sir Reginald Lichlyter-book is interesting - this book is less than its predecessor like a Call to Arms-book: It does not feature the same epic scope and amount of fluff/supplemental rules. That being said, the base rules for being drunk are significantly streamlined, which is a good thing in my book. This book, in essence, is pretty much, for the most part, a nice equipment book that should prove to be fun for many a table. While not all items herein are bereft of problems and while there are some hiccups in the details to be found, for the most part, this is a well-crafted, concise equipment book with some pretty nice ideas that deserve being recognized. While not as streamlined as e.g. the current CtA-books by Fat Goblin Games, this should be considered as a valid and fun addition to many a table. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Sir Reginald Lichlyter's Magical Beers, Tankards, & Other Inebrious Items
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The Mists of Akuma - Martial Arts Feats
Publisher: Storm Bunny Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/30/2016 09:21:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This FREE preview-file for the Mists of Akuma-setting clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page summary of the setting, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages, though one of these is devoted to the map of the Soburin continent, so let's take a look!


The pdf begins with 5 new feats: Metallic Elementalist Warlocks are aligned with the seasonal patron and have an interesting mechanic - they can pay gold to empower their spells, with precise effects depending on the spell's school (nice!) that being said, the secondary benefit may be overshooting the target a bit - upon hitting a foe with eldritch blast, the target has disadvantage on ALL ability checks for 1 round per damage die. No save, mind you. I consider that a bit too strong. Wooden Elementalists may cast spells without expending them, provided they have enough wood at their hands - this is governed by the proficiency bonus of the character and, as a secondary benefit, we add +1d4 piercing damage per eldritch blast die to the critical hits scored. I prefer this one to the metal one.


Mist Warriors with high Haitokus scores get a very cool retreat action and may use the misty step spell sans components (not italicized in the pdf, btw.). The tertiary benefit of this feat is interesting - you gain proficiency bonus to AC when using the Dodge action, but at the cost of attack disadvantage in the subsequent round. Interesting one! Nature Touched nets you a druid cantrip, resistance to poison damage as well as your choice of resistance to either cold or fire damage until your next rest.


The Swordmaster feat lets you add an attach after criting a foe and killing him with a katana. Similarly, you may follow foes that provoke opportunity attacks from you (here erroneously called "attack of opportunity" in an unnecessary Pathfinderism) or hit missiles asunder as a reaction, provided your damage manages to exceed that of the ranged weapon. Finally, the feat nets you +1AC when only wielding a katana.


Martial Arts Stance feats are subjected to a limitation - you may only utilize a number of these at a given time equal to your proficiency bonus and they may not be used in conjunction with weapons that have the two-handed or heavy property. Fire's Eternal Vigilance nets you +1d4 fire damage (non-multiplying on crits) and fire resistance. This feat, unlike default feats, can be taken a second and third time, increasing damage. Somewhat off - you may also send forth a powerful heat-aura - that can be used as an action and bonus action. I'm not sure if that means the ability can be used by using BOTH or whether this consumes an action or a bonus action - the rules-language can use a bit of polish here.


A total of 13 such martial arts stance feats can be found within the pages of this FREE pdf - and yes, each of the feats is devoted to a different damage type and follows a similar set-up. As a minor nitpick, the prerequisite line tends to divert slightly from D&D 5e's standard formatting conventions - not badly, mind you, but it's here. There are also a bit more typos in here than usual - I noticed "WIsdom", "increases to 3 1d6" (the 3's a relic) and balance-wise, e.g. the Stout Boar allowing you to ignore basically all difficult terrain or terrain movement costs, provided you make an attack at the end of your movement, is pretty powerful - RAW, this lets you mow through damaging terrain sans being harmed, which probably is not the intent of this one. It should be noted, though, that quite a few of these feats have a cool set of visuals - icy petals and telepathy, two name two.


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good, though not as good as in previous Mists of Akuma-teasers - this one has a couple of glitches that could have been caught. Layout adheres to Mists of Akuma's two-column full color standard and the pdf sports the classic public domain artworks we've come to expect here - they actually do a rather great job here. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Mike Myler's feats contained in this FREE book are interesting - while the stances basically do similar things and could imho use a bit more internal variance, the overall impression I have of this pdf's content is a positive one - there is a lot to like within these pages....and it's FREE. Free is hard to beat indeed. In the end, I will settle on a final verdict of 4 stars for this one, worth downloading, but not as intriguing as the first two such preview-pdfs I covered.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Mists of Akuma - Martial Arts Feats
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