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20 Things #15: War-Ravaged Land (System Neutral Edition)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/13/2017 04:24:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Raging Swan Press' system-neutral #20-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!

As the PCs wander a war-ravaged land, as the butchery and death have abated, they may wander the fields of war - and as such, 10 detailed pieces of battlefield dressing kickstart this installment of the 20 Things-series, depicting feasting crows,, ragged and blood-spattered standards and worse. Tragedy stalks these fields and the pdf's flavorful entries capture its facets well.

The next section is all about signs of war - for this scourge leaves its traces on the landscape, as smoke smudges the horizon and bloody remnants speak of minor skirmishes in yet another great little selection of 10 such signs. From here, we move on to 20 things you can see in war-ravaged villages: From collapsed buildings to gaunt dogs, starved by famine and wounds, darting across the street to the scattered remains of pillaged kitchens, this dressing selection is versatile and atmospheric.

Of course, chances are that, at one point, the PCs will be part of a siege - hence, 20 entries show us different things that can be seen during such a perilous time - and yes, the identity of attackers is left deliberately vague. Servants hustling around with drinking water, huddled guards, sudden influxes of arrows, conscripts in armor, all too young for the grisly death-dealing about to commence...the pdf offers a lot in this section as well.

The final table, alas, is a reprint from GM's Miscellany: 20 Things Volume I - in that book, it was a designated table for orc raids and while its name has been changed, in a minor complaint, a reference to orcs still can be found here, when more general humanoids would have made sense. That being said, only one entry is thus affected.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-artworks deserve special mention - we get a great full-page b/w-piece as well as some nice supplemental pieces. Additionally, the pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for the printer and one for screen-use - kudos for going the extra mile there! The pdf sports several pieces of nice b/w-artworks.

Creighton Broadhurst's latest 20-Things-dressing file is evocative, well-crafted and captures the horrors and desolation of war in a diverse and well-rendered manner, with crisp prose and a plethora of well-written entries. In short, this is a great little dressing-file for a more than fair price-point. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
20 Things #15: War-Ravaged Land (System Neutral Edition)
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks very much for the review, End! It's much appreciated!
Purple Duck Storeroom: Heroic Rings
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/13/2017 04:22:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Purple Duck Games‘ inexpensive pdfs clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content. It should be noted that the content is formatted for digest-size – you can fit 4 pages on a sheet of paper when printing this. Let’s take a look!

We begin with the extremely potent (over 3K price) circle of the sage sentinel – it may only be used by someone with a trait, ability etc. that grants a bonus to saves vs. fear or immunity to fear, The ring nets the benefits of mage armor, overland flight at will and several X/day abilities, ranging from 10/day magic missile to 1/day crushing/grasping/forceful hand – as a minor complaint: Their activation could be clearer - I assume defaults, but one could argue otherwise. The ring requires that the wearer swears anew to uphold the ideals of justice each day, charging the ring with light – yep, this is a variant of the Green lantern ring.

Fans of Star Trek will enjoy the decoder ring and Grimm rings allow for the use of elemental body III. Jungle rings duplicate the gorilla form of beast shape II, while the signet of the legion Aeris nets constant fly, a bonus to Fly-checks and 1/day sending to other wearers of the ring. Twin rings of wonder are tied to one another and only work when used together – kudos for getting the rules right there. Finally, the wardrobe ring can store an outfit and be dressed in it as a swift action – cool!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – I noticed a double “s”-typo, but no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 1-column standard. The pdf has rudimentary bookmarks for start and end – kudos.

Jacob Blackmon’s rings are solid. They won’t blow your socks off, but for the low asking price, the pdf is worth checking out if the rings mentioned intrigue you. A nice, unpretentious collection – my final verdict will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Purple Duck Storeroom: Heroic Rings
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Recovery Dice Options
Publisher: Total Party Kill Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/12/2017 03:55:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 32 pages,1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

One of my favorite components of 5e’s design would be Hit Dice, aka recovery dice – the means to keep adventuring without requiring a gazillion of healing potions.. The system requires minimal book-keeping and helps offset some of the issues previous editions had with nova-ing of characters, i.e. the burst-like expenditure of resources to blaze brightly and crush opposition, followed by resting. Now, granted, novas are not a problem in groups of experienced GMs, who’ll put the fear of attrition into the PCs, but from a design-perspective, Hit Dice are a smart move.

Now, here is the thing: As written, Hit Dice are a limited resource that otherwise doesn’t really influence the complexity of the game. This may be fine for some groups, but I know that quite a few 5e-groups out there enjoy an increase of tactical options and customizations – and this is where this pdf comes in. In a nutshell, this book is focused on providing approximately a gazillion different ways of utilizing recovery dice in ways that transcend the regaining of hit points. Hence, the SMART decision to differentiate the terminology: Hit Dice refer to the base resource; Recovery Dice is the term used when expending such dice from the pool for new effects. The resource as such and how to track the dice has been concisely depicted herein and the benefits of using them as noted as a collaborative narrative effort, emphasizing the individual’s tastes, which represents a big plus froma roleplaying perspective – whether you buckle up and grit your teeth, are assisted by an ancestor spirit or tap into some sort of primal energy – there are plentiful justifications for the effects of recovery dice and the pdf doesn’t skimp on examples.

Now here is the thing: As the astute reader undoubtedly has surmised, recovery dice represent an alternate system and are, as such, extremely cherry-pickable; no one keeps a GM from disallowing one such option to use them and allow others. As each option only takes up a relatively low amount of word-count real-estate, this pdf ends up being surprisingly dense regarding the amount of content it manages to cover in its pages.

But you’re interested in the precise effects of them, right? And here, things get interesting: While there are instances where you can expend a recovery die as a bonus action to e.g. gain advantage on a concentration roll or gain resistance t cold damage until the end of your next turn. Or you can, as a reaction to suffocating, treat Constitution as higher, gaining you precious moments to escape. The observant reader will have noticed something that’s quite obvious here: E.g. the cold resistance-granting option is called “Blessings of the North” – it isn’t a big step to e.g. grant this specific option to characters hailing from the frigid Northlands to further differentiate them from Southlanders. The Suffocation-prevention option? Now that makes sense for a character with the Sailor background, right? So yes, these options can be used to further differentiate between characters. The Diehard option lets you spend a recovery die to gain advantage on a death saving throw – and with the right of these, you can roll the recovery die to subtract the amount rolled from a critical hit. Increasing your Strength for the purposes of Athletics and jumping makes for another interesting option here.

Now, granted, not all of these are created equal: Dash as a bonus action, ignoring a condition until the start of your next turn…there are some general and very potent tricks here. After a short rest, you can expend 2 recovery dice to regain the use of an ability that would require a long rest to recharge, which can potentially lead to odd situations. In short: These are engine tweaks and as such, they deserve respect and should be allowed on a very conscious basis. This requirement of some Gm prowess becomes evident with another option, which only allows for the ignoring of a select array of conditions (as opposed to all), but for a number of rounds equal to the recovery die roll – which may or may not, GM’s call, require an action – the balancing of this one is contingent on the game as well as whether the previously mentioned one is allowed or not.

Allowing Hit Dice spent to heal to be used for comrades makes for another interesting option. As a whole, this section can radically change how the game works at your table, in a myriad of ways. This is not, however, where the pdf stops – instead, we are presented with race-specific racial recovery dice options: These follow, in general, a similar route as PFRPG’s race traits or racial paragon classes, in that they emphasize the tropes of the respective race: Elves can spend recovery dice and add the result to Dexterity (Stealth), for example. Or, if you want to go for the classic elven sniper trope, a recovery die lets you ignore the disadvantage imposed by having your target obscured – cool: Gets right that you still have to know the location and the benefits of cover etc.. Dwarves can grant themselves temporary hit points versus poison damage or temporarily ignore the poisoned condition for recovery die rounds– again, this is less impressive when using aforementioned, more high-powered general options, but for groups looking for dwarfier dwarves, this delivers. Human resolve is represented by turning failure potentially into success: When failing by 5 or less, they can spend a recovery die to add half its result to the roll, to give you just one of the potential options. Dragonborn can tap into the frightening aura of proper dragons or pimp their breath weapon, while gnomes can generate short-lived clockwork devices in a relatively fluff-centric, but fitting option.

Now, beyond these recovery dice options grouped by race, the pdf also features options by class: Bards can add recovery dice to jack of all trades ability checks or fluidly get temporary access to a bard spell they don’t know, for example. Now, here is something interesting: There are options within these options. When using the barbarian’s Desperate Rage, for example, you can exchange a recovery die for a use of rage. That’s VERY strong. However, there is an option of the ability, which adds a cumulative level of exhaustion whenever you use it before taking a long rest, making it a gamble. Druids assuming the shape of a beast sans darkvision can gain it. Fighters can turn their weapon magic and, temporarily, provided you allow the optional variant, even change the weapon’s damage type: “Witness my blade, forged from the poison of your clan’s deceit!” Sorry, got carried away there. Paladins with the guardian angel option can counter an enemy’s advantage; rangers can fire lightning fast opening shots. Rogues can use the dice to e.g. improved Uncanny Dodge or Sneak Attack. Sorcerors can regain sorcery points. Limited control over wild surges, while a bit clunky in its wording, is also one of my favorites here. Warlocks can, if push comes to shove, bugger their patrons for information, duplicating a variety of spells as a ritual. Wizards can attempt to cast spells beyond their capabilities, which carries a significant risk – at least if you employ the optional restrictions, which I’d very much suggest.

Okay, all of this, on its own, would already be a massively impressive, daunting amount of tweaks to the engine to check out – but here’s the thing: The pdf’s not done. In a game where recovery dice become more important, one may very well want to tweak the system as a whole – and here, the pdf goes one step beyond the call of duty, presenting a wide variety of alternate rules: Critical hits that cost you recovery dice, making healing cost recovery dice (or the healer’s hit points!), temporary hit points, monster with recovery dice – these options are discussed in detail and have their own lethality ratings, which allows you to, at one glance, note how they will influence the game. Want a world where healing is sparse and injuries matter, but need damage-negating tools and options? Between the significant number of individual options and these general system tweaks, you can cobble that together. Want a superhero-ish game, where recovery dice also act as a kind of secondary stamina mechanic? Similarly possible. What about preventing ALL healing sans spending recovery dice? Yes, there are a lot of cool ways to play dark fantasy, horror or grittier games here – but similarly, you can make the heroes larger than life! Using the wounded condition from TPK Games’ option-book? There is a synergy option. Such tweaks may also necessitate new threats, and thus, diseases that take away recovery dice, adding their removal to undead (life drain!) or certain spells – the pdf sports some cool suggestions here, closing the supplement on a high note.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. On a rules-language level, there are a few wonky wordings here, but none of them wreck the integrity of the book as a whole. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with an orange-ish background and the pdf’s artwork is solid full-color stock.

Mark Hart, with additional content by Brian Berg, Rick Cox and Nathan Sherrets, has written a gem of a book. Would I use all of these? HECK NO! Using all of them at once can be a colossal cluster-f***. At the same time, that’s not the intent of the book and I never want to miss these in 5e-games. You see, this pdf ultimately represents not a simple template – instead, you should consider it to be a grab-bag: You check it out, determine what works for you and disallow what doesn’t.

Which brings me to the ONE thing I don’t adore about this supplement: The individual recovery dice options don’t have a power-rating and some are definitely MUCH stronger than others. You can’t just hand this to your players and tell them “Choose two of them.”

So yes, using this successfully requires a GM who knows what s/he’s doing and careful, individual consideration of the options herein. They are not created equal.

Totally, absolutely worth it. I mean it. This pdf represents some of the coolest system-tweaks you can imagine. This is a thoroughly GLORIOUS customization option book that allows you to enhance the tactical dimension of 5e, modify the rules to better suit your playstyle, go gritty or heroic. Yes, it does require a bit more GM oversight than it probably should, but OH BOY is it comprehensive and massive in its massive catalogue of tricks. I absolutely adore this book and it frankly ranks as one of my favorite 5e-books to date, representing a true treasure trove of modifications. If you approach this with the right attitude, then this will enrich your games for years to come.

If this had a power-rating for the individual options, making it slightly more user-friendly, I’d have awarded it status as a candidate for this year’s top ten – it’s that good. Even with the work that a GM has to put into this, the value of this book is obvious and significant – this is a glorious toolkit, well worth 5 stars +seal of approval. And this gets my EZG Essential tag for 5e-supplements – there are so many cool ways to tweak the engine herein, I know that, no matter the campaign, I’m bound to use some of them. Highly recommended, best 5e-book by TPK Games so far. If you know what you’re doing regarding engine tweaks, then get it now. ‘Nuff said.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Recovery Dice Options
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Stairway of V'dreen
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/12/2017 03:53:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The latest module for Venger’s Crimson Dragon Slayer rules-lite old-school RPG clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page Kort’thalis glyph, ½ page editorial, leaving us with 16 ½ pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, the adventure begins with the PCs seeking shelter – whether from a meteor shower or something else; thankfully, there is a conveniently-located half-buried hunk of metal there. What could go wrong?

Ahem, well, a lot. This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All righty, only referees around? Great! It is no surprise that the PCs will find the hunk of metal occupied – within, Dr. Ebzub is performing an experiment of utmost importance – the planar and dimensional traveler is calibrating a portal and PC interference may have pretty fatal and unpleasant consequences. The random table provided does allow for devastating explosions or stranger things yet, including the skipping of the whole module, requiring some referee mojo to get back on track. If the portal is opened, hwoever, the important mission of the doctor may well bring the PCs to V’dreen, where the thin air can provide some hindrance, depending on the luck of the PC – a d4-roll determines whether and how the PC is affected, ranging from continuous, asthmatic gasping for air to not being affected at all. Weird: RAW, being winded imposes disadvantage on physical activities until you rest, whereas not being able to properly breathe only requires a rest, sans the rules-relevant repercussions. Pretty sure that’s an oversight.

V’dreen has been abandoned by the gods and thus, a table of 12 strange susurrations carried by the wind can be found; the biggest city of the world, laarzdyn, come with 30 sample professions, which include the makers of invisible nets and being a colorist of artificial fish. Beyond these, we have a random encounter table that lets us randomly generate genetic experiments gone horribly wrong – determine base shape with a d10, type (including T-rex and bunny rabbit) with a d12 and weird feature with a d8 – the latter includes, obviously, tentacles, mutations or being vampiric. It should be noted that you still have to determine the basic stats and rules-wise, there are no default repercussions – “tremendous bite”, for example, is reliant on referee judgment to determine what it does. There are also 6 sample stranded NPCs to encounter, which range from stranded dark elves to Miskatonic researchers, pirates, a lecherous old captain and Ro-Dan, the raging mutoid. These write-ups are creative, fun and cool – but once again, fluff only – you’ll need to provide/improvise stats yourself.

Okay, so those would be the free-floating complications/supplemental pieces of information, let’s move to the adventure proper: V’dreen is a world the gods forgot – and as such, it is fading at its rims, getting smaller…and the good doctor proceeds to whip out a device, visibly excited…before, quite likely, being disintegrated by an arrow of bone jade fired by the fully statted Maura’kai raiders – one of the factions of this strange place, a race of insectoid humanoid savages at war with another faction of this place. Whether the PCs hold them back or are brought to their encampment, sooner or later they should realize that, unless they do something they may vanish with this strange world – investigation of the edges of the world will yield an impression not unlike graph paper, stretching to infinity – and a promise of falling forever if you step into oblivion. Watching the blank infinity promises madness, as a Great old One is lurking there…and just as the PCs may want to leave, they’ll encounter black-skinned goblin-like creatures with a taste for human flesh…

There are three factions here: Beyond the aforementioned Maura’kai, there are the Klyngon star elves and the B’xeeru, sentient clouds of semi-corporeal flesh; The Mauru’kai worship the Beast of V’dreen, a tentacle, tiger-striped arachnosaur that breathes paralytic gas. And yes, we get both artworks and stats for this horrid monstrosity. Hint: That’s one of the instances where PCs should GTFO…and it usually can be found at the base of the mystical steps that may lead from this place. The star elves hate and loathe the stairway and the beast, but are also afraid of the latter; finally, the b’xeeru despise the mauru’kai and want to keep the star elves away from the stair.

Among the wonders of V’dreen are strange thinsg – the mauru’kai, for example, worship and fear the Faceless Demon, sealed and out of phase in his ancient temple…who, surprisingly, just wants to PCs to ascend the staircase and press a purple button, fixing the world. (Obviously, this is a ploy – but he’s willing to give the PCs an extremely potent, intelligent tri-bladed sword. The first creature killed with it will determine the strength of the demon as he manifests, so unsurprisingly, it wants the PCs to try to kill the legendary beast of V’dreen with it… There also is a garden containing three marble statues, which represent immortals lying in wait – defacing them can yield dire consequences, but oddly, not stats are provided – sure, they are immortal, but no information on attacks and tricks they have? There also is a massive one-eyed monolith, the nexus of worship for the fading world, where a d%-table and some guiding questions allow you to determine on the fly magic item-effects. That is, you interpret e.g. entries like “Spheres of Yog-Soggoth.” And yes, considering the beast’s stats, you better come up with some potent tricks for your PCs here. There also would be the slaver warlord Seejo Tulon, who provides the option to save some damsels in distress – neither is chain of hopelessness, nor his fear-inducing gauntlet have precise mechanical effects.

Finally, there would be a way to escape, beyond ascending the stairs - a temporally disjointed wizard who may or may not have been eaten by a crudzu, a strange plant monster, does have a strange device and with it, they potentially may return…if the referee so desires, that is.

If the PCs make it past the dread beast, they’ll find room 23, where they can witness the gods of V’dreen Dave, Jim, Phil, Ginny, Tom and Aleister thinking about the fate the of the world – and, in a funny jab at the horrid endings of Deus Ex 3 and similar games, 3 buttons that decide the fate of V’dreen- annihilation, integration into the purple islands or restoration.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though the rules-language is often a bit less precise and prone to requiring interpretation than what I personally prefer. Layout adheres to a red-veined, two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports a second, more printer-friendly version. Kudos! The artworks are original pieces in b/w and absolutely amazing. The pdf comes with extensive, nested bookmarks. Personally, I was disappointed to get no cool map of V’dreen – to me, it very much feels like a free-form hexploration and the lack of a map makes it all feel a bit opaque.

Venger As’Nas Satanis’ Stairway of V’dreen feels very much like a fever-dream to me; I mean this as both a compliment and a criticism. On the one hand, we have a daunting, creative vision that is a pleasure to behold. The world feels primordial, strange and creative, and the graph-paper/fading world angle is amazing. This deserves heartfelt praise for its glorious ideas; none of the encounters/set-pieces featured herein are bland. That being said, at the same time, when rated as a commercial adventure, it feels a bit disjointed and sketch-like: Neither the star-elves, nor the b’xeeru are mentioned or explained in any depth beyond the brief, fluffy introductions. No stats or the like; they feel like afterthoughts to the mauru’kai. While we learn of the strange town of Laarzdyn, we do not learn what its populace is – mauru’kai? Star elves? B’xeeru? A blend? Something else?

I can accept Venger’s philosophy of requiring referee interpretation in his system; Crimson Dragon Slayer is rules-lite enough that this doesn’t necessarily break the game. But at the same time, here, there is a lot left to referee. The genetic experiments, the marble demons, the regular inhabitants…all require statting by the referee. Getting any sense of the place and its geography, in lack of a map, requires some serious close reading by the referee as well. Sure, I do get the idea here – make everything blurry, haze-like, allow the referee to move at his/her own pace. My contention is, however, that both the way in which stats and rules-text are missing in some instances and the lack of a map (even a point-crawl-y one would have worked!) conspire to generate a haze; the module, ultimately, becomes harder to use than it should be. The lack of a synopsis also adds to this, making a piece of inspired writing harder on the referee to run that it should be.

The beast of V’dreen is amazing and the primary obstacle of the module, with its ridiculous amounts of hit points. The PCs can even get a McGuffin blade to slay it. But what if they want to lead the star elves into an attack on it? Well, you’d need to improvise stats for them. The magic items the PCs will very much need to have a chance against the beast, require some serious, spontaneous Referee-mojo. Chances are, you don’t have a preconceived idea of what the eye of K’tulu does, after all. It is in these instances where I really wished the pdf would be more precise, would provide more guidance, a bit more structure. Combined with the lack of a map, we get an impression of a hazy fever-dream – a brilliant, far-out and creative environment and great set-pieces. But from a structural point of view, the module also, alas, sports the imprecise and slightly confusing nature of that dream.

This is really hard for me. As a private person, I absolutely loved this adventure. I adore its creativity. The beast is glorious and so are all the components of V’dreen – the setting and ideas are fresh and fun. As a reviewer, however, I also have to take into account the structural weaknesses that haunt the module and its at times annoying opacity. I have tried in my review to reduce this as much as possible, but in the pdf, we jump from the mauru’kai ambush to notes on their camp to the factions to the edge of the world, to Seejo Tulan…you get the idea. The structure of the presentation, as much as its minor oversights, constitutes a major drawback, particularly for less experienced referees – it is, in lack of a unifying backdrop and courtesy of its inspired weirdness, more opaque and hazy than Venger’s Revelry in Torth.

If you’re a veteran with great improvisational skills, then get this! This is an inspired little sandbox! However, if you want something to take up and play, if you have a hard time dealing with sandboxy environments, then this will challenge you more than most comparable modules, courtesy of a lack of summary or detailed presentation of its components. Personally, I had a blast with this – while I was annoyed by the amount of work I had to do to fill in the blanks, more so than even in many large-scale hexcrawls, the imaginative vision of this module remained strong enough for me to make it worthwhile. I can see this fail horribly, though – novices or referees accustomed to more hand-holding when running a module should probably think twice before embarking on the journey to V’dreen. Ultimately, my final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Stairway of V'dreen
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8-Bit Adventures: Vampire Slayer Gear
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/12/2017 03:51:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the 8-Bit adventures-series clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so this time around we take a look at items that are designed to, bingo, duplicate the experience pertaining one of my most beloved video-game franchises, namely Castlevania. No, not the less than impressive 3D-games. I’m talking ‘bout old-school, baby. No save states, no continues. The clock tower was FEARED.

So, first, we take a look at the names of the in-game items and correlate them to PFRPG-items in a handy table: Keys from the Castlevania games, for example, act as skeleton keys, PFRPG-rules-wise. So yeah, so far, so good.

Anyone who played Castlevania will recall whipping candles. A LOT of them. The pdf does provide some advice on how to use this as a very transparent leitmotif in the game – and it sports a treasure table for candles. The use of this table, however, remains limited – one table is provided for all levels. I get it. Castlevania had no level-increases for Trevor. It was a platformer, not an RPG. That being said, PFRPG IS an RPG- and as such, more differentiated tables for different PC-levels would have significantly increased the value of this section.

The pdf then proceeds to present two new weapons, the first of which would be the cross boomerang – and as sad as I am to say this, it does not work RAW as written, requiring a readied action to catch (an impossibility) or a weird immediate action attack versus AC 10 that just eats an important action and is yet another delay at the table. It also fails to specify how many hands you need for it – assuming default 1 for thrown weapons, but yeah. The second item, the star whip fails to specify this as well. While both of them have been cleaned up in an errata by the author, the information has not found its way into the file and as such, can’t be taken into account.

Next up are 3 magic weapons and armors, starting with the slayer’s shield of defense…which sports one of my pet-peeves: It calls the wielder of the shield wearer instead. Shields in PFRPG are wielded. It also is a spell-in-a-can and has “goes into total defense” – which is NOT proper rules-language for that. Whip crystals can be added to a whip, bestowing the deadly special weapon ABILITY (not property!) and if the whip already possesses it or already inflicts lethal damage, it “increases the damage progression dealt by the whip by one step.” – yeah, that’s not how this is phrased. Does this refer to damage die size? Weapon size? No idea. Slayer’s Mystic Whip is a really potent star whip with spells-in-a-can. It “ constantly seeks out and can detect any undead within 60 feet, warning the wielder with its empathic link when danger is nearby.” Oh boy. How does it seek them out? Does it detect undead as the spell or instantly? What are the precise stats of the empathic link? Does the whip need to be drawn? Is it undead or danger? What are the effects – no surprise possible? No idea. This is non-operational.

The final section of the pdf deals with new magic items, ranging in price from 50 gp to 11.520 gp. The latter, btw., would be angelic wings of ivory, a jump/feather fall spell-in-a-can item. The blue crystal, a single use invisibility, also is a bit weird, in that shattering it has not been codified, action-wise. Bracers of Multi-Blow let you incur a -3 penalty to get an additional attack at the highest BAB. Which can be really strong, as it stacks with TWF. Interaction with flurry, etc. is wonky and the 1/day bonus damage is weird, as the damage is not properly codified. Candles of secrets outline secret doors and hidden compartments – like the visuals here. The holy water bomb deals holy damage. Which does not exist, and the item is even inconsistent in its own damage caused. Next. Hourglass watch is utterly OP: 1/day hold monster, AoE, for 9 rounds. For 7650 gp. WTF.

Hunter boots are better than comparable items as well. Large heart crystals replenish limited use charges when shattered, which can be rather problematic. Small heart crystals double the base weapon damage for some time when used – okay, how does this work with crits or similar multipliers?? Master keys are slightly better skeleton keys with spells-in-a-can added. The rosary of holy destruction cuases a burst of…holy damage. It also lacks an activation action. Urgh. The sapphire ring’s rules-language, alas, is also a bit wonky and contradicts itself, lacks a reach caveat…nope. Wall meat is a powerful healing item and the white cross is needlessly verbose – and for once, should reference the spell that it actually duplicates.

The final page of the pdf is devoted to a monster table, noting classic monsters and pathfinder substitutes.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting can no longer be considered to be good – while formally, the pdf does a pretty good job, the rules-language quality leaves A LOT to be desired. Layout adheres to a really nice two-column full-color standard that evokes the classic Nintendo-booklet/cartridge-aesthetics – kudos! The artworks similarly are neat. The pdf has bookmarks for the chapter-headers, but not for individual entries.

I really wanted to like Derek Blakely’s pdf. I’m a huge Castlevania-fan and these items tug at my heart’s strings. Their execution, alas, is simply not up to par. They provide bland spells in a can, sport a lot of glitches, and even if I could take the errata into account, this would constitute a failure as far as I’m concerned. Unless you are a really hardcore old-school Castlevania-fan, I can’t find a justification for this pdf, even considering its very fair and low price. Even then, this falls very short of what it easily could have been. Personally, I did not get anything from this pdf – there are too many issues here. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars – if you really are a hardcore Castlevania-fan, you may want to round up…and since these fans are the target demographic, my official verdict will also round up. Otherwise, I would have rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
8-Bit Adventures: Vampire Slayer Gear
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Psychic Disciplines of Porphyra II
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/11/2017 05:42:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second pdf of disciplines for Porphyra clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with 5 pages of content. It should be noted that the pdf is laid out for digest-size (A5/6’’ by 9’’) – you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper, should you choose to do so.

Most of the psychic disciplines herein employ Charisma as governing attribute for the phrenic pool – as such, I’ll explicitly note the two disciplines that use Wisdom instead.

The first of the disciplines would be Dance, which covers, bonus spell-wise, the gamut from feather fall to overwhelming presence. It nets Perform (dance) as a class skill and ½ psychic level, minimum 1, as a bonus to he skill-checks. Amazing: You can make an immediate action check to dance to fortify allies against sight-based magical effects. Starting at 5th level, you may substitute Perform (dance) for Acrobatics and Fly and 13th level lets you replace thought and emotion components with the somatic component of dancing, but at the downside of potentially incurring spell failure. Meaningful, creative and cool ways to influence the gameplay – huge kudos!

The second discipline would be fear, beginning, unsurprisingly, with cause fear and offering cruel jaunt and the like later. The focus of this discipline is cool: You are still affected by fear, but it hampers you less – really cool: You can elect to be affected by effects causing the shaken condition and instead of the condition’s normal effects, even gain a buff – cool tweak on the condition and, once again, a meaningful way to customize the character – particularly for darker, grittier games this one can be cool for a player who wants a character that is not impervious to fear, but who learns to harness its powers.

The heroism discipline nets you proficiency with 2 martial weapons, or one exotic weapon of Improved Unarmed Strike and makes the psychic basically a Way of Life practitioner (see PDG’s underappreciated, nice martial arts sourcebook "Unarmored and Dangerous") – but fret not: The relevant rules are provided herein – you don’t need that book to use the discipline. Higher levels yield Uncanny dodge and its improved brother. Once again, meaningful tweak, with spells ranging from mage armor to deflection and heroic invocation.

Kyudo would be governed by Wisdom and focuses, unsurprisingly, if your Japanese is up to snuff, on archery and precision, netting Precise Shot, proficiencies, starting equipment and a cool mechanic: Scoring critical hits against targets with bows replenishes 1 point of your phrenic pool. Better yet: The ability can’t be kitten’d due to a HD-cap – kudos!! You may also replace thought or emotion components with focus or somatic components while wielding the bow. Spells with a range that is not touch or personal, nor has a cone-shaped AoE may be delivered in the form of ghostly arrows, using the bow’s range increment instead and starting at 13th level, the discipline allows for the replacement of both thought and emotion components. Once again, really, really cool!

Mascot nets you a familiar or animal companion (Improved Familiar may not be taken) and sports, spell-wise, the usual array of animal-themed spells, from speak with animals to animal shapes, with e.g. planar refuge included as well. However, to prepare spells, the discipline requires touching the mascot. 5th level yields a Will-save bonus when sharing a space with the mascot and 13th level allows for the sharing of the mascot’s evasive abilities. Perhaps that’s the otaku in me talking, but while this one isn’t mechanically brilliant, it does make me recall some anime I really enjoyed…I can see that one being the default caster role in some campaigns.

The final discipline, Void, is once again based on Wisdom and would be the second discipline centered around the concept of a psychic with moderate capabilities in WuXia-like contexts – with spells like anticipate peril, transformation, mind blank and akashic form, it certainly works that way. Particularly since it provides the second tie-in with “Unarmored and Dangerous” – the psychic using this discipline is a Way of the Void practitioner. Once again, the full rules required are presented herein. Higher levels yield evasion and its improved version, respectively.

The pdf sports a bonus pdf penned by Mark Gedak, where we get, on the two pages of content, Sirani the Favored, a level 1 (CR 1/2 ) dhosari paladin. Nice bonus!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch: Apart from one instance where the size category “Small” was lower case’d, I noticed no hiccups – and that one is cosmetic. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ printer-friendly 1-column standard with purple highlights. The pdf and bonus pdf sport no artworks apart from the cover, but at this price, that’s totally fine with me. Amazing: The pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity. BIG kudos!

Carl Cramér second foray into psychic disciplines lacks all my criticisms of the first one: Each discipline herein is meticulously precise, offers a strong theme for both role- and roll-playing and, more importantly and impressively, a meaningful change in how the psychic class operates. In short: This is a truly impressive little gem. Oh, and it costs a ridiculously low $1.50. Seriously, I have read a lot pdfs with 20 times the word count and less cool ideas. Oh, and yes, if you’re looking for a way to make the psychic fit into an Asian context – well, then this should be considered to be a must-buy. Even if the Asian flavor of some disciplines doesn’t do it for you, they’re one name-change away from fitting into pretty much any setting. Inexpensive, creative, precise – 5 stars + seal of approval. Get this.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psychic Disciplines of Porphyra II
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vs. Ghosts Adventure: The Lights of Sand Island
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/11/2017 05:39:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure for the fun vs. Ghosts game clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content. The pages are laid out for digest-size (6’’ by 9’’/A5), which means you can fit up to 4 of them on a given sheet of paper if you’re conserving ink.

Now, first things first: The adventure takes place around mysterious circumstances in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore – my US-readers will probably be aware of this beautiful area at Lake Superior, but for an ole’ German like yours truly, checking them out via google etc. was rather inspiring and really made me wish I could visit them. This also grounds the module in a believable sense of reality.

In my review of the rules-book, I mentioned that the engine can be easily used to run games for both adults and kids. Well, this module retains this aspect. As a whole, I consider this to be a child-friendly module. As an aside: If I had the option, I’d probably run this on site! Running this around the campfire while staying on the islands would add another, special touch to the proceedings. Now, I strongly suggest reading the module in its entirety – this is not necessarily a go-play module and its brevity may warrant further research if employed at the table rather than while on a trip, but that as an aside.

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

..

.

All righty, only Ghostmasters around? The residents of Duluth are worried. In the few weeks, a couple of boats have stranded on Sand Island, ostensibly following lights. While none of the big lakers have stranded so far, it is only a matter of time. The module does provide some guidance regarding the general area and also points towards further articles on the net for research, should additional details be required. Since the area is known for being rather touristy, it should be no problem to get the PCs involved.

The night the PCs arrive on location, the Benjamin Lark runs ashore on the east side of Sand Island – working with Coast Guard and/or rangers (who include a fair share of “believers” in vs. Ghost’s world), the PCs get a chance to interview the captain, who speaks of malfunctioning navigational instruments and lighthouse-like light – which seasoned ghosthunters may tie to Ghost orbs – but much larger! The Benjamin Lark could have almost hit the Sevona – a wreck popular with wreck divers.

Cool: The pdf does note that investigation may actually take the form of real life online research – the Sevona is a real wreck! 7 men died in the wreckage of this ancient ship, with two bodies found on the beach. Talking to rangers and collating further information from previous incidents will help: The PCs may even question the grandson of a survivor from the Sevnoa’s wreck. Mysteriously, the lighthouse sports no malfunction – though diligent research will unearth that a cottage of Camp Estella has been built from a part of the Sevona and is currently undergoing repair.

Which also would be the poodle’s core: The damage to the cottage has disturbed the rest of the per se noble D.S. MacDonald, captain of the Sevona – and when visibility is poor, he haunts the shores. Ghosthunters can find him in the fog – and he thinks he is warning the ships away from the shoal that wrecked his ship. A benevolent, if misguided division IV ghost, he does have stats for combat, if desired, but he may similarly just be convinced that he isn’t helping, allowing for a happy ending for the module and the option to solve it sans violence. Destroying the whole cottage may be another way to stop the haunting, but ultimately how the finale pans out s left up to the discretion of the GM.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any serious glitches. Layout adheres to the colorful, nice 1-column full-color standard of vs. Ghosts and the pdf doesn’t sport bookmarks. At the brief length, that’s okay and only represents a minor comfort-detriment. The hyperlinks to real world homepages help enhance the illusion of plausibility, as does the stock photography used as artwork. The pdf has no maps, but neither system, not set-up require them and the real-world backdrop means that there’s plenty of cartography to go around.

Jennifer R. Povey’s module is what I’d call a “Feel-good ghost story” – it lacks any malevolence, is a bit educational and provides a simple, brief mystery to unearth for the players. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t have to. As per the writing of this review, this module is ridiculously cheap and for its very fair price-point, it is a truly entertaining little set-up. This is not a module that will challenge seasoned investigators, but as a sidetrek or, as a first investigation for kids, it makes for a great offering that may actually expand the player’s horizon. Kids in particular will enjoy the module – for this audience, I’d rate this 5 stars. Adults may be less impressed by the simplicity of the proceedings and plot; such audiences should probably deduct a star. My official verdict will reflect the use for kids and thus, the 5-star rating.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Ghosts Adventure: The Lights of  Sand Island
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Deep Magic: Shadow Magic for 5th Edition
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/11/2017 05:38:36

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Kobold Press‘ Deep Magic-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Without much further ado, we kick off this file with a new sorcerous origin, the shadow bloodline. At 1st level, you gain darkvision 60 ft. (what if you already have it?) and may see through magical darkness in the range. Also at 1st level, you can gaze at a target within 60 ft. to impose disadvantage on an attack roll or a sight-reliant ability-check. This usable Charisma modifier times (minimum 1) before requiring a long rest to recharge. 6th level yields advantage on saves versus illusions and allows you to expend two sorcery points to cast blur or mirror image. 14th level allows you to step into shadows for 200 ft.-range teleportation as a bonus action, with the option to stay up to Charisma modifier rounds (minimum 1) in this interim, making you invisible and invincible and incapable of affecting anything. This costs 4 sorcery points per use. Not a big fan of the “can’t be affected”-part, personally – I think that could have been solved in a more organic manner by using etherealness et al. as orientation. 18th level yields a 15-ft.-aura, which can be activated for 4 sorcery points, potentially dealing necrotic damage and frightening enemies, with a save to negate the frightened condition.

We also get a new warlock patron, the light-eater, whose spells include ray of sickness, fear, shadow monsters, etc. - it makes ample use of the new spells. 1st level allows the warlock to spend an action to force those within 10 ft. of you to make a Wisdom save to avoid being blinded until the end of your next turn, with a short or long rest to recharge. 6th level yields the living shadow feature: When taking damage, you may, as a reaction, teleport the creature that damaged you up to 60 ft. away. The creature also takes cold damage and becomes frightened on a failed Wisdom save. This is very potent, but needs a short or long rest to recharge. 10th level nets immunity to fear-based effects (which are not a concisely-defined thing in 5e) AND the frightened condition (which is, thankfully, very concisely defined!) – whenever you are affected by one such effect, you can use your reaction to return it back to sender, frightening the creature potentially, with subsequent saves to end the effect. Okay, so how does this work with the warlock entering the area of a pre-existing AoE-effect that causes the frightened condition? Can this be reflected as well, or does the warlock need to be the target? The wording could use some clarification here.

At 14th level, you can conjure forth a shadow horror, which uses chuul stats with some modifications – a very potent ally that does require concentration to maintain, though. ODD: The pact boons here refer to the “dark one” instead of to “light-eater” – some version-change-remnant, no doubt. The boons yield Hide for familiars in shadows, but also disadvantage for it in bright light; a blade that may cause necrotic damage or a weightless book of shadows. Okay…so can other creatures interact with the book? What are its stats? These three modifications of the pacts are problematic – you see, they do not provide a full rules-text, but seem like they are supposed to modify existing pact boons…but they don’t clearly spell out their reference, which means that RAW, the pact of the blade does not yield proficiency with the blade, for example.

We get a third class option, the whisper rogue archetype nets darkvision 60 ft at 3rd level, no upgrade when you already have it, as well as the minor illusion and douse light cantrips. Okay, as what spells do these count? Do they have a spellcasting attribute? Srsly, the arcane trickster literally provides an easy precedent template here. And yes, I am cognizant of the spells not necessarily requiring that for most instances, but the lack of definition can still generate issues. AT 3rd level, you may Hide while observed, providing you have dim light or darkness, with advantage on Dexterity (Stealth). This requires a short or long rest to use again. 7th and 15th level yield +1 use per rest-interval. 9th level provides the shadow road feature for 60 ft. shadow-step-short-range teleports as an action, with a short or long rest to recharge. And yes, you may Hide as part of that teleport. 13th level allows you to become invisible for up to 1 hour while in hazier conditions. It ends when you cast a spell or attack, but otherwise requires RAW no concentration, but does require a short or long rest to recharge. At 17th level, attacks against you have disadvantage, but if you are hit, the ability shuts down until the start of your next turn – interesting.

The pdf also contains a total of 20 spells – as always, we’ll move from top to bottom of the power-range, starting with the two cantrips here: Douse lights can counter the illuminating cnatrips or extinguish small light sources; claws of darkness grows two cold-damage claws with 10 ft.-reach and may use them with melee spell attacks. Okay, so one or two? I assume one, since it doesn’t state otherwise…but yeah. A total of 3 1st-level spells can be found, the first being black ribbons, which is a pretty underwhelming shorter range reskin of entangle, based on Dexterity instead of Strength. Cloak in shadow makes for a nice reaction spell when targeted by an attack, but before the roll is made. It imposes disadvantage and provides resistance to radiant damage until the start of your next turn. Nice (and gets the casting time reaction formatting right). Cloying darkness is a ranged spell attack that inflicts necrotic damage and dims the lights for the target by one step.

There are 4 2nd-level spells, starting with darkbolt, a cold-damage inflicting variant of scorching ray that prevents hit targets that fail a Constitution save from taking reactions for 1 round. Solid variant. Dark path conjures forth a path through difficult terrain or obstacles. Negative image lets you swamp places with a target within 120 ft. that you can see, with a save for unwilling targets. Shadow puppets is too strong for 2nd level: You animate a shadow within 60 ft., make a melee spell attack and cause psychic damage – on a failed save, the target is paralyzed until the start of your next turn. This would be as well a place as any to note that “At Higher Levels” sections are only bolded, not bolded and italicized throughout the pdf– while I consider this a harmless, cosmetic deviation, someone is bound to complain if I don’t mention it.

We get 2 new spells for spell-levels 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th – in sequence, from 3rd onwards, those would be call shadow mastiff (guess what it does) and legion, a cube of shadowy soldiers that attacks those that enter it for the first time or starts its turn within or within 5 ft. of it for necrotic damage, using melee spell modifier. 4th level’s shadow monsters affects 2 creatures in range, which, on a failed save, perceive allies as monsters and forces them to attack said “monsters” – compared to dominate person’s limitations or better, confusion, this seems like a straight power upgrade that could use nerfing.

Night terrors is ridiculous: It’s an AoE-spell that paralyzes creatures with fright; sure, beings immune to the frightened condition can’t be affected, and the spell has saves on subsequent rounds, but it’s still AoE save-or-suck. Shadow Realm Gateway is a 5th-level ritual with an obvious effect; dark dementing causes a creature to need to save; on a success, it gains a short-term madness effect, on a failure a long-term madness…which is really, really potent. That means, even on a successful save, there’s a very good chance you’re done for – one look at the short-term madness table will make you cringe. Dragon slayer of a spell. OP. Needs to die.

At 6th level, we have banshee wail, which is better than harm: It kills off half current hit points and causes the frightened condition, affecting all critters in a 30 ft.-cone and causing psychic damage on a successful save. Needs a nerf. Fixed damage, no halving. WTF. Become nightwing nets you flight and a recharging necrotic damage breath attack, which is a nice one, all concerned. The final 3 spell levels all come with one spell each: 7th-level’s conjure shadow titan is pretty self-evident, using a variant stone giant as basis; Malevolent waves nets all allies in range advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) and all enemies are poisoned, sans save. Finally, umbral storm generates a necrotic damage-causing area that also causes exhaustion on failed saves – it may be moved around, just fyi.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level and also rather well done on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to Kobold Press’ nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports seriously nice full-color artworks, though fans of Kobold Press will remember some of the pieces. Bookmarks are included in the pdf.

This is the first pdf by Michael Ohl I’ve read and I must admit to be being positively surprised: As a whole, the pdf does provide some thematically-fitting, interesting options. For the most part, the rules-language is precise and well-crafted and while there are some hiccups, they don’t wreck the pdf per se; balance-wise, the save-or-suck conditions imparted in the spells make for some serious balance-concerns on my part, though – and as a whole, I consider this a mixed bag with some high points and some low points – thus, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars…and in spite of the freshman bonus, I don’t feel that I can round up for this one.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Magic: Shadow Magic for 5th Edition
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His Flesh Becomes My Key
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/10/2017 09:36:10

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The Outer Presence-module for Venger’s second tripartite collection of modules for his rules-lite systems clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page VERY basic char-sheet (just two tables - a long cry from e.g. Alpha Blue’s cool sheet), 1 page Kort’thalis glyph, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The pdf begins with a nice 2d6 table that presents weird, personal experiences of the influx of the weird, which may be encountered by the PCs during the course of the module – from headaches to involuntary anger and the like, they can make for nice pieces of dressing. It should be noted that, structure-wise, the module does not offer a synopsis or the like – this is not a go-play module and the referee should most definitely prepare the entirety in advance.

It should also be noted that this module imho works best as a one-shot and, being a horror module, it does feature some content you’d consider…well, gory and horrific. There is a potential murder in particular that is pretty R-rated. Reader-discretion is advised.

Now, more than in comparable modules, I STRONGLY advise potential players to stop reading NOW. This module, more so than comparable ones, can be SPOILED hardcore by even having a rough idea of what to expect. Only referees should continue reading.

..

.

All right, so the module begins in a rather calm manner: Just as the investigators are sitting around, enjoying a nice cigar and a glass of brandy, they notice a snow globe on one investigator’s desk – inside it, they can see an office with facsimiles of men and women, matching the party’s composition, gender-wise. While this is strange on its own, the PCs are contacted by their friend Richard Blake on the phone – usually kind and upbeat, his latest case of a serial murder whose modus operandi contains ritualistic mutilations of his victims, seems to have him shaken up. He also asks the PCs if they have read Thomas Alhazred Lovejoy. …if you even remotely are into semi-obscure and underappreciated horror movies, a smile may have crossed your face: My own association was most assuredly: “Do you read Sutter Cane?”

Anyways, the PCs are stood up – Black is a no-show at the date and considering the genre, the PCs should be rather concerned. Contacting Black’s partner, Cecil Slandy, does not paint the positive picture of Black you’d expect: Cecil obviously has been less than impressed with Black’s methods and considers him to be a gloryhound. Cecil and Black disagreed how the murder case in question should be pursued and thus, he hasn’t seen Black in over a week.

Thankfully, Detective Fontineau is a friend to both investigators and Black and lets them rummage through his desk…where a black notebook unearth a disturbing piece of prose writing (reproduced in the module), mentioning a “Master”, who answers “Others” – which doesn’t bode well. The notebook does yield some nice easter-eggs/leads, though, from Theta Chartreuse (Venger’s nod to Delta Green) to Lovecraft and the aforementioned Mr. Lovejoy, there are some delightfully bonkers conspiracy ideas herein -which may well turn out to be true, considering the setting.

Now, beyond these, the notebook does mention the Brotherhood of Gleaming Divulgence – though the phone number and apartment associated yield no hot trail. Instead, the investigators can find a sealed envelope contained a dire prose poem about a work when the stars are right. Another venue of investigation, obviously, would be Black’s apartment, where the investigators can find a rather disquieting statue of an amphibian monstrosity – as the notebook unearths, a likeness of Tal’Jezakbahr. Moreover, a wooden box contains an ivory crucifix, strange liquids, an annotated bible, strange demonic glyphs…not good.

Speaking of which: Black has a fondness for prostitutes and his current fling, Treena, sports tattoos vaguely resembling the glyphs found at the crime-scenes, based on, you guessed it, vivid descriptions in Lovejoy’s writing. She tells the investigators she’ll contact them and will do so – when she feels she’s being followed by a curly-haired guy…and when they don’t immediately get to her, she’ll be the next victim, one eye scooped out and placed in her vagina. And yes, there is a b/w-artwork of that. I did warn you about gore, right?

Anyways, the PCs can also find Jay Harango, an informant of Black whom he met when he disappeared. Similarly, the pdf mentions the prior and potential future victims of the serial killer here – and Lovejoy actually seems to be shook up about the murders. Now, I mentioned before that the referee should read the module in its entirety – a reason for this is that you don’t really get a list of the information in the notebook – you have to compile that yourself, which makes the otherwise modular investigation a bit harder to run than it should be imho.

The true killer isn’t as you may have thought, Mr. Black – instead, a bug-eyed fanatic called Stanton LaVry, who seeks to kidnap Lovejoy…a task in which he’ll succeed via his magical tricks. The investigators can ostensibly cut through the tentacles with mystical means, but no stats or the like are provided for doing so/judging the difficulty. Speaking of no stats – neither LaVry, nor his familiar sport stats herein. These would be, once more, up to the referee to provide.

The investigators may also witness LaVry’s book – which comes with a glorious 1-page artwork and inside, the PCs can read their names, written in blood. Examining the names conjures forth a silhouette of pure blackness and a hint on how to escape from a form of imprisonment…but no sign of Richard Black can be found. Instead, the PCs are lured deeper into the complex (which is a bit opaque): Finding a flagstone, the PCs can remove more, witnessing a vast cavern below, where humans engage in all sorts of depraved behavior – from murder to rape to (self-) mutilation, they witness a decadent rite in honor of a toad-spider thing, circled by nubile witches that seek to curry favor with their demonic master…and a tall, horrid man with either a mask or distorted flesh in his face conducting the rite. How the PCs go down below to the rite is somewhat opaque, as far as I’m concerned, but movement through the throng of folks towards the strange Supplicant comes with a nice d6-table of dressing-events. While it requires Willpower to resist the libidinous advances of the witches, I am not sure how that is supposed to be handled – what’s a partially success (4+ in TOD), for example? Does it suffice? What are the consequences for failing the roll? All of that needs to be improvised by the referee.

Black is here as well, trying to dodge the ritualists. His involvement here, alas, is also left up to the referee. Upon reaching the servitor, he offers to send the PCs back and end their imprisonment, though everything apart from the soul as a toll will result in the servitor’s face melting off, leaving a black void…and upon gazing into it, the PCs will see themselves zoom out, revealing the investigators trapped inside the snow-globe that started all. The phone rings. Richard Black’s on the phone…and the cycle repeats ad infinitum. LaVry’s book provides the only clue to save the investigators – skin the servitor and wear his flesh (hence the title). However, since we don’t really have an idea of the servitor’s potency, nor any clues on how knowledge of prior cycles changes events, it may be preferable for the referee to end the module on this disturbing nod of an infinite loop of unwilling participants. It’s certainly the most impactful way to end this story.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant hiccups. Layout adheres to the nice, greenish-tinted two-column full-color standard of Outer Presence adventures. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version – big kudos. Speaking of which: The b/w-artworks herein are excellent indeed – this is a really nice-looking pdf.

Venger As’Nas Satanis’ latest “The Outer Presence” module is an excellent, rather horrifying tale of terror. I mean it. Where the first two modules in the series focused on pulp with a bit of Cthulhiana spliced in, this one can be considered to be actual HORROR. It’s build up is great, the end amazing. As a one-shot, this does a great job and in fact, represents, by FAR, my favorite story he’s woven so far. It’s intriguing, cool and fun, a bit gory and transcends the limits of being just a homage to a certain Carpenter-movie or Twilight Zone et al.

Let me make that abundantly clear: An experienced referee can have a glorious field-day with this. That being said, for me, this is less of an adventure and more of a story. It is slightly inconvenient that you have to compile the information from Black’s notebook and the final areas when facing the killer are a bit more sketch-like than I’d like them honestly to be. Since one of my readers asked me to state the like explicitly: This is not a go-play module and requires some referee-time-investment to run properly. The complete absence of any game mechanics apart from 2 dressing tables is jarring and the one thing I absolutely do not understand about this offering. We have an inspired, cool horror-yarn here, so how come that neither rolls for sanity, nor any other components from ToD’s already extremely minimalist rules can be found herein? This is, in short, not really an adventure module in the traditional sense. It leaves the referee pretty much alone with anything related to mechanics – stats for adversaries and obstacles can’t be found and while some entries, like the abduction of a certain NPC, do come with suggestions, there are no real consequences for succeeding. Nor does witnessing tentacles burst from the ground cause sanity checks.

In short, were I to rate this based solely on the merits of an adventure, I’d consider it a failure. Player agenda and choice doesn’t matter too much, the referee must do all the work for stats etc. and some serious improvising etc.

In short: I can see this fail horribly for some referees.

Still, as a person, this represents the first Outer Presence supplement I really LOVED. This, when seen as a story to be fleshed out, makes for an amazing experience. Yes, it requires more work on part of the referee. Yes, it is at times a bit obtuse and inconvenient – but if you do run its conclusion as I suggested and pull that aspect off, you’ll have an amazing, inspired experience on your hands.

Which brings me to the task I really dreaded regarding this review – namely, rating this. You see, even when not looked at as an adventure you can quickly and conveniently prepare, this could be structured better and is, at times, more inconvenient than it should be. The already rather thin rules of “The Outer Presence” take a further backseat (even compared to “A Green jewel They Must Possess”) and are pretty much completely omitted. The only dice you’ll RAW roll are dressing tables. So yeah, if you expect at least some sort of convenience and gaming material beyond a story, then steer clear of this.

On the plus-side, the story is amazing, inspiring and truly cool. As in: Best thing in the product-line, by far, levels of cool. As a person, I THOROUGHLY enjoyed this supplement. I like the story, the pacing of the module – from the beginning to the end, the module continuously increases the tension, has some nice stakes…and the finale is, as mentioned, a blast. If you’re looking for an inspired base to further develop into a module, then this will deliver in spades.

I only very rarely am this torn about any module. I can see some people hating this as a module and loving it as a story to develop. Ultimately, I have to account for both in my review. Which is why my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars…but I honestly feel I have to round down for this one. However, since I really LOVED the story and finale, this is one of the rare cases where I award my seal of approval, in spite of the pdf’s flaws – if you can navigate them, this becomes amazing.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
His Flesh Becomes My Key
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Purple Mountain II: Desolate Dwarven Delve (DCC)
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/10/2017 09:31:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second level of the conversion of PDG's old-school dungeon delve in the Purple Mountain is 38 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/patreon-thanks, 2 pages SRD, leaving us with 34 pages of content. The pages are formatted for digest-size (6’’ by 9’’, A5), which means that you can fit approximately 4 pages on a sheet of paper if you’re trying to conserve ink/toner.

All righty, first things first: While this is obviously level 2 of a mega-dungeon, the pdf does come with advice for judges to use the dungeon presented herein as both a sequel to level 1 (including some troubleshooting advice) and as a stand-alone offering. Being dwarven-themed (no spoilers there-it’s literally in the title!), the adventure’s potential hooks also include this means of tying it to the interesting AL 3 Waystation location, a stand-alone, interesting little drop-in locale for DCC.

Judges should be aware that the module does present its basic environmental rules (doors, illumination, etc.) in a concise manner, including potentially slippery fungus that covers parts of the dungeon. As in the first installment of these, the pdf does feature both regular random encounters and special random encounters, though the latter are less diverse this time around.

Also not spoiler-territory (since it’s part of the hooks and provides no real advantage for the PCs to know), but very worth noting: This module does feature gremlins. While they are a much loathed staple in PFRPG, I was pretty interested to see what Daniel J. Bishop did with them, particularly their aura of bad luck – and frankly, I was positively surprised to see the mechanics make good use of DCC’s peculiarities. Indeed, this dungeon being more conservative in how it is set-up, we have quite a few critters, including otyughs, converted herein.

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

..

.

Still here? All right!

Having jumped in the meat grinder/waste disposal shaft in the temple of the vermin lord and being received enthusiastically by a hungry, young otyugh, the PCs enter what once was a nice little Dwarven colony - unfortunately for the PCs, emphasis lies on the "was" - the colony was wiped by a manifold threat – an infestation of dark ivy (aka yellow musk creeper – a plant monster that generates zombie-like servants from the slain); there is a cadre of gremlins haunting these halls…and the slain dwarves have returned as nasty, undead versions of themselves, so-called blindbrauns.

That does not mean that there is just hostility to be encountered, mind you: In fact, there is a troglodyte hermit (who also represents a possible tie-in to the excellent Silent Nightfall module) and Pallcap, a faerie-like shroom being, both of which may be helpful when clearing out this level…or they may prove to be more obstacles to vanquish – in short, this is a dynamic dungeon with a couple of mini-factions. Special note deserve the gremlin-cursed waters with their diverse effects and the detailed, dwarven machinery, which has been rigged, trap-style…and yes, these interconnect.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, while I did not notice an undue accumulation of glitches, I did encounter a couple of minor conversion relics, where the way in which some rules work still felt a bit Pathfindery. These are not jarring and not something you’ll find often, but purists may be slightly annoyed. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ 1-column standard with a white background and purple highlights. The pdf does sport several full-color artworks that are nice, if not all glorious. The cartography is okay, but annoyingly, we do not get a player-friendly map, which is particularly jarring, since the map contains the pipes of the dwarven machinery, representing a SPOILER of sorts when handed out to the PCs. Also annoying: Out of some strange reason, the pdf has no bookmarks, which represents a serious comfort detriment.

David N. Ross’ installment of the original version of this level was my least favorite installment in the whole series and Daniel J. Bishop’s conversion, alas, didn’t change much here. The DCC-version of this module feels, theme-wise, surprisingly like standard fantasy. It is a faithful conversion, but compared to level 1, whose themes were closer to those of DCC, level 2 feels overall less inspired. If you’re like me and expect a bit more of the weird and extraordinary from DCC, then this may strike you as a bit vanilla.

If a bit slightly less outré fantasy in your DCC campaign is what you’re looking for, then this should deliver. That being said, the lack of both player-friendly map and bookmarks, serve as two major hamstrings for what already was the weakest installment in the series, and without them, I frankly can’t go higher than 3 stars. That being said, judges: Even if you do end skipping this one, stick with the series: As someone who has run all modules in it, let me tell you that the next levels will be amazing treats indeed if the conversion holds up!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Purple Mountain II: Desolate Dwarven Delve (DCC)
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Everyman Minis: Brawler Archetypes
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/10/2017 09:28:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Everyman Mini clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 2.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This pdf begins with a brief introduction and then, the pdf sports two new feats: Feral Pugilism lets you use a natural attack in conjunction with abilities of Improved Unarmed Strike, specifically allowing the use of brawler’s flurry and close weapon mastery as though the natural weapon were a close weapon. This is potentially VERY potent and should have careful GM oversight, as the close weapon group restriction represents one of the problems here. Versatile Pugilism lets you choose one melee weapon, which may be a natural attack – this attack may be used in conjunction with brawler’s flurry and makes it count as a close weapon for the purpose of close weapon mastery…yeah. This lets you use two-handed swords, earthshakers, spears etc. in conjunction with brawler’s flurry. While I am sure that a lot of folks will enjoy these feats to increase the power of their characters, I don’t like them conceptually or balance-wise; they allow you to bypass what makes the brawler a brawler and the class, as such, is not necessarily in need of a power upgrade.

The pdf then proceeds with a selection of new archetypes: The brute is proficient with simple weapons and great club as well as light armor and shields (except tower shields). The archetype gains Weapon Focus (club) as a bonus feat at 1st level and applies all weapon-specific benefits for the club to the great club as well, and vice versa. At 5th level, the brute’s melee attacks with clubs ignore 1 point of DR, + 1 point at 8th level and every 3 levels thereafter. DR/- is not ignored and the benefits stack with Penetrating Strike and its Greater brother. This replaces unarmed strike and brawler’s strike. Brawler’s flurry may only be used with clubs and great clubs (strangely, referring dynamo’s flurry in a cut-copy-paste-hiccup) and 8th level modifies close weapon mastery to instead apply to clubs, using the brawler’s unarmed damage at -4 levels as a possible substitution, if it exceeds the damage of the club. See, this archetype very much makes my point regarding the feats for me – the feats are better than the archetype.

The hurling dynamo replaces proficiency with the close weapon group with thrown weapons. The dynamo’s flurry only works with unarmed strikes and thrown weapons, but both may be used within a flurry, with ranged weapon attacks counting as benefiting from Quick Draw while flurrying. Okay, so do the benefits of the modified brawler’s flurry stack with Rapid Shot? 2nd level locks the character into Precise Shot as a bonus feat. Instead of maneuver training, 3rd level yields either Ranged Feint or the option to use a chosen combat maneuver within one range increment, maximum 30 ft., using Dex-modifier to calculate CMB. This is penalized, though. The first attack of a flurry may be replaced with a maneuver or action chosen with this ability (nice catch re feinting!) and 7th level and every 4 levels thereafter yield another maneuver choice. 5th level modifies the close weapon group mastery to instead work, at -4 levels, based on brawler unarmed damage, provided that damage would exceed that of the weapon.

The kiai master replaces maneuver training with menacing shout at 3rd level, whenever the character hits at least once in a brawler’s flurry, she can make a demoralize attempt against a target thus hit as a swift action. 7th level and every 4 levels thereafter increase the number of affected targets by 1. This cap is weird, considering that the base ability does NOT have a cap of a maximum of 1 target affected at a given time, though the scaling implies just that. Starting at 4th level, the demoralize attempt, if successful, causes 1d6 sonic damage, but a given foe can only take this damage once per round. 10th level adds deafened to the target for 1 round, and 16th level increases the damage to 2d6 and increases the deafened condition to 1d4 rounds. This replaces knockout.

Finally, there would be the style savant, who only gains the benefits of style feats and combat feats based on style feats when using martial flexibility – the style savant can ignore the feat’s respective prerequisite, excluding Elemental Fist. Yep, this allows you to directly skip ahead to the final feat in a style chain. That is problematic, as the ignoring of prerequisites contradicts the central limitation of martial flexibility and prevents the viable reference to the default ability to clear the rules-language. Also from an action economy perspective – can the respective later feats building on a Style feat only be used when entering that style, which RAW, the archetype can’t? This is weird. At 1st level, the style savant treats his brawler level as fighter or monk levels for prerequisite purposes and also as the number of skill ranks in all skills for the purpose of qualifying for style feats or feats that list one or style feats among the prerequisites, replacing martial training. Maneuver training is replaced by two abilities – savant’s style, which lets the character mix two styles known into a more flexible style, allowing the character to be in two styles at once – cool: The action economy here is concise and at 19th level, the character can be in 3 different styles at once. At 7th level, the style savant may use martial flexibility as a move action to enter all allowed stances, which improves to 15th level as a swift action. So, what are “All allowed stances”? All style feats she can enter at once via style savant? What if they exceed the limit? I get what this is supposed to do, namely let the style savant enter multiple styles from her list at once, but the verbiage is a bit wonky here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are very good. On a rules-language level, there are some oversights in the details to be found here, alas. Layout adheres to Everyman gaming’s two-column standard with a b/w-background and a nice full-color artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Sasha Hall’s brawler options have in common that they seek to generate new choices and engine tweaks for the brawler class, which is generally something I applaud. However, at the same time, the options presented herein are problematic from a balance point of view and also feature some rough edges – not in their basics, but in the deeper interactions of the rules-language, which renders them RAW less precise and refined than what I’ve come to expect. As a whole, I would not allow this pdf as written at my table; the feats are straight power upgrades that invalidate one of the archetypes completely and the others also feature some potential stumbling stones. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad file, but it is a long way from something I’d be able to recommend. My final verdict will hence clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Minis: Brawler Archetypes
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Strange Stars
Publisher: Hydra Cooperative
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/09/2017 05:13:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

Endzeittgeist out.



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

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Stars OSR Rule Book
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We Be Leshys
Publisher: Zenith Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/09/2017 05:09:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

So, first things first: This module works best as a one-shot, courtesy of its unique premise: If the similarity in the name wasn’t ample clue: In this scenario, the PCs play Leshys, namely the leshys known as Brindlewild’s Protectors – these special leshys all come with CR 5 sample statblocks and represent the pregens for the module. The pdf provides some notes for customization, should the like be desired by the PCs. The respective leshy pregens all can be roughly likened to the traditional adventuring class roles – Briam, the briar leshy, for example, is thorny and gains verdant channel: Interesting here: All of the leshy gain verdant channel, which heals plant creatures exclusively. This means that, theoretically, a group of these can create a significant healing burst and recuperate from nigh annihilation. It should be noted, however, that the leshy in question are generally more versatile than regular characters: Briam, for example, sports pretty potent vines that can cause bleeding wounds. Strandle, a seaweed leshy, has aswim speed, can fire water jets and may detach bulbs that grant water breathing. All in all, these leshys could easily be reappropriated as low-level boss-monsters, should you desire to do so.

The pdf does provide some scaling advice for more or less potent groups, though these remain somewhat basic, focusing on imposing penalties and bonuses to account for group power. Big plus: Each encounter gets a full-color map that can double as a player/encounter map – and they actually are nice, particularly for the low asking price.

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

..

.

Only GMs around? Great! A century ago, the sorcerer Varun forged a dark pact with a powerful demon, blasting the land with the dread artifact known as the Eye of Aragahz…and his reign of terror was unpleasant…until Tyrganian the druid manages to steal the artifact, causing the sorcerer to be cursed by his erstwhile demon ally. The Eye’s power allowed the druid to grow the Brindlewild Forest, but use of dark artifacts corrupts – and thus, the druid fell to promises most foul. Fighting the encroaching civilization with 9 super leshy as a kind of police, he stalled the march of progress. Relationships have been strained, but there is some semblance of an uneasy coexistence. However, the vile sorcerer has finally managed to track down the Eye, recruiting the people of nearby Blackwater and promising them to get rid of Tyrganian once and for all.

If you have Zenith Games’ “We be dragons”-module, all of this may sound somewhat familiar: If you extrapolate the leshy-themed dressing away and replace it with draconic themes, you’ll have an identical constellation, with the minor complication of a compromised mentor – not sure I’m particularly happy there.

But let’s look at how the module’s structure runs, shall we? We begin with a conversation between Ancient oak, the treant and the leshys – the treant represents a more moderate position and makes the PCs question their creation…before Tyrganian intervenes and send the PCs after tresspassers he senses in the druid’s domain.

Thus, the PCs move towards the intruders – the strongest fighters of Blackwater, led by Hettie – who wields a chainsaw. Full technology item-stats are provided for the powerful weapon and it is pretty much as deadly as you’d imagine. However, unbeknown to the elite-leshy, the incursion ultimately is a distraction to lure them away from Tyrganian…a fact they can determine if they question any surviving loggers.

Arriving at the sacred grove, the leshys face a scene of destruction, with their friend Ancient Oak smitten by dark magic – the treant holds on long enough to impart the information that the villagers seek to burn Tyrganian at the stake, before dark magics overcome him, rendering him a powerful and deadly foe who can conjure forth storms of negative energy, with multiple rounds of different effects – cool battle! (And yes, the treant can be saved, though it’s not necessarily simple…)

Making haste to the village, the leshys can attempt social skills or fight their way towards the stake, with rules on how to free their master included – kudos there. The badly wounded druid has a serious chance to perish here if the PCs don’t take care. After saving Tyrganian (or failing to do so), the PCs still have to catch up with the mighty sorcerer Varun – who will face them on dust-choked, charred land with Eye and Rift demon, but thankfully also with a significant amount of his potent arcane might spent already. Defeating the sorcerer and securing the Eye retains the integrity of the Brindlewild…but if the PCs don’t caution the druid, he may continue to use the Eye. Ancient Oak may or may not have survived his ordeal, a voice of reason that may help the PCs convince Tyrganian to refrain from using the dark artifact.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups apart from a missed italicization. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports thematically fitting b/w-stock art. The cartography of all the encounters is significantly better than that in “We Be Dragons” – kudos, particularly for the low price point, they’re solid! A downside of the pdf: The module does not sport any bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment.

When I started reading this module by Jeff Gomez and Mike Welham, I was somewhat disappointed by the story – structure-wise, I did not expect something genius, but basically a reskin of the dragon-pdf? Not too cool. Thematically, it hist the same notes as well: Encounter, save mentor, deal with BBEG. That being said, this pdf is superior to “We be Dragons” in pretty much every way: The respective encounters are creative; the pregens are cool – each combat is meaningful, challenging and the signature items/abilities are really cool. Every single one of the encounters sports something cool and the player-friendly encounter maps add a serious plus to the module. That being said, the lack of bookmarks does constitute a somewhat unpleasant detriment and I would have liked stats for the artifact. As a whole, I did enjoy this module and my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, though I can’t round up for it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
We Be Leshys
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The Swamp of Sorrows - Pathfinder
Publisher: Pyromaniac Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/06/2017 06:26:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Pyromaniac Press‘ brief sidetrek modules clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 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.

Now first of all, you should be aware that, like all Pyromaniac Press-releases, this adventure sports copious amounts of well-written read-aloud text, with a quality of prose that is significantly above average – the atmosphere evoked in the module is pretty impressive, so if you’re struggling with that aspect of your GM duties, this has your back. Secondly, the excellent full-color map of the encounter actually comes with 3 different iterations: A GM-version with numbers, grid, etc.; a tactical player’s version with a grid and no numbers/SPOILERS on it and a third version for everyone who doesn’t even want a grid on their map. All maps as provided as high-res jpgs, providing full support for guys like yours truly who suck at drawing maps and VTTs alike. Big kudos!! Comfort-level-wise, this is absolutely top tier.

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! A recent earthquake has provided all the opportunity a dryad needed to finally escape the enslavement by a nasty, evil druid – alas, her ordeal has rendered her pretty much crazy…and the earthquake has also brought her domain perilously close to the traveling routes of mortals…which is bad news, considering how she thinks of herself as “The Dryad”, meant to exterminate mankind. Three nice hooks are presented for the enterprising GM, in case a mere roadside excursion does not suffice, providing a rescue angle, for example.

Now, as one glance at the map shows you, there is plenty of water in the swamp, which means that difficult terrain will be a factor – and so is the possibility of drowning, with the rules recapped for your convenience: After all, the water weirds that represent minions here (full stats included) can be pretty nasty. On a minor downside: The attack damage seems to be off by 1 in an otherwise solid statblock.

Within the dryad’s domain, the crucified remains of the dark druid that once enslaved her can be found, attached to the Tree of Woe; a ring of stone pillars, studded with the corpses of fallen bandits, encircles the dryad’s place and generates a surprisingly dense atmosphere of foreboding, and so do the remains of the woodcutters she got her hands on. Even before the aforementioned captured trapper is found, the PCs ought to have realized that this will not be a cuddly walk in the par…ehh, swamp.

A whirling pool contains an elemental…and the dryad herself is no pushover: Accompanied by a dire bear, the CR 6 lady comes with full boss stats – which include a variety of potent and lethal signature abilities: She can fire thorn volleys, is poisonous and her entangling vines crush those that she entangles. In short: She is a DEADLY skirmisher: With the terrain and at-will entangle, the PCs need to be up to their A-game if they don’t want to join the slain hanging around as decorative warnings. Then again: They have plenty warning that the dryad is not to be trifled with. Her statblock is btw. absolutely worthy of such a potent foe and the absolute highlight of this supplement!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good: Apart from the minor hiccup mentioned before, I noticed no serious issues. Layout adheres to Pyromaniac Press’ two-column full-color standard and is nice; the artworks deserve special mention: We get a cool b/w-piece and the badass artwork in full color on the cover, which is duplicated sans cover etc., hand-out style. Really cool! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the cartography, as mentioned before, is amazing, particularly for the extremely low price point.

Micah Watt’s latest encounter is not a brief mini-dungeon, but rather a complex, multi-layered wilderness locale that can easily play like a multiphase combat or slower exploration. The story takes a slight backseat to the atmosphere here. It is pretty impressive to see how the author managed to squeeze some genuine flavor out of a per se classic set-up. The amazing boss battle in particular represents a challenging, unique experience that, on its own, warrants the extremely fair asking price. At this price-point, I can’t recall any sidetrek of comparable quality regarding the challenge posed and overall presentation– which is why, in spite of the minor hiccup, this receives a final verdict of 5 stars. If your players crave a meaningful challenge, check this out!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Swamp of Sorrows - Pathfinder
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