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Alternate Paths: Martial Characters 2: Fight Smarter
Publisher: Little Red Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/04/2017 03:54:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive installment of the Alternate Path-series clocks in at 79 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, which leaves us with an impressive 75 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so the Alternate Path-series has carved a rather unique niche for itself in the context of splatbooks, focusing less on just adding to the pile of options and instead, showcasing some experimental and rather unique options – this time around, smart combat is the theme, and as such, the book begins with its mission statement and advice for the GM to make combats more interesting – and to not penalize players for not taking certain skills. This, among others, mentions the importance of terrain and skill challenges, the all but forgotten option to yield in combat and the like – as an aside, for skill challenges, check out Everyman Gaming’s phenomenal Skill Challenged Handbook – it should be core. It’s that good. Anyways, milestone-based leveling is also touched upon, before we dive into the new rules.

The first of these variant rules would be reactions: These are not a copy of 5e’s reaction-system, mind you: Instead, it allows the player to take a standard action as a reaction, with the two actions behaving just like swift actions and immediate actions. This adds a massive increase of dynamics to the combat – on the plus-side, implementing the system devalues bland “I hit 6 times with my weapons” full attacks (as they can’t be performed when you took a reaction). However, at the same time, this vastly changes the combo-dynamics, devalues AoOs and AoO-based builds and de-emphasizes long-term strategy for combats or at least increases the variables to an extent where prediction becomes very, very hard. Suffice to say, readied actions lose all relevance upon implementing this – and thankfully, the pdf does offer serious in-depth advice regarding the implementation of reactions: Class-based restrictions, basing them on feats, imposing of penalties – there are some serious and helpful pieces of advice there. Whether you like the flow of combat thus modified or not ultimately depends on your table – if your group is like mine and already has a lot of fluid movements and changing front-lines, then this may perhaps not be as amazing. If, however, you’re struggling to make combat something else than trading of full attacks, then this may be really amazing for you. All in all, an interesting variant rule-set.

Secondly, we look at the options for the conservation of attacks – iterative attacks are not particularly well-regarded in most tables I know. The system allows characters to sacrifice these iterative attacks in favor of bypassing hardness/DR, a +1 to atk, 3 may be sacrificed for a 5-foot step and 2 may be sacrificed for reloading or fighting defensively sans penalties. I am not a big fan for the atk-bonus benefit and as a whole and while the system does prevent abuse via TWF, flurries, etc., I do think that just replacing the iterative attacks with a kind of pool of options would have made sense. The implementation of this rule greatly favors single, devastating attacks – so if you’re building god strike characters or focusing on Vital Strike etc., this can be a bit ugly. Here, some discussion on the ramifications of the implementation would have been nice.

Next up would be simple grapple rules – which, while functional, do decrease the options available to the grapplers. The pdf suggests providing free Improved combat maneuver feats to increase their value – which generally is not necessarily a good idea, considering how other options build on them. Going with an extraordinary ability would have probably been smoother and retained the feat-tree-structure. I am, however, a HUGE fan of the variant aid another rules presented here: Providing a leg up and allowing for variant swift and full-round action aid anothers adds a tactical dimension to aiding your fellow adventurers.

The pdf also provides a couple of variant, inverse skill-uses: Torture via Heal, Ignoring via Perception or Misusing Magic Items – the first of these is less interesting, but in particularly, Misusing Magic Items can yield hilarious results – a successful check lets you roll d20 on a massive table. And yes, you can bestow transient sentience on an item. (As a minor formal complaint – spell-references are not always concisely italicized in the book.) We also get brief rules for wall jumping and running (cool) and a really cool fill-in of a rules-hole: The pdf contains an adept and sensible way of dealing with burrowing movement: The 3D-movement, hardness of surfaces and DR granted by material per 5 feet certainly will be used in my game. Speaking of 3D-movement – the proposed levels-approach makes sense and is easy to implement.

Finally, we have rules for cooking strange stuff in dungeons – as a minor complaint, “and large size creatures count as x2 large size creatures.” Should read “and Large size creatures count as x2 Medium size creatures.” – sizes are capitalized and there is a slightly confusing misnomer here. As a whole, I wasn’t too smitten by this cooking-variant. I’ve seen the concept done in a more rewarding manner.

The pdf also sports new classes – 5, to be precise. The first of these would be the calculator, who gains d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, good Will-saves and proficiency with simple and martial weapons, light and medium armors and shields, excluding tower shield, as well as with battle tomes. Calculators may enter computation mode as a swift action – this requires concentration and further swift actions to maintain and fear effects end it. While in computation mode, the calculator deals minimum damage and may not be affected by morale bonuses. However, they receive the computation bonus to all Knowledge checks and attack and damage rolls with ranged weapons, finesse weapons and one-handed or lighter melee weapons. This computation bonus equal to ¼ of the calculator’s level and may never exceed the character’s intelligence modifier. Okay, so is that minimum 1? No idea, alas. More importantly would be that the calculator gains 1 point of brilliance at the start of the calculator’s turn while he maintains computation mode. Question: If the character enters the mode for one round and then proceeds to end it on the second round, does he get this point or not? A calculator can only sustain the mode for a maximum of 1 minute and proceeds to take 3 times their class level in nonlethal damage upon ending computation mode.

A calculator’s brilliance pool may never exceed ½ class level (minimum 1) + Intelligence modifier (minimum 1) and may meditate for 1 minute to fully replenish the brilliance pool. The calculator begins play with one formula (the “average formula”) – formulae may be entered as a free action while in computation mode and they are incompatible with combat styles. Another formula is gained at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter. The aforementioned formula lets you deal average damage, btw. Other formulas allow the character to e.g. treat an attack as using full BAB, gain Quick Draw and Combat Reflexes for 1 round, etc. – these formula, unsurprisingly, cost brilliance to activate. Immediate actions can be used to reduce the damage incurred to minimum damage. Finagle’s Law can be a bit problematic, allowing the character to deal maximum damage – with high critical multipliers and multiclassing, this one can be very, very potent and should probably be relegated to the higher levels or feature another restriction.

2nd level, weirdly, nets a +1/4 class level bonus to saves versus illusion spells or those with the emotion or fear descriptor and imposes a similar penalty to all Charisma-based skills. This lacks the minimum 1-caveat, making 2nd level in essence a dead level RAW. Mathematical savant is interesting and gained at 3rd level – it grants an approximate idea of the success-chances of certain actions – and yes, GMing-advice is provided. Problem: No activation action is provided. Also at 3rd level, the class gets to choose a calculator axiom, with another one gained every 3 levels thereafter – these basically represent talents sans activation cost – including proficiency with firearms, constant detect chaos/law and the ability to ascertain morale bonuses/penalties (not a fan) and bonuses to AC versus lawful targets, damage versus chaotic ones. There also are a couple of such abilities that require brilliance point expenditure.

There also are some interesting stances here – a minor complaint: Improved stances do not require their base stances as prerequisites, which they should, seeing that they have no effect without them. Ally-boosts to concentration or precision damage caused are also interesting. Apart from these minor inconsistencies, this section is rather interesting. Probability prediction, gained at 5th level, is interesting: As a free action, the calculator may 1/round at the start of an enemy’s turn call out an action – if the enemy follows this action, the calculator imposes penalties on the enemy or otherwise hampers them via ally-support. At 8th level, whenever the calculator in computation mode rolls a natural 3, he can spend a point of brilliance to invoke Pi and treat the result as a natural 20. At 19th level, the calculator may spend 1 point of brilliance at the start of their turn, treating all attacks as using the highest BAB – nasty shredder, even at 19th level, and strangely favoring TWFs. The capstone renders immune to death effects, critical hits and possession and lets the character assume an “intangible state” as a swift action. This does not exist. I think this is supposed to mean “incorporeal”.

The face-changer would be obviously inspired by the Men of Braavos, must be non-good and gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves and proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light armor. The shapechanger begins play with the ability to disguise self as a Su, which does not allow for a Will-save to bypass. Okay. What’s the duration? CL for purposes of dispelling/ability-interaction? He can use it ½ class level (min 1) + Charisma modifier times per day. Starting at 2nd level, as a touch attack, they can store a creature’s mind – only one may be stored at any given time. The mind stored may then be accessed via Intelligence checks to recall information from it. 4th level upgrades this to work via touched objects that have been at least a year in the target creature’s possession. 3rd level’s surgical strikes is problematic: On a natural 15 or higher, you roll to confirm: If you do, effects that usually only trigger on a critical hit do trigger and you add + Dexterity modifier as precision damage to the damage caused. This makes fishing for crit builds and those that add critical hit effects via weapons or abilities very potent. Also at 3rd level and every 3 level thereafter, you gain a spy craft, which helps when going in deep cover – speaking a language sans actually speaking it, bonuses versus targets whose minds are held, changing places with a creature slain (generating the impression that the assassination attempt was foiled), morphing into the form of a loved one of a target – the abilities are interesting, but some are slightly exploitable: Killing spree nets you +2 to damage per foe killed, up to +1/3rd class level. Hand me the kittens, please. Similarly, there is an infinite, slow healing exploit. 4th level allows for the swift action reshaping of features, altering gender, race or age automatically. Okay, what’s the DC to notice the face-changer? 8th level provides a fluid form variant as an upgrade and 12th level nets polymorph – which is, unlike the previous ones, a SP. The previous ones have the magic interaction issues noted before.

7th level yields assassination – Dex-based save after 1 round study, on a failure, the attack’s target is reduced to 0 hit points. The ability may be used 1/day, +1/day for every 3 levels thereafter. The capstone lets him perform unlimited assassination attempts per day. 15th level upgrades the action required to swift and 20th level provides unlimited doppelgang…which is weird, for RAW, the base ability doesn’t specify a concise duration as the governing CL-component is opaque. Also weird: The pdf talks about allies and enemies and lets the face-changer define these anew each round, which is per se an amazing mechanic – the class, however, doesn’t do anything with it. Also, since quite a few abilities etc. sport caps on maximum number of targets, this can be a bit weird at the table.

The third class would be the nobody, who gains d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with hidden and rogue-y weapons and light armor, ¾ BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves. The nobody’s defining class feature is nonperson: As adherents of the grand Nothing, nobodies are hard to remember – it takes Intelligence-checks to recall them and 7th and 15th level further make it harder to remember them. While the class addresses how issues with adventuring companions are handled, the pdf does fail to italicize a spell-reference here. The nobody may enter a null state as a move action, for up to 4 + Intelligence modifier rounds per day, +2 rounds per level after that – that should be class level. Nobodies in a null state are hard to recall: The first time a creature sees them, it has to succeed a Will-save to perceive them. Fats movement or attacks etc. end a null state in progression. Creatures get +4 to notice the nobody when they can see him enter a null state. Yeah. This is pretty much a better variant of Hide in Plain Sight at first level. And frankly, it is very, very potent – not because of what it does, but because the ability is not codified regarding balancing components like effect-types etc. At 5th level, he can choose invisibility (improved invisibility at 9th level)as a SP instead, regarding the benefits – which, frankly, is worse in quite a few cases. 9th level also, confusingly, upgrades the null state to being treated as natural invisibility. This looks like a revision at some point went haywire.

Additionally, they get limited use touch attacks that deal scaling force damage and that impose negative conditions and later, even dispel effects and more creative tricks. These do NOT break the cloaking of the class. 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter yield upgrades to the array available, not unlike deeds. These include phasing targets away to the nothing for a round, being forgotten, etc. However, the abilities do have in common that they are missing some balance-components: Forgetting folks should be mind-affecting; silence-like effects lack a duration, spells are not italicized. It’s frustrating, really – the effects are interesting and generally, make sense. 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter, the nobody gets to choose a powerful sense and becomes undetectable by it, requiring Perception to notice them. 5th level yields void spike, the ability to cause negative levels with a 1d4-round cooldown, with 9th level and every 4 levels thereafter increasing the amount of negative levels caused by +1. 6th level nets constant nondetection and 10th level provides the option to become incorporeal while in null state at an increased round cost. The capstone provides immunity to critical hits and precision damage as well as the option to 3 + Int-mod times per day, as a standard action, destroy a creature on a failed save – 20d6 on a successful save. Ouch. At 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the class gets to choose an obscura, the talents of the class, which include entering null states as immediate actions in response to being targeted by a spell, attack, etc. Since this doesn’t move the character, I assume he is treated as invisible, with line of sight broken. More rounds of null state, fast stealth -you get the idea. AoE force damage, pocketing items into the Nothing – the class has flavor galore, but the important balancing tidbits, from clarifying durations to effect types make it problematic as a whole. A non-turn-ending, move action dimension door, exclusively to an adjacent to creatures, for example, is pretty damn cool and it, like many components of the class, would have deserved a bit more delicacy. As written, it is a VERY, VERY potent Stealth class. Unlike the previous classes, this one does get favored class options, btw. It also gets an archetype, the student of the sphere: Instead of the touch attack, they can basically conjure forth the lite-version of a sphere of annihilation and instead of void spike, he can later split these in smaller orbs. See, this one is really, really cool; amazing, even. That holds true for the whole class, mind you – with a bit of fine-tuning, this is a great class.

The sapper class gets d8 HD, 8 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-saves and begins play with Catch Off-Guard and proficiency with simple weapons, throwing axes, handaxes, picks (light + heavy), saps and all martial ranged weapons as well as firearms, if the campaign uses them. They are proficient with all armor and shields, including tower shields. The begin play with Int-governed bombs (like the alchemist) and these have a ½ class level damage progression, capping at +10d6 at 20th level. While they last only one minute, they CAN be handed off to allies…and they are Ex. So yes, they work in zones sans magic. Sappers also start the game with sabotage: A target hit by a bomb becomes flat-footed (or even prone, on bad failures) or takes a penalty to d20 rolls, governed by sapper levels. Only one sabotage can be used on a creature in a given round and the critter gets a Ref-save to resist the effect.

At 3rd level, sappers can consume bomb uses as a swift action to create distracting harrier auras with a scaling range. 15th level allows for the regaining of bombs via item destruction – with a cap to prevent cheesing the ability. 19th level increases the Dc to resist the harrier aura. The capstone potentially breaks non-magical items in the aura and suppresses magic items – which may then break…REALLY cool.

5th level nets an insight bonus to damage with firearms, on damage rolls vs. objects and with sundering weapons. They bonus increases every 4 levels. 10th level yields interdiction, which can drain spells, rage, ki and similar limited resources with sabotage – damn cool! And yes, the list cannot be comprehensive – that’s why the pdf has guidance to determine the points/slots thus consumed. Kudos! 2nd level and every even level thereafter yields a sapper art – these include bomb discoveries, obviously, but also adding the sunder property to bludgeoning weapons, counting as being equipped with a portable ram and crowbar, Disruptive, better dirty tricks, putting down landmine-bombs and terrain control via bombs, creating bridges, barriers or clearing underbrush, no longer misfiring…this class is a) balanced, b) cool. Now I wished the class got more sabotages as it progressed, but after the concerns with the previous ones, I was rather happy to find this fellow. Now, due to the lack of spellcasting, I’d strongly suggest giving this fellow more bombs per day as the levels progress than what he currently has, but that as an aside.

The final new class would be the scout, who gains d8 HD, full BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves as well as 8 + Int skills per level. …WUT? With that chassis?? Okay. Proficiency-wise, he gets simple weapon and all martial ranged weapon proficiency, proficiency with all exotic ranged weapons (!!!) and all simple and martial firearms as well as light armor. Scouts have a stamina pool equal to their Constitution score, which is increased by certain feats like Endurance, Diehard, etc. Starting at 5th level, they get +1/3 class level to the total stamina – I assume, rounded down.

Scouts may duplicate a lesser version of invisibility (Stealth-bonus equal to scout level, minimum +2) while not moving, ½ scout level (minimum +0) while moving – they can activate it for 1 point of Stamina. Starting at 6th level, hostile actions do not break this cloaking. Starting at 10th level, cloaking does not cost stamina anymore and at 10th level, the scout may spend 1 stamina as a move action to dimension door, sans ending movement. I think the cost is supposed to be higher: 14th and 18th level reduce it by 1 to a minimum of 1, but the cost already IS 1…Ridiculous: Range is equal to the scout’s overland movement.

They begin play with darkvision 60 ft. (+30 ft. if they already have it) and double that range at 5th level and they are treated as having keen senses for the purpose of prerequisites. Starting at 3rd level, the scout gains more options here: First the options to not be caught off-guard by invisible targets and better noticing them, then all-around vision (plus seeing through magical darkness) at 7th level, x-ray vision at 11th level, lifesense at 15th and true seeing at 19th level. This array is prefaced by the following: “Starting at 3rd level, the scout can gain the following suite of abilities provided they expend 1 stamina at the start of their turn as a free action:” Okay – does that mean 1 point per round of activation? Can the scout have multiple effects in place at once? Do the costs in stamina stack? No idea.

When unencumbered, the scout also gets scout movement – ½ class level as a bonus to Acrobatics to bypass obstacles and ignore difficult terrain at 1st level. RAW, this includes damaging terrain, which it imho shouldn’t. 3rd level adds scurry (+10 ft. movement rate, scales up to +60 ft.); 6th level provides feather fall and caps falling damage at 5d6 and 9th level provides spider climb (italicization missing). These cost 1 stamina to activate and once again, I have no idea whether the costs are cumulative or not. At 1st level, the class can spend a free action to gain a +1 competence bonus to atk against a creature until the start of their next turn, increasing that by +1 at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. 2nd level provides evasion and the ability to make a party travel overland at the scout’s speed. Additionally, targets more than 60 ft. away take +1d6 precision damage per 4 scout levels, minimum +1d6, from the scout’s attacks. Starting at 5th level, the scout is constantly under the effects of a mundane variant of the alarm spell’s benefits. 4th level yields uncanny dodge, 8th level improved uncanny dodge. As a capstone, the scout auto-confirms ranged critical threats and recovers 2 stamina per round.

Starting at 5th level and every odd level thereafter, the scout gains an exploit. These are the talents of the class and they include combat feats (at fighter level -4), ranged combat maneuvers, 1/day regaining Constitution modifier stamina points upon reaching 0 stamina, spending 3 stamina to double base movement rate for a round, swift action 3-round haste for 3 stamina, doubled range increments for all ranged weapons…you get the idea. Basically, the class does what it sets out to do: Depict a nigh untraceable, extremely potent ambush sniper. If you ever thought that the ranged combat ranger’s DPR was too bad or that he was too easy to pin down, this class is basically that guy on speed. Suffice to say, I won’t let this anywhere near my table. I shudder at the thought of what even moderately competent optimizers can do with it.

The pdf also sport a ton of new feats: Extra class ability feats, for example (erroneously referring to Nobody as Cipher). There is an Indiana Jones-style use-whip-as-hand feat that’s actually well-made and really cool. There is a feat to remain hidden at -8 to Stealth while attacking. The Befuddling Basics Style is an interesting take of unlocking combat maneuvers while retaining the feat-tree. There is also a feat, weirdly with the [Tag]-descriptor, that lets you combine two combat maneuvers. Another feat lets you make an attack with a creature you have just killed. OP: Over-Prepared Combat renders a target you have identified flat-footed against your attacks after identifying it. A take on the concealed damage trope is okay – but personally, I really liked the option to use razor wire to generate protection from arrows – problem here: Duration? Does it move with you? If so, does the movement require actions to maintain the globe? Using razor wire to make traps etc. is pretty amazing. Reminded me of how bad-ass Walther in hellsing was and really made me want to use these, in spite of the minor inconsistency noted. Seize the Initiative lets you retroactively grant yourself +4 to initiative, -4 to atk in the first turn and prevents the use of precision damage. Still, considering how damage outclasses defense most of the time, this is problematic. There is also a feat to stand up from prone position that is better than restricted class talents. Not a fan. Several feats allow for magus-spell-poaching. Spellwire Style combines razor wires with touch spell delivery – which is 5 kinds of awesome – seriously – the wire-feats here are damn cool and there is another feat-tree for them beyond those already noted. Problem: RAW, the Style-trees don’t work. The follow-up feats have the [Style]-descriptor – a character may usually only be in one style at once and the follow-up feats are usually combat feats, making the descriptor-choice here plain WRONG. That doesn’t break them, mind you, but it is jarring.

The chapter also depicts a new type of feat, namely [Friend] feats – these require a bond between player characters and provide synergy boons: AC-bonus while near a wild-shaped druid friend, save-bonuses versus the school of your wizard buddy, +5 ft. movement while near your raging barbarian buddy. These are nice ideas, though one deserves special attention, as it represents more of an alternate rule and the pdf acknowledges such: Collaborative lets an ally take a prerequisite-less feat of yours to qualify for a given feat, prestige class, etc., but this locks the feat and prevents retraining. This can, obviously, provide some issues, when e.g. follow-up abilities build on the loaned feat; at the same time, it can make sense in some contexts, so yes – I’ll treat it as a valid variant rule, since the pdf clearly designates it as potentially causing issues.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not the strong suit of Little Red Goblin Games. While not bad per se, there are a lot formatting issues. More importantly, this pdf’s rules-language could really have used a strict and nitpicky dev to look at the power and finer rules-interactions. The big picture works, mind you – but its small things like effects not properly codified that turn a potent ability into a problematic one. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports some solid full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Scott Gladstein, Ian Sisson and Christos Gurd’s latest Alternate Path was frustrating for me; you see, I REALLY like a ton of what I’m seeing in this book. The LRGG-crew is best when they’re experimental and you can say many things, but they don’t do cookie-cutter or bland. None of the classes or options herein are boring or sucky. At the same time, I really wished this had gone through the hands of a really picky dev. The options presented herein do have some issues in their rules-language and the details of their functionality and that drags them down quite a bit. Apart from the scout. The scout is just…takes a deep breath Anyways, what I’m trying to say is, is that this is SO CLOSE to being truly amazing. All of the classes have something really cool going for them, but whether it’s the inconsistent absence of FCOs for most of them or the finer details in the rules, this feels like a very much raw offering; like a beta-test of a very good, perhaps even a great game, but one that needs some serious work before it reaches the excellence and awesomeness it promises. From grossly undervaluing the power of Stealth (when playing by the rules) to the potent tricks, there is a strange sense of less balancing here. Take the sapper in contrast, who could really use more bombs over the levels, seeing that all cool class features are reliant on the expenditure of them and compare that to the others.

Can I recommend this? Tentatively, yes. You see, if you don’t consider this to be a run-as-is supplement, but rather a collection of experimental rules, and if you’re confident in your abilities to judge the impact of these options, then oh boy, I’ll guarantee that you’ll find some gems herein. At the same time, this is a very raw offering that fluctuates in the potency of its tricks rather wildly. A game that embraces the scout’s power will sneer at the relatively tame sapper and vice versa. The rough-edges in some of the ability interactions will require GM-calls. Still, while I should hate this book, I don’t. I enjoy it. Heck, I can see folks loving this. Why? Because it is creative and sports some seriously intriguing angles to pursue, significantly more so than many, many books I’ve read. As taken in its entirety, I can’t go higher than 3 stars for this: We have a mixed bag with some true gems, but also some less amazing components here. That being said, if you instead rate this for the cool scavenging options, you’ll get some real gems out of it – when rated as a grab-bag where you take some and leave some, then this suddenly becomes much more compelling – even with the flaws, this is at least 3.5 stars, rounded up, in such a context- And since I have a policy of in dubio pro reo, this is what my final verdict will be.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Alternate Paths: Martial Characters 2: Fight Smarter
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vs. Ghosts
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/04/2017 03:52:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This game clocks in at 64 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 58 pages of content. It should be noted that the pages are laid out for the digest-size (A5/6’’ by 9’’), which means that, if your sight’s good enough, you can fit up to 4 of the pages on a single sheet.

So, what is vs. Ghosts? To put it simply, it’s a game hat lets you play in a Ghostbusters/Supernatural-esque scenario; whether you prefer grim realism or a fun, kid-friendly Scoobie-Doo-esque playstyle depends on your personal taste, though the often really FUNNY text herein and the comic-style artwork does emphasize the less serious takes on the tropes.

The GM (Ghostmaster) is…the GM. To play, you eed one deck of playing cards, sans Joker. Character creation is simple: A character has 5 Attributes:

Offense and Defense are used to attack/defend in physical combat. Mental is the attribute for knowledge, willpower, etc. Physical is the Attribute used for feats of strength, endurance, etc. Investigation is used for noticing clues, research, etc. You assign the following values to these attributes: 6, 4, 4, 3, 3.

You also get to choose Gimmicks: There are Good and Bad Gimmicks and you can have up to 4 good gimmicks. For each Good Gimmick, you have to take a Bad Gimmick, and when you take more than 2, you have to lower one Attribute by 1 for each additional Gimmick – I assume this refers to Good Gimmicks – otherwise, each Gimmick beyond 2 would cost 2 Attribute points, one for the Good and one for the Bad Gimmick. These include Attribute modifications and other tricks and include classics like allergies etc. on the Bad Gimmick side.

A character begins play with 10 Health, which represents how much damage you can take.

The core mechanic of the game is as follows: when performing an action, you draw a number of cards equal to your appropriate Attribute score. The highest card’s value is compared to the target value of the difficulty of the task – if you equal or exceed the target value, you succeed. Otherwise, you fail. As cards are drawn and used, they’re put into the discard pile. When no more cards can be drawn, that pile is shuffled back into the draw pile. Jacks are equal to 11, Queens 12s, Kings 13s and Aces as 14. However, low cards are better when dealing damage, so aces count as 1 there. A dice-based alternative is provided, but personally, I’d suggest sticking to cards here.

When multiple characters use teamwork to best a challenge, the highest score is used and +1 card is drawn per assisting character. Opposed actions are resolved by drawing and comparing the highest value.

Combat is divided into Turns, which are not precisely codified – they could last an hour or a few seconds, depending on your needs. Typically,a character may move and attack during his turn. Other actions, like drawing weapons etc. can freely be taken. Initiative is determined by drawing cards. Ties of the card-values are resolved via the Physical attribute, and if that still ties characters, we go clockwise. Surprise is represented as a free attack. A character can move a number of units equal to his Physical attribute. Ranged combat determines its difficulty by range. Melee attacks are resolved as a contest between Offense and Defense.

A character takes a penalty to all attributes at 50% Health and 1 Health and 0 Health equals death, unless playing with an alternate rules for death at -1 or below. If you succeed in hitting your foe, you take a look at your Offense cards: Each card that managed to surpass the target’s Defense lets you draw one new card. The value of each of these new cards is then compared to the damage cap of the target: Each card that has a value BELOW the damage cap then inflicts 1 Health damage. Character recover 1 Health for every 10 hours of uninterrupted rest. If a physician attends the character, he may also draw a card – if it’s a heart, he gains an additional Health. Situations may instill bonuses or penalties to attributes.

Equipment is gained at the start of each session: In initiative order, the players name one equipment and then draw a card: If the card drawn is equal to or exceeds the equipment’s value, the character gains the equipment; otherwise, it’s a failure. After a maximum of 4 successes (or one failure), the next player may draw. 4 successes do net a bonus card, though. Old equipment is kept. This also includes living space, transportation, etc. – just fyi. And yes, you can get less reliable vehicles, for example. Weapons come with values and damage caps, range modifiers etc. and the section also includes ghosthunting equipment like lucky totems, aura analyzers, etc….and yes, these include e.g. spirit containers.

At the end of each session, a player may remove a Bad Gimmick, improve an Attribute, add a Good Gimmick or take a bonus card from a separate deck – this card can then be substituted for one the player draws at a later time. If it’s a 2, the player can use it to add +2 to the value of a card instead.

The pdf provides simple rules for window-dressing NPCs (bystanders) and Nemesis rivals as well as simple rules for hordes of foes. Extras are NPCs that make a difference, and as such, the pdf provides some sample stats and unique Bad and Good Gimmicks. Ghosts can similarly easily be created. Fear is resolved by drawing Mental attribute number of cards and comparing them to Offense + Defense of the target (OUCH!) or the value determined by the GM. Failure imposes a -2 penalty to all Attributes for a length of time determined by the GM.

This is where we begin with the GM-section: “Dr. Corontze’s Spirit Guide” – which comes in a COMPLETELY different layout, looking like an old, weathered document – kudos for going the extra mile, aesthetics-wise. It also looks sufficiently different to keep e.g. kids from diving head-first in, looking less playful. In this section, GMs learn about the divisions of ghosts, special abilities…and there are some sample ghosts, with sketch-like drawings/stock-art/photos that actually can be a bit creepy – nice array. The pdf concludes with a selection of sample hooks to create adventures.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – apart from the aforementioned one hiccup, I noticed no glitches on a formal or rules-based level. The language employed is furthermore didactically sensible and makes grasping the system EASY. That’s a big plus. Layout adheres to a nice, full-color two-column standard with kid-friendly, comic-style artwork…apart from the GM-section, which becomes more creepy, though not to the point where it should become problematic for all but the most sensitive of younger readers. Pretty cool! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Okay, let me come clean first: I didn’t want to review this book. Vs. Ghosts didn’t interest me. At all. I like Ghostbusters etc. well enough, but I’m not enamored with the franchise. Furthermore, it was explained to me as pretty much a nostalgia-trip. Well, I don’t do nostalgia well. Perhaps I’m too analytical or cynical for it, perhaps my excellent memory is responsible – but those nostalgic goggles…they just don’t work for me.

Well, I got the first coupon. Deleted it. The I got another. Ignored it. This went on for a while. Then I finally caved and figured I’d give it a fair shake.

Guess what? My congratulations to Rick Hershey and Lucus Palosaari – this game is actually MUCH better than I anticipated it’d be. Vs. Ghosts is no complexity monster, but it doesn’t try to be – it’s a perfect game for a longer trip, for a relatively quick session – it plays fast and rather well, can easily be modified and while it can carry real horror stories, its RAW focus on the goofier aspects makes it a real good candidate to teach folks how to play. The tactile notion of drawing cards can be fund for kids and the easy teamwork rules similarly can make the game particularly rewarding for younger audiences.

In short: This is a well-made game using cards as randomizer; it’s easy to learn and explain, the presentation is concise and makes grasping the rules super simple. The stereotypes and tropes employed don’t necessarily hit home with me, but that may be because I am probably as far away from the target audience as I can possibly be. In spite of that, I do consider this to be a neat, inexpensive and fun, relatively rules-lite game, well worth owning. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Ghosts
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Infinite Dungeon: The Halls of the Eternal Moment Level 4 - The Clockwork Catastrophe (PFRPG)
Publisher: LPJ Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/04/2017 03:51:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth level of The Halls of the Eternal Moment clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

As always, we begin with notes on the general property of the dungeon’s level – walls, light, etc. After level 3’s relatively tame treatment of PCs, the fourth level is back to the attrition tactics – 40% chance of being attacked, per hour. OUCH. Now here’s a mind-bender: Once the alarm is triggered, the dungeon RAW becomes easier – the ambushing default encounter is replaced with a reactivation of dormant constructs, which are finite. One note: The statblocks provided for these encounters sport some glitches: Formatting (bolding inconsistent) and also ones that influence the rules. On the plus-side, a total of 6 ghostly phenomena (harmless dressing to enhance atmosphere) is provided.

Utterly puzzling: Remember how level 3 had temporal anomaly effects? Well, they’re gone once more, in spite of level 4 being lower. I don’t get it.

All righty, let’s take a look at the content, shall we? From here on out, the SPOILERS reign – potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

Okay, just GMs around? Great! So, the basic premise is that the dwarven engineer Talpidae tried to dig into the dungeon with a massive clockwork contraption. That did not go well, as the title very much implied. The catastrophe killed the crew, who now haunt these halls – they are a persistent threat…and strangely, once alarm has been triggered, they vanish. Instead, clockwork laborers and archers animate…and indeed, the pdf does employ the theme of temporal twists a bit: There are rooms stuck in time, for example. Downside: As mentioned before, the mechanical aspects fall a bit by the wayside and no, there are no puzzles that employ this angle. The PCs can’t prevent the catastrophe or influence it.

On the plus-side, while the AMAZING potential of the premise isn’t used fully, there are some nice hazards and pieces of the engine that are still operational…and lethal. Down-side: Their damage type hasn’t been properly codified. That being said, the mole machine is really interesting: Its mobility is limited and it behaves mostly like an amazing hazard – smart PCs can have a BLAST here, while those foolhardy may well end up being blasted to shreds. Defeating it is HARD, but incredibly satisfying, making this the highlight of all levels released so far. In fact, the cool encounter against the machine single-handedly improves the rating this pdf would have received. On the downside, a visual representation would have helped, big time, picturing this threat.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay – there are a couple of glitches that should have been caught, including several that influence the rules-integrity of the content herein. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard. The pdf’s artwork is stock and has nothing to do with the module. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography, as in the whole series, is very rudimentary and somewhat inconsiderate – while we get a key-less version, secret doors etc. are not either version and they are not redacted.

Jeff Lee, Michael McCarthy, Rich Redman and Louis Porter Jr.,’s fourth dungeon-level does a lot of things right: The leitmotif of the dungeon does tangentially influence the proceedings. The level itself is, theme-wise, interesting. The boss fight is creative and phenomenal. In fact, this has the makings of a good, even a very good, dungeon-level. But it feels like interest was lost at one point – one careful pass to fix the issues and slightly streamline the aspects that, mechanically, are rough around the edges, and this could have scored higher. But as much as I like the boss, from the lack of global effects to the minor inconsistencies, the hiccups accumulate and tarnish what would be an easy 5 star + seal module, had it received a bit more care in realizing the evocative, cool premise of both dungeon and level. In the end, I can’t go higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down for this – it is VERY rough around the edges and needs some work by the GM to shine, but concept-wise, it does have its definite strengths.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Infinite Dungeon: The Halls of the Eternal Moment Level 4 - The Clockwork Catastrophe (PFRPG)
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Head Shot! Zombie Apocalypse Action Roleplaying
Publisher: Magic Vacuum Design Studio
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/03/2017 04:26:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Hack to depict a Zombie Apocalypse with the Cortex Plus rules clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book in question. My review is mostly based on the print copy, though I have the electronic version as well. The review is based on V.2..

We begin with some basic considerations on why zombies walk the lands and then proceed to instructions on how to use this and how to apply components of this book beyond the confines of its frame – particularly nice there. After this, we take a look at terminology-changes in comparison to the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide: Agents become Survivors. Flourish Dice become Head Shot Dice. The book uses the optional rules for flourishes and contested actions. The consequence of losing a contested action is being Taken Out of the rest of the scene – this is pretty scary in a zombie context. Taking a d6 Complication is a way to get out of the conflict and must be declared before the dice are rolled for what looks like the final exchange of a Contested Action. This can, obviously, make things very lethal very quickly – hence, the book spends some time explaining nuances to the GM regarding this mechanic.

Interesting, btw.: Survivors attack zombies in the head. Period. There is no complicating mechanic here. Regular zombies come as either crawlers or shamblers – both of which are pretty self-explanatory.

Character creation has been slightly updated: 2 methods of attribute distribution are presented: Either 2 attributes get a d10, one a d8 and two a d6 or one gets a d10, 3 a d8 and one a d6. The character gains 3 distinctions. They also gain 2 specialties at d10, 2 at d8 and 4 at d6. The rest are d4s. The character gains two signature assets at d6. Characters have 0 mission successes at the start of the game and start with one plot point.

Instead of roles, the characters have attributes, which are pretty self-explanatory: Beguile, Bold (willpower, psychological stamina, etc.), Brains (how smart, not how long it takes a zombie to eat you… ;P), Brawn, Brisk (hand-eye coordination). Particularly fitting distinctions are presented in a concise list. Specialties are NOT tied to a givenrole/attribute, instead having a die rating assigned to them. A significant array of them is discussed, from driving to sneaking or tricking folks. Signature assets can include super backpacks, entrenching tools, dogs, doctor’s bags, etc. Lacking roles, talents are tied to attributes instead, but the original restriction remains in place: You must have a d10 in the attribute to have the talent. There are also talents sans required attributes and those that can be qualified for via multiple attributes. The next couple of pages cover these and show not only an impressively crisp rules-language, but also a generally solid balancing of the talents in question.

From here on out, we have already covered the necessary player-rules and move into “The Guts” – i.e. the anatomy of GMing/running the hack.

Missions are the respective adventures: They are structured by the Objective and the Difficulty Die rating; 8 sample broad objectives are included. The mission’s difficulty die is usually stepped back until the mission proves to be a success…though getting back to safety is an added challenge posed to survivors. The mission die behaves like a complication that only is used against the party when pertaining directly to the given situation, with the conditions, i.e. the steps that can be taken to achieve the objective, can be individually adjusted by the GM. The general notion created by Cortex Plus’s system here does btw. a rather good job at depicting the hindrances and “everything can go wrong” tropes that we all know and love from zombie-based media.

The second mechanic that is crucial to Head Shot!’s gameplay would be the rather hackable viral pool. Usually, that pool starts at a d4 and it is a representation of zombie density. The viral pool’s increase can be handled over time, by action, via moaning zombies etc. – all ridiculously easy, and once it passes a d12, a second die is added and so one. The pool may decreases by keeping quiet, staying hidden etc. When the viral pool steps up, a number of zombies equal to the die roll of the newly stepped up pool show up at Long Range – which may be down the block at the end of a REALLY long corridor in an airport, etc. When the viral pool reaches d12, an Alert occurs, which can result in encounters, the jeopardizing of resources or e.g. ammo running low – and, as the whole mechanic, this component can be scavenged and adapted rather easily. There are also variations on these – like Friendlies doing something stupid, enemy survivors appearing, etc. This chapter, as a whole, provides some really cool modifications and constructs that can prove valuable even beyond the confines of this hack.

In chapter 3, we take a, in-depth look at the basic zombie types: We discuss their general senses, the effects of their moaning, the level of agility, endurance, strength and intelligence exhibited. The effects of decay and possibility of mutation or the possibility of a hive mind are mentioned. The basic zombie range from crawlers (d6) to shamblers (d8), runners (d10) and behemoths (d12) – the latter being particularly large or strong super-zombies. The variants discussed would be Screamers, Infested, Spitters, Fused zombies and Leaders, who retain a semblance of a spark of cunning. The respective variants do come with discussions of their tricks and examples from media. The details of the zombie virus and how it spreads are not codified per se, instead providing a general notion of how everything works out. Horde zombies and elite zombies are an easy way of thinking about these and the pdf makes sure that you can properly use them. Voodoo-zombies are covered, and the Unliving variant of them provides another modification that fans of the genre will appreciate.

As in TWD, the true antagonists, more often than not, will not be the zombies themselves – hence, we take a look at classic foes next: Bandits and Raiders, warped cults, voodoo cults, madmen and psychopaths, protectors, undead harvesters – the big classics all get their due consideration here.

Environment is, unsurprisingly, often represented by location traits – the most fitting have been noted, and the pdf adds quite a few more to the mix: Vehicle graveyards, pitch darkness, untraveled roads – pretty cool. Finally, we take a look at wild (and dangerous) animals and vermin and end with an afterword as well as a character sheet. This sheet, just fyi, has been included in a form-fillable version – big plus there!

Speaking of which: No matter the format of your GM-screen, the pdf ALSO comes with color-inserts that note the respective pages, crucial rules, etc. – once, these come with a two-column layout and once with a three-column layout – big kudos for going the extra mile here!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches herein. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard (with blotches, stylized zombies etc.) and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-artwork within is solid. The softcover is a nice booklet and pretty inexpensive, so kudos there – personally, I prefer it.

Tim Bannock’s passion for the zombie-genre show on pretty much every page: This is a true zombie-enthusiast’s supplement – it is a love-letter to the genre that covers pretty much all the basics we come to expect from zombies as a whole. I enjoyed picking apart Cortex Plus’s peculiarities while testing this and indeed, the book provides value beyond the confines of its rules-system: An experienced GM can scavenge e.g. the Viral Pool and reappropriate it; the design is interesting: Much of the mechanics here simulate something akin to an AI director in contemporary computer games: Alien Isolation, for example, has two AIs operating: One for the Alien and one that is in charge of keeping up the tension, directing the alien roughly in your direction, etc. Similarly, TWD and similar zombie movies seem to operate both on the drives of individuals and a second, impersonal dramaturgy that this system simulates really well.

Mechanics-wise, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. That being said, the focus on the more widely-represented zombie-types does mean that the pdf won’t provide mind-blowing new zombie-types; neither the plant-animated zombie, nor radiation zombies, alien-experiments or the like are covered – this is about the classics, though I couldn’t help but feel that going to the far reaches of the genre would have provided the triumphant finishing flourish for this supplement.

As provided, I enjoyed Head Shot! More than I thought I would; its ideas and design-paradigms have enriched my games, even if the discussion of the classic zombie types didn’t bring that much novelty. Still, rated as a crunch-book and hack, this represents a worthwhile offering. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Head Shot! Zombie Apocalypse Action Roleplaying
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Everyman Minis: Mysteries of Spring
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/03/2017 04:23:55

An Endzietgeist.com review

This Everyman Mini clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 4 pages of SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All righty! As always, we begin this Everyman mini with a brief introduction and on the same page, we can find the Verdant Spell feat, which is a metamagic feat that increases the spell slot used by 2 levels and makes the targeted plant creatures susceptible to mind-affecting effects.

After this, we move on to the main meat of the mini, which would be the spring mystery. This one nets Handle Animal, Heal, Knowledge (nature) and Survival as class skills. The bonus spells granted range from goodberry over grove of respite to control plants. But what do the revelations offer? Well, animate plants lets you animate branches as a standard action, duplicating arboreal hammer, with high levels instead providing the ability to animate trees as treants (nice catch: Sans the animate trees ability of treants). Some of the revelations are drawn from the nature mystery, like spirit of nature or friend to the animals – sans taking up wordcount, mind you.

We can also find the option to clad the character in a scaling plant armor enhancement. Really cool: rejuvenation lets you render the target a Child or Youth (as per Childhood Adventures), though you do not explicitly need that book for the revelation to work properly – a mechanic effect is provided, including means to detect the target. Renewal represents a serious upgrade to the potency of the Heal skill’s treat deadly wounds option (Nice!) and yes, the obligatory speak with plants and verdant shape SP can be found as well. I was particularly smitten with springtime respite, which infuses an area with sustaining life, providing food and, at later levels, daylight (alas, not properly italicized) and a save bonus versus death effects, negative energy, etc. as well as sunbeams versus undead entering it. Cool! The final revelation ios pretty hardcore – it provides immunity versus ability damage and drain, exhaustion, etc., 3/day animal/plant growth (not properly italicized) and when you die, you rapidly decompose – only to come back to life as a plant blooms, bears fruit and spits out a young version of yourself that rapidly grows to full age. There’s an interesting adventure angle here – defend the returning oracle!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, though I did notice some italicization glitches. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming’s two-column standard with a white background, making this relatively printer-friendly. The pdf sports a nice full-color artwork and has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Margherita Tramontano’s spring mystery represents a thematically-concise, interesting option. The mystery features some unique revelations, has a concise leitmotif and some really cool visuals. In short: Not much to complain about. At the same time, I don’t consider the pdf to be perfect in all regards – there are some really cool revelations here, though, which makes my final verdict clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Minis: Mysteries of Spring
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Infinite Dungeon: The Halls of the Eternal Moment Level 3 - The Clairvoyant Halls (PFRPG)
Publisher: LPJ Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/03/2017 04:22:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third level of the Halls of the Eternal Moment clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 12 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, as in the levels before, we get a concise summary of the properties of the dungeon regarding its walls, lighting etc. However, we do get a cool unique dungeon feature – within these walls, you can find columns made of skulls – and inside the skulls are eyeballs that twitch, unless they are actually observing someone – in which case they become eerily still and staring. Oh, and guess what: The theme of the dungeon FINALLY comes into play. While the header of “Temporal Fluctuation” has not been properly formatted, there is a 1 in 8 chance per room (same for random encounters, 3 are provided) that a fluctuation begins: A total of 5 entries can be found - +1 initiative, -1 atk and Ref-saves (this one, annoyingly, makes up 2 entries in a 5-entry-table – why duplicate them??), -4 to Perception and +4 to critical confirmation rolls. …yeah, I kinda expected something cooler as well.

Anyways, as the write-ups of the monsters show, there is a leitmotif here – namely sight or lack thereof – the undead are beheaded and blind and isitoqs are included as well.

…and that is as far as I can go without delving into major SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, first of all: After two levels sans a unique boss, guess what we get? Bingo, a cool and actually really creepy villain, namely Illquis of the Thousand Eyes, a nasty derro necromancer. While the statblock isn’t perfect, it’s good enough for most…and the derro can actually see through the ocular columns throughout the level, as per clairvoyance (nor properly italicized). This allows an even halfway competent GM to instill a surprising sense of paranoia and eerie creepiness. The resting restrictions of the previous levels, just fyi, are gone…and indeed, paradoxically, the level may actually end up being easier on the PCs than previous ones: For one, the necromancer creates headless zombies, beheaded and isitoqs as primary minions – all of which have in common that their CR is really low. Similarly, even blind beheaded swarms may be taken out with relative ease. While a gray ooze makes for a nasty challenge, the primary combat antagonist here is clearly the derro.

That being said, the traps featured this time around are significantly more interesting than those on the last level, with a vertigo trap or a charnel pit that has been granted limited, churning animation – particularly the latter represents the strongest trap in the series so far. More so than the mechanical challenges, this level excels beyond level 1 or 2 in the respective rooms – “The walls and ceiling of this room are festooned with braids, ropes and nets, all clumsily woven from what appears to be humanoid hair. The room’s two doors are decorated with wreaths crafted of the same material.“ That is CREEPY. The whole level, with its theme and leitmotif, manages to instill a more unique and interesting atmosphere.

Now, as for the maps – they are still bare-bones; player maps have not had secret rooms redacted and GM maps lack the secret room notes. Similarly, the lack of most terrain features, even in icon form, on the maps means that a GM has to do some work on them. This is not a go-play module.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re good, but weaker than in previous installments – I noticed a couple of minor hiccups, some pertaining rules-relevant material. Layout adheres to the nice two-column full-color standard of the series. Artwork is stock and has nothing to do with the material herein. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography still remains a big downside of this series.

Jeff Lee, with additional writing by Michael McCarthy, Rich Redman and Louis Porter Jr., finally delivers on the promise of this complex, at least in part. While I wasn’t exactly blown away by the temporal effects, they at least provide a unique descriptive angle for the GM. The fully statted boss and the leitmotif of this level are the stars, though: While mechanically less challenging than the wars of attrition that were level #1 and #2, this level feels, paradoxically, rather tame – particularly when considering level #1’s at times hyper-deadly traps. Mechanically, this is not the most impressive level herein.

However, it’s the first level that reaches the level of originality and flavor I expected from the series: The writing, always a strong suit for the series, is tight in this one; the flavorful rooms and creatures encountered are unique and horrifying and the paranoia an even moderately competent GM should be able to elicit here is just FUN.

While surprisingly easy (apart from the boss), the dungeon level is interesting, flavorful and cool. That being said, editing isn’t as tight here and, as mentioned an abundant number of times, the maps are puzzling in how inconsiderate they are. Still, the writing and unique theme of this level make it worthwhile – though the formal hiccups, alas, make it impossible for me to round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Infinite Dungeon: The Halls of the Eternal Moment Level 3 - The Clairvoyant Halls (PFRPG)
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Ancient Tombs
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/02/2017 04:22:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 29 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Describe adventurers! “Grave-robbing murder-hobos.” The joke’s old, sure, but there is some truth to that, right? Now, taking that into account, it’s surprising once you think about it, that there aren’t many supplements that address that tombs are something wholly different from other dungeons – they are NOT just dungeons where a surprising amount of undead roam the halls – they are solemn places of remembrance, testimony that the interred existed; they are places of worship of sorts, displays of power and so much more. If your inclinations are similar to mine regarding literature, you’ll undoubtedly have stumbled over heart-rending poems and prose about these places. As such, it is fitting and laudable that we begin with a succinct and concise introduction to the subject matter, providing a well-written recap of the various types of tombs and their peculiarities – including, much to my pleasant surprise, several hyperlinks to famous real world tombs for further inspiration and research. It may be a small thing, but it shows an extra level of care by the authors – and a respect for their audience, a belief that the readers actually want to learn about the subject matter, without forcing dry facts down their throat. Commendable!

Now, from here on out, the book becomes more game-related, but in a rather impressive manner: You see, we get a total of 7 d20-tables for tomb dressing next, focused in flavor, as this pdf is part of the Mummy’s Mask plug-ins, on quasi-Egyptian tombs. This presents a huge variety, as the items to be found not only come in two versions (ruined and pristine), they also feature a weight entry AND a detailed, well-crafted explanation of the item. Did you, for example, know what a Naos is? After reading this pdf, you will – and it may well inspire you to write a module around one; the item begs to be the center of an adventure! The ascendance boat, still one of the most iconic things about the epic old-school dungeon in part #1 of the classic Desert of Desolation-saga, as an item can be found next to shabtis, statues – you name it. The tables are, just fyi, governed by the type of person interred, so you’ll have different valuables in religious tombs that in slave quarters. The sometimes impressive weight and dimensions of the treasure can make for interesting logistic problems as well. As a whole, this section manages to evoke a sense of detail and thought that had me reminisce about several classic modules and their tone – in a good way. These tables and details serve perfectly to enhance new-school modules that don’t have the word-count to dive into all those cultural tidbits.

From here on, we move to, how could it be any different, the hazard section, which contains a wide array of different traps, haunts, etc. inspired by popular media, ranging from CR 3 to CR 14. Pedestals inscribed with symbols over an abyss, warded against teleportation and flight? Check! Sarcophagus that tries to mummy you? Check. These are really cool. A big plus: Many have proper bypass notes and go beyond: Spot or take damage, providing actually interesting experiences that can engage more than one PC. The renditions of classics among traps, like the Indy-boulder/Idol-trap, where present, actually feature tight and well-crafted rules-language.

Now, if you’re like me and a big fan of a certain Cimmerian and his exploits in the Sword & Sorcery genre, then you’ll most assuredly appreciate the Cr +2 Grave Warden template, which may be acquired via a major curse – it bind the target to the tomb and makes the being a merciless tracker of that which has vanished from it -even a single coin. This power, alas, does come with a price that most PCs will be unwilling to pay…but if you, as a GM wanted a driven hunter…there you go. Reprinting the mythic version of Craft Construct for your convenience, we take a look at a whole guardian class of monsters next, namely the mythic graven guardians (CR 6/MR 3). No less than 5 (!!!) versions of these guys are provided with full statblocks – and guardian domains. The two domains bestow unique properties on the respective guardian and their list spans more than 3 pages. I kid you not. Remember that legendary Games products do not sport huge margins and achieve a remarkable text-density per page – that is A LOT of content.

In fact, with the vast number of combos possible, it should be possible to make a whole dungeon-level themed around these guys sans things becoming boring. There also, just fyi, would be the CR +1 mummified zombie template in this chapter, which ties in with one of the 5 new feats, namely Bind the Ancient Dead, which allows you to summon them – pretty cool! Sleeper in Dust allows you to conceal/bury yourself in dust/sand/etc. and is a great representation of the ambushing-trope, with additional benefits regarding your ability to hold your breath. Sand Sense nets you low range tremorsense, which becomes better in sand etc. Tombcaster increases the potency of spells in tombs etc. (and makes them harder to dispel and they last longer): Kudos: Can’t be cheesed by casting in a tomb and then moving outside. Trap Spell, finally, would be a metamagic feat, that lets you place, at +2 level increase, spells as traps. Another big two thumbs up for the team here: Most books would have allowed for insane trap-gauntlets (or simply forgotten the potential issues)– this feat, however, thankfully has an abuse-preventing caveat.

The final section of this pdf presents 7 spells/spell variants…and OH BOY. They are AMAZING. I mean it. They FEEL magical. It’s been a while since a spell-section had me this stoked. There are two monolith spells, that conjure forth physical, eldritch monoliths with harrowing knowledge – and yes, they can be climbed etc. and have a utility/terrain-control aspect. There is a variant of dimensional anchor that strands you in deserts or wastelands. There is a binding variant that covers canopic jars, being trapped in an eternal hourglass or howling haboob…and beyond the tomb curse, we have a maze variant that sends you to an unnerving tomb. Definitely ends the pdf on the high note I expected.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Legendary Games beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the interior artwork is neat full-color – fans of LG may be familiar with some pieces, but not all. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Alex Riggs, Anthony Adam, Jason Nelson and Loren Sieg deliver in this pdf BIG TIME. This is a book I frankly didn’t exactly know what to expect of at first; then, it suddenly dawned on me – this is one the glorious book that I like to call “GM-enhancers.” It begins with context and inspiration and then proceeds to deliver details, useful tidbits etc. – this is, in short, a book specifically designed to enhance lackluster modules, to fill in blanks. If you needed a great representation of an evocative concept, if you need a good trap or critter to splice into a module – well, there you go. This book is a veritable treasure trove of fantastic ideas, concisely codified details. And better yet, these aspects are not just fluff; quite the contrary. Delicious crunch, expertly-crafted, married to a wide assortment of cool tricks and tools of the trade, renders this book a must-own recommendation for pretty much any GM who is looking for a means to enliven and enrich tomb exploration, even beyond the confines of Mummy’s Mask. In short: This is amazing. 5 stars + seal of approval for this all killer, no filler tome.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ancient Tombs
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Noble Cause, Bloodied Hands (PF/5E)
Publisher: Total Party Kill Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/02/2017 04:21:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This dual-format module clocks in at 79 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page front cover artwork sans titles etc., 1 page SRD, leaving us with 75 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, first things first – like “Slaughter at Splinterfang Gorge”, the author’s first module for TPK Games, this is a dual-system module. If you’ve read my review of the previous module, you’ll note that I was quite positively surprised by how it managed to stay true to its dual-statted premise. Most of the time, the peculiarities and special considerations required by different systems can lead to issues in the finer aspects of rules-interactions, can make one of the systems supported feel like a secondary one. Well, “Slaughter at Splinterfang Gorge” managed to avoid those pitfalls, mainly courtesy of its surprisingly crunchy, tactical focus on challenging combat and its NPCs/bosses, which ended up being significantly more interesting in both systems than I would have expected. To the point where I didn’t even consider a complaint about shared real-estate, page-count-wise, valid – the module is a deadly action romp in both systems.

Now, this module here has a somewhat tougher task on its metaphorical hands, as its focus is different. There are a couple of special considerations I should mention: As before, stats and rules-relevant information is color-coded by system – red denotes D&D 5e material, while black rules-information points towards Pathfinder material. The respective encounters come with rather cool scaling advice for the GM, allowing you to scale more potent groups and expert players – one of the things I love most about TPK Games’ modules: They are significantly less work on me than most, courtesy of daring to actually pose, you know, a challenge.

Anyways, the pdf does sport a significant array of hyperlinks for your convenience (though even words that do not pertain to mechanics are hyperlinked, which can be slightly annoying) and it does feature nice, full-color cartography of the initial encounter and the dungeon featured within – however, it should be noted that no key-less, player-friendly versions of these maps have been included – if you’re like me and enjoy cutting maps up and then handing them to the PCs as they explore (I suck HORRIBLY at drawing), then this can be a bit of a bummer. Similarly, when using VTTs to game, the lack of such versions of the maps can pose a bit of a hindrance. On the big plus-side of things, particularly for GMs less experienced in creating atmosphere, the module provides a massive amount of read-aloud texts, including guidance through the important talking sections – big kudos here, particularly considering that the prose is well-crafted indeed. Finally, I was positively surprised to see a section talk about the weather during the module – it may be a small thing, but one that is a) often forgotten and b) an easy means to evoke a certain emotional base-line that pretty much everyone can relate to.

Okay, enough rumination on the theoretical aspects of the module, you’re interested in its plot, right? Well, from here on reign the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Excellent!

So, Vorlash, a dark stalker that was too problematic and eccentric even for his own kin set out on his way to the surface, he did not know that his retinue and him would join forces with two particularly malevolent Jackalweres, Sanhler and Kahliss – as a team, the evil humanoids accepted a high-profile assassination. Paid for discreetly by Duke Harris Dunhare and executed against his brother’s wife, incidentally also his former flame, who spurned him, these three factions of evil went into an unholy alliance, forming “The Unlit”, a potent, new thieves’ guild. The Baron, Bruce Dunhare, griefstricken by the murder of his young wife, hasn’t been idle either – his best bounty hunter, Terent Segnar, is on the case.

Terent suspects foul play and it is a professional’s mark to realize when one better should call in the cavalry – as such, he contacts the PCs, asking them for a discreet meeting in the Broken Barnacle Inn. He comes with unique, custom stats for each iteration, which is nice to see, even though I did notice a few minor hiccups in them. PCs that do their legwork may also unearth some nice background intelligence, but strangely, the table only provides the DCs for PFRPG’s Knowledge (local) – the 5e-information gathering DCs etc. is missing here. On a more positive note: En route towards the Broken Barnacle, the PCs happen into a fully mapped and rather complex ambush that is pretty fun – while a player-friendly map would have been nice, the encounter makes pretty sure from the get-go that this module will not be a cakewalk: The ambush is well-presented and challenging enough, though a difficulty discrepancy can be found, mostly due to something that’s not the adventure’s fault: The thugs presented for PFRPG are solid, but those for 5e are brutal. If you’ve run thugs versus your PCs in 5e, you’ll know what I’m talking about – pack tactics make them brutal. Anyways, regarding statblocks – once again, we have some minor hiccups and formatting discrepancies here. I’ll stop commenting on these for now, but suffice to say, I wished that this aspect was a bit tighter throughout the module.

Provided the PCs manage to defeat the thugs, they’ll happen to encounter the city watch, just as they’re recovering from the attack…though, thankfully, they get one of the city’s few honest officers…still, this is a definite chance to screw up big time. Anyways, the PCs finally enter the Broken Barnacle and hear Terent‘s proposal: In a lavishly detailed conversation (including text for likely questions), he fills the PCs in about his role – and tells them about “The Unlit”, the new thieves’ guild…and that he suspects the guild to be responsible for the murder most foul. He has already found a new means of ingress into the guild’s base, the house of a half-elven jongleur named Orron Fisket, which the PCs are to infiltrate. Terent, in the meanwhile, will take care of the other entry-point he has scouted out, trapping the new guild between him and the PCs, hoping to defeat them all.

He wants to strike immediately, but once again, the PCs can benefit from doing some legwork, with two tables of information provided for PCs asking around – once more, these are PFRPG-exclusives; while it’s easy enough to impart the information in a 5e-game, I still wished that the pdf would provide at least an acknowledgement here.

The PCs thus tackle the mapped Fisket residence (in full color and neat, but the map is pretty small – and since there is no map appendix, printing out the page and cutting the map out doesn’t exactly yield great results). It is also here that the dual-system format, at least regarding what I’d expect, begins to stutter: While lavishly detailed regarding DCs to for scribbled messages and the like, it should be noted that 5e does not receive the same depth of coverage here. It’s easy enough to appropriate 5e’s mechanics when dealing with a Linguistics DC, sure; sure, Survival, for example, is a concept represented in both games…but when e.g. a 5e-GM doesn’t get stats for a door, while the PFRPG-GM does, that’s something I have to complain about as a reviewer – basically, the rules-coverage in the details is significantly stronger for PFRPG. While the dual-stats for the adversaries are neat, the details do leave something to be desired, and since that extends to potentially combat-relevant aspects, it is something I have to penalize the pdf for.

Anyways, while exploring the house, the PCs can run afoul of nasty arachnids, which represent a side-quest for them – for the bard Orron has been slain and asks the PCs to get rid of these…if they help him ascertain his family’s state – nice bit of moral gray area here, as their fate has not been kind. But the tragedy here notwithstanding, the PCs have a job to do – Enter and clear the undercroft of the Unlit. It is here that the module becomes a full-blown dungeon-crawl against the interesting thieves’ guild and their intriguing defenses: Traps are provided, just like stats, for two versions and the challenges posed are pretty neat, making great use of terrain, etc. – though it is here that aforementioned missing details for 5e can become galling – suddenly, a dark creeper’s sneak attack refers to a dark stalker. A fireball-duplicating trap is noted as dealing 8d8 fire damage in PFRPG (not the correct damage die); a skill DCs (28) that should be different for both games and passages of text, sometimes parts of a sword or sentence that suddenly turn gray sans rhyme or reason – on the formal side, this pdf could have really used a final pass by someone really picky.

Anyways, on the plus-side, the combat challenges and individual bosses of the guild deserve special mention – they are interesting and creative; same goes for spellgorged zombies (which come with 2 exclusive 5e-spells, fugue fog and inexorable fatigue – the latter of which is pretty broken: It causes temporary exhaustion levels, even on a successful save. Considering 5e’s exhaustion mechanics and their lethality, this spell is still ridiculously potent and has some serious ramifications: 6 casters casting the spell are a guaranteed kill against anything that can be exhausted. Yeah, that’s broken. On the plus side, the module does feature a ton of cool hooks for further adventuring against the associated of the guild and rejoining with Terent makes for a fun way to manage one of the boss fights; a wealthy prisoner/artist may be saved (and he knows about the Baroness’ necklace…) from the holding cells and the PCs will also have a chance to deal with a dark caller associate of Vorlash and a babau demon, before they can finally say that they have squashed the vile guild….but not their associated and erstwhile employers, leaving some powerful beings who may consider the PCs to be loose ends that should better be tied up…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are inconsistent – on one hand, we have precise and o the point rules-language where required, cool statblocks with unique abilities, etc. On the other hand, we have formatting violations against the standards (purely aesthetic, for the most part) and weird lines where text suddenly turns gray. The general features are great, but the devil’s in the details here – never to the point that the module becomes really tough to run, but yeah. Since this module is less of a hackfest than the previous ones, those aspects become more important. Not happy here. Layout adheres to a 2.column standard with a white background – the module is pretty printer-friendly and sports a blend of full-color and b/w-artworks, which do their job. The cartography in full-color is really nice – though the small maps (ambush + house) could really have used a big version to be printed out. The lack of player-friendly maps hurts the module – particularly since the maps are nice. It’s 2017 and keyless player-friendly maps are pretty much standard for most publishers by now. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, though.

William Tucker knows how to write really good modules (additional content by Brian Berg and Rick Cox) – his style is interesting: He manages to evoke a pretty gritty feeling, courtesy of technically interesting challenges and adversaries. Story-wise, the module doesn’t tread new ground, but it does manage to depict its content in a fun manner, courtesy of the vibrant characters encountered. That being said, as much as I loved the content of this module, I do believe that it suffers, significantly more so than the previous one, from the dual-system approach. The meticulous attention to detail in the PFRPG version is not necessarily represented in the 5e-sections – and while defaulting is simple enough, I couldn’t help but feel that separate DCs or versions for the module would have done it a lot of good. Beyond that, I couldn’t help but feel as though, regarding the formal criteria, the pdf at one point was rushed – there are a lot of minor hiccups here that could have been caught. Each one on its own is negligible. But they do accumulate.

Which is a pity, for, as a whole, this has all the makings of a 5 star module: The fights are tight, the challenges diverse and the small details (magic cooking plate as potential source of terrain hazard) are SMART and, more importantly, fun. At the same time, this does feel like it is hamstrung a bit by its dual formats, by the avoidable glitches in the details and oversights. In adventures, I look mainly for an engaging past-time – and rules take a bit of a back-seat compared to e.g. crunch-books. But when oversights can hamper the ease with which a module can be run, then we’re looking at an issue. The 5e-component of this module takes a definite backseat to the PFRPG-material – the latter is significantly more detailed, beyond the system-immanent requirements. Add to that the lack of player-friendly maps and copious small hiccups and you get the impression of an unfortunately rushed release that could have used some time to file off the rough patches and polish this to a shine.

Now, don’t get me wrong – you can have a total blast with this. But if you’re picky, chances aren’t bad that you’ll be quite annoyed by some hiccups herein. How to rate this, then? Well, here, things become difficult. You see, I liked the prose herein, and I liked the mechanics, but at the same time, the lack of player-friendly maps hurts this module and the glitches do accumulate. In the end, when all is tallied up, I can’t rate this higher than 3.5 stars. PFRPG GMs should round up, 5e GMs should round down. Personally, I’ll round down for myself; at one point, all the glitches in the details started frustrating me. As a reviewer, I do have an in dubio pro reo policy, which is why my official verdict will round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Noble Cause, Bloodied Hands (PF/5E)
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Infinite Dungeon: The Halls of the Eternal Moment Level 2 - The Rattling Crypt (PFRPG)
Publisher: LPJ Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/02/2017 04:20:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second level of the Halls of the Eternal Moment clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, we begin this installment with a brief summary of the opposition and a nice d20-dressing table that sports descriptive hooks and concrete items, for a total of 40 entries – nice and adds a sense of consistency to the level and the adversaries – kudos there!

As before, we get helpful information on floors, walls…and slender pillars, which almost take up a square – destroying these can cause a ceiling to collapse (Okay, how much squares? The whole room? Whole dungeon?) and in some cases, they are connected by iron chains. Both these and decorative copper chains mentioned come with proper stats – so as far as general features goes, this is a step up from level 1.

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! If the name of this level wasn’t ample clue – undead would be the leitmotif of this level of the Halls of the Eternal Moment…and they are organized. Under the leadership of the ghast Benivuul and his ghoul lackeys, the roaming skeletons and zombies make for a persistent and dangerous threat. Camping is impossible, with each hour and each campaign attempt resulting in a random encounter – on the plus-side, this level can actually be emptied of the scouring undead, though leaving for too long sees other things move in…Nice: the nature of this second cadre is briefly discussed.

The level kicks off with a sliding staircase trap and foreboding graffiti can be found throughout the level, adding a special sense of gravitas to the whole proceedings. Trapped, evil altars and concealment-granting cob-webbed sheets and an evil altar used for undead creation, cacophonous traps – the undead in the level are keenly aware of the traps and make good use of this gauntlet, which plays significantly better than its vanilla premise would lead you to believe. While it’s a bit strange that room 22’s text refers back to room 22 for a patreon goal. Some passages/secret doors lead to patreon goal rooms and are not included in the pdf.

As a whole, I enjoyed this level more than the previous one – though personally, I would have made even more use of the slender pillars – they are a unique architectural feature that could have yielded some interesting additional options regarding 3D-combat, pits, etc. Their rules-language could be slightly more precise, but oh well. More significant: Apart from the traps, all adversaries herein are painfully vanilla – don’t expect archetype’d, templated or class level’d foes herein – standard critters.

Speaking of which: If you hoped, like I did, that the temporal angle and the potential for cool shenanigans with undead (like in several OSR modules) and traps, I’ll have to disappoint you – the leitmotif of the dungeon remains a backdrop at best.

Now the maps, while still very bare-bones, do sport icons for the pillars, which is nice. Icons for altars etc. are also provided and while the maps are anything but nice to look at, they are a bit better than those in level 1. Slightly annoying: Secret doors are not designated as such on the GM map and on the player’s map, they have not been redacted.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, I noticed no undue accumulation of glitches. Layout adheres to a really nice two-column full-color standard. Artwork is stock and has no relation to the material depicted herein. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. Cartography, while still bare-bones and not up to the level of detail I’d like to see, particularly regarding player maps/VTT-capabilities, but they are a bit better than the ones for level 1.

Rich Redman, Jeff Lee, Michael McCarthy and Louis Porter Jr. have written a per se solid undead-level here. The chain/pillar motif is cool and I frankly wished the module did a bit more with it (swinging rooms! Crossing pits on chains! Immortal undead that need to be buried… (due to the temporal nature of the dungeon, one could explain reverting collapses…) There are so many cool ideas there that the module simply doesn’t use. The rattling crypt is creepy; it is deadly; it is well-written…and it is, as far as undead dungeons go, painfully vanilla. It’s deadly mainly due to the fact that you can’t properly rest, but a strategic group can empty the level – the boss is underwhelming and so are the enemies encountered. The module doesn’t make use of the cool dungeon-premise, but I expected that; what I did not expect was that it reduced its cool, evocative terrain features and leitmotif only to this extent – the pillars and themes here could have carried so much more.

Don’t get me wrong – the writing’s pretty good and the dungeon level is pretty nice…but at the same time, it falls short of the potential of both the dungeon and the level; the standard enemies and the less than impressive maps also don’t really help this module. If you’re looking for a solid undead-themed level, then this certainly does the job…but honestly, I know a lot of undead-themed dungeons and levels that may, in parts, have weaker writing, but more interesting mechanical components, better components to set them apart. As a whole, this is, to me, this was a rather weak and disappointing installment – not bad per se, but also weaker than level 1. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up by a margin due to the low price and in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Infinite Dungeon: The Halls of the Eternal Moment Level 2 - The Rattling Crypt (PFRPG)
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10 Kingdom Seeds: Underground (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/28/2017 04:43:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little pdf 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!

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

Okay, if you’re new to the concept – the Kingdom Seeds-pdfs are basically collections of 10 sample settlements, ranging usually from thorp to village, which are depicted complete with a settlement statblock and a brief summary of the village in question as well as notes on intriguing locales and a few rumors/adventure hooks for each – think of them as kind of akin to Raging Swan Press’ backdrops, but instead of focusing in detail on one locale, we get a few of them in broader strokes. Thing is – this installment not only goes underground – it also changes the formula of these pdfs by splicing crunchy tidbits into the respective entries.

Take, for example, the first settlement, NE Coldwylde, carved into pink sandstone, it is the home of escaped aranea slaves that have managed to create a new magical rope – the fanged rope of entanglement, made from an aranea’s last silk and fangs, it can entangle and poison those that try to escape them – really cool, magical item, with a somber note…and the means of construction have some serious roleplaying potential.

In CE Deepdell, gnomes are working on a mysterious vein of onyx…and it’ll be just a matter of time before they can deduce the power-component-like properties of these gems…. On the other end of the alignment spectrum, Frepond represents an idyllic academy of music and magic that would usually have no chance in the cutthroat underdark – but the singing stalactites and stalagmites in the cavern vastly enhance the options of bards, allowing them to maintain two bardic performances at once –and yes, the rules codifying that are concise and precise, though personally, I would have enjoyed to see a range here – I assume the default range of 30 ft. to tap into such a rock’s power, but I’m frankly not 100% sure.

A blaze of light in the dark is atop Griffonfort – the ceiling of this cavern is illuminated by a heatless flame. The place is haunted by frustrated ghosts of the first settlers, but the dwarven leaders try to make the dream of a perfect fort a reality, slowly releasing the vanquished ghosts under the glow of continual flame, greater, the new spell to supplement this one. Ironwynne was founded by the Ironfeet mercenaries as a supply and support center and as such, has a harsh, militaristic feel – even though the company was shattered. The reputation remains – and so do the mundane, iron boots that make for well-crafted marching utensils…or for percussion.

Joncrest is inhabited by Halflings that herd lizards. They harvest their tails, which regrow. Yeah, that’s pretty damn cool. But wait – Halflings can’t see in the dark! Well, these guys can: We get alternate Halfling racial traits – darkvision 60 ft. in exchange for keen senses and improved natural healing in exchange for Halfling luck, mirroring the hardy reptiles they herd. Amazing one! Narland occupies a huge cavern, which holds multiple towers, each focused on teaching a discipline of magic – cutting edge, these folks push the limits of magic, as represented by a new regional trait that lets you make a concentration check as a swift action to push a chosen school’s spell’s caster level…but at the risk of a magical mishap – which is accompanied by a percentile table with 7 different effects, just fyi. Really cool!

Pryness is situated next to a massive underground river, providing ferrying (and smuggling) services for those that require it; predominantly Halfling, the settlement also the home of, surprisingly non-evil river rat variant wererats that can only infect willing beings – cool! The problem is just…such societies are easy to infiltrate by the REAL wererats…

Silverflower looks like a place littered with dead stems in light; however, in the darkness, the flowers generate a soothing glow and wondrous scent – as a result, the place has a darkvision-only policy…which could make for a decidedly wondrous place to visit. Oh, and the perfume made there can help when navigating the more precarious social situations…though the effect does change, based on lighting conditions. Damn cool! More of a deathtrap: Stonekeep. The CE hamlet inhabited by dwarves can carve tunnels ridiculously fast, using identical, vault-style hyper-secure doors (which evil folks may wish to get for their magic-hampering and great locks…)…but the nasty dwarves have this habit of unleashing a rock troll with adamantine false teeth (!!!), their secret weapon, on those who come calling – this is an adventure just waiting to happen!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re very good, I noticed no undue accumulation of hiccups. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports some neat full-color pieces I haven’t seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks for your convenience.

Liz Smith stepped up to the next level. I don’t know if it’s the guiding hand of Rite Publishing’s new line developer Stephen Rowe, but this blows the old Kingdom Seeds out of the water. The settlements all feature some truly evocative, unique, magical angle that sets them apart, that makes them distinct in spite of their brevity. The added crunch-components for each village amps up the wonder further – even if they’re just small tweaks, they add a sense of the unique to everything. Heck, in some cases, I really, really liked what these humble pieces of crunch do – they help tell stories and furthermore differentiate the series more from Raging Swan Press’ more fluff-centric offerings. For the low asking price, you get some truly wondrous and amazing places to visit and cool supplemental material to boot. What’s not to like?

Easily worth 5 stars + seal of approval and a strong recommendation for the very fair price-point!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
10 Kingdom Seeds: Underground (PFRPG)
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Four Horsemen Present: MORE Comedic Character Options
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/28/2017 04:41:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Four Horsemen present-series clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages, so let’s take a look!

All righty, after a brief introduction, we are introduced to the Comedium (that’s a groaner that could have come from yours truly…), which does not gain the regular archetypical spirits (unless otherwise gained) and instead gains the Comedian, whose séance bonus would be +1 to Bluff, intimidate and Diplomacy. The Influence penalty, unsurprisingly, would be applied to Charisma and Charisma-related checks…oh, and guess what, auto-confirm of ranged or melee attacks. As taboos, you choose to either have to include one joke per conversation, one pun per sentence or respond to criticism with an insult. The lesser ability would be mirth, which reduces penalties incurred from mind-affecting abilities for yourself and allies within 30 ft. by 1. The intermediate ability would be Punch Lines: As a move action, the comedium can allow the comedian to gain 1 influence over him, partially manifesting: This nets the character a Perform (comedy) check against a creature in reach, adding the spirit bonus to the check. If the check exceeds 10 + the creature’s CR + the creature’s Wisdom modifier, the critter loses its Dex-bonus to AC due to being entertained by the spirit. Internal game-logic-wise, I think this probably should be mind-influencing, at least.

The greater ability lets you influence the attitude of crowds and the supreme ability lets you counter language-dependent or verbal component using spells as an immediate action: You roll Intimidate and compare it to either the spell save DC or 10 + the target’s Charisma modifier or the skill-check’s result, rendering the target shaken for 1 round on a success. The ability btw. has a 24-hour cooldown per target, not unlike a hex. 13th level replaces haunt channeler with +2 to Will saves for allies participating in a séance. Instead of astral journey, the archetype can tell a funny joke, affecting targets within 10 ft. per level (not class level) with hideous laughter on a failed save. Minor complaints: Spell-reference not italicized. Also: It’d make sense for this to have a daily limit/hex caveat. The ability also does not specify its activation action – while Su usually defaults to standard action, I’d still have appreciated a stated action.

Doorkicker barbarians gain proficiency with simple and martial weapons, light armor, shields and tower shields and replace fast movement with double land speed in the surprise round. Trap sense is replaced with a scaling bonus to “initiative checks and during the surprise round and first round of combat” – something is wonky here. Does that mean only in those two rounds? Or should the bonus apply to something? No idea. 7th level replaces DR with the option to carry broken down doors or gates as impromptu weapons with the option to perform bull rushes and shield bash attacks with a bonus to atk and CMB with it that increases. Okay, as what type of shield do these impromptu shields count? Do they grant an AC-bonus? No idea.

Forest friend druids replace nature’s bond and resist nature’s lure with Tiny and Diminutive forest critters, Disney-style, that allow the character to perform a Dirty Trick with a reach of 30 ft. as a free action, using Cha instead of the animal’s Strength score and druid level instead of BAB. 4th level provides a +2 bonus, 10th level the option to execute two such attempts at once. The character can’t use animal empathy to influence magic beasts or domestic cats (wild ones are more grateful…) and 4th level replaces standard wild shape with critter shape, sounding like a cute child hopped on helium while speaking in critter form, with -1 to CL and -4 to Diplomacy and Intimidate while in cute critter form. First, the druid can only go Tiny, with 6th level unlocking Small and Medium versions of such Tiny critters. Additionally, damage increases as though one size larger. Every 2 further levels increase the maximum size available by +2, capping at 12th level and Gargantuan. 9th level yields immunity to natural diseases instead of venom immunity and 13th level provides a -2 penalty to concentration for enemies only while nearby the character. Pretty cool!

The cavalier order of the destrier grants bonuses to atk and damage to the horse with his challenge (meta-joke: Low-level horses are deadlier than their riders…) and adds both Acrobatics and Stealth to class skills, with the mount automatically gaining ranks in them upon gaining HD, and both share the highest Dex-score for Dexterity –based checks. At 2nd level, penalties for ranged attacks are reduced by 2 and no longer takes concentration penalties for vigorous motion. The mount no longer takes atk penalties for squeezing. 8th level nets +4 to CMD versus unseating attempts and Defensive Combat Training for the mount, as well as +2 to CMD. 15th level yields Ride or Die: 1/round, the mount can increase its reach as a swift action, for one round. He also may parry AoOs as an immediate action. Yep, this is “every cavalier joke ever” – the archetype.

Master of Disaster monks add Study Stance at 1st level, Missed Me at 6th and One gender-Neutral Army (lol) at 10th level to bonus feats available. 2nd level nets +2 to Acrobatics, Swim and Climb as well as Reflex Saves and Constitution checks, increasing that to +4 at 9th level, replacing evasion and its improved brother. 4th level replaces slow fall with mastery of cover: Increased benefits for the monk, decreased benefits for his adversaries. 7th level provides Superior Style: as a standard action, the monk can enlighten his audience regarding the superiority of his school, technique, sensei’s teachings, etc. – he may forego an attack made at his lowest attack bonus in favor of using an AoO to parry an opponent’s attack, with 12th level allowing for the use of two such attacks for parries. This replaces wholeness of body and abundant step…and is WEIRD. As a standard action, it does not allow for a full-attack in that round, so is it immediately active, drawing on the attacks in a future round? Does it only activate upon taking the next full attack? The lack of a duration and clear sequence make this problematic.

The revelry mystery for the oracle, which nets Bluff, Knowledge (nobility), Perform (act) and Sleight of Hand as class skills. The bonus spells make sense (and contain an asterisk-based, pretty funny joke with the reader). The revelations are pretty cool: Out-of-combat, limited use condition negation, conjuring forth a friendly, cheering crowd (which misses the chance for cool Performance combat synergy, alas), adjusting after botching social skill checks, limited healing of allies, Party trick SPs (that scale up to frickin’ meteor swarm at 19th level), conjuring forth blocking piñatas, verbal roasting of foes – pretty cool general array of tricks…though I’m not a fan of all: Untyped damage via touch-attack tickling, for example, comes also with a no-save staggered condition. Its 11th level minimum does alleviate that a bit, but still. The capstone summons a bad rave that wrecks concentration and conceals allies – cool!

The stoner alchemist replaces mutagens and persisted mutagens with getting high, for +2 to Str, Dex and Con and +2 to Will-saves, but – 2 to initiative and Reflex saves. It lasts for one hours per level (should probably be class level) and takes 10 minutes to activate. While buzzed, the stoner can exhale 5ft.-cones of smoke into adjacent squares, potentially dazzling targets on a failed save for 2 rounds. 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter increase the options available for second-hand smoke. 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter increase the area affected by this second-hand smoke by +5 ft. and the ability, replacing bombs, can be used Intelligence modifier + class level times per day. 2nd level replaces the poison resistance and immunity with a scaling bonus to saves versus pain effects and those that induce a variety of conditions.

The pdf contains 7 new feats: Awful Good lets Lawful good casters ignore [evil] descriptors of spells at +1 spell slot level…and it should probably have the metamagic tag. Dodecaswap lets you replace 2d6 with 1d12 +1. …get it? Light Armor nets you a dodge bonus to AC equal to Charisma modifier, but only versus targets attracted to you. Mascot nets you a +1 bonus to atk, Will-saves and damage when an animal companion/mount/familiar damages a foe, Missed Me nets you a dodge bonus when flanked – if a foe misses you due to this bonus, he may strike his ally. One Person Army (previously referred to as One Gender-Neutral Army) lets you make AoOs against any square you threaten while charging, but you’re still limited to one AoO per threatened square you moved through. Someone has seen Lightning’s signature move in FF XIII. Study Stance lets you use Sense Motive to identify style feats, with attacks based on identified style feats potentially causing AoOs. Also nets you +1 to CMB and CMD while in the same style as your opponent.

The pdf’s final section is taken up by 10 new spells: Baleful plushy transforms animals and magical beasts into animated plushy versions, hampering AC and natural attacks. Power Word: Die creates a polyhedral die that moves towards your target. Distracting dance fascinates targets. Dodecaheathen deals d12-based damage, particularly if the target’s alignment is further from yours! Fire flowers creates bubbles of energy (one for each base type), causing some serious damage and potentially hampering the foe. Mist me is an immediate action concealment-granting spell, potentially hitting foes behind you. Nature’s furry enhances Diminutive or Tiny critters with brutal power. Plush companion temporarily makes companions etc. plushies…and harmless. After the spell elapses, the creature regains hit points. Squirrel cheeks, aka hamster cheeks, net you an extradimensional space in your cheeks. Walking Bomb makes Tiny or smaller alchemical items mobile, allowing you to command them. Descriptors featured here include [hug] and [pretty]. XD

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. On a rules-language level, the material is similarly good, though not as good as usual for Four Horsemen books. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games’ two-column full-color standard for the series and the pdf comes with nice full-color artworks. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Steven T. Helt’s second array of comedic character options has some evocative, cool concepts – and it’s genuinely funny here and there. The options are, as a whole, solid, often interesting and don’t settle for common tricks. At the same time, I honestly wasn’t as blown away as I was by his first array of funny options from a player’s side – there is no radical change of playstyle herein. The content is by no means bad, but neither did it absolutely blow me away. The minor glitches also hurt the pdf a bit. In the end, this, to me, remains a mixed bag, definitely on the positive side, and hence my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Four Horsemen Present: MORE Comedic Character Options
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Infinite Dungeon: The Halls of the Eternal Moment Level 1 - The Overgrown (PFRPG)
Publisher: LPJ Design
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/28/2017 04:40:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first level of The Halls of the Eternal Moment clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This level has been claimed as a home by the druid circle of the ages – and as such, we have a nature-theme on our hands here. The pdf notes walls, ceilings, etc. and also provides notes for wandering monsters, simulating a kind of organic and dynamic environment. Each of the rooms comes with read-aloud text, which can help GMs less confident in their improvisation skills.

So far, so good, so let’s go into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All righty, only GMs around? Great! So, the monsters that constitute the major inhabitants would be leaf leshies, giant caterpillars and headless, fungal zombies held together by dark magics – somewhat annoying – their SQs etc. have not been reprinted in their statblock, meaning that you’ll have to look these up. Each of the rooms does have something to do – a skill to use, a hazard like poisonous vines. Specially planted trees that hamper movement and creative traps, including organic responses by the creatures herein make for an overall interesting dungeon – and a hard one. There are traps here that WILL insta-gib a PC – 6d6 smashing stones into which you may run due to being stricken with fear by a magic pool – this is not a dungeon for noobs.

Indeed, the lack of a maximum value of inhabitants in the monster-placement for cleared rooms etc. means that rest etc. can be a much sought-after commodity – and personally, I applaud that. I do not applaud the boss fight versus a spirit, who animates a fungus leshy, who governs the respawns of leshies – not because I don’t like the boss fight, but because the animating druid spirit is not really covered – killing the fungus leshy ends the influence of the spirit, which is weird to see in a game so steeped with ways to deal with spirits and the like.

Okay, admittedly, I’m stalling. You see, the main draw, to me, for the dungeon is its fluid, erratic time – I said as much in my review of the prologue. And yes, temporal weirdness can be found here. In the dressing. And as a justification for the critters showing up. Do you need temporal tricks to navigate a room? No. Do you get to solve time-based puzzles? No. Are there special ramifications for certain areas? No. The execution of the amazing leitmotif falls flat for me. The dungeon-level is wondrous, yes, but it does not come close to fulfilling the promising theme.

There is another aspect where the pdf does not reach the levels I hoped for: The map. While it comes with a keyless version and while it’s in color, it just shows the rooms. Secret doors are not redacted and neither terrain feature, not traps are noted on either map, making their use rather annoying – basically, you have to print them out and fill them in yourself. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t need gorgeous maps – but I’d like to at least have maps that note the basics.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good – I didn’t notice a big accumulation of glitches, but some formatting decisions/requirements to look things up are a bit questionable. Layout adheres to a really nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports solid stock artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is worse than in pretty much every comparable dungeon, providing just blank and empty rooms – the work required here by the GM represents a serious comfort detriment.

Jeff Lee, Michael McCarthy, Rich Redman and Louis Porter Jr. have per se written a cool dungeon-level here. The leshy-theme is cool and hasn’t been done to death and the hazards and traps are deadly, challenging and fun. That being said, this pdf falters in the details – it is, most of all, inconvenient. You have to look a lot up; you have to basically fill in the maps to render them operational. One of the rooms notes “Don’t go down the Well” as a header and reference to Rappan Athuk – referencing a superior book may not have been the smartest move here. You see, the dungeon, let me make that abundantly clear, is NICE. The rooms are varied and interesting. At the same time, it is VERY inconvenient to use. I have had an easier time using OSR or 5e-dungeons in PFRPG than with this one, courtesy of a couple of really unfortunate decisions and the cartography being this incomplete. A wholly barebones dungeon. No chairs. No landmarks. No secret door “S”; no trees. I don’t get it and I have never seen anything like it, not even in really rudimentary DIY-supplements.

My disappointment regarding the unrealized temporal angle notwithstanding, this would be a worthwhile dungeon, were it not for these inconveniences. As written, I can’t go higher than 3 stars for it, stars earned solely earned by the good ideas that are herein and the quality of the writing. Let’s hope level 2 fares better…

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Infinite Dungeon: The Halls of the Eternal Moment Level 1 - The Overgrown (PFRPG)
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Tome of Madness
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/27/2017 04:07:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 32 pages,1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let us take a look, shall we?

Okay, so mental illness is a serious topic – and as such, the book prefaces the discussion of the subject matter with an appropriate and mature disclaimer, before we take a look at the material herein. The pdf proceeds to acknowledge the changed paradigm of a world with readily available (as opposed to obscure) magic and codifies madness as maladies.

Now, as we all know, there are a wide variety of effects in vanilla Pathfinder, effects which ostensibly would qualify for causing madness in e.g. the context of CoC or similar, darker RPGs. Hence, the pdf proceeds to quantify and qualify them – from mental attribute damage to divinations, special spells, types of forbidden knowledge etc., the pdf explains and codifies these in a concise and sensible manner. Different types of trauma and their effects. Creatures immune to mind-affecting effects “gain a boost” (should be a bonus) to saves to prevent them – this bonus is calculated as 1 + Charisma modifier and can thus be undertaken on the fly. Speaking of which: Exposure to trauma can similarly easily be calculated – as a Will-save versus 10 + the CR. Failing such a save results in rolling on a d%-table; onset of maladies (the term employed for madnesses herein to set them apart from other systems) is delayed by 1d20 -1 hours. Mental ability score damage or drain to 0 adds 15 to the result and pre-existing conditions can mean that the condition has worsened by one step.

The system knows three types of severity: Mild, moderate and severe. Maladies are codified in a variety of general concepts: Amnesia, Delusions, Dementia, Hallucinations, Phobias and Tics – these are properly discussed. Minor formal complaint: The pdf introduces the terrified fear-condition – which is also a greater feat step (level 6) in the expanded fear-system championed by Horror Adventures – since both versions of terrified have different effects, I wasn’t too enamored by the nomenclature here. That being said, the condition is per se interesting, though the fixed DC to act or utter a single word feels a bit odd – a scaling DC would have made more sense in my book.

But the main meat of the book would be the maladies themselves: They are roughly grouped in two types: Neurosis and psychosis. Generally, a neurosis tends to be more easily manageable. The stats for the respective maladies include save DCs for all severity levels and triggers – the circumstances where their effects become relevant. The triggers provided are proximity, random and stressor. Maladies have durations for their effects. Now, the maladies included run a wide array of options: Characters can e.g. suffer from akinetopsia, a form of motion blindness, problems deciphering letters or pictographic writing (read too many mad glyphs, did ya?), anterograde and retrograde amnesia, compulsions, aphasia, catatonic stupors, deliriums, various delusions (which are chronic), fits of despair, dysparaxia – and I’m just getting started here.

From tactile hallucinations to various, sense-based hallucinations to hypochondriasis, hysterical blindness/deafness, classic insomnia, intentional tremors, intermittent bouts of rage, kleptomania, manic episodes, panic attacks, paranoid ideations and various tics complement the rules provided for them.

As a whole, the rules-language is very precise and well-crafted here, though, aesthetically, the wording of “assuming the XYZ condition” that the pdf employs is something that galls me on an aesthetic level – as a dev, I’d have streamlined that. It should also be noted that, while fitting in a section on madness, a militaristic man with a read flag, a white circle in it and the black sun inside that white circle (i.e. a Nazi) can be found here – it looks like a propaganda poster and while I would have expected something like megalomania here, instead the page features tics etc. – perhaps not the best choice.

The second array of maladies is primarily focused on NPC-use – global amnesia could, however, be easily used as a basis for a specific campaign/one-shot and disassociated identities and psychogenic fugues pose some rather significant consequences for characters that really hamper the playability – the restriction of these to NPCs makes sense and certain campaigns can still make use of them. The question of the treatment of madness, both via skill unlocks and regarding auras – interesting here: The higher your Charisma score, the harder treatment for soothing purposes becomes. Alchemists can learn psychopharmacology and hallucinogenic bombs. Really cool: The pdf does contain various items, which may feature side-effects and craft DCs – intriguing here: The rules crossover with ioun stones in an intriguing manner.

The book also provides simple and quick rules for decompensation, the gradual worsening of untreated maladies, and additions. The pdf concludes with some advice for the GM.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. On a rules-language level, the material is similarly neat, but does sport a couple aesthetic deviations from the standards, though these do not hamper the usefulness of the pdf. Layout adheres to the great 2-column full-color standard for LG’s horror-books. The artwork featured herein mostly should be familiar to fans of LG and fits the theme in a broad sense, with the one picture exception. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Mike Shel’s malady-system is exceedingly modular and easy to integrate into just about any system. The lack of requirements of an extra score is a big plus, as is the easy way in which it can be implemented in an ongoing campaign that suddenly takes a turn for the horrific or that just dabbles in themes of horror. As a whole, I consider it to be more elegant than the system championed in Horror Adventures. The system presented is different from the one featured in LG’s previous Gothic Horror plug-ins, so if you expected a direct sequel/more fodder for the system, you won’t find that herein. On a formal level, I found myself rereading the basics a couple of times – didactically, the system could be explained a bit ore succinctly, which represents the most significant structural weakness of the pdf – novice GMs may be a bit confused in the beginning, also due to the subcategories/subtypes having less mechanical impact than they could have exhibited.

That being said, I am complaining at a high level here. The comprehensive nature and easily implemented structure of this system makes it more than worth checking out – you see, due to the relative simplicity and flexibility/severity-levels of the system, it is rather simple to graft this system on other sanity-engines or implement it on the fly. As such, this represents a welcome addition to the library of GMs intrigued in the horrific. This is, hence, worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tome of Madness
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Seeds of Evil.
Publisher: Wayward Rogues Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/27/2017 04:06:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment of the Whispers of the Dark Mother-adventure series clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

..

.

All righty, only GMs around?

We begin this first installment of the saga near the town of Brighton, where farms producing fruit produce a quilt of colors, steeping the town – the prose does a nice job setting the stage and the adventure hook is pretty evident from the get-go, as the first sequence of read-aloud text points the PCs towards Lady Celeste Canterville’s mansion, where an offer of free apples seeks to lure potentially interested parties towards the place. PCs more inclined to first complete some legwork will have a chance to research a variety of rumors, some of which are automatically found in certain taverns, rewarding PCs for covering their bases. A detailed selection of sample sentences to help GMs with read-aloud sections on various topics will be particularly appreciated by less experienced GMs that have a harder time come up with ad-hoc responses.

At the lady’s mansion, the PCs are greeted by her servant and they are approached by a bard, one Kara (with full stats, which, alas, sport some minor glitches, something that can be observed for all statblocks in the book), who seeks to join them on their trip at the behest of Lady Celeste – you see, the lady wants the PCs to procure gate willow seeds and some other herbal ingredients. These magical plants can enhance summoning spells and once again, a lot of detailed responses are provided for the social interaction. The harvesting of these plant components, is, however, fraught with danger – both the willows and the whipweed seeds required can be hazardous to harvest, which is why the PCs are contacted in the first place. After this talk, a woman called Shala contacts the PCs as well – her son Faven has gone missing and she beseeches the party to look for him, handing them a wood-carving to gain the lad’s trust.

Thus, the PCs venture into the woods – which are represented by a mini-wilderness exploration, noting landmarks, flora and fauna to be found within the area. A random encounter table can add further complications to the exploration, if required. Beyond these random encounters, there also is a sequence of planned encounters, which include fire-breathing vor-gremlins. The exploration takes the PCs past sharp seeds, a cave-fisher’s lair and puts them into direct confrontation with xtabay plants as well as the previously mentioned whipweeds, establishing a leitmotif of a magical and dangerous flora – subtle, but a concise leitmotif nonetheless. As the PCs approach Bright Mountain, they will sooner or later find the gate willow grove, and these plants have managed to call forth an akata guardian that makes for a potent boss for this sequence of the module. At one point during their trip, the PCs will also have a chance to test their mettle against an ogre, but ultimately, they should arrive back at Lady Celeste’s mansion sooner or later, meeting the lady in her library…but not all seems to be going well. The doors of the mansion are ajar, Emilio lies slain and cultists led by a half-orc are threatening the lady.

Ultimately, the cultists seem to have the goal of acquiring a rare tome, namely the Lamentations of the Fungus Men…and here, the module changes its so far calm and serene pace in favor of a nice little chase – though ultimately, the one-eyed half-orc will manage to abscond with the book, leaving a grievously wounded and either poisoned or diseased lady Canterville granting the PCs a precious few hints, before expiring, blood foaming from her mouth….and the denouement, like magical question etc., will not yield more…but the PCs will probably be enticed enough to follow up on this mystery.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, particularly the latter, are the weak points of this module: Lower cap skills, italicization hiccups etc. can be found, as well as some plural/inflection hiccups that sharply contrast with the otherwise rather evocative prose. Layout adheres to a really aesthetically-pleasing two-column full-color standard and the pdf features some nice full-color artworks – impressive for the low price-point! You cannot highlight text in the pdf, which is somewhat jarring, but less annoying in an adventure than in a crunch book that you’re likely to extract data from. Cartography is full color and generally solid: A player-friendly version of the region is included. However, the maps for both the wilderness exploration and the combat at the end are pretty small – getting a one-page version to print them out, preferably sans map-key, would have been nice.

Robert Gresham, with additional writing by Ewan Cummins and Jarret Sigler, delivers a nice beginning to the “Whispers of the Dark Mother”-storyline here. The module provides a sufficient amount of information regarding the proceedings and manages to establish a nice atmosphere of a fantastic wilderness exploration. The thematic leitmotif is subdued, yet very much present, helping the overall atmosphere of the module. The prose, when it doesn’t stumble over a minor hiccup, is actually really good – It is not too verbose, but detailed and well-crafted enough to manage to evoke a unique atmosphere. So yes, this was actually a solid read. That being said, the module, quite deliberately, begins with a slow and steady, almost picturesque build-up that is sharply contrasted at the end of the module, making for a nice setting of the stage for the darker things to come. This is not a groundbreaking module, but for the fair price point, it delivers. Seeds of Evil achieves its goal of setting up the story and establishing the tone of the things to come. If the formal components like proofing and editing had been better, this would have received a warmer recommendation from me, but as a reviewer, I cannot ignore these flaws. It runs well enough, though, which is why my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up by a margin for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Seeds of Evil.
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Undead Paragon Classes II: Ghoul, Lich and Mummy
Publisher: Zenith Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/27/2017 04:04:21

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second collection of undead paragon classes clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with an impressive 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

After an introduction to the concept of paragon classes, which are basically means to advance in a race via a class, as depicted in e.g. Rite Publishing’s excellent “in the Company of…”-supplements, we dive pretty much right into the base racial chassis employed – the rotting corpse as a race, which I covered in my review of part I. If you missed it:

Rotting corpses get -2 to Str, Dex, Int, Wis and Cha and use Charisma instead of Constitution as governing attribute. Weird, verbiage-wise: “If the base race gained an ability modifier to Constitution, apply that same modifier to Charisma.” Looks like dwarves make for particularly good-looking corpses…Anyhow; the rotting corpse becomes undead, but retains the parent race’s subtype. Okay, do they still qualify as humanoids of their parent race for the purpose of bane etc.? Rotting corpses don’t suffer from the standard 0 hp-destroyed issue of most undead, instead becoming disabled upon being reduced to 0 hp – it takes an exceeding of Charisma score in negative hit points to destroy them. The race gets +2 to Intimidate versus living creatures, but -2 to Diplomacy, Handle Animal and Ride when interacting with the living. They are not immune to ability drain or damage or mind-affecting effects. They otherwise retain full undead immunities. Nice: part II strikes through the undead immunities that are modified for the rotting corpse.

Okay, so fragility-issue is addressed; the base race has a couple of nerfs that prevent it from going overboard, but the immunity array is still pretty damn potent. A level 6 spell to raise undead (as opposed to the living) has been included – and yes, it’s still costly as all hell, retaining balance there. Cool: This second version provides guidelines on which classes fit best with which undead paragon classes – three of these have, as of yet, not yet been released, meaning we’ll get a third part at one date.

The pdf also reproduces several of the undead feats from the previous installment, unfortunately inheriting the issues of these feats. Some new feats for speaking with the dead and boon (the talents of these classes)-granting variant feats have been included, but as a whole, there’s not much new material here, so let’s move on to the paragon classes, shall we?.

The paragon ghoul gains d10 HD, 6 Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-saves and proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light and medium armor and shields, except tower shields. The paragon ghoul begins play with a bite attack (doesn’t specify whether primary or secondary, requiring you to default to standards) and 1/day as a swift action, the ghoul can channel fever: For one round ALL weapons of the ghoul can cause augmented ghoul fever. The ability gains +2 daily uses, +1/day every 2 levels thereafter. This ghoul fever’s save DC is governed by Charisma and causes 1d2 Con and Dex damage, with 2 consecutive saves to cure. At 6th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the damage die size increases, up to 1d8 at 18th level. Starting at 5th level, immunity versus disease no longer guards against the ghoul fever, unless the creature in question also is immune against poison. Starting at 11th level, neither disease, nor poison immunity help, unless the target is also immune to curses. Weird: At 17th level, the ghoul fever notes “The round after a creature is infected with augmented ghoul fever, it must make another save or take appropriate damage.” Well, the disease is already triggered immediately and already requires two saves to cure, so this is basically a cumbersome frequency addition, I guess – one that paradoxically could see it cured sooner.

Paragon ghouls are treated as ghouls for the purpose of prerequisites etc. and they begin play with devour corpse, allowing them to devour a corpse of a Small or larger being over 5 minutes, gaining temporary ht points equal to the HD of the corpse devoured. Now, personally, I prefer how the darakhul handled that, but oh well. 2nd level yields corpse scent and +1/2 class level to Perception and Knowledge checks to locate and analyze corpses and undead. At 7th level, corpses eaten also yield the information of blood biography.

Starting at 3rd level, the ghoul can 1/day, as a swift action, render all his attacks with “paralytic energy” – I am not a fan of the verbiage here. Once again, the save is governed by Charisma and the ghoul gains +2 daily uses at 5th level, +1/day for every 2 levels thereafter. While save or suck, the paralysis only lasts one round, at least until 9th level, where that is upgraded to 2 rounds and 15th level, which increases that to 3 rounds. Starting at 3rd level, the ghoul gains sneak attack…or so I think. The text contradicts itself here and the table – I assume that 3rd level’s the correct one, not 1st level as the pdf once notes. At 13th level, the ghoul can execute a coup-de-grace as a standard action and 19th level yields at-will control undead, but only for ghasts and ghouls. The capstone lets you coup-de-grace as a move action or in place of a melee attack. Additionally, ghoul fever’s frequency may be increased to 1/round…which is weird in its interactions, considering aforementioned option for saves in the follow-up round.

As always, the class gets boons – the first at 2nd level and an additional one every 2 levels thereafter. Full-round creature devouring can yield some wonky results with temporary hit points – while you can’t use rats, dire rats can, at least, be eaten. Claws (not codified, requiring to default to the standards) are included, as is gaining the corpse’s last minute of memory – while this can be narrative gold, it can also wreck many a murder mystery, considering a lack of options to offset this. The balance of these boons, in case you’re wondering, isn’t exactly tight +2 to atk and damage versus corporeal undead versus gaining two claws. Similarly, 300 ft. blindsight corpse and undead-detection can, depending on the plot, be a really powerful deal breaker. OP: For a boon, the ghoul can bypass paralysis immunities for several creature types and can take rend sans minimum level requirement. He may also poach zombie boons.

The second class herein would be the lich, who gains d6 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, ½ BAB-progression, good Will-saves, proficiency with club, dagger, heavy & light crossbow, quarterstaff and spellcasting of up to 9th level, drawn from the sorcerer/wizard list, with Spell Focus Necromancy as a bonus feat at 1st level. 5th level yields Greater Spell Focus: Necormancy. He has 3 spell slots per spell level, gained at appropriate levels, with a bonus spell slot for necromancy spells. The paragon lich counts as a lich for the purposes of prerequisites- He begins play with char soul: For each point of char he accepts, he takes 1 point of lethal damage per 2 levels, minimum 1. He may only accept char equal to his character level before requiring a rest and the damage cannot be otherwise healed – bingo, it’s a sort of Burn. He can use char to spontaneously add a metamagic feat known to a necromancy spell known sans increasing the spell level. This costs char equal to the metamagic feat’s level-increase. Secondly, he may increase the damage of a necromancy spell by +2 damage per die rolled, increase the CL by +2, increase the DC by +2 or accept a char to replace a prepared spell with a necromancy spell…that HE DOESN’T NEED TO KNOW. If the previous numerical escalation wasn’t enough – that right there is instant-ban-hammer at my table.

Starting at 2nd level, he gains lich touch, a standard action touch attack that inflicts 1d6 negative energy damage for every 2 class levels. “The paragon lich may use this ability to heal himself.” Infinite healing at level 2. There you go. That sound? That’s any pretense of balance whimpering, curling up in a ball and dying. I refuse to dignify this with further analysis. If you allow this fellow in your game, more power to you – personally, I wouldn’t touch this guy with a 50-ft.-stick. I’d even disallow that fellow in a Path of War game – it’s blatantly broken. NEXT.

The third lass would be the paragon mummy, who gains d8 HD, 4 + Int skills, ¾ BAB-progression, good Will-saves, proficiency with simple weapons, light and medium armor, shields and the favored weapon of their deity. They gain +1/2 class level to Knowledge (history), Knowledge (nobility) and Knowledge (religion) and may make them untrained. Mummies have an alignment aura and cast divine spells, drawn from the cleric spell list, as a prepared spellcaster of up to 9th level. They also get 2 domains and count as mummies for the purpose of prerequisites etc. They begin play with a slam attack (again, requiring to default to standards) and when slain, the killer suffers from the mummy’s curse. Mummies choose an oracle curse at first level and those slaying it suffer from oracle’s burden on a failed save.

Starting at 2nd level (not noted in the ability), they may 1/day make all attacks potentially convey cursed mummy rot as a swift action, with 4th level and every 2 levels thereafter yielding an additional daily use. The rot is both a curse AND a disease from the get-go and adheres to a similar damage die progression as ghoul fever, but targets Constitution and Charisma instead. The disease is ALSO accompanied by the oracle’s burden effect, making this a ridiculously strong debuff. 2nd level yields channel resistance +2, which increases by +2 at 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter, up to +8 at 11th level, culminating in immunity to curses at 13th level. (This ability. Weirdly, is mentioned twice – once in the scaling one and once as a stand-alone ability.) At 3rd level, the mummy increases the Dc of curses by +1, further increasing that to +2 at 7th level and every four levels thereafter by +1. 9th level halves the cost of raising magic, and 20th level yields permanent affliction of oracle curses for those affected and makes the rot nigh-incurable.

5th level and every 3 levels thereafter yields a mummy boon (erroneously referred to zombie boon once – and yes, they can poach zombie boons). These include arcane discoveries, 2/day channel negative energy at -3 levels, +1/2 character level to heal checks (should probably be class level) – once again, we have WIDE discrepancies in the power of the boons: Despair aura and a better 3 + Cha-mod bestow curse SP versus Eschew Materials. You get the idea.

So, the mummy is basically a cleric on speed sans the healing capacity, but here’s the joke: At 2nd level and 4th level and every 2 levels thereafter, they get to choose a single druid, psychic, witch or wizard spell for their spell list. Lol. That’s cherry-picking the most potent spell-lists there are. In case you’re wondering: No, this one will not get anywhere near my table either.

The pdf concludes with 2 pages of zombie boons. We do not get favored class options or the like.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are actually pretty good. The rules-language is also, as a whole, rather precise and well-crafted. Layout adheres to a relatively printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports fitting stock b/w-artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a serious comfort detriment.

Jeff Gomez’ second cadre of undead paragon classes is mechanically more interesting – the pseudo-burn is interesting and the recombination of the divine tricks featured by the mummy is similarly smart. The rules-language is concise and well made…but, alas, the pdf pretty much says goodbye to any semblance of internal balance within boons, balance within the context of racial paragon classes…and don’t get me started with existing options. In short: I wouldn’t even allow these options in my most high-powered Path of War games. Why? Because the power is, unlike in Path of War, not offset by something unique or captivating – you won’t be wowed or amazed by any of the options herein. The char would have had some promise, much like the vampire in #1, but it’s also, like its vampiric brethren, trapped in a broken chassis. As a whole, this exacerbates the issues of its predecessor and considering the amount of undead races and class-like options out there, I can rattle off more compelling ways to play undead without needing to accommodate the issues this one brings to the table. As a whole, I can’t find a reason to get this pdf, apart from its low price – my final verdict will hence clock in at 2 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Undead Paragon Classes II: Ghoul, Lich and Mummy
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