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HT 1 - The Perils of Cinder Claws (DCC)
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/10/2014 03:44:37
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 32 pages of content, 1 page front cover, 1/2 page editorial, 1.5 pafes of SRD, leaving us with 29 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



This is officially my most delayed review EVER. It came out last year in December and I didn't get it done in time for holidays and after that...it just felt odd. So, with about one year delay, here's finally the review!



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



All right, still here?

In medias res - the characters find themselves in a feast hall of Christmas-themed decorations...and things immediately become ODD - silvery tinsel spiders, intelligent fruitcakes that never leave your system, dreaming of strange aeons - yeah, we're in for some nasty, far-out creative awesomeness here. Deadly snowmen and tiny reindeer that each have unique abilities (like Rudolph's red pustule nose that may blind you or Comet's fiery burst...), aggressive ginger-bread men and sugar plum faeries. Of course, they may find something interesting in their stockings - though whether naughty or nice depends on the alignment and luck of the character... Oh, and there are elves...the unpleasant type. And then, all warmth subsides, things become cold and the PCs will have to brave the dread ice-cold claws of cinder claws before hopefully escaping the desolate ice-cold clime.



That's the first module - the second herein, intended for 3rd level characters, also has the PCs drawn into the domain of cinder claws, here, the nexus of Yule - disturbing nutcrackers and rat-humanoids warring set the tone immediately, even before the unpleasant, swirling golden angels flittering among the branches of a massive tree. 6-armed, candy-cane wielding carnivores, deadly puddings, the bulwarg and skagaart (and friggin' GRENDEL!) - unpleasant! And if the PCs think that regular animals are nice...wrong. Even domestic animals like cows and sheep are deadly and carnivorous here, so they better beware! Finally, they may come to stand before the Cinder Claws, who offers to act as a patron for PCS...or have them face his wrath - whether by diplomacy or force (the latter being a rather lethal prospect), the module concludes with a memorable scene indeed.



We also receive a full-blown patron-taint/spellburn/spell-list. It should be noted that the module comes with nice, player-friendly maps and full color cartography.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to PDG's 2-column standard and is rather printer-friendly. Cartography is nice and the artworks provided are neat as well.



Daniel J. Bishop delivers by the buckets - this constitutes at the same time the most disturbing Christmas modules I've read before, all while managing to avoid delving into a gore-fest - instead, this collection of modules allows one to delve into a sense of utter weirdness, of oddness and some primal, twisted take on Christmas tropes without losing the very intent and spirit of the holidays - these modules are frightening, unsettling, yes, but they never turn unpleasant, managing to maintain a sense of wonder and high-spirited fun. I love these modules and if I can get a group together this Christmas, I'll run these. The modules are awesome enough to warrant you converting them to other systems, should you prefer a non-DCC-system - THAT good! Final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
HT 1 - The Perils of Cinder Claws (DCC)
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Random Encounters: Wilderness II
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/10/2014 03:42:36
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 23 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC (with statblocks by CR), 1 page author bios (nice!), 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



Now this is a collection of encounters that resulted from Raging Swan Press' open call for freelancers by various authors and come with +/- 1 EL scaling information. The encounters herein can easily be plugged into a given campaign, so from here on SPOILERS will show up. If you're a player, please jump to the conclusion.



The first encounter fits perfectly into the desolation of a desert with a minor dressing table, providing one nasty adversary for low levels PCs - a were-vulture ranger and his raptor companions. While only CR 4, be assured that this guy can be lethal - I once killed off 3(!!!) PCs with a harpy-sniper and that did not have the buff-suite and smart tactics of the ranger - a challenging encounter, especially nice for experienced groups and mostly remarkable for the damn fine NPC-build!



The next encounter has a cool idea at its base - what do the small elementals do? Well, they may gather in harmless schools, extinguishing flames and harassing PCs...and if you turn hostile, you may well have to face the enraged caretakers! I *really* like that concept and the escalating conditions in the encounter.



"Creeping Coins" is about the final resting place of a notorious thief, now a ghost, and his animated treasure hoard - generally nice, though also a lost chance - the encounter mentions a fascination with riddles, an illusory sphinx...but no riddle to actually ask. While RSP has enough riddle-pdfs, a sample would have been nice.



"Desert Rose" is interesting - the pdfs are crossing a wadi, a dry riverbed and the onset of rain has them flee towards a ravine (and yes, flashfloods are a thing in the desert) - alas, the influx of water also revives the dry shrubbery and reactivates the deadly assassin vines - neat, especially due to the helpful, damn cool round-by-round breakdown! Realistic, cool, two thumbs up!



"Lenate's Love" is a damn cool encounter as well - a fiendish gargoyle in love with an animated statue may be too much for the PCs to handle - unless they deduce a way to use the statue's programming to their advantage and have it help destroy the gargoyle. Tragic and still, fun and smart.



"Mojepe's Grove" can be a social or combat encounter, depending on your preference - a tribe of xenophobic, desert-dwelling halflings and their awakened cactus master. Diplomacy and combat - all possible, damn cool, two thumbs up!



"The Sting of Sun and Sand" has the PCs encounter a barbarian driven mad by sun and dehydration -they can kill the man or save him and find the remnants of his caravan - where a sandstorm and giant scorpions await...nice, if a bit conservative.



The final encounter, the "Vulture King" has the PCs face the remnants of a tengu-caravan turned ghasts/ghouls/etc., who, surprisingly, don't immediately attack those stumbling into their oasis, offering to accept sacrifices for water. Grim and strange, a cool encounter especially suited for shades of grey sword and sorcery, but I wished the encounter was more of a settlement, less of a fire and forget affair.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one for the printer. Both are fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and the pdf sports multiple gorgeous b/w-artworks.



Mikael Berg, Fabian Fehrs, Mark Hoover, Kiel Howell, Jacob W. Michaels, Jens Demandt Mouritsen, Christopher Wasko, Nick Wasko, Daron Woodson - congratulations, gentlemen - there is not a single boring encounter herein. While not all blew me away, the vast majority of encounters herein have something utterly unique going for them. Idea-wise, this is definitely an inspired supplement and showcases well the talent of those involved. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5, with a special shout-out to Desert Rose, Lenate the Lovesick, Children of the Sky and Mojepe's Grove - I'll be sure to use these!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Random Encounters: Wilderness II
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Prestige Archetype: The Arcane Archer
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/10/2014 03:40:53
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Prestige Archetype-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, ~1/2 a page of editorial, leaving us with 7 1/2 pages of content, so let's take a look!



First question - what are prestige archetypes? Well, they are essentially a breakdown of a regular PrC into a full-blown 20-level spanning class - so no, these classes don't necessarily mean that you'll have a universal archetype (wouldn't have worked in this context, I think), instead providing a retooled playing experience so you don't have to work your way up to the PrC via classes you don't want to play. So that's definitely a pro-side. On the con-side, *personally*, I treat PrCs as very much tied to organizations etc., emphasizing the "prestige"-component as opposed to archetypes, which are more traditions in my game. I'm not the target audience of these books, but I will take a stab at them anyways.



Each of the classes has classes listed as "build classes", i.e. ones that influenced the design of the prestige archetype. As written, they do not act as alternate classes and do not lock you out of multiclassing, something to bear in mind regarding balance.



Now let's take a look at the arcane archer! The class receives 3/4 BAB-progression, d8, good fort- and ref-saves, 4+Int skills, proficiency with simple and martial weapons and light armor (and suffers no spell failure chance in light armor and still suffers spell failure in light armor when casting arcane spells from other classes - nice catch!) and they learn to cast spells from the sorc/wiz-list, of up to 6th level. Arcane Archers cast prepared spells, governed by Int and thus need to maintain a spellbook.



At first level, they also receive an archery pool of 1/2 class level +Int-mod. This pool can be utilized, analogue to the magus, to provide temporary enchantments to the archer's bow as swift actions. The bonus (and conversely, the weapon qualities that can alternatively be applied to the ranged weapon) increases by +1 every 4 levels, up to a maximum of +5, with alignment imposing potential restrictions - no unholy enchantment for good archers, for example. What's odd here - since the class has a restriction that the thing needs at least +1 enhancement, meaning that the +2 equivalent enhancements can only be applied to already enchanted bows - kind of clunky.



At 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter, the archer may select a bonus feat from the archery style provided, with 6th and 10th level increasing the breadth of feats to choose from. Spell Archery is interesting - granted at first level, the arcane archer may, as a full round action, imposes a -2 penalty to all attacks and cast a spell with a casting duration of 1 standard action or less. Multiple attacks are covered here as well - either you attack first or cast the spell first - no attack/spell/attack-tricks. On the extremely nitpicky side, only failure of concentration regarding defensive casting is covered, though the ability should probably specify the potential for spells being wasted by any type of failed concentration-check. If one were to be nitpicky beyond even my standards, explicit note that the spells still provoke AoOs would have been nice, but that is a) inferred by conjecture of the defensive casting caveat and b) evident from the rules of spellcasting.



At 3rd level, the arcane archer receives ranged spellstrikes - and here, I expected an utter clusterf*** - and was positively surprised - the ability allows the arcane archer to deliver ranged touch attack spells alternatively via her bow as a ranged attack at her highest BAB - the interaction between spell and weapon damage are covered quite professionally. Now, again, on a nitpicky side, I would have liked the ability to specify that the -2 penalty when used in conjunction with spell archery still applies - or does it? If it doesn't this allows the class to get rid of it for ranged touch-based spells.



At 4th level, the class receives spell recall via the archery pool and at 7th level, the class may expend points from the pool to prepare up to int-mod spells as if they were in the archer's spellbook - here a scaling mechanism would have been appropriate - one point per spell level, for example. Otherwise, high level spells cost as much as low level spells.



Imbue Arrow allows the 8th level arcane archer to use bow-range for spells and thankfully cannot be combined with seeker or phase arrows. At 9th level and every 5 levels thereafter, an arcane archer may also reroll an atk or force a foe to reroll an attack that has hit the archer. At 11th level, seeker arrows ignore cover and concealment and cost a swift action and 1 point from the archery pool.



Improved spellr ecall is gained at 12th level and the armor-ignoring phase arrows make an appearance at 13th level, once again costing points from the archery pool in addition to being standard actions. The iconic hail of arrows is gained at 15th level and a countershot (with a limited range) makes for another nice high-level ability. Finally, at the highest level, the class receives slaying arrows and as a capstone, no longer needs to make concentration checks when threatened while using spell archery.



The class also receives favored class options for the core-races, with especially the gnome gaining more available enchantments for the pool being nice.



We also receive level 1, 5, 10 and 15 builds of a sample character including sample spellbooks (nice!) and also new feats: Counter-missile allows you to forgo an attack in the following round (and expend ammunition) to negate a ranged attack that would have hit you. While I like the caveat versus large missiles, the feat has a massive issue - it does not specify the attack lost - can one choose e.g. the third shot at -10? What if one uses Spell Archery with Ranged Spellstrikes? Manyshot? Regular Rapid Shot? I'm not 100% sure how precisely this one is supposed to work, though I love the imagery.



Deadly Calm negates the penalty associated with deadly aim when using composite bows for the first attack (ouch!) and extra archery pool increases the pool-size by +2.



Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no truly significant glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Author Carl Cramér has a tough sell for me personally here and I honestly expected this one to SUCK. Good news first - it doesn't! The author has managed to provide a take on the ranged caster/bowman based more on the magus and still providing the various iconic tricks of the arcane archer. The way enhance arrows has been changed is more in line with the magus' tricks, but there we have the one issue with this class - it's scaling of ability-gain is a bit off. Fifth-level alignment-based damage feels like a bit much when compared to the PrC. That being said, at least the enchantments cost a solid resource and the streamlining of abilities to use one resource can be considered a massive improvement over the base class. Now, the class does have some balance-issues: The arcane archer receives almost all of the magus' exceedingly powerful tools for versatility - spell recall, knowledge pool, etc. -which may seem appropriate, considering the similarity between the classes. HOWEVER, the ability to imbue arrows, exceedingly powerful, still has an issue carried over from the original ability of the PrC- the option to shoot AoE-spells on squares instead of foes for a ridiculously easy shot exploit the original class did not cover.



Another issue, quite frankly, is that the very powerful ability to imbue arrows, combined with a magus' flexibility, just makes for an exceedingly strong array of tricks, stronger even than the PrC. Is this a bad class? No, and it demonstrates the author's capacity to make more than solid crunch, but it also adds more flexibility to the concept than is necessarily balanced. Why? Take a look at regular damage-output of good archers. Then take a look at what magi can dish out. Combine that. Result? PAIN. Especially since wiz/sorc ranged touch attacks can come off as rather nasty - while spell level of up to 6th don't look that bad, the class can be made into a true monster. Is it broken? Not necessarily, but if your players are adept at optimizing, this class becomes too powerful and can blast its brethren out of the water.



It is mainly due to this fact that I can only rate this 3 stars, but consider me excited about the rest of the series!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Prestige Archetype: The Arcane Archer
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Ossuarite Druid Archetype
Publisher: Forest Guardian Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/09/2014 03:21:31
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This archetype clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



The ossuarite druid receives diminished spellcastng and has the usual alignment restrictions that apply to druids and their spellcasting canceled out -all the alignments are available. As you can imagine in the face of diminished spellcasting, the ossuarite does receive something rather unique - a skeletal animal companion. (Here a nitpick that won't influence the final rating -the companion receives the skeleton-template, not the skeletal template...) - and thankfully DR is postponed for the immunity-studded, intelligence and skill retaining cute skeletal animal until 5th level.



The ossuarite also receives 3+wis mod times detect undead instead of wild empathy. At 3rd level, the companion damages all foolish enough to attack it with unarmed or natural attacks with untyped damage - thankfully, this aura can be lowered and raised. In a damn cool twist, the ossuarite's wild shape allows the character to turn into a skeletal aspect of herself, which, while not truly undead, is susceptible to positive energy. Better yet, the skeletal aspect increases in power every even level - including claws, channel resistance, better attributes etc. and finally, as a capstone, we receive an undead apotheosis that allows her to also shapechange into skeletal animal forms!



A scaling array of specific immunities (e.g. to ghoul's paralysis), better saves versus energy drain etc. also helps the archetype.



We also receive two new feats - the Bonecaller-feat allows you to add the new graveborn template (CR +0/+1 (if creature has HD 5+) to creatures summoned via nature's ally-spells and the second feat allows you to improve channel resistance.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with copious full-color original pieces of artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and with a second, more printer-friendly version - kudos!



Morgan Boehringer's Forest Guardian Press offers top-notch production values in this supplement - the talented Mr. Boehringer plus Will McCardell and Jim Wettstein equals quality - the ossuarite is awesome in all the right ways - iconic, balanced, smart. And then there's the thing that I just *love* the idea of this book: Have cute, intelligent skeletal animals prancing around you? Yes, please! Perhaps it's just the macabre goth in me, perhaps it's me still not over the mortality of my childhood pets. But as a kid, I often fantasized how awesome skeletal animals would be. Not slobbering, mindless undead, but proper animals. This pdf allows me to indulge in that fantasy and I love it to death for it. My final verdict, in face of great crunch, awesome production values and the great concept, will be 5 stars + seal of approval. If the idea only marginally interests you, get this!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ossuarite Druid Archetype
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Subterranean Enclave: Mith'Varal
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/09/2014 03:18:20
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This second installment of Raging Swan Press' Subterranean Enclave-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!



Mith'Varal, literally meaning "mithril" and "mine" in Dwarven, was once a frontier's town nestled at the shore...wait, what? Yes, thankfully, this subterranean enclave becomes interesting almost immediately by virtue of its uncommon geography - founded underground on a mithril-rich peninsula, a river runs through it and it saw its heyday of prosperity. Alas, this time has waned, the fate of all mining towns - one fine day, the ore ran out. Mining continues to this day, but Mith'Varal's name has taken on an ironic shine and slowly, a sense of desperation creeps into those still here, still hoping for a reversal of fortunes.



Which also makes for a portion of the town's internal strife - most miners are still commanded to dig in Varal Tarak, whereas a group of hidden, seditious miners is exploring other mines, hoping to be lucky at one of those places. Then there also would be the guards of the place, the rather creepy "Faceless Guards" with their mithril masks, some of which may hide more than a greedy heart behind their featureless visors and their fully statted leader Gunar Hammerblow... And then there would be, one particularly nasty overseer of a dwarf and testament to the cliché that some dwarves are simply greedy, vile-tempered bastards... Events and whispers also mirror these themes of glory lost, repression and quasi-totalitarian work-camp like atmosphere -"of course our miners are free to go..:" Yeah, right. And what of the Thegn? Well, coincidentally, he has not been seen in public for years and neither has he given any public audiences...weird, right?



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to raging Swan Press' two-column b/w--standard, with superb cartography in b/w. As always, you can download player-friendly maps on Raging Swan's homepage. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer, with both being fully bookmarked.



Brian Wiborg Mønster delivers a different kind of dwarven settlement - one resounding of the old trope of dwarven greed, yes, but here said greed is turned towards their own people. The at first subtle theme of totalitarian control and military dictatorship starts resounding with the reader and takes an interesting turn once one realizes the difference in mindset that would have made for a boring rebel vs. oppression story and instead turns it somewhat on its head - the dwarves *want* to work, to mine. The issue is how to go along doing it! Once could, of course, read a criticism of corporate culture red tape and limitations imposed on employees into the sub-text of this enclave, but I'm not sure how many of my readers out there would appreciate me going on and on about the history of Marxist criticism, capitalist philosophy etc. - hence, I'll cut to the chase:



I loved this installment. My one gripe is purely cosmetic and pertains to the fact that the location on a peninsula would have made making this a subterranean coastal town possible - which would have been highly uncommon and a tad more iconic. Since this constitutes my only gripe with this pdf and is utterly dependant on my own tastes, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Subterranean Enclave: Mith'Varal
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ZEITGEIST: The Gears of Revolution - Act One: The Investigation Begins (Pathfinder)
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/08/2014 05:09:18
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The massive collection of the first Act of the Zeitgeist AP clocks in at 559 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 6 pages of ToC, 1 page back cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 549 pages of content.



So let's...wait. Let me get this straight - this is the compiled version of the first 5 Zeitgeist-adventures PLUS Crypta Hereticarum, Player's Guide and Campaign Guide; It also includes (with 2 hick-ups) cleaned up nomenclature regarding elves/eladrin high/wood elves that resulted from conversion. All of these components are simply glorious - 5 stars + seal of approval badassery in its truest form. I've also reviewed all of the modules, so if you require details, please check those out.



The book also contains "Seas of Zeitgeist", which provides the quick and dirty (imho VERY BAD) naval combat rules of "Admiral o' the High Seas" for the AP -and constitutes the one component of the AP I don't love o death. In design philosophy quite remote from Pathfinder, it pales before Paizo's naval combat rules and especially before Frog God Games' superb "Fire as She Bears", which I will use to provide proper naval combat rules for this AP. Beyond these, item-cards, a metric ton of maps, hand-outs and supplemental information help running this beast.



Conclusion:

Wait, what? Well, production-wise, this killer tome is a layered pdf that can be made printer-friendly, the maps can be made player-friendly if they aren't already. The writing by Ryan Nock, Matthew J. Hanson, Jacob Driscoll and Thurston Hillman is superb. The book comes extensively bookmarked for your convenience.

I will cut this review far shorter than the page-count would suggest since I've already covered the constituent pdfs. This is the most ambitious AP you can buy and also the most intelligent - with a focus on a complex weave of narratives, deceptions and espionage, it cannot be compared to any other AP in scope and focus and is ambitious to an unprecedented level. The story is so compelling, diverse and challenging, it is bound to become a legend, far surpassing even War of the Burning Sky and similar epics with its daunting focus on smarts and roleplaying over killing everything that moves. The sheer amount of glorious mini-games and decisions make Deus Ex run to the corner and cry itself to sleep and apart from the subpar naval rules, there is NOTHING on can truly complain about - and honestly, these are easily replaced.

Now if you are a new DM, first master something less demanding - Zeitgeist is intended for experienced dungeon masters and the amount of plots, characters, etc. you have to juggle is significant. However, this also makes the AP exceedingly cool, challenging and SMART. This is a thinking man's AP, one that dares to assume that its audience is intelligent and capable -and I *love* it for that. In fact, the *only* reason I'm not running this AP RIGHT NOW is that I'm waiting for it to finish. This may very well be one of the best APs ever written, depending on your taste, possibly the best.

It is to my eternal regret that I cannot comment on the premium hardback edition in color - my meager funds do not allow me to get this book as per the writing of this review. That being said, this is still a milestone for storytelling in a d20-based system, the first AP to reach the narrative complexity and depth usually reserved for legendary CoC/ToC/etc.-campaigns. If am of the firm belief that this tome belongs into a DM's arsenal and that running this, will one day be a kind of rite of passage. If you thought the "War of the Burning Sky" was good - it has NOTHING on Zeitgeist. My final verdict will come as no surprise, seeing how the first 5 installments were the first ever AP to succeed at such an unbroken string of superb ratings from yours truly; it will clock in at 5 stars, seal of approval, nomination as a candidate for my top ten of 2014 and a shed tear of longing for the physical book. If you can, get this NOW!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ZEITGEIST: The Gears of Revolution - Act One: The Investigation Begins (Pathfinder)
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ZEITGEIST #5: Cauldron-Born (PATHFINDER RPG)
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/08/2014 05:07:21
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The latest installment of EN Publishing's Zeitgeist-AP clocks in at 95 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 90 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



It's been too long since I took a look at one of the Zeitgeist-modules, but before I do, here the obligatory warning - this review contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

...

No, really. Jump to the conclusion.

...

Only DMs left? Good.

This adventure is the conclusion of the first act of the epic ZEITGEIST-saga, and as such, provides guidance of running it stand-alone (or the first campaign-act alone - just eliminate the conspiracy elements and there you go!) - which renders it longer than one would have expected. The constables of the RHC will have A LOT on their hands, so better hope they have honed their investigative skills.



A peace-summit is looming between the nation of Risur and Danor, finally bringing peace to the strained relations between the nations - including, btw., a list of the points of contention. In one sentence - there are a lot of elements invested in seeing the summit fail. Beyond a turf-war, a mad fey and radical eschatologists all have their own plots, which means that the constables will have to wrap up no less than THREE threads: In order to cope with this, magical long-range communication and the B-team are provided - the latter being only 4th level characters the players may play...and, of course, as always, characters may very well die.



And yes, on their way to meet the king, the PCs immediately are subject to a well-planned, rather deadly assassination attempt, including carriages, which should make clear the stakes are high - crimelord Lorcan Kell (backed by the two-letter-abbreviated conspirators) wishes to take them out. The king himself briefs them with the severity of the situation (as well as dropping some hints of ravenloftesque ties of rulers to their realm and citizens...) and tells them about the conspirators having some means of access to the Bleak Gate - something the PCs should better unearth as soon as possible.



Now the B-team will be busy with escorting the minotaur-ambassador Brakken - hopefulyl without attacking his dire-bear companion. Meanwhile, the PCs may see an old acquiantance from module #1 show up at the royal palace- the high elf Asrabey Varal asks, veiled, for assistance in hunting down aforementioned rogue fey. The B-team, escorting both the minotaur and the dwarven eye of Drakr at the summit will right NOW have their hands full -a deadly ballet of death is unleashed upon the city by a cadre of deadly dwarven eschatologists - perfectly timed bombs, sniper nests - the B-team will have its hands more than full trying to save what's there to save! Alexander Grappa, the golem-maker, has his mind currently inside the head of a demolished bronze golem and may just be the additional piece of information the constables need regarding the Bleak gate - though a clever geas prevents him from divulging crucial information. Now as an additional mini-game, the PCs will have to generate and train a task force of people to take down Kell et al, which also provides various means for complications - essentially, they have to order a shadow war against Kell and his associates - in a damn fun, cool mini-game. Better - if the PCs have good relationships with the Cipiano, they may utilize Morgan Cipiano's resources against Kell...for a price that will influence further adventures. Speaking of which - if the B-team can ensure that their outgunned fight in a night-club is successful, they can influence this mini-game as well - and actually get Kell's lawyer!



Espionage and counter-espionage very much determine how well the final crackdown on Kell goes -if moles are not exposed, the PCs may find themselves at a significant disadvantage. Now the investigation into the renegade fey with Asrabey turns out to be rather interesting - the haughty elf still vastly outclasses the constables and thus, combats tend to have certain things for him to do - and yes, the fey-opposition of the Unseen Court is rather deadly. While the main group dukes it out with powerful spellcasters, the B-team will have "fun" calming superstitious folk and hopefully prevent multiple lynchings due to the fear of a curse. Capturing and interrogating a gremlin may see the PCs finally in a position where they can confront the fey-lord Ekossigan - in the process of a ritual sacrifice, clearly mad and mumbling about dread things hidden...but more on that later.



If the PCs have made friends with Kvarti in a previous encounter, the dwarf's divergent take on eschatologist philosophy may provide a simple means for them to gain information - Kvarti is unhappy about the radical plan of mass-bombing the sub-railway system and wants to help prevent the unleashing of dangerous beasts bound for the harbor and a hostage situation planned by a particularly cold eschatologist - hopefully also diffusing the deadly bomb in a nail-biting finale.



The massive banquet scene that is to follow the happenings will be just as nail-biting and tense - there is a lot at stake and after the rather exquisitely detailed scene - which unmasks a particular NPC as a telepath and also provides the PCs with a means of maintaining an element of surprise over the obscurati in Cauldron Hill - depending on the means the PCs chose during the module, the finale's assault on the Obscurati base will happen under vastly different constellations. Beyond infiltration, the utterly EPIC boss-fights that reward making allies and smart choices here deserve special mention.



But this is not the end - the titan of adamantine is unleashed upon the city, and while, for now, without direction, it needs to be dealt with - the king assembles a makeshift fleet (plus allies PCs may have made!) and tries to lure the titan to sea, while the king executes a powerful ritual aboard the vessel to banish the titan. The PCs will have to hold off the deadly, nigh-indestructible creature while dealing with the deadly witchoil horrors generating from the titan, for one of the most epic climaxes I've seen in any module.



Pages upon pages of handouts and GM-guidance to running this beast are provided as well.



Conclusion:



Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to EN Publishing's 2-column full-color standard with plenty of glorious, original pieces of art. The pdf comes layered to the extent where you can make it easily player-friendly. Cartography is glorious as well.



Thurston Hillman has done it. The fifth zeitgeist-module manages to live up to the utterly INSANE standard the first 4 modules set, all of which manages to score 5 stars + seal of approval, rendering this AP the only one among those I've reviewed that managed to maintain this level of quality. The ONLY reason I'm not playing this AP right now is that I'm waiting for it to finish - I never start APs that are not yet done. That being said, this module is glorious and the first ACT of this AP has more going on, more memorable moments, than many full APs I've read. Superb in writing and ambition, this killer module is simply brilliant and utterly captivating - my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ZEITGEIST #5: Cauldron-Born (PATHFINDER RPG)
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The Antipodist - Radiant Shadowsage
Publisher: Interjection Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/08/2014 05:04:59
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This base-class clocks in at 28 pages of content, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



The antipodist base class receives d6,1/2 BAB-progression, no good saves and a locus-progression of level 1 to level 4 and 2+Int skills per level. Antipodists are proficient with simple weapons, but not any armor or shields - no here's an interesting cincher - they double the point costs of their loci when wearing armor they're not proficient in, but are otherwise not hindered by them - meaning that you're only a feat away from armored casting with these guys - sans penaltes.



The Antipodist receives two pools - a radiance pool equal to class level + wis-mod and a shadow pool equal to class level + int mod. These replenish after 8 hours of consecutive rest. If you're familiar with Interjection Games classes, you'll notice a similarity with the edgewalker here - and thankfully, multiclass-information is provided. Now an antipodist's career is called "Journey through Light and Shadow" for a good reason - the antipodist learns so-called loci, which range from passive extraordinary abilities to supernatural and spell-like tricks. Loci are broken into two subtypes - light and dark and within these subtypes, there are different philosophies further providing variance/sub-subtypes if you will. Now antipodists surprisingly have no caster level per se, but for interaction purposes, they treat their class level as caster level. Additionally, though some of the antipodist's loci are treated as spell-like abilities, they do NOT count as spells for e.g. PrC etc. purposes. Catching this one and covering it properly is rather impressive. For the purpose of concentration, a locus is treated as locus level + 1/4 antipodist class level, rounded down. It should be noted that supernatural and extraordinary loci cannot be identified via spellcraft. In order to activate a locus, the antipodist requires a key attribute (wis or int) of 10 + 2x level of the locus and save DCs, if required, are 10 + 1/2 class level + key attribute modifier.



An antipodist begins the game with 3 loci and she receives +1 locus every class level. However, within each philosophy, an antipodist can never know more loci of a higher level than of a lower one - in order to e.g. learn a second locus of the 3rd level of a philosophy, the antipodist needs to know at least 2 loci of the second level of the philosophy - essentially a pyramid rule. The antipodist may replace a locus with a new one at 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter, but must maintain the level of the retrained locus - but NOT the philosophy, allowing you to "cheat" the pyramid rule to some extent. Like the edgewalker, some loci require the use of the antipodist's shadow and thus, only one of them can be in effect for a certain time.



Got that? Well, that's not all - unlike the edgewalker, the antipodist can have different philosophical leaning - radiance, shadow or twilight. Twilight maintains the duality between light and darkness, whereas light and shadow, whereas the specialists in either light or darkness may not be able to utilize the other's tricks, but instead receive a slightly (+2) increased pool and, more importantly, may choose to ignore aforementioned pyramid rule to compensate their decreased versatility - anyways, all choices further modify what an antipodist receives bonus-wise - which is nice. At 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the philosophical leaning also provides further bonuses - increased pool size and minor bonus to one of the three saves. It should also be noted, that extensive advice for the DM and player to handle the transition of philosophies are provided - and that both light and dark are not tied to an alignment - playing CE radiance specialists or LG shadow specialisits is very much possible. Now interesting in this seeming dichotomy would be the "drawn from experience" ability gained at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, choosing a philosphy and increasing its potency - the trick here being that the very progression of the class can be used to mirror the moral development of the character and the preferences chosen. The extensive advice for philosophy-changing goes above and beyond, providing detailed guidance for the turnfrom one leaning to another, both in the crunch AND in the fluff departments.

At 2nd, 7th and every 6 levels thereafter, the antipodist may also choose one 1st level locus to become "well-travelled", reducing the cost of said locus to 0, but at the cost of treating a level-dependent effect as half the actual antipodist level, with the exception of DCs and saving throws. At 11th level, the antipodist may 1/day cause a 3rd level or lower locus to be spontaneously treated as well-travelled, +1/day for every 3 levels. Finally, at 20th level, three different capstones loom, depending on the philosophy chosen - these include turning one 4th level dark locus into a light-locus (and vice versa) or a third pool, the twilight pool, which can exclusively be used to pay for loci of the twilight philosophy.



The class also comes with favored class options for the core-races plus drow, aasimar, tiefling, kobold, orc, hobgoblin, puddling (with the one for elves referring to edgewalker instead of antipodist) and 3 feats for the class: Increased pool-sizes (including variance between twilight and the extreme leanings), making a 1st level locus well-travelled and +1 first level locus are possible here - solid, especially since the latter feat becomes rather important for pyramid rule-planning.



Now a total of 4 philosophies for radiance and shadow are provided and additionally, there is the twilight philosophy, which counts as either. Got that? All right, so I'll give you a brief run-down of the philosophies (If I mention every locus, the review would bloat...): Anima allows you to animate your shadow to execute close range reposition maneuvers, have your shadow record a locus (and execute it at your command) or stretch and peek around corners or even invade a target, potentially slaying it via fear. Other tricks of anima allow you to animate other's shadows, commanding them to help or hinder target creatures and passive bonuses to AC when not utilizing your shadow actively can also be found herein



The Beacon philosophy can help you cancel out ongoing fear-effects. on yourself and allies and perfect, short-burst flight alongside buff/debuff-effects, fast healing and healing (the latter with a 2 round delay-mechanism - interesting!) as well as beneficial mood lighting. Reflexive damage + dazzle when targets of a locus are hit by attacks and eliminating diseases and poisons also make for interesting choices. Now the coruscation locus is more combat-centric - duplicating color spray, unleashing deadly blasts of atomizing light and blinding light make for interesting choices. On a design paradigm level interesting, one locus allows you to regain limited radiance points of spent loci when reducing foes below 0 hp, meaning that the ability can't be cheesed or kitten'd via well-travelled loci - nice way of preventing abuse there. Dazzling and blinding of foes are often accompanying effects of this, and the negation of concealment as well as causing "catching fire" (akin to alchemist's fire) with coruscation loci can mean a nasty drain on an enemy's action economy. Interesting.

The illumination locus allows you to e.g. charge and increase the damage-output of the next damage-dealing locus you cast, net yourself darkvision, infuse texts with appropriate bonuses to skills or even "store" a d20 roll and later substitute it. The Manipulator philosophy has some truly unique options as well - take for example the possibility of subverting and hijacking summoning spells - damn cool! Subverting enemy morale also makes for a cool idea - as does intensifying conditions - making the relatively useless dazzle-condition blinded instead, upping entangled to staggered - really cool, especially since the save varies on the condition intensified! Also rather unique - clouding the minds of foes, causing them to treat all targets as if subject to concealment. Ignoring the immunity of mind-affecting effects at the cost of shadow points also makes for a cool idea, somewhat analogue to DSP's dread class. Also rather nasty - one high-level locus that is the equivalent of mass-haste for allies and mass-slow for adversaries. Causing the shaken-condition via images of "spiders, mothers-in-law" and similar horrific images made me chuckle and manipulating weapon-hands is interesting - a word of warning, though - if a target's HD exceed those of the antipodist, they may instead receive a buff! Now while this may look like an strange design decision, it also opens an uncommon way of using the class - cohorts and similar followers may actually end up as buff-specialists for their masters, with minor manipulation thrown in the mix. Interesting!



Now the Obscurity philosophy, of course, is the go-to toolbox of stealth-focused tricks - from turning into smoke and instantly moving 5 ft. per class level (to e.g. escape from the guts of a huge creature that has swallowed you whole), entangling globs of greasy darkness, dual short-term reflexive shaken/blindness - so far, so good. What about beginning an insurrection of shadows, resulting in a target receiving additional weapon damage when hit by a target for the first time in a given round? This philosophy has also perhaps one of the most powerful passive abilities of the whole class - once per day, your shadow dies instead of you when first reduced by something that required an attack roll reduces you below 0 hp. (Of course, the shadow regenerates, rendering this a neat type of life-insurance, though your shadow's absence may severely limit some of your options...) Shadow evasion and granting a weak sneak attack can be considered rather cool options as well, rendering this philosophy probably one of the go-to choices for thieves and those versed in the lore of the underworld - tag-teaming with your shadow to ignore the movement-penalty of difficult terrain does make for cool imagery.



The Refraction philosophy allows for 1st level invisibility via bend light, with the added caveat that taken items (up to 10 ft. sticking away from your body) also become invisible. Now while the mechanics of parabolic dishes may not be particularly elegant (not a fan of opposed rolls in PFRPG), it works mathematically here - d20+BAB+Wis-mod+deflection bonus to AC (e.g. granted from the hovering parabolic dish) against incoming rays - if you win, you can catch and return the ray to its sender, destroying the dish. Generally, this one can be thought as the most defense-focused of the philosophies, with quite an array of e.g. AC-bonus netting and even mirror image-like loci. An abuse-safe retribution-spear can also be found among the loci here. The Umbral Embrace philosophy is probably the most sinister of the respective philosophies - a lot of the loci impose negative levels and e.g. darkness rising even further penalizes saves against the ability depending on the amount of negative levels accumulated. One of the more iconic loci would e.g. allow you to conjure forth the literal sandman to put your foes to sleep and another generates an anti-duplicate of the target that crashes into it for massive damage.

The Twilight philosophy is rather peculiar in its general versatility, allowing you to increase the potency of loci when alternating between light and dark loci. Increasing the point cost of loci in order to have them apply to additional targets also makes for versatile options and adding swift action dimension doors to the casting of 4th level loci also offers some unique tactical tricks. A sneaking, auto-flanking weapon of shadow, a bolt that can be modified as belonging to any type of philosophy - the twilight philosophy is probably the most versatile and diverse of the philosophies.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glaring glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' two-column b/w-standard with fitting stock art and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience - with actual, nested bookmarks, rendering navigation easier than in many IG-pdfs.



The Antipodist was a surprisingly tough pdf to properly take apart - and this is mostly due to the pyramid rule and the slight modifications one may apply to its progression via retraining. Now shadow magic, as introduced back in the 3.X days of old, was a high-concept idea, flawed in its execution, and the antipodist provides a distinct array of tools that are significantly better balanced. While generally defense-friendly due to the option to go armored caster, the bad saves and otherwise subpar base stats of the class maintain and enforce one basic concept - the antipodist is what I'd call a trick-class. That means both that it is somewhat tricky in that you should carefully consider your advancement through it, but also that it lets you pull off interesting tricks beyond the capability of other classes. Much like the (scarce) good parts of shadow magic of days gone by, the antipodist offers some very unique options, cool imagery and goes beyond the original, tight focus, by adding in the concept of duality and specialization.



More interesting, though, would be the option to radically change philosophies mid-game and essentially reboot the character and choices made throughout the PC's career. This flexibility is in my book the most impressive component of the class alongside the cool twilight tricks. Now if I were to complain about one component of this pdf, it probably would be the antipodist's so far limited (though by no means TOO limited) selection of foci when compared to full casters, but then again, there's always the chance there'll be expansions for this guy down the line. The pyramid rule and whole theme of the class, blending mechanics with the proverbial metaphysical journey also proves to be gold for roleplaying - in the hands of a capable player, these guys can really, really shine, tying the acquisition of powers on level ups to key moments in the campaign.



The handling of one or two pools remains a relatively simple affair, so apart from planning for cool combos (especially with twilight-antipodists), the class is relatively simple to wrap your head around when compared to other IG-releases. So how to rate this latest piece by Bradley Crouch then? Well, to cut a long ramble short in its tracks - this is the shadowcaster class I always wanted.

Its odd options more often than not go a step beyond what can be done with spells and quite a few loci have this cool "see what I did there"-flair. Add to that the cool condition dispersal/identification-options and we have a winner, though one that imho misses one damn cool option - as written, edgewalkers and antipodists, while thematically similar, have no overlap apart from their pools. Some sort of synergy between waypoints and loci would have been damn cool and made the whole system much more modular (and rewarded those who have both books) - perhaps something to consider for a future expansion? After all, the system per se is similar and the other way round, using loci as waypoints, would have been interesting as well. Now yes, this probably would have been a nightmare to balance, but still - if it's not done some day, I'll probably do it myself to render the shadow magic as intangible and unpredictable as possible. Now consider this a the spoiled whining of one jaded reviewer, though - this class is still a damn fun option and quite simply the shadow magic we always wanted. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Antipodist - Radiant Shadowsage
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Genius Adventures: Spring of Disorder
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/05/2014 03:53:53
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 24 pages of content, so let's take a look!



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



All right, still here?

The village of Feiknstafir (fully mapped and statted with a player-friendly map!), sheltered and peaceful, has seen the last of its serene days - odd things are afloat, as the PCs will almost immediately realize when the wolves attack the village and the local horses. There is something weird going on, and the PCs better investigate the string of unusual circumstances. While some of the townsfolk blame the animals of the forest for the antics and grief that has befallen them, it quickly becomes apparent that the PCs will have to venture into the woods to unearth the truth - also, since diligent investigation may point them towards the horse of the first man to go missing, one Varsk. meanwhile, things may slowly be pilfered from the PC's purses, with one particularly cunning thief doing his best to relieve them of their tools - including counter-measures to bypass e.g. alarm-spells etc. We all know players HATE being stolen from, so that's a nice way to get them invested from the get-go, though by far not the only one. And even if the PCs catch the thief - who could be angry at the cute raccoon?



While exploring the forest, this module will do its utmost to annoy the players - squads of animals will seek to create a thoroughly unpleasant experience for them by stealing whatever they can get their paws on. Thus, when the PCs finally find some goblins, they'll be happy to fight - only to have the goblins surrender and guide them towards their tree village. This particular goblin tribe is usually at home in the high branches of the trees, and, as the chief explains, currently they are losing quite a few goblins - with bodies nowhere to be found. The surprisingly reasonable chief offers a magical weapon to the PCs for their investigation and threatens repercussions versus the forest's wood elf enclaves.



Following the information gleaned from the goblins, the PCs can find caches of the wood elves, deserted and featuring encoded messages, from which they can pierce together that the elves have lost people as well and blame the goblins and the villagers of Feiknstafir - seems like the PCs are sitting on a powder-keg here, ready to erupt! Extremely cool - if you're like me and your players like a challenge for their mind instead of simple dice-rolling, the series of messages can also be deciphered manually in a simple, nice puzzle I won't spoil here. Kudos!



The scrawl leads the PCs to the gnomish settlement of Smaparmar (again, fully mapped!) - subterranean...and utterly overrun by unpleasant creatures. Uncanny valley territory indeed - no corpses, but traces of combat abound...including the fact that someone or something has cleaned up after whatever has eliminated the gnomish folk. Worse, upon leaving the complex, the animals attack in full force, potentially even kidnapping one of the PCs! (And yes, the array of animals are deadly - with multiple class levels, they can be deemed an almost functioning adventurer group!)





The finale of the module has the PCs find Kreller's spring (again, fully mapped), where all the dead have been carried, and fight the true mastermind behind the animal uprising, a certain horse, which, alongside its brethren, has been awakened by the malevolent ghost of an adherer drowned by an adventurer in said spring. Whether the PCs just attempt to destroy the ghost and all opposition or reform the now intelligent animals for truly unique cohorts at higher levels, there is plenty of adventuring potential here.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games' 2-column full-color standard with nice full-color artworks and solid cartography supplementing it. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Mike Myler's "Spring of Disorder" is an uncommon module in that it oscillates between funny and utterly creepy, between suspense-building and minor frustrations, all ultimately leading towards a satisfying conclusion. Add to that the wholly unique opposition and the obvious (subdued) nods towards one particular Orwellian book and we have a great module here - with combat, investigation, social encounters, wilderness, easy puzzles and smart foes, there is nothing could complain about in here - my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Genius Adventures: Spring of Disorder
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Underworld Races: Hoyrall
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/05/2014 03:48:24
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let's take a look!



As with the other installments of the Underworld races-series, this one kicks off with a massive mythology of the subterranean races, a collective origin history that can be potentially transplanted from Aventyr into other settings, should one choose to do so. So what are the Hoyrall? Apart from an interesting name (if you're Scandinavian or familiar with the languages, you'll get what I mean), they are a race of parasitic creatures from the stars, brought here and held in check by otherworldly entities whose struggle goes far beyond what has been gleaned from other Underworld Races-pdfs - the extended origin myth of them is AWESOME, full of grand ideas and the stuff of myths - fluff-wise, a glorious beginning.



The insectoid creatures had their hive-mind kind-of sundered and today, individualism exists - and hence, the potential for PCs. Rules-wise, these guys receive +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Str and -4 Cha, count as humanoids and aberrations, are small, have a land speed of 30 ft and a climb speed of 20 ft, 60 ft darkvision, get scent to sense creatures below 25% HP or carrion, are light-blind, get +1 natural armor, stonecunning, +2 to saves versus mind-influencing effects and two rather iconic tricks - number one would be the option to use their own blood con-mod times per day to deal 1d2 dex-damage for 6 rounds, 1 save to cure, scaling DC- cool. More important, if you've seen the cover - these guys have 4 arms. How do the authors balance that to prevent them being utterly broken chainsaws of shredders? All hands but one are off-hands and for every hand beyond the first used, they incur -3 to AC, CMB, CMD and ref-saves until the beginning of their next round. Yes, this adds a whole slew of power attack/expertise-like math to playing these guys. And no, they may only can one spell at a time - no dual-casting, thankfully. This makes the Hoyrall overall very effective fighters, but it also is balanced via light blindness, str-penalty etc. and in my game, they did not unbalance things - for this was one of the races that required a playtest to properly judge.



The array of FCOs is universally solid and we also receive the Siktauryi Specialist archetype for Gunslingers - but what are those Siktauryi? They are essentially stingray-like guns that fire globs of acid, which is made from POISONS. You feed these things POISONS to make acid. Awesome. Especially since more potent toxins increase the damage of the globs of acid. As living creatures, they can be healed (!!!). Another cool piece would be mated carapaced organic growths that allow for long-range communication - think living walkie-talkies. Yeah, awesome! But back to the specialist: Bred to work with siktauryi, these Hoyrall cannot benefit from poisonous blood, but they can directly feed the siktauryi via their modified hands and later, increase their "reloading" speed. I'm sorry. This reviewer Is just grinning from ear to ear right now - little, 4-armed insectoid psychos with living guns? THIS is what I review for. Weird, awesome and oh so cool!



A total of 6 racial feats allow for less penalties when using multiple arms, better feinting or carrion sense, increased blood toxicity, bonus damage when feeding one's siktauryi with one's own toxic blood and covert communication via antennae - iconic, interesting feats - nothing too strong, nothing too weak. And yes, if you want to burn 6 feats, you can get rid of all the penalties for multiple arms...you'll be a mean little shredding chainsaw of a hoyrall...but you'll be 6 feats poorer.



3 unique items allow people to utilize hoyrall antennae communication, draw forth infinite daggers (which dissipate again) or receive a hoyrall phantom limb that is, indeed, a ghost of a limb - it acts as a +1 ghost touch longsword! Cool idea!



Finally, we receive 6 new spells, three of which are devoted to emulating degrees of a hive-mind, while one nets you a fascinating carapace, one allows you to spit poison and one nest you a prismatic gaze attack - the last spell may be a bit strong for the levels associated with it, depending on your campaign's power-level.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches, though a couple of minor glitches can be found herein. Layout adheres to a drop-dead-gorgeous two-column full-color standard with rocky borders and awesome graphic elements, making this a beautiful, if not very printer-friendly pdf. The plentiful original pieces of full color artwork throughout the pdf are nice. The pdf also comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



YES! *THIS* would be Mike Myler at his very best - the rules are solid and make multi-arm characters work. The fluff is GLORIOUS and inspired. The items are winners. The archetype is brilliant. The spells are cool. This is the Underworld Races-series at peak performance, with new, cool fluff, awesome crunch and, in spite of the very powerful benefits, a balanced race. This pdf had me grin from ear to ear and while it is not long, I guarantee that this is one of the coolest races you'll have seen in a while. The Hoyrall are so unique, so distinct, I *had* to introduce them into my campaign. Forget the Thri-Kreen, these guys are so much cooler! (Also: They are not broken.) While not all rules herein are perfectly streamlined with established PFRPG-canon, the reasons for deviating are unanimously due to maintaining balance, while allowing you to play and do things no other race can do.



This is AAW Games at its best, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Underworld Races: Hoyrall
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Enhanced Racial Guide: Bhriota
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/04/2014 10:16:30
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive racial guide for the Bhriota clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving us with an impressive 36 pages of content, so let's take a look!



The Bhriota are a human ethnicity and as such, I feel I should mention one fact - I'm a huge fan of human "races" - chalk it up to my extensive reading of Sword & Sorcery literature, but I'd rather have different stats for different ethnicities than x pseudo-humanoid races with almost human cultures and outlooks. It's a matter of taste and thus, I am rather in favor of the base concept of the Bhriota. Now of course, one may suppose that such rules may not necessarily be perfectly politically correct, but then again, the same argument could be applied to all humanoid races, so I'm going to ignore this discussion for the matter of this review - as long as the fluff is great and the crunch lines up, I'm happy.



Now the semi-nomadic Bhriota are a people essentially sundered - chosen to be custodians of a seal holding the old ones in check, the majority of their race has succumbed inevitably to the seeping unearthly corruption imposed upon them by the dread things from beyond. Rules-wise, Bhriota receive +2 Str and Con, -2 Cha, +2 to intimidate, a bonus feat, weapon familiarity with axes and Bhriota weapons. Generally, the race is cool, but the dual statboost to physical attributes gear them slightly too strongly towards melee-roles for my tastes.



Extensive information on takes of the respective classes, outlooks on religion etc. are all provided and we also receive favored class options for all core and APG-classes - these generally are well-balanced. No issues here! As has become the tradition, Bhriota may choose from an array of alternate racial traits, which include exchanging the intimidate bonus for stealth or increased resistance against diseases and similar conditions, better CMD (or saves)for weapon familiarity. Once again, no complaints here.



We also receive 4 racial archetypes - the insane assailant can enter a reactive rage that also doubles as a confusion-effect on him in favor of better DR and scaling, powerful damage boosts. Over all, an archetype high in concept, if a bit on the weak side for my tastes. The Savage Huntsman ranger is a specialist of traps, being able to add negative conditions to their effects. Additionally, these guys may temporarily decrease their favored enemy bonus to attack a suiting creature and apply negative conditions upon targets - a damn cool mechanic: Finally, something interesting to be done with boring favored enemies! Over all, a cool one!. The esoteric binder summoners receive diminished eidolons in favor of expanded spell-lists and have his eidolon deliver touch spells. Thankfully with a caveat that prevents stacking of held charges. Spell-like abilities and an aura that cancels out morale bonuses and penalties make for an interesting archetype as well. Finally, there would be the Bhriota Witch Doctor - who uses con instead of int as governing attribute - highly uncommon! Patron-access is limited, though, and in order to learn hexes, these guys need to live through permanent disfigurements, which will see them ostracized in most civilized societies - the mark of agony clearly denounces them as adherents to unsavory practices and rites. In lieu of a familiar, these fellows receive a fetish mask to act as their channel to their patrons, which they later can enchant. Additionally, 1st and 10th level hex are fixed via the 2 new hexes: Rending hex duplicates a 1/creature/24-hours inflict light wounds, while another forces open wounds healed and deals damage + bleed - which can only be stopped by regular heal-skills, not magic. The first hex may be a bit much - every day, infinite inflict light wounds, provided you meet enough different targets feels a bit much, especially in combination with the con-based casting - con being the most useful stat for casters anyway and the lack of MAD of the witch class making this more grievous. While the implied social stigmata of this archetype, when properly evoked by the DM, may offset these balance concerns, unfettering this archetype from its fluff and the peculiarities of the setting may see this not work anymore. So, while not downright broken, one option that requires deliberation.



Next up are 10 new racial feats - Bloodlust being the first, allowing you to add base will-save (NOT the modified one) to atk and damage against uninjured foes. Wait...come again? While the bonus thankfully is not the modified will-save, the damage+atk bonus's scaling surpasses similar feats almost immediately and increases the mook-mowing capacities of charges and vital strikes further. With the rather low prereqs, especially for multi-class builds a nasty glass-cannon enhancer that needs some nerfing. +1AoO with unarmed strike is neat, as is better charging versus inanimate, unattended targets. rerolling fear-saves, resistance to saves versus disease and poison - per se cool. Odd, though - the Grudge Bearer-feat, which allows you to retaliate against racial hatred foes with +1/2 last received damage on the next weapon damage roll. Apart from the obvious means of exploitation, the race does not receive hatred - so it can't take the feat. Attacking unattended objects whenever you miss makes sense and applying wis-mod, if negative, as a bonus to will-saves while raging makes thematic sense for insane characters. Penalizing perception and concentration while in the presence of a non-instantaneous spell's area of effect at +1 spell level would be interesting. Making full-damage attacks against swarms as a standard action (somewhat akin to vital strike) also is within the boundaries of what I consider valid.



We also receive quite an array of different traits - from minor bonuses to small pseudo-rages and birthmarks that denote the chosen of the Old Ones, these traits generally are well-crafted and supplied with nice fluff.



Next up would be Bhriota Rune Magic - using the rules via Rune Catser and providing full synergy with e.g. how they are handled in Northlands and similar publications, we receive an array of various runes - including a total of 6 feats to dive into runic magic, should you not be familiar with the concept. The runes per se are rather awesome and well-balanced, though minor exceptions can be found - the Na'arlosham Rune for example, allows you to do the following: "Invoked upon a spear, the rune invokes divine favor from the Old Ones upon the first character who throws it over the head of an enemy force (nine or more opponents) in the next nine hours." -so what are the benefits? Another rune that nets you a bonus of +20 to the next bull rush attempt executed may feel a bit excessive. Why not opt for a scaling benefit depending on HD? On the cool-side - we receive a drawing for each rune - nice!



The Bhriota Shaman-PrC receives 1/2 BAB-progression, 1/2 ref and will-progression, full spell-casting progression, up to +5d6 sneak attack progression,d6 and 4+Int skills per level. The class receives a curse board with which to curse adversaries and special dances, which allow for the casting of particular spells (depending on the school) as spell-like abilities a limited amount of times per day. Alas, the class seems to have undergone some revision - the PrC's table sports various abilities like ranged legerdemain that are not listed in the class' write-up - while I *know* what these do, I'm happy they *seem* to have been cut - this PrC is rather strong even without them. That being said, the PrC is still feeling like it's missing half its content. Fun fact - Herbal Remedies, gained at 3rd level, is also missing from the table. So yeah, massive update glitch.



We also receive an array of cool, generally balanced and rather flavorful Bhriota-specific weaponry - sneak attack with specific darts reduces movement, special caltrops, a sacrificial kit - glorious pieces, even before the alchemical war draughts and war paints. A total of 4 different magical items, from aberration blood to insanely powerful, high-level bone rattles (almost 2K price!) and a cool two-bladed sword make for interesting options - the latter increases its enchantment by +1 upon scoring a crit, changing its bleed damage to cold damage for a limited time makes for an interesting mechanic. As a particularly nice service for guys like yours truly, we also receive a legendary weapon. These would be weapons that require specific wielder-characteristics and in turn, increase in potency with their wielder - the swords of legendary Vathak, Ataciber and Reratuv, scale in 10 steps over 20 levels and makes combatants truly fearsome indeed - a cool, almost artifact-level weapon-duo, though one I wished had some unique traits.



Now the next chapter would be among my favorite in this book - here, we receive tribal symbols and glyphs and complete write-ups of the corrupted, degenerate tribes. A total of 4 such tribal write-ups, full of great hooks, can be found herein and each write-up sports two exclusive alternate racial traits - no complaints there!



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are better than in any Fat Goblin Games-pdf I've read in quite a while - very good, actually! Layout is beautiful in all the right ways - the 2-column full-color layout is easy to read, beautiful and still printer-friendly. The full color artworks, original pieces, are STUNNING. Seriously, these pieces are GORGEOUS and have their very own style and allure, rendering this pdf over all a true beauty to behold. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Rick Hershey always had potential as both designer and writer. The glitches lay in the detail and so, the presence of line developer John Bennett is felt indeed - this pdf is a joy to read. Its fluff is superb and of a high quality that makes reading this pdf inspiring. The quality of the crunch also has seen a significant step upwards - the majority of the content herein is rather cool and there indeed are some rather damn cool ideas in here. That being said, the few broken feats and glitched, unusable PrC somewhat neuter this pdf's otherwise stellar track-record. Were it for the fluff only, I'd rate this 5 stars +seal f approval, but with the glitches, I can't go any higher than a final rating of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. Still, consider me rather intrigued about Vathak - I now really want to see where the Fat Goblin Games crew takes the setting with this increased quality!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Enhanced Racial Guide: Bhriota
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Urban Dressing: Mining Town
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/04/2014 10:14:04
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of what I'd tentatively call the "new" Urban Dressing-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look!



First: What do I mean by "new" Urban Dressing? Well, the first run of the series had a certain hit-and-miss quality; It endeavored to take components of the city and use the Dressing-formula to depict them. Alas, cities are complex and organic and the success not always guaranteed. Then, with a certain pirate town, the series changed - away from describing a single component (like a park/temple etc. and failing to take some moving bit or another into account), instead focusing on a general theme and the means for the DM to evoke this theme. This, then would be the second of these new Urban Dressings.



We kick off this UD with a massive, 100-entry-strong table of sights and sounds - from taskmaster's whips a-crackin' to prostitutes, desolate picks and wheel marks embedded deep in the mud, to essentially miner gangs/factions or just singing people - there is a lot to see and embellish here.



Now the business-section deserves special mention in this file -a total of 50 different entries can be found herein and range from guild halls to shoemakers and drug dens to even people where you can buy bad luck and curses to get rid of your rivals and foes - and yes, the latter example just screams murder-investigation to me and immediately made me come up with a complex module.



Now if you're like me, there is one thing annoying about designing settlements - the non-story-relevant NPCs. You know, the guys that have a name and look only so that your plot points don't stick out like sore thumbs. Well, this pdf provides a total of 50 short fluffy descriptions of sample characters, with suggested alignment/class/race info in brackets. Why do I consider that awesome? Because, apart from making the world more dynamic and believable, it helps add a sense of momentum to the game - what may just have been a note may resonate with your players, resulting in extensive development of such a sketch and adventures beyond that - and this organic growth is what makes a town come to life. It does help that the characters here run the gamut from bitter, old crones with a slight magical aptitude to philanthropic ladies of the elven aristocracy. Two thumbs up!



The final page, then, covers different complications, which range from eerie green mist rising from the ground to cave-ins, mysterious perpetrators breaking every piece of mining equipment in town to gas explosions and troll/bugbear bouncers/suppression tools - each of these is varied and should at least be able to spark one full session of adventuring, perhaps even more. They also run the gamut from relatively common to weird and span thus a range for various playstyles.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' 2-column b/w-standard and the artwork is thematically fitting b/w-stock. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions - one optimized for the printer and one optimized for screen-use.



Josh Vogt's Mining Towns are in one word, awesome. The plethora of local color one can add via this pdf to any mining town is impressive, diverse and just smells of grime, dust and hard work - and I love it! This is well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval for its creativity and diversity.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Urban Dressing: Mining Town
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Location Guides: The Pirate Haven of Blackrock
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/04/2014 10:12:12
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This location guide clocks n at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let's take a look!



So...another pirate town. Blackrock comes with a full-blown settlement statblock -situated at the island of Korte, Blackrock is now ruled by the pirate-queen Cassandra, a pirate haven spawned from necessity and since then, turned into a thriving village - complete with nice cartography, provided as a b/w-version with keys for the DM and in a full-color hand-out version sans keys for the players. It should be noted that the map is isometric, providing some nostalgia for guys like me. The city and its small, walled harbor is encircled by fortifications and thus looks somewhat cramped.



The numerous notable locations provide various hooks for players to pursue - from fortified alehouses to Cassandra's ship to shops, there is quite a lot going on in the town. Fortune-seekers will definitely not lack for employment. and the general break-down of the location into different quarters helps navigate the pdf. There is something that sets the town apart from similar supplements, though - the hooks. The pdf provides, beyond the inspiration that may be drawn from the writing, extremely detailed hooks that go beyond what a hook usually does. The basic concept is presented along-side a skeletal outline of the things to happen - with complications and further adventuring possibilities, the supplement goes above and beyond in that regard. Oh, and the hooks are pretty versatile - from poisoned prostitutes to stolen light-house-powering stones to delivering something important to the bank and have it heisted away, the hooks are surprisingly neat and the level of detail they provide can be considered exemplary.



Beyond crime and punishment, an extensive table of food and prices and hooks for nearby ruins, the pdf provides quite a few nice details for the DM to develop. Aforementioned pirate queen, receives a full-blown, detailed NPC-write-up and beyond that, a total of no less 7 statblocks for more generic, nameless NPCs provides further fodder.



Conclusion:



Editing and formatting are very good, I only noticed minor glitches here and there. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games' printer-friendly two-column standard in full color and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. Cartography is nice as well, though the maps look a bit blurry in my version, as does the cover-artwork, The DM-map is abit too jumbled - the numbers with their white backgrounds obscure the drawing and make making out where the places are supposed to be slightly harder than it ought to be.



I feel like an utter prick. Darren W. Pearce and Gillian M. Pearce, supported by the statblocks by Carlos Ovalle and Mike Welham, have created a compelling, cool pirate town full of hooks and local color, a place that delivers what one expects. And still, I can't find it in me to like this supplement. Perhaps it's due to me having read too many Pirate-themed settlements - between a certain village backdrop, Port Shaw, Freeport, Skull & Shackles etc., I may simply be burned out on pirate towns. Perhaps I'm too jaded and need some unique angle to make me excited. I don't know. This location guide, with its more than fair, low price-point, delivers all you could expect from such a book.



And after some contemplation, I realized something - I've been utterly, completely spoiled by Raging Swan Press' settlement books. In direct comparison, this pdf has no nomenclature, marketplace, rumor-section, events, sights, sounds and smells - the place just lacks the extreme level of detail that helps DMs make a place come alive. A couple of years before, this pdf would have probably blown my mind, but using so many Village Backdrops or glorious towns like Wolverton has utterly spoiled me on a formal level. Make no mistake, Blackrock is a great place and it is NOT lacking in detail - but the little pieces of local color, the extreme attention to detail is just not there - much like many a Paizo-book, this is a potentially inspiring gazetteer full of nice information, yes. But it lacks this additional oomph that makes Raging Swan's settlements come to life and has the unpleasant handicap of covering a topic that has been thoroughly covered by superb, bigger supplements in a level of detail, it can, by virtue of its length, not perfectly compete with. Blackrock is a great settlement and if you don't have Razor Coast or Freeport, or if you need an additional pirate settlement - you probably won't be disappointed.



That being said, I can't explain properly why, but this pdf just didn't click with me - there simply is no leitmotif beyond the pirate-angle that sets this one apart for me. I am aware that this probably is the 13th age/pirate-fan in me talking, but some cultural peculiarity, racial tension, uncommon architecture - anything weird to make this town more distinct and it would leave much more of an impression. Now as a private person, this supplement, in spite of its excellent bang-for-buck-ratio, left me cold. For me as a person, this is a 3 star file. As a reviewer, though, I have to abstract (or at least try it!) said jadedness - and it may very well be that you, dear reader, are not that jaded, that you're looking for an inexpensive, nice pirate town - then this would be just what the doctor ordered. For you, this may even be a 4.5 star file. Hence, my final verdict will clock in between the two - at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 stars due to in dubio pro reo and me taking my own situation into account.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Location Guides: The Pirate Haven of Blackrock
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Path of War
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/03/2014 04:25:38
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The final version of the first Path of War book clocks in at 165 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with a massive 160 pages of content, so let's take a look!



A short lesson in history: Back in the 3.X-days, there was one particular book that divided the fans of D&D like few before - the "Tome of Battle", more commonly known as the "Book of 9 Swords", henceforth abbreviated Bo9S. This book took martial characters and provided choices for them - somewhat akin to spellcasting, with the target goal of making them more interesting. And the book at once succeeded and failed spectacularly. Why? Well, first of all, the respective disciplines of martial traditions were not properly balanced among each other. Secondly, the book utilized per-encounter mechanics, which broke in-game immersion and logic in ways most obtrusive. Thirdly, the mechanics, while innovative, utilized a whole array of options that could easily be broken without even trying. It happened by accident once in my game. The mechanic to regain maneuvers of two of the classes was sub-optimal to say the least. So, after some trepidation and a unanimous vote, my group banned the book.



Fast forward to 2013/14 -Dreamscarred Press releases the first supplements of Path of War, the spiritual successor to Bo9S, and after a highly controversial review, actually listens and includes improvements - but how many? Well, let's check this one out!



In case you're not familiar with the basic premise of PoW - the supernatural, extraordinary and spell-like special tricks these classes may execute, their "spells", if you will, would be called maneuvers. Each character has a so-called initiator-level, which, much like a caster-level, influences the power of many of the options herein. Maneuvers are grouped in different categories: Stances offer passive benefits and can be maintained indefinitely - unlike all the other maneuver types, which would be strikes, boosts and counters. The names of these categories are pretty self-explanatory, but for completeness' sake: Boosts provide benefits, buffs if you will. Counters can usually be initiated as immediate actions to react to foes/actions. Strikes would be the active, in your face attacks.



Maneuvers are grouped in different levels, ranging from 1 - 9, and in disciplines, which can be considered schools. Each martial class receives a certain list of available disciplines to choose their maneuvers from and has its own way of replenishing maneuvers.



In my reviews of the constituent pdfs, I have analyzed the respective 3 base classes Stalker, Warlord and Warder in detail, hence I will not go into the finer points here - also to avoid bloating the review further. As short summaries - Stalkers are the maneuver-dual-wield rogue/assassin-style class and quite focused on crit-fishing. Warlords are the fighting commanders that command amidst the troops and Warders would be the dedicated tanks that draw the foe's ire and keep their allies safe while they take the brunt of the foe's wrath.



Stalkers receive ki and have two options for the regaining of maneuvers - 1 maneuver for a standard action, or wis mod, min 2, for a full-round action - neither provokes AoOs, which is good. However, what still irks me on a design point of view - the latter option also allows the stalker to move his base speed AND receive a +4 insight bonus to AC AND add deadly strike as bonus damage to the next attack/maneuver he executes. This would be a significant bonus and imho one that would have been better off as a scaling benefit - i.e. the tying of class level to the AC-bonus granted. Why? Because playtest showed that, especially at low levels, regaining maneuvers can be used to make the stalker a rather great blocker when regaining maneuvers, when a true strategy/decision-making process behind regaining maneuvers could have provided so much more interesting decisions in combat. At higher levels, stalkers may also use ki to exchange readied maneuvers for other maneuvers, but since that one is based on a resource that is finite, I do like it.

Now I mentioned crit-fishing - that's where deadly strikes come in - each time, stalkers score a crit against a target, they deal bonus damage against said target for a limited array of rounds. Weapons with higher crit multipliers receive more deadly strike bonus damage. Ki can also be expended to activate deadly strikes, which renders especially high crit multiplier weapons powerful for the stalkers using them. The issue of stacking deadly strike durations has thankfully been cleaned up - while I'm never going to like the mechanic, it now works as intended and thus has my blessing.



The same goes for combat insight, which would be a passive tree of abilities that allows him to add wis-mod to a variety of rolls, scaling with the level. It is my joy to report that the broken regaining of expended ki that failed the kitten-test in the original stalker has been eliminated - kudos! Now if you're like me and have had some experience with multiple attributes being applied to the same roll, you'll realize that both combat insight and some stalker talents allow for some significant stacking of powers. The same fine-tuning goes with the option to regain ki via maneuvers - a daily limit with a HD-cap prevents abuse. Alas, melee strikes at range and ignoring all AoOs provoked by movement for wis-mod rounds via ki still are nasty. While I'm still not sold on the Stalker, this marks still a significant improvement over the first iteration of the class.



The Warder's regaining of maneuvers does not feature a bonus like the stalker's. Warder's marking, based on dealing damage to the target and thus forcing it to attack the warder at penalty still feels to me like it could use a saving throw - like the grand challenge, which high-level warders can execute to debuff all opponents within 30 feet as marked. It should be noted for posterity's sake that this one still feels rather strong as a free action to me. The saves of the class become rather broken at fourth level - int-mod to ref-saves, and initiative in lieu of dex-mod for ref-saves - this makes their saves better than those of the monk. That being said, I'm very glad the designers have made the extended defense ability actually work. Now one obvious glitch is still here - high-level warders may deflect blows that would reduce them below 0 hp to armor/shield, wrecking the items instead - I generally love this ability, but the lack of a caveat for indestructible items and artifacts is a bit nasty. Oh well, since the ability is resolved via the broken condition, at least the artifact can't be repaired and maintains its condition...I guess. Still, would have preferred the ability to properly specify what happens in such a case. The capstone of the class still doesn't work - "unable to die from hit point damage" still is pretty opaque - I *assume* this translates to still receiving the damage, but simply not dying, correct? But what once the ability elapses? Is a warder below 0 hp staggered? Or does the capstone grant immunity to hp-damage while in effect? The capstone, alas, still is not anywhere near operative.



The Warlord class is perhaps my favorite from the PoW-classes, mainly because I consider the maneuver-replenishment of the warlord the most interesting - it works via gambits, i.e. actions that provide a bonus upon success alongside the replenishment of maneuvers, while imposing minor penalties on a failure. The problem here with the original warlord still exists - while the gambit-system per se is cool, its fine-tuning is badly broken. A warlord charges a foe - if he hits the target with the first attack after the charge, all allies in range receive warlord's + cha-mod to damage for their next attack. It should be noted that the penalty for failing a gambit is only a -2 penalty to all d20-rolls. Conceivably, a warlord with cha 20 could grant his allies a+5 damage boost at first level - without daily limits. Shooting into melee (not hard with precise shot) can penalize the foe via another gambit by cha-mod to AC etc. Remember, that is the type of action used to regain maneuvers. I still consider the system per se damn cool, but the math and risk/reward-ratio behind the maneuver-regaining is wonky at best. Worse, the warlord can still charge kittens to grant allies damage-bonuses against actual foes or shoot kittens to grant them temporary hit points. On the plus-side, bonus-types have been cleared up and now are actually properly codified.



The warlord's presence, gained at 2nd level, is still the equivalent of a level 15 bardic performance, perhaps better. Yeah. Still broken as all hell. For a detailed comparison, please check my warlord-review. It should also be noted that the ambiguities of their effects still are here.



The new skill to identify martial maneuvers still lacks information which, if any non-PoW-classes should receive it as a class skill. Among the feats, thankfully, the utterly broken Defensive Web has died the fiery death it deserved. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for tactical rush, which allows you to 1/encounter move your movement as a swift action. Victorious Recovery still can be kitten'd as well, though these latter two feats still are within the parameters of what can be considered okay. What is not okay would be extended mark - ONE feat, no prereqs, double the duration of all the warder's armiger marks. Yeah. You'd have to be an idiot to NOT take this - it makes it highly unlikely that ANY enemy ever can stand long enough to see the mark go away.



Now I won't be redundant and blabber on about the feats, instead going ahead to the maneuvers themselves, all right? We kick off the maneuvers after an explanation of terminology etc. with a whole new discipline, the evil-alignment exclusive Black Seraph. Based on intimidate, it is an offensive, deadly discipline - that allows you to intimidate kittens to heal yourself as a supernatural ability. Remember, maneuvers can be regained infinitely. This means FREE INFINITE healing as long as any PC or kitten is around. What about negating attacks with intimidate? Doesn't sound so bad? Well, look for items, spells and class features that net bonuses to intimidate. Yeah. Here I'll go on a tangent - the mechanic to use a skill-check versus an attack roll or another skill-check is a 3.X remnant. It was broken back then, it is worse in Pathfinder - less skills, less expensive skill-boost items translate to easier buffed skills. Add to that the mathematical convention of d20-roll versus fixed value instead of 3.X's d20 vs. d20 and we have an assortment of maneuvers herein that simply do not work smoothly in actual play. It's the square-shaped chicken in a vacuum issue and an unnecessary relic of an older system that is only here as a remnant of the proverbial balance ruins on which PoW was built. I really wish the designers had just shrugged off abilities like this instead of re-introducing what never worked well back into PFRPG. Need an example? Veiled Moon is tied to Stealth, now look at the ways you can buff that through the roof. Yeah. One of the more powerful maneuvers of that one switches positions with the target if the creature fails perception versus your stealth. As an immediate action. No save. This is a nigh-guaranteed insta-kill for just about every character, especially casters, who has not maxed out perception AND is buffed to cope with it. Before breaking the skill check with items.

Back to Black Seraph: What about a level 3 boost that nets you a 10-foot movement sans AoOs and adds +2d6 damage "that ignores damage reduction" - I assume, only the bonus damage ignores ALL DR? Why not tie it to specific types of DR? It should be noted that per se, the discipline offers some nice options that combine strikes with debuffs. However, I do not get why none of the strikes receive the [pain]-descriptor - at least the debuff conditions obviously are pain effects and should not apply to those immune to it. This is especially odd since other disciplines like Veiled Moon take quite some care to apply the proper [teleportation] descriptors. Oddly, this oversight also applies to quite a few other disciplines.



The Broken Blade discipline still features a strike based on a fixed acrobatics DC of 15 that allows the initiator to move 10 ft towards or away from a foe sans provoking AoOs and attacking as well with bonus damage - why not use the existing rules to move in threatened squares with a bonus? DC 15 becomes ridiculous rather fast. Worse, more often than not, these mechanics completely ignore already existing ways to produce an effect , producing redundancy and ambiguity of the results of actions that simply wasn't necessary. Why tie the success of a trip executed by a martial artist to a ref-save instead of CMD? No, seriously. Yes, I am aware that this does not break anything. But the devil's in the details - dwarves, for example, no longer receive their stability bonus to this save, falling just as easy, perhaps easier than less stable foes. This is a harmless example, chosen intentionally to illustrate the point - PFRPG as a system features quite an array of tied mechanics and if you ignore an established way to doing things, you necessarily have to take these into account. PoW, unfortunately, often simply does not do this, instead creating its own context and thus leads to more confusion than necessary. Next time the dwarf gets tripped, he's eligible to ask whether his stability bonus does apply...and if not, WHY? And yes, I am aware of spells doing similar things. But spells are not strikes - I will get on that later on.



For now, let's just say that Path of War does not need these wonky mechanics - there are a vast plethora of examples in this very book that prove that neither the system, nor the respective disciplines needed these relics to work, which renders the maintaining of them all the more puzzling. Golden Lion would be such an example - apart from one single counter (skill vs. atk - see above) the discipline works conspicuously well without these blunders and is generally superior to the White Raven that spawned it. Iron tortoise, which renders shields actually damn cool and useful, utilizes the compared atk-rolls in counters and shield bashes, but that one's at least not as bad as skill vs. atk. The level 6 counter that negates an attack OR nets you DR 20 if you fail your counter-attempt still feels too nasty for me - its bigger brother has been nerfed down to DR 40/ on a failure, but still -even within PoW, that's massive. Where math goes into a corner to cry would be burnished shell - atk + shield bonus versus incoming targeted spell against CASTER-LEVEL Check - if you win, you negate the spell. Weapon Focus (ray)? Pff, wasted that feat, my friend. This one counter neuters all targeted spells utterly. Even within PoW's design paradigm, broken.



Primal Fury can be quoted as an example on how disciplines can work without (many) of the aforementioned relics - only one counter uses the skill-check nonsense. One particular counter deserves special mentioning here as one of my favorites - it allows the initiator to attack a weapon that has hit him - if the weapon is destroyed by the attack, the damage is mitigated. Elegant, cool, works perfectly within the established context of PFRPG-rules - why not utilize mechanics like this one more often?



Why do we instead get strikes that use e.g. sense motive to attack (against AC) AND deal double damage. The issues with Scarlet Throne persist. The second new discipline would be Silver Crane, the good equivalent to the evil Black Seraph. Conversely, Silver Crane's Blessing suffers from the same kitten-test failing infinite healing, with the restriction that practitioners of Silver Crane would require evil infernal kittens with damned souls to maintain their good alignment. If those can be arranged for, they may heal allies as well, though! Yay! Infinite healing for the whole group! -.-



On the plus-side, counters to shed negative conditions, for example, make sense to me - so kudos there! Steel Serpent still suffers from a discrepancy between poison fluff vs. poison rules, but I can live with that. Generally, Steel Serpent, Solar Wind and Thrashing Dragon exist and what I complained about in previous reviews mostly still holds true. Veiled Moon's counters still make evasion and even mettle go home to cry - stealth in lieu of saves etc.



Now this review is already long, so let's go through those archetypes on fast forward, shall we? The judges ambiguities have been cleared up; Final judgment has been moved to level 15, where it actually works. Divine Abolishment's targeted greater dispel strikes are still quite powerful, too much for me personally, but still: Kudos for cleaning this guy up! The Soul Hunter now has a kitten-caveat of nothing below 1/2 HD...but why not tie it to the soul hunter's level? This way, I'll have to take an advanced kitten with me; Still does not work. The Dervish Defender now need to actually dual-wield to use the two-weapon defense, which is neat. On a flavor-side weird would be that the archetype still does not receive the improved/greater TWF-feats for a massive hidden attribute/feat tax. Granted, this is a cosmetic gripe, but still - if the high-level ability mentions "mastery of TWF", you'd expect the archetype to know the feats. The ranged Hawkguard Warder has been cleaned of a wording issue and both Sworn protector and Zweihänder Sentinel are okay. Bannerman and Steelfist Commando for the Warlord are okay. The defensively-minded Vanguard Commander with his option to break the immediate action-limit a limited amount of times per day still feels a bit too strong for my tastes.



Now as new content, we receive two archetypes that allow psionic characters to wilder in PoW's systems - one for the psychic warrior, one for the soulknife. The Psychic Warrior Pathwalker learns up to 13 maneuvers, 7 readied, 4 stances, of up to 6th level. Each discipline receives its own psychic warrior path and...oh boy. Expend psionic focus for full attack at the end of a charge - yep, that would be free pounce. Urgh. Balancing between the respective paths is...strange, to say the least. The War Soul Soulknife receives the same amount of maneuvers and trades psychic strike and the 10th level blade skill for them. Interestingly, they have a mechanic to regain maneuvers upon the defeat of foes that actually manages, via HD and int-cap, to defeat the bag o' kitten issue - nice. The new blade skills provide the necessary mind blade customization. The option to throw mind blades and combine it with maneuvers, though, needs a heavy whack with the nerf-bat, analogue to the maneuvers that allow you to do this.



We also receive the awakened blade PrC - 10 levels, d10, 4+Int skills per level, full initiator level progression, new maneuvers known at every even level, additional maneuvers readied at 3rd, 6th and 9th level, +1 stance at 3rd and 8th level, 8/10th manifester progression and full BAB-progression, 1/2 will-progression. They also receive an omni-buff-focus, may expend the psionic focus to use an additional counter per round and at 6th level, any semblance of balance that could be achieved via action economy shambles away and whimpers, as psionic focus and maneuver regeneration become tied to another. Worse, by expending a readied action and the focus, these guys may grant themselves standard or move actions to be used as part of the counter, allowing them to add a strike, a cast, movement - you name it - to the game. This is essentially taking the one limitation of counters and throws it out the window. The capstone makes the powerful super-stance of the PrC effectively permanent. Urgh.



Okay, quick run of the PrCs - have they been repaired or are they still on the level of the supplemental content pdf? Battle Templar: Reach of the divine nerfed down to powerful, but okay - kudos!!! The same cannot be said for martial healing, which STILL nets the Battle Templar and his allies INFINITE HEALING. At this point I ragequit this PrC and move on to the next. The bladecaster's bonus damage is still untyped, the stance still broken, though a tad bit less so than before. The Dragon Fury is still nice, still fails the kitten-test. Mage Hunters have been somewhat streamlined, but still receives what boils down to evasion for all 3 saves. The capstone, which eliminates the option to cast defensively, is the other nail in the coffin for this class - Knowledge (Martial) DC 21 to realize it before hand? Nice, only casters don't get the skill as class skill, rendering that one just unfair. At least the infinite heal exploit is gone...it's now only infinite temporary hit points. The Umbral Blade would be my shining light (ironically) at the end of this PrC-tunnel - this one has been salvaged and is the one PrC I can't find it in me to complain about - indeed, the PrC serves as a nice example what can be done with the PoW-system -scaling class-specific NON-BROKEN stances, cool imagery. Two thumbs up -were the whole book like this, I'd be singing a whole different tune!



We close this pdf with 6 organizations, so-called martial traditions, to include in your game and advice for creating and adapting these traditions. I generally liked these, though I would have loved organization/fame-rules for them.



Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect -I noticed a couple of typo-level/italicization glitches. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with an additional, backgroundless, more printer-friendly version. Artwork ranges from original full color to b/w stock and does not adhere to a uniform style. The pdf comes fully bookmarked in both versions for your convenience. Production-value-wise, there is nothing to complain here.



Lead designers Chris Bennett and Andreas Rönnqvist with codesigners Jade Ripley and Sabrina Bennett have managed to write the worst emotional roller-coaster ride of my "reviewer-career." Alternation between cheers and resigned face palms to this extent has never been so frequent in a series. But how does the final book fare?



Path of War is better than the Book of 9 Swords. It is more refined, less jumbled together. Alas, it also chooses to inherit some of the worst traits of its predecessor and reintroduces them to PFRPG, when the base system purposefully got rid of them.



The explicit design intention of Path of War is to bring martials up to casters in power-level, to "give fighters nice things." I applaud that. I want that. Only problem is, PoW overshoots the target it set itself. Before you start booing and hissing, let me elaborate. We all have been there - wizards get the fireball and suddenly can clear whole groups of enemies while the fighter diddles his thumbs. DMs have seen this since the beginning of our hobby, through all iterations. When did this become a problem? Well, as soon as player-entitlement started to set in - suddenly, players started whining if they couldn't rest after every 2nd encounter to regain their nova-capacity and in a strange quirk f fate, DMs everywhere didn't tell them to plan better, to conserve their resources, but rather obliged. Thus, the 5-minute adventure day was born and with it, fighters and martials grumbled even louder. Now PoW does bring up the new martial classes up to the damage potential of casters - this is correct and should silence the whining on that front. So everyone's happy, right?

The problem is: Spells are not Maneuvers. Maneuvers are an infinite resource, whereas spells are a finite resource. Spellcasters can be bled of their resources...fast. And then they are the crappy, fragile dudes and ladies that can't do jack. The strategy of resource-conservation falls right of the edge with maneuvers - arcane pool, ki pool, rage rounds - all pales before these tricks, not necessarily by potential, but by the sheer fact that unlike all resources against which I can compare these, maneuvers are infinite. Yes, they have less AoE-oomph than spells, but their power-gain still is not limited in any way. This fundamentally changes the power-dynamics not only between classes, but of the whole game. Non-martial melee classes and their interaction with PoW receive next to no consideration apart from a paltry feat-tree, when especially the introduction of one PoW-class into a regular group quite probably will invalidate them. The high-AC fighter will never, ever even come close to the warder, the rogue (even talented + rogue glory-update) will pale terribly before the stalker and a paladin's smite turn ridiculous fast when compared to the tricks a warlord can pull off.



So is PoW balanced? Not in the traditional sense of PFRPG. If you had issues with psionics or pact magic or similar subsystems - well, this one amps the power-curve up far beyond these. Whereas usually, it requires a degree of system-mastery and tricks to produce strong, very powerful characters, the PoW-classes already have an above-average competence built into their relatively linear frameworks, even before maneuver selection.



Now this sounds awfully negative when it shouldn't - PoW's classes do many things right and offer interesting mechanics and some damn cool ideas. While personally, I don't like the stalker's crit-fishing, the warder and warlord make for interesting options. The maneuvers are stylish and breathe an aesthetic of anime martial arts and over the top fighting styles you may enjoy.



PoW is, to me, more divisive even than even the Book of 9 Swords - on the one hand, I consider the balance within the frame of PoW okay, on the other, I don't think it works well with its casting brethren or any other class. So I went ahead and tested. And know what? All of my above assertions proved to be valid... and my martial PCs had no more to do than before in any situation that was NOT a battle. Granted, their attacks were more diverse, mobility increased, foes melted like butter in the sun - but beyond combat, when spellcasters cranked out the utility and research/investigation tools...they still encountered lulls where twiddled their thumbs and grumbled about limited skills/non-combat tricks.



PoW enforces a certain playstyle that is implicit, but unfortunately, not explicit in the rules - very high fantasy. Rogues, monks, fighters, cavaliers and potentially (depending very much on your take of them, how many resources you allow, etc.) even potentially rangers, paladins and inquisitors have imho no place in a campaign with Path of War. They are utterly outclassed unless the PoW-class is in the hands of a novice and the regular martial class in the hands of an experienced player. If a campaign is on a Dragon Ball level of power (and that is NOT meant as chiding or belittling, so put away the torches and pitchforks!), Path of War will be just what the doctor ordered. Many of the abilities herein just ooze rule of cool and should provide a lot of entertainment and "did you see what I just did"-moments - I absolutely understand why PoW has fans. A part of me belongs to that camp. DMs should take heed to ensure that the casters are not overshadowed completely, though. As a DM, to enjoy PoW, you have to have no issue with the infinite maneuver regaining and the inability to bleed your PCs dry. If you are okay with that and are looking for truly high fantasy, this may just be what you want. If comet-throwing, dragon-solo high fantasy is what you're going for, then Path of War will fit the bill perfectly.



Now if you are an old-school player, enjoy the challenge of 15-point-buy and less over the top fantasy, if you like your fantasy low (or rare magic) and gritty, then avoid this like the plague -this is very much anime-style fantasy, not "A Song of Fire and Ice." or Conan



So far, both playstyles do not help finding a final verdict, though. So on to the mechanical execution - and again, things become difficult for me, though less so than I feared. On the one hand, quite a few of the very worst examples of broken %&/ have been eliminated and fixed - the content herein is superior to the one on the WiP-versions in every way. However, it has not been universally fixed - especially among the interaction with other systems like spellcasting and psionics, the horrible ways to utterly break the system can still be found. While the majority of the content herein is streamlined, aforementioned 3.X-relics taint quite a few maneuvers and if I can enhance particular attack-negating counters with massive bonuses beyond what any buffs to regular attacks would render possible, we have issues. An adept of veiled moon plus invisibility (+20/+40 to stealth...), +5 to perception for 2,5K...the buffing options of skills are simply too much, too easily gained for my tastes. Still, these, I could still chalk up to "increased power-level."

Worse, there are options for infinite healing. Multiple ones. These constitute the ultimate in design sins for me - they render all WBL-assumptions utterly ad absurdum and break in-game logic harder than a dragon crashing into a wall of force midflight. Another, though comparably minor thing the playtest did show would be that the disciplines not necessarily are balanced perfectly among themselves. While not in the realm of "useless vs. imba", damage + condition-dispersal was not always on one power-level.



"So steh' ich hier, ich armer Tor - und bin so klug als wie zuvor." I love PoW, it's ideas, some of its mechanics...more so than many, many pdfs I've read. I also loathe it for what it fails by a margin to deliver. With a tighter balancing, proper advice for non-initiator classes, a little bit of fine-tuning of classes and maneuvers, a cleaning up of relics, utility-options beyond combat and perhaps (sacrilege!) an alternate rule for maneuvers that are expended and remain expended until rest, like spells, this could have been the martial arts book everybody, me included, always wanted.



Only you, dear reader, can decide in which camp you're situated - cool or crap, it's, more than with any other book I've reviewed, a matter of perspective. One half of me want to smash this to pieces as it constitutes the worst power creep I've seen in ages with 1 star, while another parts just loves it to death and wants to slap 5 stars + seal of approval on it. In the end, I do consider multiple infinite healing tricks and options that are way too powerful even within PoW's context 2 strikes against the book, but not enough to condemn it utterly. Had this no issues beyond the relics and outclassing old martial classes, I think I would have gone 4 stars with it.



In the end, I urge fans of high fantasy that want to dive headfirst into this to check it out; I also advise fans of low (or even medium) fantasy to steer clear and avoid this like the plague. I urge any DM to carefully consider allowing this book. Read EVERYTHING very carefully and ban the broken pieces. My final verdict will clock in at a very close, borderline 3 stars - the pieces that are good, are too good to dismiss.



Over 5K words in this review alone...so many hours. I'll put the book aside for now. Unfortunately, it won't make its way into my regular game, but I may one day pick it up again for crazy one-shots, until I have some time on my hand to rebuild this from the ground up to be balanced with barbarians, paladins etc.

Thank you for reading this 10-page monstrosity of a review, whether you agree with me or not, I hope I have given an adequate impression of the series and provided enough information for you to decide whether his is for you or not.

I remain yours truly,

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War
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Village Backdrop: Starspun Hollow
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/03/2014 04:24:11
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Village Backdrop clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!



Starspun Hollow may seem like a mirage to the weary traveler - situated in the midst of a rather unpleasant swamp, the village breathes an air of hospitality one would not expect from such a remote location - and indeed, the population, mostly made up of humans and halflings indeed seems to be friendly and surprisingly wealthy - mostly due to an exotic resource of most fantastic and yet easy to integrate into a given campaign.



Not too long ago, a druid observing a rare species of spider noticed the reflective properties of their webs, which not only reflects moonlight, but which subsequently brought wealth to the remote locale - after all, what better way to clad the resplendent beauties at court than in comfortable clothes that shimmer and reflect?



Alas, this influx of demand also brought traders and more humans to the formerly halfling-dominated settlement and with them came demands on a more high-scale production of starsilk, echoing conflicts we can observe in real life - progress and the lure of wealth versus the old ways, with one side accusing the other of being overly cautious and the other smelling the taint of greed behind the looming progress.



Which of these proves to be true and how the village further develops is very much up to the DM, the players and the usual amount of whispers, events and characters help further fleshing out the village. The CR 7 sample character and her animal companion are also neat, though I have to say that I consider one thing a true pity - with such a rich, evocative background, why not make the silk a new magical material and provide tangible benefits for it? While not beyond the capabilities of any Dm, this constitutes the one oversight in an otherwise glorious installment of Village Backdrops.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's superb, streamlined and printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard. The pdf's b/w-cartography (of which you can download player-friendly versions on Raging Swan's homepage for free!) is just as awesome as I've come to expect from the series. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.



Nicholas Wasko's first Village Backdrop is a winner - Starspun hollow breathes adventure-potential, subdued, yet tangible fantasy and ideas galore - it is a village most players will love exploring and devising a reason to visit the place is built into it as well - this is a furious, glorious installment and were it not for the obvious oversight with the silk as an alchemical/magical resource, it would be an instant seal of approval candidate. Without it, it misses the seal by a margin - for "only" a highly recommended 5 star final verdict. Two thumbs up for the author - consider me stoked to read more from your pen, Mr. Wasko!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Starspun Hollow
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