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The Raider
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/03/2017 05:47:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The Raider base class clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 24 pages of content. It should be noted, that layout adheres to the A5-digest-size (6’’ by 9’’). All right, let’s take a look!

The raider’s base-engine provides d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, full BAB-progression and good Fort- and Will-saves. Proficiency-wise, raiders are proficient with simple and martial weapons as well as light and medium armor, but not with shields.

The key ability of the raider would be grandstand, which is gained at first level. The ability is used as a move action that is taken upon hitting a target with a melee attack. The raider then proceeds to roll an Intimidate check to demoralize the target hit – on a success, instead of demoralizing the target, the target gains one point of three different things: Fury, cowardice or spite. For every 5 that the raider exceeds the DC to intimidate the target, it takes another point of the one selected. A creature can accumulate a total number of points of either of these 3 choices equal to 1 + 1/3 the raider’s class level. Multiple raiders grandstanding the same creature are tracked separately. Grandstanding is an emotion-based, mind-affecting status. The points are lost either when used or upon ending the encounter – personally, I really dislike the “per encounter”-ending (insert my long, and by now, tired rant of how a fixed duration after combat elapsed makes more sense…). It should be noted that these points, on their own, do not really have an effect, but interact with the other abilities of the class.

Now, you have probably realized three things at this point: 1) 3 different resources? Sounds pretty cool! 2) Oh wait, move action to activate? 3) Intimidate as a basis for their accumulation? We have two wonky bits here: Number one would be the basis on skill check instead of skill ranks – pretty much any player or GM can rattle off a series of magic items that provide serious, huge skill bonuses, which renders the math prone to breaking. Add to that the fact that 2nd level yields +1/2 class level to Intimidate… You get the idea.

Secondly, the strict and costly activation action required by the grandstanding ability means that you’ll be limited in the builds employed – the class practically forces you down the Vital Strike path. As an aside: These issues can be fixed pretty quickly; make grandstanding based on skill ranks, impose a hard cap on the number of grandstanding checks per round and/or decrease the activation action required – it should be noted that the hard cap is required to prevent abuse when using builds that focus on amassing a lot of attacks…but let’s see first what the class otherwise does with this foundation.

There is another issue here: Raiding party. Gained at 2nd level, the ability allows you to expend an immediate action whenever a creature holding at least one point of strife, fury or cowardice is reduced to 0 hit points to make an Intimidate check against all creatures within 30 feet of the defeated target. All creatures thus intimidated count as grandstanded and gain the same type of point as the defeated creature had. Hand me the kitten, will you? No, I’m not kidding. Scream at the kitten, walk into enemies, kill it – voilà, much quicker AoE-grandstanding. This needs a kitten-caveat. Badly.

If grandstanding is the resource-accumulating resource, the gunpowder of the class, if you will, then prideful strike would be the fuse. Upon making a melee attack against a target currently holding a point of fury, cowardice or spite, the raider may decide to declare the attack a prideful strike – this must be done prior to attacking. If the raider hits, the target loses all accumulated points. For every point of fury thus accumulated, the target takes 1d6 + the raider’s Charisma bonus (minimum 1) untyped damage. Why untyped? Considering the value of DR and resistances, making the damage untyped is wonky. The Cha-governed bonus damage also is a bit weird – is that added to the total as usual, or per die? Thirdly, how does this interact with critical hits? No idea.

Cowardice that is triggered imposes a stacking -2 penalty to atk, CMB and weapon damage rolls for Charisma bonus (minimum 1) rounds. Spite that is triggered instead imposes a stacking -2 penalty to AC, CMD and saving throws for Charisma bonus (minimum 1) rounds. A raider can only trigger points she herself heaped upon the target. Okay, so fury is better than the two debuff options. Reliable damage that may or may not multiply on crits? Yeah, probably preferable to the debuff options, unless you’re fighting against a powerful foe, though the latter two are significantly more interesting. Here, we also encounter an issue with the proposed fix of grandstanding: If the points can be accumulated more quickly, you’ll need to cut up the benefits of the respective tricks here.

At 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the raider chooses one of his three grandstanding resources. The maximum number of such points that a target can have is increased by 1. At 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the raider gains a bonus feat chosen from the list of combat and teamwork feats. As a capstone, the raider gains +2 Str, Dex, Con and Cha and there is no longer a limit on the maximum number of points of one resource of grandstanding that a target can hold.

Obviously, the class also has some choice – these would be Raid tactics, the first of which is gained at 3rd level, with every 3 levels thereafter yielding another raid tactic. Saving throws against raid tactics, if applicable, are against 10 + ½ the raider’s class level + her Charisma modifier. The raid tactics can e.g. be used to add a Will-save penalty to cowardice. Analogues for other saves are provided as well. Clouded fury hampers concentration – and should probably state the baseline for the concentration roll – I assume 10. Critical pride is weird: When confirming a critical hit with a prideful strike, the raider adds his critical hit multiplier to her Charisma modifier to determine the effects of prideful strike. What does that mean? More points gained? No idea how this is supposed to work.

Determined glory adds Strength modifier to Intimidate to give one type of point – because that skill is not easy enough to cheese already. Embarrassing grandstand is a tactic that should imho be part of the base class array – the raider chooses a point type; when a creature misses the raider, she may grandstand by expending an AoO to put the selected point on the target. Similarly, resilient grandstand lets you expend AoOs after succeeding a save to grant the creature that prompted the save one point.

Grand party makes the already ridiculous raiding party worse – 2 points per slain kitten. Honed pride gains +1/4 class level to attack with prideful strikes – which are the only attacks the raiders will probably execute – this improves, de facto, the BAB beyond full BAB-progression. Inept purpose is broken, courtesy of the skill-based base mechanics – increase the DC by 5, but grant the target one point of two different types, +1 point for both types for every additional 5 by which the raider beats the DC. Compare that to getting Weapon Focus and being treated as a fighter for prerequisites. Yeah, the internal balancing of these is really weird. The tactic that lets the raider ignore immunity to mind-affecting effects with his grandstanding, but only to grant the target spite.

All in all, A cool idea, though the execution leaves something to be desired. The class also comes with archetypes: Amazons lose grandstand in favor of gaining glory points when using aid another (which improves at later levels) – no choice there, just one point resource. When the amazon successfully crits, all creatures with glory points within 30 ft. lose the points and heal, based on points and critical multipliers. Hand me a bag of kittens to bash to death. Infinite healing. Sloppy. The raid tactics of the amazon are unique and all work with the glory resource – including granting herself glory, DR, etc. – doesn’t change the infinite healing exploits and instead heaps on them, which means this one is never getting near my table. Ghosts of the Haunted Seas are cowardice specialists and may perform attacks with ranged weapons within 30 ft. for the purpose of accumulating points. References to e.g. ghost touch are not properly italicized. There is a tactic that allows for the use of firearms thus…which is redundant, since RAW, they already can be used…oh, and damage escalation. Because the one thing firearms need, is more damage.

The pit-bloodied of Jheriak would be the fury specialists and basically represents the gladiator-turned –raider. Missed chance here: Performance combat. Reavers lose medium armor proficiency and can’t inflict cowardice. Their harsh upbringing can provide some movement/environmental adaptation…but lacks the activation action. Half-rakshasa riders of the plains are fury specialists that gain a mount and the option to share teamwork feats with allies based on fury. Per se cool, but since the range is sight/hearing, multiple such raiders can grant serious arrays of feats. Temple soldiers use Perform (oratory) to cause foes to gain hubris, allies to gain faith. These can be used as AoE buff and debuffs, respectively. More talents and abilities building on this duality can be found for the archetype.

Treasure hunters are basically…Indy. You gain the whip, luck-based abilities to negate crits, better Acrobatics – you get the idea. Wavebreaker hobgoblins are spite specialists and can inflict bonus damage (here, thankfully, based on the weapon’s type), taking the same amount of damage (unless criting). He also can poach some rage powers.

The pdf also includes feats, 8 to be precise. Extra Raid Tactics is self-explanatory. Gladiator as Raider nets you temporary hit points upon removing fury. Harsher Upbringing improves the ability of the reaver. Raiding Nomad buffs you when removing spite. Raiding Viking does the same for cowardice. Pious Preacher and Pious Redeemer enhance the options of the temple soldier’s grandstanding variant. Shoot the Swordsman lets you add cowardice to enemies when killing foes with firearms…hand me those kittens…

The pdf sports a ton of favored class options, though their balance is a bit questionable: +1/2 to atk with prideful strikes (sometimes tied to weapons, sometimes to creature types), is imho further overkill and significantly better than other options. The +1 ft. movement speed FCO lacks the “has no effect unless taken in increments of 5”-caveat, but that is just nitpicking. On the plus-side: A lot of the cool Porphyran races are covered.

The pdf also sports 4 magic items: The helm of fury increases the fury limit (or +7 (!!!) rounds of rage, and 1/day +2d8+10 damage on the next melee attack. Damage type? Also: Ridiculously strong for 14K. The ring of spite can add 1/day bane to a target hit and enhances spite. Also has synergy with the brujo class. The torc of cowardice enhances, bingo, cowardice…and nets dreads using it +3 terror uses. Ouch. Finally, there would be an artifact version of the ark of the covenant – which, alas, lacks rules on how to open it, just the devastating effects of doing so.

The pdf closes with Ghendis Raar, a half-rakshasa rider of the plains (CR 5) and his mount. The pdf comes with a bonus file penned by Perry Fehr, which contains the mighty xexenagh qlippoth – a threat that clocks in at CR 16: Think of these as maddening, demonic Giger-esque super Aliens. Deadly and a welcome addition to the pdf!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good: Apart from precious few hiccups on the formal side of things, I noticed no glaring glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck games’ printer-friendly 1-column standard with purple highlights. Art is sparse, but nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

This was frustrating for me. You see, I pretty much adore all things Norse; I’ve devoted a significant part of my life to studying Scandinavian culture. I also am a big fan of melee classes that do more than just hitting things with a pointy stick. The raider scratches all of these itches, but at the same time, it suffers from a lot of issues, not in the presentation, but in the very design of its features.

At this point in time, the thoroughly exploitable nature of skill-checks as base mechanics is no secret; the reliance of the class on this mechanic ultimately means that its very foundation is flawed. Similarly, the balance between the class options available oscillates between “should be part of the chassis/ridiculously strong” and shrug-inducing ones. The idea of the system presented here, let me make that abundantly clear, is AMAZING. I really like it.

The execution, however, shoots itself in the foot: Since your are very constricted regarding your attack options, you need cheese AoE tricks to accumulate the signature points; you’re forced into the Vital Strike path for damage and, at higher levels, can use aforementioned AoE-options to generate very crippling debuffs. I don’t object to the latter, mind you – I object to how the class requires a very specific playstyle to work. And the kittens. It’s been a while since I saw a class that begs, this thoroughly and needlessly, to be exploited for quicker AoEs to reduce the set-up period, for infinite healing…in short, from a design-perspective, I absolutely loathe the execution.

The class, needlessly, in my opinion, hamstrings itself time and again – the base engine can be made much more solid, but the questionable balance between the follow-up abilities prevent a quick fixing of the material. In short: I think this class needs to be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up. Not because it is badly executed or presented, as is the case in most of such instances, but because it needlessly cuts down its own potential, buries it in weird and/or problematic restrictions and decisions.

Do I believe that this class can be fun? Yes. There most assuredly are groups out there that will enjoy what the raider brings to the table. It is playable as written. But Sasha Hall and Perry Fehr had the potential for a truly amazing class here…and that, the raider is most assuredly not. For that, the issues in the finer parts of the design are too numerous and grave.

That being said, I also don’t think that this class deserves the slap of a 2-star verdict – which is why my final rating will be 2.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Raider
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Psionics Augmented: Empaths
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/03/2017 05:44:10

An Endzietgeist.com review

This installment of the occult branch of the Psionics Augmented-series clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, leaving 21 pages. Of these, 3 pages are devoted to reference material like feats and psionic powers from e.g. 7th Path. On these pages, the SRD can also be found. When all is said and done, the new content still amounts to 18 pages.

After a brief introduction to the matter at hand and the interaction of psionics and psychic magic, we get the empath. The new archetype herein. Yes. Singular. The empathy may be a medium archetype, but he is, no hyperbole, the most massive archetype I have EVER READ. I can rattle off base classes that take up less real estate than this fellow…so what exactly is the empathy about?

First things first: No, the archetype is not simply about touching stuff or folks and then suddenly knowing their surface thoughts. The archetype is significantly more than that. Instead of Knowledge (arcane) and Knowledge (religion), he gets Autohypnosis, Knowledge (history) and Knowledge (psionics) as class skills. Instead of the medium’s default spellcasting, an empathy gains access to psionic powers, using Charisma as governing attribute for bonus power points. They gain access to powers of up to 6th level and increase their base power points from a humble 2 at 1st level to 292 at 20th level over the course of their progression.

However, the power points are inextricably linked with the other class features of the archetype, so let’s talk spirits: Whiel the empathy is treated as channeling spirits when contracted to his key defining class feature, instead of the arguably less than exciting medium spirits, he forms a contract with a zeitgeist.

No.

Not with me. With one of my lesser brethren. … Sorry, couldn’t resist. I’ll try to keep the bad zeitgeist-jokes to a bare a minimum. Anyways, zeitgeists are basically the product of the collective unconscious, if you’re feeling Jungian – a collective of emotions between all minds, reacting to events glorious and horrible. They are astral echoes of thought, attention and emotion – and during a 1-hour séance, an empathy may forge a contract with one or multiple zeitgeists. Unlike medium spirits, zeitgeists are separated in 4 tiers: 1st level empaths may only contract with lesser zeitgeists. 6th level unlocks intermediate zeitgeists, 11th level greater zeitgeists and 16th level provides access to supreme zeitgeists. Forming a contract with a zeitgeist requires a couple of things: The empathy, for example, must accept a compulsion and a goal. Zeitgeists require an offering. When bonding with multiple zeitgeists, they ask for power point costs and these costs are not limited by manifester level – good catch there! They always demand powers offered, but obviously offer power in return.

Now, it is obvious that aforementioned goals and compulsions are different from influences and taboos. Compulsions set basically a standard of behavior, while goals, when achieved, strengthen the empath’s link to the zeitgeist. Whenever the empathy acts against the compulsion of a given zeitgeist, he has a 15% psychic enervation chance. When suffering from psychic enervation, the empathy loses all psionic focus he has, power points equal to ½ manifester level, all remaining actions for the turn and becomes flat-footed until the start of his next turn. This otherwise can be modified by feats and abilities that modify psychic enervation. An empathy only risks suffering from psychic enervation once per action, even if that action requires a longer time to complete. Achieving a zeitgeist’s goal permanently strengthens the bond between zeitgeist and empathy: In the future, forming the contract with that zeitgeist nets a single use of the spirit surge class feature that may be used immediately. Multiple zeitgeist’s surges stack, but each zeitgeist may only provide a single spirit surge.

For the purpose of abilities and rules that require the tracking of spirit influence, a zeitgeist is always treated as having 3 influence over the empathy, though this influence does not carry any penalties and may neither be increased, nor decreased. Upon starting play, the empathy can claim to have a number of goals accomplished equal to half her spirit bonus, but all such goals must be from zeitgeists of a tier at least one lower than her current maximum.

Ability #2 that pretty much defines the empathy would be the volksgeist – a composite that roughly translates to “The spirit of the people”, btw. a concept that has similarly haunted academia since its conception. If you require some diversification, think of this as the totality of the attitudes and mindset of the vox populi. Rules-wise, the volksgeist does not refer to the spirit of a whole age, but rather to local and current thoughts and the volksgeist, as a whole, is not sentient. The empathy is always aware of it and can generally sense the attitude of a given community – this awareness is not detailed and does not yield secrets and the like, but it makes for a great roleplaying tool nonetheless. Abilities gained from the volksgeist are always on and are chosen as the empathy increases in levels – they may be changed (and this is really interesting!) when the empathy moves to a new community or when the empathy herself is subjected to sufficient changes, emphasizing the roleplaying aspect of the concept here. At 1st level, the connection to the volksgeist can affect a small tight-knit community like a neighborhood, a village, etc. and yields 2 psionic talents as well as empathy, which gains the network descriptor. 3rd level provides a spirit power gained from the volksgeist, which is represented by bonuses to skills; the nature of these is contingent on the general culture of the area.

New powers are gained at 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th level and at the latter, she also extends her volksgeist to encompass a larger area, gaining an intermediate spirit power, which is reflected in a variety of bonus feats, which, once again, are contingent on the area of the volksgeist: Downtrodden areas yield Endurance, for example, while insular communities can yield Racial heritage. 11th level provides more powers, as does 13th level, which further increases the benefits and range of the volksgeist. 15th and 17th level provide further improvements, with the latter representing the apex of the respective volksgeist’s granted abilities and scope. This ability replaces knacks, the channel-related tricks, propriaton, ask the spirits, trance of three and spacious soul. Oh, and it interacts with the collective empaths get: They can have up to Cha-mod or ½ class level, whichever is higher, beings in their collective. Fans of psionics will already be familiar with collectives, so here’s where things get interesting: While psionically focused, the empathy conveys the séance boon of contracted zeitgeists to all members of her collective. 5th level allows the empathy to expel a zeitgeist as a full-round action that provokes AoOs and risks psychic enervation. If the expelled zeitgeist was the free one, she instead declares another zeitgeist she paid power points to contract with as the new free one, regaining half that zeitgeist’s power point cost – prevents cheesing the ability. Nice. 3rd level provides telepathic communication between members of the collective and the capstone, “A Place in History”, is suitably amazing: You get to create your own zeitgeist that has neither compulsion, nor power point cost for its creator Dying while contracted to such a zeitgeist is not fatal for its creator: The zeitgeist acts as an extra life, respawning the fully healed empathy sans negative levels, but with psychic enervation and sans the zeitgeist. Other empaths may only contract with this zeitgeist if they are 20th level and were involved with the events that led to its creation. And yes, some further guidance is provided for this amazing capstone.

Okay, I’ve been dancing around the zeitgeists themselves for quite a while – and there is a reason for this: The lion’s share of this pdf is devoted to them, and for good reason. Beyond offering guidance on roleplaying the goals and compulsions, each of the zeitgeists comes with a brief, fluffy introduction and associated events. They sport the aforementioned goals and compulsions and grant séance boons and spirit powers, with each of the zeitgeists also sporting a brief table of psionic powers that the respective zeitgeist provides. So, what would be examples of zeitgeists? Well, the first lesser one would be Cogito, Sum of the First Thoughts (great pun there!) – when suffering enervation, you may expend all psionic focuses, delaying the onset of psychic enervation until you regain them. This is a simple spirit power, yes – but a) it is cheese-proof and b), it offers a meaningful tweak of the base engine from the get-go. Imperator, the foundation of civilization provides better aiding other; Little Dip O’ The Dops, representing learning for Survival from errant mice avoiding predators, nets you the option to avoid tremorsense (YES!). Resounding with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous poem Ozymandias, Obelisk lets you erect an ectoplasmic totem, a kind of tower, if you will, enhancing powers based on it. Parasite, the memetic virus, should bring a smile to students of Dawkins or the dispersal of memes, while Riastrad convey network descriptors to the powers this embodiment of a last stand grants.

The intermediate zeitgeists include eternal martyrdom with connotations of the undead, allowing for better relations with non-controlled undead and hijacking of controlled ones. Charade nets you basically the lite-version of a vigilante’s second persona and Hivemind nets tactician strategies. Iron eye, the broadcast lets you memorize scenes and create illusions in a nice bit of social commentary on television/computer-screens, deeply steeped in the fantastic – big kudos for the amazing artwork there. Ceaseless paranoia can make your changes or those of your allies cause fear, while Numquam, the Lost Moment, lets you add temporal components (as though using time hop (not italicized)) to your psychoportations. The light of potential shining can also be found here. Among the greater zeitgeists, the embodiment of championship, Et Panem, helps prevent provoking AoOs while psionically focused. Evol nets customization options to represent pure adaptability. Spacejammer fans will enjoy Jammer, whose theme is to boldly go where none has gone before. Nirvana lets you leave the shackles of your worldly flesh, becoming basically a bolstering, benevolent spirit for your allies…and Yus, tortured torturer, accumulates pain points with his powers, ultimately allowing the empathy to bend reality once a vast amount of pain has been collected.

Among the supreme zeitgeists, we find Athame, the first angel falling that nets quasi angelic benefits to allies, Mac Dex, the march of progress, who nets a sonic screwdriver, a portal gun and a universally recognized status symbol (get the reference?) – all three of which have been concisely codified – quite a feat in particular for the portal gun. Slash, a tear in space, nets you an hole in reality as a blade (and for once I consider the lack of damage types and ignoring DR and hardness totally justified!) that can also carve open the planar fabric to other lands. (Once again, we have a missed italicization here, but oh well.) Tessa, regal administrator, is about saving the world, while Vinum Verum, is, you guessed it, about altered conscience, courtesy of magic or substances. And there is You. No, that is not a typo. That is indeed a zeitgeist, and an intriguing one at that.

Beyond these inspired and interesting zeitgeists, the pdf goes one step further: It notes the ramifications on psionics-magic transparency variants when using the empathy; provides the reskin for rune magic…AND provides a combo feat for interaction with Ultimate Intrigue’s spiritualist zeitgeist binder, which would be more akin to a volksgeist in this pdf’s definitions, but who cares – cool multiclass feat ftw.!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – while I did notice a few missed italicizations, the sheer complexity of the rules-language construct attempted and executed herein and the overall clean presentation make this a total winner in these disciplines. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports pretty amazing, far-out full-color pictures. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Author Kevin Ryan, with design-lead by Forrest Heck and additional design by Doug Haworth and Adam Boucher, has created one massive archetype herein, one that addresses the weaknesses of the medium class and purges them with fire. Unless I am sorely mistaken, this is the author’s first project as the primary author – and what a project it is!

Okay, let me make this clear: Reading “empathy” on the cover made me about as excited as reading “lame detect specialist” on a cover. Then, I started reading. My Angela Merkel-style frown slowly and steadily turned into a beaming, radiant smile and it did not leave my face even once while reading this pdf.

To elaborate: The empath presented herein replaces the spirit engine of the base medium with one that emphasizes choice; within each choice made at a given time, we not only get a MEANINGFUL, interesting mechanic tweak of the base engine of the class, we also receive a meaningful roleplaying angle. Understanding the importance of ROLEplaying as well as ROLLplaying, the empathy beautifully marries both aspects of our game into a collective that is bigger than the sum of its parts. The zeitgeists are inspired and ooze flavor in an obvious way; the volksgeist does so in a more subtle manner that is no less rewarding and may actually serve as the drive for whole adventuring careers. From the smallest basics of the engine to its capstone, the empathy represents an absolute masterpiece of a supplement, one that manages to retain its feasibility for both low- and high-powered gaming; from gritty, low-powered Ravenloft or Midgard to potent high-fantasy Spacejammer, Planescape or the Zeitgeist AP, this offers a thoroughly rewarding, meaningful and delightful option. If the author was standing before me, I’d frankly shake his hand or hug him – it’s that impressive. The empathy ranks, even among Dreamscarred Press’ class hacks and complex options, as a highlight of skilled design and amazing narrative potential. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017. If you like psionics at all, get this gem. (Also, if you happen to make an Endzeitgeist zeitgeist, send it my way, all right? And no, I’m not affiliated with DSP or the author.)

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psionics Augmented: Empaths
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Despicable Deeds
Publisher: Wayward Rogues Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/03/2017 05:43:02

An Endzietgeist.com review

The third installment of this series clocks in at 23 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Included in this pdf would be a brief write-up of Coirithradail, Celmae’s god of cities, currency and horses – the write-up sports notes on temples, priest’s roles, etc. - 5 domains are granted by the deity, as well as 4 subdomains – for example “LanguageAPG”; just to show you one example of the editing-hiccups herein. It should also be noted than 2 of the pages of this module are devoted to recapping on how to run haunts. I don’t have anything against a rules-recap like this – in fact, I consider it helpful for new GMs. However, it’s weird to see this in module #3 – after all, the rather…let’s say, “less than superb”, module #2 sported haunts. It also doesn’t really bring anything new or is particularly concise – it’s literally copy-pasted from the SRD…minus the spell-italicizations and similar formatting peculiarities. It’s puzzling and eats up word-count real estate of an already pretty brief (but inexpensive) module.

As before, we don’t get a proper map-appendix or player-friendly versions of the maps, but after the first two modules, I assume that you’re familiar by now with the shortcomings in the cartography-department.

All right, that out of the way, let’s take a look at the module! The following is a discussion of the content herein. As such, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? So, if all went well (unlikely) in the previous, pretty weak installment of the series, then the PCs should have picked up the Lamentations of the Fungus Men – and from here on, the trail should point the PCs towards the revered Bhestos family and the family’s scion Maartin – I strongly suggest using the optional hooks as well to point the PCs in the right direction.

Maartin has had a tough time: His wife Farrah came down with depression after childbirth, and his son Yurah similarly was weak and ill – seeking respite, Maartin hired the nanny Juen – who only exacerbated the situation, started an affair with Martin – which was promptly found out. Maartin’s wife hanged herself, while the “nanny”, truly a totenmaske in disguise, proceeded to fully indoctrinate Maartin into the cult’s fold, with the Dark Mother bestowing deformed, but obedient children to the Besthos’ family’s scion. What became of Maartin’s child? Consigned to the attic, the kid perished. Yeah, the background here is dark. Oh, and the vines around the building? Assassin vines. Classic.

Aforementioned totenmaske may be wounded, but the entity also is the most dangerous foe in the module – big plus: The stats are more solid than anything I’ve seen in the series so far, even though there are deviations from the standard in the statblock formatting. Similarly positive: The fully mapped mansion’s rooms sport interaction points, read-aloud texts etc. A HUGE plus: The tragic history, including the barrier that damaged the totenmaske, makes sense – the graven guardians, the attic whisperer that once was Yurah, the haunts – they actually tell a story of sorts. Not as well as e.g. Pyromaniac Press’ “From the Ashes”, but better than any module in the series so far. Ultimately, the PCs will have to defeat Maartin and his pickled, deformed “children”, eliminate the totenmaske and hopefully help the haunts being resolved – just slaying the fellow won’t help regarding the haunts. Ultimately, the trail of Shub-Niggurath’s corruption seems to point to the capital city of the region…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not exactly good, but not even close to as bad as in #2 – thankfully. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard that’s nice and the pdf comes with some really nice, original artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked. Cartography, while nice, is inconvenient due to the lack of player-friendly versions and the small maps within – not exactly helpful. The module has copying of the text disabled, which is somewhat annoying.

Charlie Brooks and Jacob W. Michaels deliver the, by far, best installment in the series so far: The haunted house depicted within is interesting, atmospheric and lacks big issues – it can be considered to be a solid take on the genre.

There’s one problem here. It’s a haunted house module. I love those, as pretty much everybody who’s been following my reviews can attest to. The problem here is the genre; the fact that I can rattle off, at the top of my hat, at least 5 SUPERB haunted house-modules for Pathfinder alone.

Beyond the well-known examples from Paizo’s oeuvre, we have gems like Pyromaniac Press’ “From the Ashes”, for example. If we go beyond the borders of the system, I can spend hours, literally, extolling the virtues of various legendary haunted house modules. In direct comparison, this falls flat of that level of excellence.

Don’t get me wrong. For the low price point, this is a solid offering. It raises the bar of the series back to a level, where I am hopeful for the adventure-series. At the same time, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend the module when seen in context. If you’re running the series, this is worth checking out, though. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Despicable Deeds
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Everyman Minis: Pumpkin Kami
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/01/2017 05:53:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Everyman Minis clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 4 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We begin with a low-cost, cool class of magic item: Costumed confections are magical sweets that can be consumed to create a regular disguise, which does not modify your clothes (minor nitpick: spell reference not italicized); the second type transforms into a monstrous humanoid or humanoid, as per disguise self, affecting all senses (and no disbelieve). Finally youthful confections transforms the target into a younger version – all effects are polymorph effects and last for 4 hours. Cool!

The main meat of the pdf, though, would be the Kabochahito, the CR 7 pumpkin kami. And no, this is NOT another evil scarecrow/pumpkin monster – in fact, the kami is NG! It is incorporeal and conjure forth confections. Oh, and it comes with a TON of unique abilities: It can swallow beings and transform them into other shapes – the behavior of creatures is then made innocuous to onlookers. This can also be combined with a geas/quest – failure may see the target trapped in that form. Unlike most kami, kabochahitos can switch wards pretty quickly and assume pumpkin/plant-form with stat-modifications included. They can also generate massive growth spurts among plants. Big plus: Unlike many monsters, the kami is properly contextualized within the gaming world, with a lot of inspiring prose.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to the nice two-column standard of the series. The nice pieces of art are in full-color. The pdf does not come with bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Luis Loza’s pumpkin kami are amazing. They are creative, benevolent and fun; they can make for genius Halloween-themed adventures and are a welcome deviation from the well-tread path of evil pumpkin monsters. Interesting, creative – no complaints. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Minis: Pumpkin Kami
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Template Races: Half-Humans
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/01/2017 05:51:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little pdf clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, ½ page of SRD, leaving us with 5.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Half-human is an inherited template that can be applied to 0-HD-creatures. It is not intended to be applied to races that already are half-human, obviously. So, the base race’s physical ability score bonuses are reduced by 2. For each bonus thus reduced. You also reduce an ability score penalty by 2: The order of these is Constitution, Dexterity, Strength, Intelligence, Charisma and finally, Wisdom.

Mental ability score bonuses are also reduced by 2 and for each bonus thus reduced, you reduce one penalty to another ability score by 2. This is pretty impressive – it evens out the ability score bonuses/penalties. After this evening of scores, the half-human may assign a +2 bonus to one ability score that does not have a penalty or bonus attached yet. Ability score bonuses reduced to zero do not count as having a modifier. The template goes on to codify the type/subtype of the race. Size-category-wise, Medium or Large parent races result in Medium half-humans, while Small or smaller parent races result in Small half-humans. Nice: Even larger parent races are codified.

Movement rates, speed etc. is retained from the parent races, as are special considerations and/or restrictions imposed on the movement rates. Darkvision and low-light vision are retained from the parent race. Half humans gain the skilled racial trait and also count as humans via the dual heritage. We are taking a look at weapon familiarity, hatred, defensive training, natural armor. Half-humans also gain keen senses, and additional racial traits are lost – half-humans only qualify for alternate racial traits of humans, not those of their parent race. All right, the basic set-up of the template is pretty solid and should result is pretty solid results.

Now there are a ton of racial traits that may result in some potentially confusing set-ups – thankfully, the pdf does believe in showing how these cases can work out: The translation of the half-human android’s exceptional senses from the parent race, for example. Samples for the core races as well as android, drow, nagaji, ghoran and hobgoblin are provided. Now, obviously, the half-human orc is a bit different than the half-orc, but it makes for a decent alternative.

Hatred, if applicable, can be exchanged for a +2 racial bonus on Diplomacy, and weapon familiarity may be exchanged for proficiency with simple weapons and a single martial weapon.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Rusted Iron Games’ two-column, color standard. The interior artworks are solid stock pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

When I saw Russ Brown’s template race approach here was honestly, not something I looked forward to. With the ARG’s RP being notoriously bad at codifying racial strength, I was skeptical on how the pdf would succeed at providing a balanced racial array. Now, with so many different options, it is clearly obvious that the template, system-immanently, can’t account for absolutely everything, but it does account for a truly impressive amount of material. The further guidance by example does help here and, as a whole, the result of applying the template speeds up the creation of half-humans in a concisely-presented manner that is easy to grasp.

In short: This is a surprisingly concise, handy little pdf. This is worth getting and succeeds at its task probably as well as it conceivably can – my final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Template Races: Half-Humans
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Fane of the Undying Sleeper Collector's Edition
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/01/2017 05:50:13

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The Collector’s Edition of Raging Swan Press‘ „Fane of the Undying Sleeper“ clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advice on how to read statblocks, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, first things first: It should be noted that this version of the module does come with 6 different pregens for your convenience. Also excellent: The adventure comes with a handy 1-page summary of the rules of water and movement. The pdf does come with a brief write-up on Dagon, the shadow in the sea; there also is the CR +0 deformed creature template with 12 rules-relevant and 12 cosmetic deformities. Moreover, the module is now contextualized within Raging Swan Press’ Duchy of Ashlar – to be more precise, the adventure now comes with the basics of the village of Coldwater (which I’ve covered in my review of that Village). That being said, I really liked how this not just copy-pasted Coldwater into the book: We not only get more hooks for the adventure, we get 8 entries in a gather information table. The pdf also sports handy sheets for facilitating play in the village, pointing towards the respective tables, summing up things to do, etc. – this enhances the Go-Play mission statement of the module.

What’s this? Well, the idea is that you should be able to run this with 0 or almost 0 preparation time. As such, each area featured in the module-proper does come with flavorful, well-crafted read-aloud text and there actually are multiple events for approaching Devil’s Cove by both boat and climbing. In devil’s cove, there are slimy stairs on a wind-swept beach, accessible only during particular low tides and sure to pique the interest of fortune seekers. 8 sample discoveries on the wind-swept shore add detailed dressing to the environment. The location also highlights a central tenet of the module – the tides wait for no man. Beyond this natural time limit, the attention to detail is as pronounced and well-developed as you’d expect it to be: Dripping water, smells, etc. – there is a lot of detail and even more rules-relevant material herein.

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

..

.

But let me give you a sample here for the details- each room comes with a small description for the DM, followed by entrances and things players may perceive or miss, followed by read-aloud text and then features - from illumination, to terrain features and e.g. doors (including hardness/break-DC etc.) to dressings galore and infos gleaned via a vast variety of skill-checks, the level of detail is staggering and surpasses even most of Raging Swan Press' other offerings.

Throwing pews, looking at various carvings - there is a vast amount of mood-setting going on here that amps up the ante of what to expect from such a book by quite a bit. Indeed, the best thing here beyond that might be the fact that the presentation is so concise you can run this module sans preparation, just reading as you go. I did try that and it worked. The collector’s edition does cover e.g. even auras, provides details for carved runes and their identification, etc. Spell fragments, runes with latent energy that can be activated; tentacle-studded, strange pillars with weird dressings, tidal streams – the module manages to sport a surprising diversity of evocative dressing.

There are evocative guardian statues…and there is a truly powerful skeletal champion deformed half-fiend sahuagin oracle entrapped in a sarcophagus. Here, though, would be the truly cool component of this module: Beyond time and location as driving factors of this dynamic environment, the finale of the module is about the ire of dagon: A statue that may well hasten the rise of the waters – it can be defused and is presented as a skill challenge that is pretty interesting and not only sports an idea for further adventuring, but also involves the whole party. The concise summary of the effects of rising tide etc. make for a helpful further guidance for the GM.

Stats for Dagon cultists can be used to add further details and dynamics to the adventure. It should be noted that each of the combat encounters sports scaling advice for the GM.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, is elegant, helpful and easy to use. The pdf sports some amazing b/w-artworks, though fans of Raging Swan Press will be familiar with some of them. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. The module comes in two different versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized to be printed out. The cartography of the short fane is excellent and in b/w, but we do not gain a key-less version of the map for players, which constitutes a comfort detriment that’s relevant to the rating.

Creighton Broadhurst has further refined the already neat original module: The contextualization in the Duchy of Ashlar helps to ground the module and its cool ideas in the context of the region, adding some serious flavor to the proceedings. The module already was extremely GM-friendly in its previous iteration; in this collector’s edition, the module is even easier to run than before – a big plus, as far as I’m concerned. You can pick this up and pretty much run it smoothly with just 5 minutes of prep-time (or none, if you can process information while GMing) – that’s a big plus.

That being said, this is a pretty highlight-driven adventure: Beyond the skill challenge finale and the heavily template boss, the other challenges feel a bit tame for my tastes. That being said, this version is certainly worth checking out – I love the dressing, environment, challenges; the module is pretty brief and imho would have benefited from some additional rooms and places: As written, the threat of tides only comes fully into play in the finale. The time-management aspect would have benefited from, well, a longer, more pronounced complex that makes the player-decisions matter more. If your players are quick, they can clear the module rather swiftly. This does not mean that this is bad, mind you – it just means that the premise, the details and unique ideas herein could have (and imho should have) carried a bigger dungeon. In the end, my final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars – but I can’t round up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fane of the Undying Sleeper Collector's Edition
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Creator Reply:
Glad you liked the adventure, End! I found your comments jolly useful. I did deliberately make the combats easier--I wanted to subtly encourage the PCs to be able to do the whole thing in one push. I'm sorry that didn't work for you 100% Thanks for the review, as always!
Better Than Any Man
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/01/2017 05:47:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at an epic 180 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page internet resources, leaving us with 174 pages of content. Now, it should be noted that the pdf is longer than the physical version – and the space is used VERY well: We get ALL combat statistics collated in the appendix; a spell-index, a magic item index; reference-resources…and, really cool: Both the overview map of the region and all the maps are collected in the back – and, in a really amazing offering, all top-down dungeon-maps can be rendered player-friendly, courtesy of the layered pdf – HUGE kudos there! Furthermore, we get player-handouts and a player-map of the region.

Now, at this point, I need to thank one of my friends/supporters, who did send me the physical copy of this module, moving it thus up my reviewing queue. This review was also requested by one of my patreons as a non-prioritized review, which made me move this up in my reviewing-queue. The physical copy has a full-color map on the inside of the front/back-cover – it’s basically a nice sleeve of the regional map. The module per se, is, apart from that, a saddle-stitched, pretty big booklet in A5 (6’’ by 9’’)-size.

“Gott mit Uns!” The battle-cry of Carolus Rex, Gustavus Adolphus, resounds through the Holy Roman Empire. It is the year of our Lord 1631 and the king whose tactics would influence the history of military campaigns, has claimed his famous victory at Breitenfeld. His armies march onwards, but the growing force of the Löwe aus Mitternacht no longer are merely professionals – and, as the annals tell, his days are numbered. Still, for now his host approaches Würzburg and the notoriously inefficient fortress (which pretty much withstood only a single battle…) there. I grew up around this place and, while nowadays, the area is less swampy than within the module, I have to applaud the commitment to plausibility. Additionally, it should be noted that the German names used throughout the book, from Inn-names to the names of forces, are actually correct – huge kudos for not butchering my native tongue.

The champion of Protestants and his overwhelming force is approaching the area around Würzburg – the book has a VERY strict, extremely challenging time-limit – the PCs have basically 5 days, RAW, which is not much, considering the difficulty of this module. Beyond potentially modifying this time-line, there is another aspect that allows for some control, particularly when using this as a start of a campaign or one-shot. It should be noted that this module is not for the faint of heart or for the novice player – this is brutal in its difficulty, but it is NOT necessarily unfair. There is also another aspect of this book you should be aware of: The book is billed as intended for ages 18+; if this was a movie, it would deserve a hard R-rating for some gory scenes.

This is also the point in time, where I should comment on the controversy that was sparked by this book. In my opinion, it’s ridiculous. I mean it. To give you an idea: One of the best means to gather information, is to venture into a brothel; the magic-using mistress of the place gets her kicks from exchanging information for demeaning tasks and sexual acts. Yeah well, so what? The respective tasks aren’t explicit, can be glossed over or replaced…and this module is billed as “For adults only.” Perhaps it’s my European upbringing, but frankly, while I consider her tasks to be often disgusting, the PCs are not required to engage in them. It’s a choice. You can say no. I really don’t get it. And she never stoops to the lows of De Sade etc. – you can actually see more explicit or extreme things in real life on the internet without ever trying. That, and the lady in question is actually part of the enemies of the PCs. Similarly, while some images depict really gory, messed up stuff – that’s what the BAD GUYS are doing. You know, the bastards the PCs are supposed to stop?

Is this dark? Yeah. Is this dark to the point where I’d consider it problematic? Nope. Not even close. And those other ridiculous claims you can find? Similarly unfounded. If you like dark fantasy, horror, etc., then chances are that you’ve seen much, much worse.

It should also be noted that this is a combination of basically a regional sourcebook and sandboxy mega-adventure rolled in one; if you expect railroads, you won’t find them herein.

Okay, this basic discussion out of the way, from here on out, I will discuss the module. As such, the following discussion contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only referees reading? Great!

So, Gustavus Adolphus is hell-bent on razing Würzburg to the ground, if he finds the rumors of occult practices to be well-founded. Unfortunately for all concerned, they are. Karlstadt, just before Würzburg, has been taken over by magic-users: Women ostracized by the hypocrisy of society, unified by a strange spell: Casting the ritualistic magic cost one of them her life, but granted their simple, unified wish of power: Now, all of them, hopelessly out of their depth, rule Karlstadt, courtesy of the powerful magics and the potent creatures gained from the casting of the spell.

The 7 (actually 6 – as mentioned, one died) are interesting characters in their own right: There would be a girl, who only wanted finery and power and now doesn’t now what to really do with it; there is a lady who always wanted to provide for others, who can now create food for others and help keep the masses from starving. There is aforementioned madam, now wholly entrenched in a web of debauchery of her own making; there is a twisted, bitter woman, who “teaches magic” – with the goal of reincranting herself into the baby of one of her students; there is a madwoman, convinced that she’s ferreting out the walking dead. All are pitifully weak casters…but they rule over Karlstadt and are, in some aspect or another, well-rounded characters. Gorgeous b/w-artworks also help making them more than just bad guys…and there’s a problem. For the most part, a sense of cosmic irony and cruelty pervades their magics: The Provider, Jutte Beckman, for example, does not really help sate the masses: Her magical food is filling and tastes nice…but actually doesn’t sustain anyone. It is wholly without calories, nutritients, etc. Similarly, the detect undead-like magic of one of the ladies actually has a 1 in 10 chance of delivering false positives. Yeah, fun. Each of the 7 sports sucha signature spell, just fyi.

There are two reasons the 7 remain in command beyond the authority granted by their ritual: Number one is the most interesting aspect: Basically, their ideas are hyper-progressive. The interim-society of refugees they have erected in Karlstadt is actually closer to our ideals than those of medieval Germany. It is, philosophy-wise, a well-meaning construct, suffering from incompetence and lack of interest in some cases, and power-trips in others. The second reason would be the creatures: Each of the 7 comes with her own guardian creature, horrific monsters (you can see one of them on the cover…), which all come with truly ORIGINAL rules. The lamest one of them just steals the best stats of those nearby; there is a monster that can switch ability scores, change XP and hit point totals; there even is an immortal, invulnerable thing that exists in another dimension – it causes tumors, and attacking these can be used to slay it. Not only are the illustrations cool and twisted, the monsters are extremely poachable – each can make for a challenging puzzle-boss on its own.

Why is this relevant? Well, if the PCs want to stop the destruction of the whole area, they need to take down the 7. With the lavishly detailed Karlstadt, their smart security and powerful guardian creatures, that’s easier said than done, though.

While Karlstadt is pretty much a hub for this module, the surrounding villages and wilderness do sport not only wandering monster-encounters (curiously focusing on insects…), they also sport instances of the spectrum of human suffering and desperation when faced with the impending doom. These are grim, yet flavorful, and add a big context and some well-hidden information to the massive sandbox that is this module. How do the PCs get into Karlstadt? How do they take down the 7? It all depends on the players and their actions.

Beyond these aspects, there is more – in fact, a lot more. The module contains 3 locations which most publishers would have used on their own as a free offering. All are only tangentially related to the plot at hand and may be used, providing a piece of the puzzle. None of them are strictly required, though. Number 1, and by far the worst part of the book, the only part I’d consider to be lame, would be the infinite tower. It is pretty much what you’d expect: An infinite tower with occupants and treasure..but also a chance to be lost for 1d6 x 10 years in the past or future. If you run that aspect RAW, chances are your PCs may miss the adventure. That being said, you could use this as a means to “save” the campaign: The PCs fail, travel back in time, level up, and retackle the module at a higher level. Just sayin’. The highlight here would be the isometric map: Big plus: In the layered pdf, you can remove the secret door!

The second red herring would be a sidequest you’ll usually gain from a wealthy-looking refugee waiting to gain entrance to Karlstadt: Gunther Moll and his rowdy band of bandits have kidnapped a child. Turns out, though, that, as far as bandits go, they’re not that bad: While they have taken up residence in an ostensibly cursed farmstead, they won’t harm a kid (They are not the insane farmer who cops up travelers and sticks their parts in his field…). The abandoned farmstead and its secret tunnels etc. are once again provided in a nice, isometric map – though here, the layered pdf does not provide for player-friendly customization. Anyways, unbeknown to the bandits, the former occupants were indeed evil – worshipers of the vile Insect God…and an undead is still lurking. Cue the potential for Mexican standoffs and strange alliances…

The third dungeon that isn’t really required would be the Mound – lair of the surprisingly powerful and thoroughly nasty Willibald Schwartz – a level 17 magic-user with garish clothes, who is not only a pervert, he also has a glass tiger as a kind of executioner golem to fetch new subjects. Alas, the tiger sucks at distinguishing proper from improper prey and sometimes brings kids instead of adults. Willibald likes making magical marionettes out of their bodies. Yeah, he is a thoroughly vile, disgusting bastard – and if the PCs are smart, they’ll listen to his offer: You see, he knows about the imminent rise of the Insect God – a threat to all mankind. And he has this spell, which is another means for the PCs to actually beat this module: Journey to the Past. It sends you chronologically back through time where you’re standing. Yep, this does require some serious referee fu, and when introduced, is most assuredly a spell (at level 1) that makes a one-shot use perhaps easier to handle. But it is a potent tool. You see, he knows that the Insect God needs a particular gem to rise – and where that gem was. Retrieving and handling the problem of the gem is a means to get rid of the cosmic horror lurking at the edges of this module…and a discreet note to the Swedes regarding Herr Schwartz can solve the problem of this vile bastard. Once again: He’s a BAD GUY. Just sayin’.

But what this module, beyond assassinating the 7, is truly about…well, like in any good investigation, that’s not readily apparent. You see, the 7 actually are compromised; they are, in fact, lams set up to be slaughtered. Their well-meaning creation of the Bürgerfriedensmiliz (Citizen’s freedom-militia) and their notes of ostensible pacifism may have been rooted in good intentions – but one of the 7 is actually a fervent devotee of the Insect God. Deep in the wilderness, there is the headquarters of the Bürgerfriedensmiliz, where the members are brainwashed into committing unspeakable atrocities (illustrated, btw.). The dungeon that contains the HQ is actually a complex: It houses the 4 levels: The caverns, the shrine of the Insect God and the headquarters…and it is one of the best dark fantasy dungeons I have ever had the pleasure to run.

In true LotFP-manner, it is a hellhole, difficulty-wise: There are dangerous, extremely deadly adversaries and hazards to be found; bone wearing madmen concealed in ossuary-caverns; the gateway to the Insect shrine, lavishly depicted, is nightmare fuel with its strange statues ringing it: As a hand-out, it should most certainly show the PCs that not all is well…and in the HQ, there is a powerful tinker and a powerful alchemist, both fully realized and sufficiently insane/complex characters, which can render the exploration even more interesting…though it should be noted that, while super deadly, characters can also find a super powerful artifact that can grant a character 1000 non-regenerating hit points. And yes, this actually remains balanced to a degree and provides a means to truly “win” this module, particularly if you’re using the time-travel angle of the tower mentioned before.

You see, while the unique madwomen within the HQ, their labs etc. are amazing and creative, the module constantly hints at the imminent rise of the Insect God – a chthonic evil of legendary proportions. The encounters, small tidbits , etc. all lead up to it.

That’s where level 4, the end of the complex, comes in. You see, upon exploring the dungeon, at one point, the PCs will find a particularly VILE place, an environment, where pure malevolence seems to seep through. They have to actually DIG there. Yes. They are warned. Everything OOZES “RUN, YOU FOOLS!” Heck, if clerics rest, an agent of their deity will tell them to get the hell outta dodge. It should be noted that the task of this module is fulfilled at this point; the PCs have NO REASON to dig down there, apart from curiosity, from wanting the whole picture. You know what we said about curiosity and cats, right? If the PCs dig down there, the module changes. Up until now, Better than Any Man is a brutal, but fair and challenging dark fantasy module. If they dig down there, they enter, physically, the realm of the Insect God.

At this point, the module becomes a horror-module. A balls to the wall, weird, Lovecraftian nightmare. Down there, they can find an insect borealis, the head of an extinct, regenerating giant (who is buried to his neck), the largest specimen of humanoids to ever life…now an idiot through constant insects gnawing through his brain. The Insect God thinks that this is mankind’s god…which is wrong, obviously – but woe to those that tell that to the Insect God. Here, every step shows new horrors and wonders…and can kill you. You can walk through the cavern, through which the haemolymph of all of the world’s insects runs, prior to reincarnation.

That being said, at the end of this dungeon lies a half-consumed cadaver of a gargantuan insect-thing, attended by the ghosts of literally countless insects (one of the most gorgeous b/w-artworks I’ve seen in any RPG-book, btw.) – and the dead Insect God speaks. It commands. The spectral insects attack in endless waves. The PCs will fall. One by one. Until only one remains. The unfortunate last person standing will be invaded by the insect legions, becoming one, bodily, with the crawling legions, a mind enslaved…this champion receives the living, vile blade of the Insect God…to go forth, and once again spread the gospel of insect superiority… Yeah, that can jumpstart a whole campaign of its own.

So yes, level 4 is NOT intended to be won; it is intended to be the horror-end to the module; it is intended to be a dark conclusion…or as a reason to really want to go back through time to stop the apocalyptic exploration of a place, where mortals were never supposed to tread.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on both a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with a TON of truly amazing b/w-artworks AND cartography – Aeron Alfrey, Gennifer Bone, Ramsey Dow, Alyssa Faden, Andy Hepworth, Laura Jalo, Anna B. Meyer, Jason Rainville, Jennifer Rodgers, Amos Orion Sterns and Peitsa Veteli did an amazing job. The player-friendly maps in the pdf-version are pure amazing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. I love the layered pdf…and guess what: Got a table to roll in the module? Click on it. It’ll roll for you. Oh, and the module is internally hyperlinked for your convenience as well. That’s one step beyond. Big kudos!

James Edward Raggi IV’s “Better than Any Man” is a masterpiece.

There.

I said it.

Yes, you can misalign and misread it. If you have an issue with adult content and dark fantasy/horror, then this is obviously not for you. If you’re a newbie, this will SAVAGE you. This is a massive module for pros: Experienced players and referees. PCs will die. If your players think, they can walk in the module and kill everything/loot everything – they’ll all die. Like flies. This is a module that requires a good referee AND smart players.

That being said, this module is pure amazing: The 7 are interesting; the regional setting is glorious and surprisingly well-researched; the monsters are inspired – each could conceivably carry its own module. The finale is phenomenal. It takes a certain type of player to FIND the final level; it takes a hardcore, dedicated group to get out of the deadly level, much less kill the thing; the latter will take a campaign beyond the range of this book – it is possible, though! And the level, in all its lethality, is ALL about the player’s choice. Literally ALL aspects tell them “Death (or worse) that way ->” – if they follow, well, then they reap what they’ve sown.

This book’s finale is pure, glorious horror; the module is dark before the finale – it is not for happy-go-lucky-family-friendly gaming. If you expected that, it’d be like putting in a Friday the 13th movie and complaining about it not being Sesame Street. But neither is it even half as dark, explicit, etc. as some of the more negative reviews would make you believe; some claims I read are objectively, patently false, some outrage ridiculous. Apart from the thoroughly optional horror-finale, this module is actually pretty survivable; challenging and hard as hell, yes – but most experienced groups should have a solid chance winning here.

Oh, and this is FREE. It is offered for PWYW in its electronic version; print was Free RPG Day. And guess what? I would pay serious money for this. If you can get the print version for ~40 bucks, I’d honestly kinda consider it worth it. I am NOT kidding. The superb, comfortable PWYW-pdf is a thorough must-have offering if you even remotely like dark fantasy. The bang-for-buck-ratio of this book is absolutely RIDICULOUS. In a truly amazing way.

I am not engaging in hyperbole, when I’m saying that this is very much the best, most professional, amazing module I’ve ever seen for PWYW. This is a truly amazing offering. I love pretty much everything about this module; the freedom, the characters, the desperation, the high stakes and pressure, the difficult decisions. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. This also gets my “Best of”-tag. If you even remotely like challenging, deadly, dark modules, then download this gem right now – and if you can find the print version for a fair price…well, totally worth it. This is a stunning, gorgeous book – to think that it had been released for Free RPG Day is mind-boggling.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Better Than Any Man
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Demon Lords of Porphyra
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/01/2017 05:45:08

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Porphyra-series clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All righty, the first thing will only come as a surprise to those of you not following the Prestige Class Archetype-series – namely the reprint of the (as far as Paizo hardcovers are concerned) Deific Obedience system from Inner Sea Gods, which is a big plus from the get-go. The demoniac, for example, made use of the materials herein. Anyways, we thus gain an expanded deific portfolio for the respective demon lords depicted within this book: Being the default obedience benefits, three boons are provided for all of them. It should be noted that, yes, domain arrays are internally concise – 3 domains, 3 subdomains. No undue discrepancies here, with the exception of the Spider-queen stand in, who gains 4 domains and subdomains. As a big plus, I should not fail to mention that each of the demon lords depicted within features his/her/its own spell-preparation ritual…and the favored weapons and animals/instruments noted in the respective demon lord summaries add a sense of immersion to the proceedings. At the same time, there are some minor, cosmetic hiccups here and there – the first demon lord’s alternate titles sport one that has erroneously been printed in purple. There also is a remnant formatting (b) before a correctly bolded spell-preparation ritual - you get the idea. On the plus-side, these are cosmetic and don’t impede the functionality of the game.

Well, if you’re like me, you’re here for the demon lords themselves, right? Well, we begin with Ayporos, the Counter – also nicknamed Mr. Blue, for his irrational fondness of the color, which extends to his signature narcotic Deep Blue…after all, the demon lord’s favorite weapon, the syringe spear, makes pretty clear that addiction’s the name of the game…and his clerics like to indulge…and to tattoo themselves. Balakor, the corpse-king, the unrepentant. Once the lord of the city that should not have been, fabled Bhaal-aak. Dispossessed, angry and driven into exile, his works crumbled to dust, wailing and a palpable sense of being cheated out of one’s due power adds a complex and interesting angle to the necromancy/living ghoul-theme of this demon lord – big kudos for managing to provide a fresh take on a trope that features in most campaign settings. Big thumbs up!

Buer, a classic from mythology, also comes with a rather enticing idea that I have NEVER seen before for a demon lord: The Giver, the Extinctor promises the ecstasy of a return to the wild, to a more primitive state of being. Oh, and his boons include the option to curse an area in a forest – those that linger suffer suicidal urges – NO SAVE. While this is very potent, its limitations are enough to reign it in and the ability is evocative indeed.

The Dark Mistress, an ascended succubus with ties to the movers and shakers, is interesting. Oh, and there is Gomm-Thog. All about destruction, this guy would be the demonic equivalent of the Incredible Hulk, defined by smashing and breaking stuff and violent, deadly rages. There would also be aforementioned spider-queen stand-in, Kazerothrine – who becomes somewhat interesting as an embodiment of hungry and destructive motherhood. The Lord of Many Forms is actually something different altogether: Imprisoned in the Crucible Tower, this entity has gestated from the amalgamation of a living seal made of nobles and proteans – a demon lord created and ripened, if you will,a being of pure chaotic malevolence, rather than just a large blob from the Abyss. Morcheox would make for another highly unconventional and cool demon lord – here, we have the trope of the demonic moon. IT alone (no typo!) makes for a potent foe that strikes the chords of the Sword & Planet genre, apocalyptic fiction and classics ranging from Final Fantasy VIII to 3.5’s Elder Evils in a rather neat manner. Naehemoth, an ascended Qlippoth lord, makes for a cool twist on old Nyarlathotep, though with a focus on madmen and forbidden lore. Perhaps it’s the symbol of the deity (each demon lord gets his/her/its own custom, full-color symbol!), but I was reminded more of the malevolent, inscrutable entities behind the Blair Witch, as heralded in the little-known Rustin Parr-sequel to the cult classic video game Nocturne. If you got that reference, my hat’s off to you, btw.!

Pasiphae would be one of the most interesting demon lords featured herein – the mistress of puzzles, is about unsolvable, nasty puzzles – and her obedience focuses on playing with a perception-defying puzzle. I absolutely ADORE this one. Why? Because the destruction of PERCEPTION is supremely creepy to me…and not something I have ever seen a demon lord focus on. Big kudos! Good ole’ classic Pazuzu can be found within, as can Tajam’muhur: This fellow is the lord of the despondent masses housed in squalor, the lorded over and downtrodden; he is the master of the mob, the cruelty of the masses that manages to eliminate any semblance of decency. Notice something? These are really creative. Thurin’Waethil, the bloody marshal, She Who Weeps, was defeated, but certainly not destroyed. Her boons include a hampering of mundane means to stabilize others and her desire for blood and vengeance make her an intriguing being as well. Yog-Muan would be the God-Killer, a reptilian demon lord that is a twist on Yig, with the added emphasis on killing deities – in a world, where they may rise and fall, this makes sense to me and provides, once again, a creative divergence from the default tropes. Zaqqit, the Fallen, is the epitome of the fallen angel – once a solar lord, he swells with pride and power, but also arrogance and hubris, cultivating a decadent sense of superiority.

Beyond these amazing, creative demon lords, we also get a wide array of new magical items (with some mundane ones spliced in) – here, we can find the angel-heart (exactly what it says on the tin…), which can bolster the summoning of demons and even be bartered away. The Kitab al-Sahar Shaytan, the book of demon lords, is amazing, idea-wise – it is basically the in-game representation artifact of this book: It contains the information on demon lords presented previously as well as the new spells featured herein. It also is hazardous to keep if you’re not a demon worshipper…and as an artifact, it makes for a dangerous tool indeed. Buerite unguits, which may ricochet, the magical drug Deep Blue…and I like the demonpelt cloak, which provides a variety of defenses, but only temporarily…and switching between them is a cool tactical option. Khadeg’s capturing pentacle is a temporary means of trapping demonic foes. When the ladder of the pit is inserted into desecrated ground, it can provide a means to get into the Lower Planes. There is also one item that is somewhat problematic: The lash of the legion conjures a dretch when doing damage – only 1 per target and the wound may not be healed without dismissing the dretch. Now, on a formal level, the “+1” should be IN FRONT of the magic weapon properties, not behind it (and nope, most of the items get that right). Secondly, the weapon should specify that it requires sentient beings to conjure dretches. While kittens can’t be whipped well due to the weapon’s unholy ability, slightly stronger animals to be herded and whipped can result in ridiculous legions due to a lack of a maximum cap of dretches called.

Thurin’waethil’s personal blade, Revenge’s Tear and a ring that fortifies against the potent auras of celestials complement this section. Now, as mentioned before, we also get a selection of new spells, which btw. come with full ACG and Occult Adventures compatibility. The signature spells note their associated demon lords and are, generally, rather potent. There are some minor formatting deviations – “Int” instead of “Intelligence”, slightly non-standard rules-syntax…but on the other hand, the spells actually do cool things: Gomm-Thog (the Hulk Demon Lord) comes with the signature spell concussion, which causes bludgeoning damage and Int damage on a failed save, scaling with damage caused (nice balancing), and enough subsequent casts may cause Intelligence drain. Really funny: The verbal component is actually shouting the alternate name of the spell: “BONK!”

A sneaky movement redirection curse deserves special mention as a creative and cool spell as well. All in all, I was rather impressed here: While a bit rough around the edges here and there, the spells featured are creative. Or take hubris, which begins as a buff and then proceeds to devolve into a debuff – really cool for sudden betrayal scenarios! Ultimate Weapon allows you to create a custom weapon, somewhat Green Lantern-style, and may modify it – personally, I think e.g. adamantine should be locked behind higher levels – more pronounced scaling among the effects would make sense here. Unfortunately, there also are a few instances where the rules are slightly compromised: Vengeful Tears causes the caster to bleed, but also makes those suffering regular attacks from suffering bleed damage. Two problems: The wording in clumsy, but more importantly, it is pretty evident that the bleeding damage should stack, which it RAW does not. Easy enough to fix, sure, but still.

Next up would be array of various subdomains/domains: Anarchy, Betrayal, Borders, Genocide, Porphyrite, Ruins, Spider and Verminkind: These and their abilities, as a whole, sport some seriously inspired tricks: Shifting ACs, drawing potent borders in the sand…but there also are some rough patches. The Genocide domain, for example, sports this sentence: “…as an immediate action, when any creature is killed within 30 ft. of you, you gain a caster level when casting spells against fur­ther members of that creature’s type for a number of rounds equal to your Wisdom bonus.“ This almost assuredly decreases the CL. I assume it should be a CL-bonus…but if that’s the case, then the bonus frankly is too high and should be nerfed in favor of a scaling one. The ruin domain’s Remembrance ability refers to druid levels.

Finally, we close the pdf with new traits for worshipers of demon lords – a LOT of them. And they generally are pretty nice. That being said, it almost looks as though multiple authors wrote this: We have precise traits with proper trait bonuses etc. We have a few remnant (i)s from intended, but not executed italicizations and some traits lacking the proper bonus type. We have really complex wording done right and potentially confusing, wonky verbiage like “You may class Knowledge (geography) as a class skill…” – we know what’s meant, all right, but you don’t “class” skills as class skills – for obvious reasons. It should also be noted that the traits do not state their trait type. We conclude the pdf with a summary of demon lords, with worshipers, domains, subdomains, etc. all collated on a handy table.

The pdf comes with a bonus pdf penned by Mark Gedak, one depicting “The Watch”, an eye-king otyugh who clocks in at CR 6 – think of these things as a beholder-y/otyugh elite law enforcement unit in the Advent Imperiax. Yeah, pure awesome!! Two thumbs up for this cool critter!!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good on a rules-language level, okay on a formal level. While there are more easily caught glitches here than what I’d consider good, it’s a big step up in comparison to the author’s previous offering. Rules-language is mostly functional, with only a few instances I’d consider to be problematic, though there are some herein as well. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ printer-friendly two-column standard with purple highlights. The full-color icons of the holy symbols are really cool – two thumbs up. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Perry Fehr is an inspired author. I’ll stand by that statement every day of the week. Alas, his rules-language tends to oscillate in quality rather strongly: Sometimes, he gets highly complex and evocative, creative concepts done right…and sometimes, he botches really basic stuff. This pdf highlights all of these observations in a rather succinct manner: The demon lords are absolutely amazing. I mean it. In a tradition so old, with so many iterations, he weaves narrative gold and really creative, innovative and flavorful concepts. As far as the concept-side of things go, this is a 5 star + seal of approval file – I adored the demon lords and while there are a few rules-hiccups here and there, they are minor ones. The magic items also are pretty strong offerings…and honestly, so is the rest of the book. However, similarly, the editing and formatting glitches do accumulate and drag down this pdf from the lofty perches I’d place it otherwise.

With a bit of nitpicky editing and/or development, this could have been a master-class pdf. Here’s the good news, though: A halfway capable GM can fix the issues herein pretty much on the fly, at least for the most part. And the high-concept content deserves being used – this is worth owning. If you’re looking for a go-play supplement, this may not be for you, but if you want to read some really fresh and creative takes on demon lords, then this can be a truly inspiring offering. This is, in short a diamond in the rough, with avoidable glitches hampering what would otherwise be pure awesomeness. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform based on the strength of the amazing concepts as well as the inspired bonus file.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Demon Lords of Porphyra
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Tower of Hidden Doors
Publisher: Wayward Rogues Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/01/2017 05:43:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second adventure in the „Whispers of the Dark Mother adventure arc clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 23 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, first things first: It should be noted that this module contains a two-page write-up of the deity Amaura, the mother of life and oceans – this deity was first introduced in Cultures of Celmae: Majeed, but has been expanded in this module: We learn about priest’s roles, shrines, etc. While, flavor-wise, the deity write-up is pretty concise, you should be aware that no Inner Sea Gods-style obediences are included. The deity comes with 7 domains, but no subdomains noted, and sports two different favored weapons – the latter can render things slightly wonky regarding proficiencies etc. Still, as a whole, the prose is rather nice.

The module also contains stats for the mythos grimoire that drove the plot of #1 – the lamentations of the fungus men. The tome comes with research DC, quick and concise little research rules (in case you’re not using them) and a nice “cost” for studying the tome. Spell-wise, colostrums cohort conjures forth lemurs with the entropic creature template added (having the stats here would have been more convenient). The symbol of the creator would basically be a variant of the Elder Sign as a spell – it protects against worshipers and creatures of the elder gods and is a level 1 spell, for pretty much every caster but witch, druid (weird, since shamans can cast it) and magi. The spell is pretty potent, but considering the context of the adventure arc, the PCs will need such an edge sooner or later. Now, the lamentations also contain a new occult ritual, the Ritual of Becoming. It is not one PCs should attempt. Kinda hilarious: Most mad cultists think that the failure of the rather difficult ritual is the intended effect. What’s the failure? Well, you call Gof duPog, the probably most unfortunately-named demon I’ve seen in a while – this fellow would be an advanced, entropic, gnarled goat demon (CR 7) and stats are included. It should be noted that I noticed some minor hiccups in the stats, but not to the point where using the creature would be problematic. The pdf also sports stats for the CR ½ lesser shadow (whose AC line has this explanation (+1 +2 deflection, +1 dodge, +2 Dex) – the first +1 is a remnant and should be deleted. Similarly, AC reads “14 15, touch 14…” – editing should have caught that.

The pdf also includes a story-feat (nice), namely Enemy Cult. Problem: The feat is unusable as provided: Part of the Benefits-section is missing! It looks like it should grant you SPs (including symbol of the creator), but still – even casual checking should have shown that a whole pararaph’s missing from the feat!

All right, so that would be the rules-section of the pdf – now, let’s move on to the module itself. This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, after the chase that ended #1 of the series, the PCs will probably be stumped – they are promptly called to Sherriff Byron Tate – who offers a sizable reward for the apprehension of the one-eyed half-orc that led the assault on Lady Canterville. The PCs thus should have enough motivation to find out more about the assailant and the book – a brief table to gather information does provide further clues. Slightly weird: There is a DC 1-entry that basically constitutes failure and a hint to move the plot along. Ultimately, the PCs will venture into the Ogre’s Belly, where half-orc drunkards will try to mess up the PCs for daring to venture into “their” tavern. The likelihood of a bar fight is quite high, and 1d6 complications add a sensible amount of chaos to the proceedings. Slightly odd: The module introduces the “slick” weapon qualiy, which denotes weaponry that can render the floor slick (d’uh) or help escape grapples – while generally valid, the lack of a duration here is just one reason why the like is usually handled differently in the rules.

The tavern comes with a solid full-color map, but one that is pretty small (too small for minis when printed out) and it comes only as part of the module’s pages – i.e., if you were to print out the page, you’d have about ¾ text on the page that you have to cut off. There is no player-friendly map of the tavern sans room numbers etc. These points of criticism, btw., extend to all of the maps featured in the module. Compared to the industry standard with maps in the appendix, often player-friendly versions as well, this is rather inconvenient and a big comfort detriment as far as I’m concerned. The numbers on the map are also kinda puzzling, since there are no room descriptions keyed to them – one room is relevant, I assume #7, judging from the room’s description. The PCs will sooner or later get the approval to look through Kemon’s room – an in it, they are assaulted by an iron cobra. Stats not included, not hyperlinked, not even highlighted in the text. Not how that’s usually formatted – at least the CR and source tend to be noted. If the PCs managed to save Faven in #1, they’ll be granted a scroll of lesser restoration and have some assistance regarding crafting. Yep, magic item not properly italicized.

Anyways, the trail leads to the eponymous tower of hidden doors. Right before the tower, on the approach, there is a pumpkin patch, one housing a fully-stated jack-o’-lantern creature – a plant monster with a fear aura, a strangling entangle, etc. – per se nice, if weak critter. Which brings me to a balancing aspect: If the PCs hustle towards the tower (distance to Brighton is opaque), they are fatigued. No save, no check. That’s not how hurrying regarding overland travel works in PFRPG.

Anyways, the rest of the module deals with the exploration of the tower. Each room comes with read-aloud texts, which is pretty nice, though there are some strange wordings here: “Only a single leaf bangs against the frame.”, for example, is a really weird piece of prose. I have never heard a leaf “bang” against anything. There also are a few instances where the formatting is weird. The tower itself has an interesting background story – Wovunda, a former oracle and adherent of the dark arts, has once perished in this place – his undead existence is responsible for the haunts that can be found in the tower. The undead has also stolen the book from the werewolf cultists, who still camp inside (!!!) after a run-in with the shadows of the place. How dumb can you get? Speaking of which: The guy who could not be caught by the PCs before is so dumb, he left a hint to where you can find him in his room in town, even though he can’t be tracked?? Then again, the werewolves are so alert, they automatically perceive the PCs. Stealth-rules? Why bother? Urgh.

Unfortunately, the PCs won’t really find out any details about Wovunda – and the module doesn’t use the haunts to convey anything; they miss the chance of indirect storytelling. Another issue: At one point, the PCs can be penalized for having a good Perception. Yeah, not good design there.

The BBEG of the module remains opaque, the haunts don’t really tell a story. Creatures are referenced in the text, lacking CR-values and proper formatting, making close-reading VERY important. In some cases, the text e.g. mentions using telekinesis to use chains to hit PCs – including damage-values, but not even a short-hand for the BAB. Monster-stats, where present, sport glitches in basic stats like attack-values. The formatting makes the werewolf-cultists look like they have magic items, when they don’t. Neither damage, nor attack values are correct. With the DR, the combat against them will drag sorely and be pretty annoying, in spite of their weakened nature. Not even starting with the incorporeal adversaries, which can break groups without the proper tools…which, at level 2, may well be almost all groups. This module is challenging in all the wrong ways, using incorporeal subtype and DR/silver as a basic tool to make what would otherwise be easy combats frustrating in all the wrong ways.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are no longer okay. It is readily apparent that this module did not see proper editing – from obvious formatting hiccups, to layout stuff that should be here (notes of monsters in room) to the math being wrong, this module is bad. Layout is gorgeous; a to-column full-color standard that is really nice to look at. The artworks within are similarly amazing – full-color, original, really nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked. Cartography is full-color and solid, but the lack of big versions and player-friendly maps make this inconvenient. As always with Wayward Rogues Publishing, you can’t highlight/copy/text, which is annoying when you’re trying to fix the numerous glitches.

Maria Smolina, Jarret Sigler, Robert Gresham and James Eder’s continuation of the series is a disappointment. The plot and behavior of the NPCs makes no sense whatsoever. The, per se, interesting location does not tell its tale, in spite of everything being in place. Instead, it feels generic and cobbled together. The boss having the McGuffin makes no real sense either. The combats fall on the frustrating side of things, not due to difficulty, but due to really nasty defensive options that can’t be properly deduced beforehand. The module also displays a puzzling ignorance regarding several PFRPG-rules. In short, this is not a good module; where #1 was saved by some ideas and a generally decent leitmotif, this one is generic in all the wrong ways. My final verdict will be 1.5 stars, rounded up by a tiny margin due to the neat artwork and the potential to salvage this for the continuation of the series. Then again, you may be better off improvising a stand-in module…

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Tower of Hidden Doors
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In The Company of Vampires
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/30/2017 04:00:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Rite Publishing’s massive „In the Company…”-series clocks in at a massive 51 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 46 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

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

After a brief foreword, we begin with a letter by Sovereign Evelyn Arlstead – the vampire correspondent and narrator that penned the in-character prose – a lady obviously at least slightly infatuated with Qwilion, which provides a rather amusing subtext throughout the flavorful prose that suffuses the pdf. She is rather adept at trying to “sell” undeath to Qwilion with honeyed words, interlaced with some flirtatious comments. Of course, as such, she does have some serious words for vampire-hunters, zealots, etc. Moroi, just fyi, would be the polite term for the vampiric race depicted herein. Physical description and poise, a predator#s confidence and danger’s subtle allure – the romantic notions associated with vampires have been duplicated in a rather compelling manner here. Fans of e.g. “The Originals” won’t be capable of suppressing a smile when the good lady comments on being “a bit melodramatic when it comes to family.” Similarly amusing: As the lady ges through the respective noble families, her own view color the descriptions. There are also the vampiric middle classes – the respective descriptions are briefer, but the descritions nonetheless are intriguing. As in Vampire: The Masquerade, those with thin blood constitute the lowest rungs of the social ladder.

Moroi are only created from the willingly embraced, but there are some moroi that can indeed generate slaves, a practice obviously condemned by the narrator – though the question of sincerity springing forth from her agenda makes this interesting. As with the revised installment on wights, we do have the modified ability score generation array for undead, Constitution-less races. Vampires retain speed and size of the former humanoid’s subtype, but none of the other traits. As such, they are Small or Medium, have slow or normal speed and ability-score-wise, gain +2 Cha, -2 Wis. Vampires gain darkvision and a natural bite attack (properly codified in type and size) that can also cause Constitution damage versus helpless and/or part of establishing a pin.

Which brings me to blood drinking: The vampire uses up 2 points of Constitution drained worth of blood per 8 hours of activity; blood and how to preserve it is concisely codified. Better yet, the math checks out – I happen to have done the math for the blood of humanoids the other day and the formula scales properly. Failure to satiate the thirst can result in fatigue, exhaustion, etc. – and vampires with a Cruor Pool can use that pool’s points to sate their hunger (more on that later). The way in which blood thirst is codified here is simulation-level precise, interesting and very concise. Excellent job here – frankly the best engine for this type of issue I have seen. As you can glean, this makes travelling potentially a challenging endeavor, though the pdf does provide considerations here. Big plus: At higher levels, the significant magic at the disposal of PCs can make the vampiric condition a trifle – however, there is an optional rule provided, elder’s thirst makes the draining ever more potent and dangerous – and thus harder to manage. Big plus, as far as I’m concerned, and nice way to remedy the trivializing options at higher levels. Now, everyone who played VtM with a serious level of detail will note how hunting can take up a lot of time: This pdf acknowledges that and provides means for vampires to hunt via a skill-check: The smaller the settlement, the more difficult it gets – though expenditure of gold, magic, current hunts, etc. can complicate the matter or make it easier. On a significant failure, the vampire may suffer from one of 10 consequences in a table, which may provide further adventuring potential. This system is not a lame addon – it works smoothly and 3 different feats interact with it. Kudos for the extra support accounting for Blood Pack teamwork hunting, Thralls and Territory (the latter makes hunting MUCH faster and reliable). In a nutshell, this represents the most detailed and elegant vampiric hunting/blood thirst engine I have seen for any d20-based game.

But I digress, back to the race, shall we? Vampires have families: The inspired gain channel resistance +2; Nightcallers gain scent; Nosferatu can demoralize adjacent foes as a move action; Shades increase their darkvision to 120 ft.; Sovereigns gain +2 Bluff and Diplomacy; Vanguards gain a weapon proficiency; Warlocks with Charisma of 11+ gain Bleed and Stabilize 1/day as a SP, governed by character level and Charisma. However, much like in VtM, each of these bloodlines comes with a curse: The Inspired are innately superstitious and have a taboo à la garlic, not entering holy ground, etc. Nightcallers can only rest while touching at least 1 cubic foot of their homeland’s soil; the Nosferatu, surprise, are disfigured and decrease starting attitudes of the living while undisguised. Shades can be blinded by abrupt exposure to light; Sovereigns cast no shadow or reflection and have a hard time approaching reflective surfaces. Vanguards can be paralyzed by wooden piercing weapons (deliberately kept vague) and warlocks can’t act during surprise rounds during the day and is flat-footed for the first round of combat while the sun is up. As with wights, the modified undead traits are listed for your convenience. Similarly, becoming a vampire later in the adventuring career is covered – kudos!

Regarding alternate racial traits, we have options to retain humanoid base racial traits – in two steps. The first renders susceptible to any source of fatigue or exhaustion, the second costs the racial immunity to death effects conveyed by the modified undead traits. Vampires with the elder trait can make Knowledge and Profession skill checks untrained and gain +2 to them, but must drink more blood to sustain them. Mingled lineages yield more than one lineage, but also the corresponding drawbacks and penalties to Charisma-based skill checks when dealing with other vampires. Survivalist nightcallers can sustain themselves via animals – but these must be killed and a HD-caveat prevents the vampire from just subsisting on a diet of kittens. Some vampires can discern information from tasting blood, losing the family’s racial ability benefit(s). Vampires with weak blood, finally, have no benefit or curse and require less blood to sustain themselves. Favored class options for alchemist, barbarian (which lacks a “ft.” after the +1 in a minor hiccup), bard, cavalier, cleric, druid, fighter, gunslinger, inquisitor, monk, oracle, paladin, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, summoner, witch and wizard are covered -alas, no support for the Occult classes, which is somewhat puzzling for me, considering e.g. the mesmerist. Oh well, perhaps in an expansion.

Pretty cool: There is a lite-version of the racial paragon class as a general archetype that can be applied to other classes, with the benefits balanced by the worsening curse. The other archetype included would be the cambion sorcerer. This guy can choose the Knowledge (religion) skill instead of the Bloodline skill. The archetype gains a unique list of bonus spells and may choose vampire bonus feats. The cambion may choose to gain the skills, feats and powers of the chosen family or bloodline, but at the cost of vulnerability to a material or energy type. The archetype gains a cruor pool as an additional bloodline arcana.

Which brings me to the racial feats: 8 feats are included; The cruor pool is ½ character level + Charisma modifier and can be used to store basically blood, with each point equal to 1 point of Constitution drained – this also can be used to power abilities. Extra Cruor increases the pool by 2. Fast Drinker lets you choose to deal 1d4 Constitution damage instead. Merciful Drinker decreases the blood you need to survive and can eliminate the pain caused by the bite. Recovery lets you help the living recover faster from blood loss. Stolen Life lets you expend cruor to heal/gain temporary hit points, the latter with a limit. Unfortunately, this ability fails to specify the activation action. Undead Mind lets you use cruor to turn a failed Will-save versus mind-affecting effects into a success, while Undead Resilience provides the analogue for Fort-saves versus diseases, poisons and energy drains – these btw. properly codify the activation action.

The pdf also contains 5 racial spells: Blood supply temporarily increases the cruor pool; rain of blood can nauseate and frighten the living exposed to it; suppress curse is pretty self-explanatory regarding the context of the race, as is greater vampiric touch; villain’s feast can sustain the undead and vampires and otherwise is basically the undead version of heroes’ feast.

The pdf also includes, obviously, a massive racial paragon class, the blood noble, including favored class options for the dhampir, elf/half-elf, dwarf, gnome, half-orc, halfling and human races. The blood noble gains ¾ BAB-progression, good Fort-, Ref- and Will-saves, d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple weapons and light armor, but not with shields. The class gains the Cruor Pool feat as a bonus feat at 1st level. Also at first level, the noble family chosen upon character creation, with mingled lineage’s effects accounted for properly. Benefits-wise, this provides a number of class skills based on the respective family.

The class also begins play with undead evolution: +2 to saves against diseases, poison and mind-affecting effects. This bonus increases by +2 at 4th and 7th level, culminating in immunity at 10th level. 13th level yield energy drain immunity, 16th immunity to ability score damage and 19th, immunity to ability score drain – however, in a nice caveat, self-inflicted drain is not covered by this immunity. The class gains a bonus feat from a custom list at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter.

The development of vampiric abilities is handled via blood talents: The first is gained at 2nd level, with every 3 levels thereafter yielding another talent. And yes, talents based on secondary families are not at full strength.At 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter, the blood noble can choose to get an additional blood talent – but if the noble does gain one of these, the blood noble also worsens the effects of the respective family curse. Each of the curse-progressions further develops what we’d associate with the families – flavorful and sensible. Nice! The capstone makes permanent destruction contingent on a special set of circumstances, once again defined the family of the blood noble. Really cool!

The blood talents come in two big categories: General talents that may be chosen by any blood noble, and those that are exclusives for the respective family. The general talents are reminiscent of the classic vampire tricks – ability-score boosts via cruor, channel resistance, spawn creation, energy drain, fast healing that’s contingent on cruor and sports (thankfully!) a daily cap, DR, supernatural movement forms based on family (thankfully without unlocking flight too soon), natural armor, slam attacks, skill boosts or some energy resistances. All in all, solid selection.

The inspired can gain cultists, channel negative energy via cruor, quench the thirst of other vampires…and from blood oaths t gaining cultists, a domain, etc., the talents are somewhat resembling the Assamites/Setites from VtM, just with a broader, more generally divine focus. The Nightcallers would be the Gangrel equivalents – with animal calling feeding from animals, gaseous form, melding into stone, locating foes – basically the wilderness hunter/survivalist. Nosferatu are the Max Schreck-style, inhuman and ghoulish vampires – like their namesakes in VtM, though less disfigured. They can drink the blood of the fallen, crry diseases and learn to temporarily suppress their unsettling appearance…or exhibit stench. Strigoi nets a tentacle-like, fanged tongue and there is the option to animate the dead or detach body parts to act autonomously – a nice option if you’re looking for a monstrous vampire.

Shades would be the equivalent of the Lassombra – the shadow magic/illusion specialists. Nitpick: The Veil ability lacks its type. Sovereigns would be the representation of the aristocratic Ventrue and as such, are the vampiric leaders, with charming, deathly allure, soothing demeanor, telepathy – basically the option for the potent face/enchanter. Vanguards are the vampiric fighters and as such, are closest to the Brujah clan in VtM, with cruor-based blood memory, granting proficiencies, better CMB/CMD, armor training, weapons that are treated as magical, self-hasteing…you get the idea. Finally, the warlock family would be the representation of the Tremere: These vampires can gain progressively better wizard-list based SP – additional uses beyond the basics are unlocked later and contingent on cruor. Beyond that, blood-based metamagic and homunculi can be found here.

While the vampire families are VERY CLEARLY inspired by VtM’s clans, it should be noted that the blood lineage is a significantly more fluid concept herein.

The pdf also contains a vampire template for the GM to make use of the material herein – kudos! Speaking of which: Lady Evelyn’s post scriptum made for a fun way to end the pdf.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level – I only noticed cosmetic glitches and those are pretty few and far in between and don’t compromise the rules. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports nice full-color artworks, all of which I haven’t seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

If you’re one of the unfortunates who didn’t have the chance to check them out back in the day: In the 90s, I consumed World of Darkness books, both roleplaying supplements and novels, religiously. I adored Vampire: The Masquerade. Yes, the rules sucked and yes, it was a nightmare to GM, but I adored the game. Big surprise there, right? Well, that ended when Vampire: The Requiem’s lore-reboot hit (just didn’t click with me, lore-wise) and there was another book that pretty much ended, at least for a time, all desire I had to see vampires in game: That would be the d20-version of the World Of Darkness back in the 3.X days. I love Monte Cook as a designer, I really do, but oh BOY did I LOATHE this book with every fiber of my being.

Where am I going with this tangent? Well, this pdf constitutes, at least in my opinion, the “Play a VtM-story in d20”-toolkit I expected the d20 WoD-book to provide. The rules are deliberate, precise and interesting; balance is retained…in short, Steven T. Helt and Stephen Rowe provide THE single best “Play a Vampire”-option currently available for PFRPG. I love the prose, the clans, äh, pardon “families” – they strike a chord with me and work without needless complexity – If you know how to play PFRPG, you will be capable of using this – the design is very smooth. If there is one thing that could be considered to be a weakness of this book, then that would be the fact that the respective families and their unique ability-arrays and options could have carried a book of easily 4 times the size – the topic of vampires, particularly of vampires indebted to VtM’s aesthetics, can cover at least 200 pages. So yeah, this is a good candidate for an expansion/hardcover with more lore, family traditions, etc. – or, you know, you can dig up your old VtM-books and start adapting their flavor, add more blood talents…

My second, minor complaint, the second reason I’m asking for an expansion, would be the curious absence of occult adventure or horror adventure support: Vampires and madness (the weight of years), occultists and mesmerists…these books seem to be natural fits and the pdf doesn’t offer anything in that regard. Now, let it be known: The bang for buck ratio is excellent here. Similarly, vampires depicted herein will not unbalance campaigns wherein not all PCs are vampires, which is a HUGE plus, as far as I’m concerned – this is very easily usable. Still, this book did leave me wanting more, probably courtesy to my own long-term attachment to VtM’s lore. In the end, my final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars for this book – and since I am a vampire fanboy, I will also add my seal of approval to this book, in spite of my nagging feeling that there ought to be more. If you do not share my love for VtM, you should mentally take away the seal.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In The Company of Vampires
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The Wealth System
Publisher: Straight Path Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/30/2017 03:56:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content – for the screen-version, that is. We get a separate version for the printer, which presents all information on 5 pages in a classic layout (as opposed to the tablet-optimized screen version). Kudos for going the extra mile there. The supplement also features an extra pdf, a handy one-page cheat-sheet, but I’ll get back to that later.

This review is based on V.1.1 of the file.

So, the wealth system presented herein would be basically an abstract system to handle the affluence of PCs via an attribute – Wealth. Upon character creation, a character begins play with Wealth equal to their Charisma modifier + their character level, minimum 1. Upon gaining a level, the character’s wealth increases by a further +1, up to a maximum of the character level + Charisma modifier + 3. When an item is used, no longer required, etc., you just erase it from your sheet: Items are assumed to be part of the wealth accumulated by the character. Basically, this system gets rid off haggling, selling, etc.

The second term defined herein would be Value: This measures the worth of goods and services. The gp-equivalent Value increases exponentially. The pdf provides a table that lists gp-Value-conversions, ranging from 100 gp (Value 1) to 307,200 gp (Value 24). Okay, this may help when acquiring valuable objects, but what does that mean for you? Can your character afford the concrete item xyz with his abstract Wealth? The system is simple: If the value of the object character is -5 lower than the character’s Wealth, the concrete item to be purchased is so relatively inexpensive, it’s not worth noting and has no bearing on the character’s Wealth. Anything with a Value of Wealth -4 is considered to be Pocket Change. A character can acquire up to 15 such items per downtime period. Additional purchases decrease the character’s Wealth by 1. Objects with a Value of Wealth -3 are considered to be Readily Available. 5 such items may be purchased per period of downtime. As always (and in all other instances below), going beyond that, reduces the Wealth by 1. Values of Wealth -2 or Wealth -1 are Affordable. 3 such items can be purchased per period of downtime. A Value equal to Wealth are Big Purchases. A character may only have purchased one such item at a time. Purchasing a second reduces Wealth by 1.

Items that exceed the character’s Wealth can be exchanged for equivalent items – bows for crossbows, swords for spiked chains – you get the idea. Only one item above a character’s Wealth can be exchanged per downtime period.

Now, obviously, Wealth can be pooled. The highest Wealth is used to determine starting Wealth. Each character contributing to the Wealth of the pool can increase the Wealth of the pool, but only if the character’s Wealth is within 3 points of the current Wealth of the pool. In order to avoid exploiting this, the maximum increase is equal to the character’s wealth +4. The pool can purchase one item with a Value up to the pool’s Wealth. Until this item is returned/sold, all contributing characters reduce their Wealth by 2. Losing the item makes this reduction permanent, obviously. Shopping for others counts against the limits of the character actually spending the money.

There also is the concept of Credit. Taking an item on Credit temporarily reduces Wealth by 2 or more and prevents you from increasing your Wealth by selling items. If you return the item, the restrictions are removed. Keeping it makes the Wealth reduction permanent. One item with a Value of Wealth +1 or +2 can be purchased on credit, but selling it can’t increase Wealth. Only one such item can be purchased per downtime period.

Now, we all know that adventurers sometimes get their hands on items that far exceed their usual monetary means – hence, items with a Value of the character’s Wealth by +3, +4 or +5 or higher have special rules: Wealth +3 items increase the Wealth of the seller by +1. Wealth +4 items increase the seller’s Wealth and that of another character by +1. Items with a Value of Wealth +5 or higher can’t be sold – at the GM’s discretion, these may still be sold, but should not ncrease the PC’s Wealth by more than the item’s Value -3.

While mostly player-centric, the system can make shopping easier for the GM – all those +1 weapons and armor will no longer accumulate their gp values in this system – using a creature’s CR as Value guideline would account for that creature’s Big Purchase. Finally, we take a look at a handy table that notes the value of common equipment.

The cheat-sheet is really handy, summing up all the rules and featuring lines for valuable items to track, a line for “currently on credit” and lines to keep track of total purchases per downtime period.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – while I noticed a missing italicization in reference to a magic item, as a whole, this is professionally presented in both formal and rules-language criteria. Layout adheres to a landscape-two-column standard for tablets etc. for the screen-version and the printer-friendly version really deserves its name. Kudos. The screen-version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Michael McCarthy’s Wealth-system will be a godsend for many groups – it is not a perfect system, but its simple and easily grasped abstractions help dealing with the minutiae of adventuring without eating everybody’s time.

In short: This succeeds at what it sets out to do. The cap for pooling and purchases, subservient to the GM’s definition of what constitutes a downtime period, means that the GM retains full control over this system. Now, the wealth system obviously isn’t for everyone – if you want a game, where player wealth oscillates strongly, then this does account for it, but not to the extent of “rags to riches and back”-scenarios – you won’t see Conan-esque fluctuating fortunes. Similarly, and you will have already gleaned that, if you enjoy the minutiae of selling, haggling, etc. and/or e.g. use kingdom building rules, this becomes somewhat less useful.

That being said, for what its intended purpose is, this most assuredly works well: If you hate the selling/purchasing aspect, the WBL-tracking etc., then this is definitely for you and may even potentially rank among your most beloved purchases, particularly considering the low and fair price point. This is not made for me – but I can see a lot of folks enjoying this system. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Wealth System
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20 Things #19: Kobold Warren (System Neutral Edition)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/30/2017 03:51:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

We begin the supplement with 10 events to occur in a kobold warren – from furtive scratches to piping that may constitute a warning, these are pretty cool. Then, we get a truly cool table: 10 extra things to say when the PCs fail to find a trap. This table is extremely helpful: The entries generate paranoia and atmosphere. Two thumbs up!

Of course, when failure is an option, there ought to be traps, right? Well, 10 system neutral, description-only traps are provided – and they generally are pretty creative: Embedded bellows, jars containing green slime in the ceiling and so on – so yeah, while we do not get Grimtooth-levels of complexity here, I was still pretty positively surprised by what the humble array provided.

There is a second array with 10 more traps here as well – like cavern orb spider silks, earthen jars with fermented troll excrement etc. – the deadly and twisted playfulness of kobolds comes through rather well – kudos! The pdf also sports 10 entries of kobold warren dressing, ranging from mottled scales to crude drawings or coils of string tied to painted pegs – really neat dressing entries.

The table of 20 things to loot from a kobold warren has been reproduced from the first 20 things-compilation. Finally, we get an “abnormal X”-generator: 10 different appearances for uncommon kobolds, 10 battle tactics and 10 sample treasures to be found on the foes can all be used to customize the kobolds encountered.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-artworks are really nice. Additionally, the pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for the printer and one for screen-use - kudos for going the extra mile there! The pdf sports several pieces of nice b/w-artworks.

Aaron Bailey, Creighton Broadhurst and Paul Quarles have created a fun, creative dressing file. Compared to e.g. the goblin installment, it feels a bit more creative in the respective entries and while I would have liked a new table instead of a reprint of the looting material, the pdf is inexpensive and definitely worth checking out. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
20 Things #19: Kobold Warren (System Neutral Edition)
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Book of Beasts: Monsters of the Forbidden Woods (5e)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/27/2017 04:35:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little bestiary clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so the first thing you’ll notice herein would be that you get more than one statblock per creature: After a brief description, we also get a couple of paragraphs on the respective critter, contextualizing the foe with lore – I really enjoyed this decision, as one of the complaints I had against the monster-presentation of e.g. 3.5 and its derivatives, was that the glorious, often inspiring lore of previous editions completely fell by the wayside. So yeah – nice! Secondly, you should be aware that each of the creature-types herein gets a nice b/w-artwork that is kept deliberately to remind you of a sketch in e.g. an explorer’s handbook, with a sheet of paper making the drawing look like it was taken straight from an in-game artifact. This may just be a small layout decision, but considering the fair price-point, it is one that provides a significant increase regarding immersion. Speaking of which: Each entry also comes with in-character quotes that could be seen as further inspiration.

While I’m at it: We get advice for building a battle with the creatures, nomenclature, things to be found in its lair (or where the creature is encountered) and at least two interesting adventure hooks per critter. So yes, as far as supplemental material goes, this pretty much covers all bases. Big plus!

Now, let us take a closer look at the creatures themselves, shall we? The first creature would sound ridiculous when described, but the cool artwork actually manages to make the creature look badass – the addanc, which is basically a cross between a beaver and a crocodile, building dams and making for a deadly, semi-aquatic predator. Versions for challenge ¼, 2 and 5 are included – the statblocks, btw., are precise, and the multiattacking critters make for cool, fantastic critters.

The second creature type is actually more than just a variation of different iterations of one creature – instead, this pdf sports druidic guardians – each of which is radically different from the others: Tiny mushroom guardians come with false appearances, with incapacitating spore cloud clock in at challenge ¼. Stone guardians (challenge 1) can hurl rocks and sport a movement/gesture to bypass them – cool! The challenge 2 water hounds are elementals can squeeze to tight areas and the hounds may exhale waves of cold water in small cones. The challenge 3 vine protector sports multiple vine barbs, can conceal itself as vines and regenerates non-fire damage…and finally, the shrine stone, (challenge 4) is another sentry that can be deactivated once more with the proper sign – all in all, these guardians make for cool non-animal guards to make pagan/kinda-druidic adversaries to supplement such sites. Particularly the building the battle entry here provides some nice context for everything here -we also, btw., get 3 adventure hooks here..

We also take a look at giant animals, 4, to be precise. The dire owl (challenge ½) has a cool signature ability: 1/day vomiting a poisonous pellet at a foe. Oh, and their screeches are deafening. Neat! At challenge 1, monstrous rats have keen smell and diseased bites, as well as nasty claws. Oh, and pack tactics, obviously. The bloodboar is a challenge 2 foe with deadly charges that cause more damage and may knock foes prone. Oh, and once per rest-interval, the boar can recover from a deadly blow. Painful tusks and a 1/day squeal that rallies boars to attack (providing advantage on the next assault) complement a cool beast. The challenge 4 dire lion sports keen smell and pack tactics, pounce and yes, perform impressive leaps and execute several attacks. Slightly weird: The creature has a bite and claws and also a savage attack – the savage attack is not covered in multiattack, nor is it mentioned in pounce. Extrapolating from the presentation, I am pretty sure that the bonus action attack granted by knocking foes down with pounce should be the savage attack.

After this, we take a look at a deadly creature – the elemental known as a knaerk, a thing somewhat akin to granite, spider and hairless goblin blending into a nightmarish thing, these threats can burrow and earth glide, making the deadly ambush predators that can drop stones on foes – minor complaint: Losing the restrained condition requires a move action – a PFRPG-remnant. This glitch can be found in all 3 iterations of the knaerk (Challenge ¼, 3 and 6). The elder knaerk can also generate full-blown cave-ins, though the move action glitch can be found here as well. Another strange formatting peculiarity: The average damage values for the knaerk abilities are missing, even though the other monsters herein sport them.

The final category of critters made me think of classics in a good way: Spiderbears! Yeah, and you thought wolf-spiders were bad news, right? These critters not only sport pack tactics, spider climb and may move unimpeded through webbing, they also are strong – the smallest ones already clock in at Str 15! Adult and elder spiderbears gain webbing attacks (recharge 6 and 4 – 6, respectively) – cool: Not just, stat-wise, a duplicate of ettercap webbing…the nets are flammable. Spiderbears can also sense the location of beings in the net, have a poisonous bite. Minor complaint: The elder spiderbear’s skills are both off by 1: At challenge 7, the creature should already have a +3 proficiency bonus.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, for the most part, are excellent on a formal level. On a rules-language level, the pdf is similarly well-crafted, though it does sport a few minor hiccups. Layout adheres to an elegant two-column full-color standard and the pdf’s b/w-artworks of the sketches are really neat. The pdf also comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks – nice!

Dale C. McCoy Jr.’s monsters herein are great – they are flavorful, yet feel somewhat grounded and, in lack of a better term, realistic. Plausible. The guardians, animals and fantastic monsters herein are nice, with the added information, hooks and quotes adding some nice narrative potential to all of the monsters, contextualizing them properly. While not 100% perfect, this is well worth checking out for the fair price point. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Beasts: Monsters of the Forbidden Woods (5e)
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Deadly Gardens: Hydra Vine
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/27/2017 04:33:21

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Deadly Gardens-series clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, ½ page SRD, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This installment’s magic item would be the vermin bait flask, which is a low-cost, sticky splash weapon that allows smart PCs to fool mindless vermin and/or use them for their advantage – cool, concise, two thumbs up! The pdf also contain 6 different natural items: Cyclops eye soup can auto-confirm the first critical threat after consumption; Gug wishbones can be broken – the one with the bigger piece gets a luck bonus for 24 hours. Moonflower blossom emit light and may be squashed for a blinding pulse…and they may force shapechanges from lycanthropes on failed saves.

Mothman powder nets +2 to Cha-based skill checks and to the DC of fascination-causing effects. Purple worm dye permanently dyes inorganic material and may only be removed with universal solvent (not properly italicized). Sard sap is hard to collect (spell reference in the text is not italicized, and formatting of magic item referenced is also incorrect)…and utterly ridiculous. It prevents death from negative hit points or negative levels for 24 hours. Functional immortality, if you cover insta-death bases. Utterly broken at 5K price. Utterly broken, even as a super high-powered item. Kill it with fire.

The central focus of the pdf would, however, be the lavishly-illustrated hydra-vine, which clocks in at a mighty CR 15. These critters entangle those within reach and whenever they take slashing damage, is gains growth points and heals…oh, and the plant knocks missiles out of the air – 50% miss chance. What’s the unique thing about it? Well, beyond aforementioned reactive regeneration, swallowing foes nets growth points – and upon gaining 5 of these, the plant gains the giant creature simple template – statistics for Huge, Gargantuan and Colossal size are also provided, which is pretty amazing! After 24 hours in a size greater than Large, the vine splits in two, decreasing both offspring plant sizes by one step…yes, you can have a plague of these plant juggernauts on your hand rather quickly! The creature is evocative and cool…though it should be noted that the statblock does sport some hiccups – these don’t compromise the coolness of the critter unduly, but yeah – if you’re picky about that kind of thing, it’s something to note.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay – there are a couple of avoidable formatting hiccups and a few components interact with rules-integrity a bit. Layout adheres to the two-column standard of the series and the b/w-artworks are nice, particularly for the low price-point.

Russ Brown, Joe Kondrak and Isaac Volynskiy deliver a per se nice little supplement, that has some cool components, but also some rough edges – the critter’s stats could have used a second pair of eyes, particularly considering how cool it is. The magic item is neat, but the sard sap needs to die in a fiery blaze – pretty much the epitome of unbalanced BS. This item and the minor formal hiccups drag slightly down an installment I otherwise rather enjoyed. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Deadly Gardens: Hydra Vine
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Altered Beasts: Gnolls, Vol. I (PF/5e)
Publisher: Total Party Kill Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/27/2017 04:31:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This dual-format NPC/monster-variant codex clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, how is this structured? Well, we get a brief fluffy introduction contextualizing the respective variant gnoll; after that, we first get a statblock for PFRPG, then a statblock for 5e, a brief box on how to use the critter in question and another box that notes the EL of encounters with the respective variant.

On a formal level, it should be noted that in 5e, features of critters are usually bolded and italicized – the pdf does not feature the italicization. A big plus as far as I’m concerned would be that the respective alternate gnolls featured herein do get signature abilities to set them apart. While this is one of the strong suits of the pdf, it also represents, unfortunately, one of the points where the pdf could have used a bit of refinement. Take the gnoll whelp’s cowardly retreat ability in 5e: When the gnoll is reduced to 0 hit points, it must make a Dexterity saving throw (“Dex save” herein) – if successful, the whelp “…instead has 1 hp and must move its full movement to exit combat.” Immediately? As a reaction? On its next turn? No idea.

In the PFRPG-statblocks, such instances can also be found: The CR 1 Crazed Gnoll Howler has the following ability: “Insane (Ex) Creature is psychotic.”[sic!] – Yeah, this is no rules-language I know of. On the plus-side: The 5e-version gets an ability quite akin to the one sported by the whelp done right – and it better should be, for it is an ability you can find in most of the statblocks. On the down-side: These critters come with a disease – which instantly kills the PC after 3 failed saves. OUCH!

Pygmy gnolls, also at CR 1, are ranged combatants; ravenous gnolls (CR 1) can regain hit points via bites in 5e. In PFRPG, they gain a bonus to damage and attack when fighting “potential prey” – whatever THAT’s supposed to mean. Lower HD? CR? Everything? No idea. The classic flind does NOT get any stats, just telling the GM to apply the Advanced Simple template. Which does not account for flind-bars etc. Oh, and 5e? No dice. No flind-stats either. Disappointing.

The pdf also contains a total of 4 different CR 2 gnoll variants: The winter gnoll is immune to cold and, in PFRPG, vulnerable to fire (oddly not in 5e). Speaking of 5e – these guys can throw basically bear traps – and these do NOT allow for a save to avoid them: If you walk into them, you’ll be hit. Problem: The ability doesn’t specify what type of action the gnoll needs to throw it: I assume a regular Action, but bonus action would make sense as well. Also problematic: No duration or rest-interval or recharge note. RAW, they can throw an infinite amount of traps. Cave gnolls suffer from light blindness, but are potent throwbacks. The 5e-version gets the Multiattack formatting wrong, making use of the attacks needlessly confusing.

Gnoll mercenaries are lame warriors 2 in PFRPG and not much more interesting in 5e. Mutant gnolls come with a wasting disease in PFRPG as well as DR 5/cold iron (and errors in the stats), while the 5e-version gains some cool defensive tricks.

There are 3 different CR 3 gnolls: The rageborn has the pack attack feat and some Barbarian tricks and raging 5e-versions are particularly defensive while in rage. Weird: Their rage has no duration. The CR 3 two-headed gnoll has this gem of an ability: “Improved Multiple Attacks: The two-headed gnoll never takes penalties from making multiple attacks.” – yeah, PFRPG rules-language this is not. Puzzling, since PFRPG des have well-threaded rules for the like. Speaking of which: In 5e, we get this: “The two-headed gnoll may roll two dice (keeping the best one) on all Perception checks and on saves versus blindness, charm, deafness, fear, stunning or becoming unconscious.” Spot the deviations from how that ability works. Hint: There is a concept called advantage and the wording for the conditions is weird as well…and the ability has already been cleanly codified. Plague bearers also sport some nonstandard verbiage and fail to specify in PFRPG, to which of their two plagues the DC applies – one save? Two saves? Do targets have to save once or twice? The 5e-version notes a disease cloud, but the disease-effects are weird.

At CR 4, we get the giant-blooded gnoll, who gains rock throwing in PFRPG – and displays an ignorance on how the damn universal monster ability works. The statblock’s wrong. This would be as well a place as any to note that the alignment/type formatting line is improperly formatted in all 5e-statblocks. Compared to this fellow’s massive damage output, the den mother at the same CR pales and falls behind quite seriously – she also lacks any unique tricks in PFRPG. In 5e, her spellcasting section deviates from standard presentation.

At CR 7 we get a demon-possessed gnoll, at CR 8 a gnoll warchief. As you can imagine, neither possession, nor other ability formatting specifics are 100% okay in either of them, making running them more complicated than it should be. The 5e-version of the demon-possessed one notes “negative energy damage”, which does not exist in 5e, and uses PFRPG-y summon mechanics. The summary of Jaguar Pounce manages to be incorrect.

The pdf also sports a significant array of monstrous feats, but only for PFRPG. They…suck. Okay, there is no way past that. There are minor number-boosts, boring benefits, wonky wordings, critical escalations…you get the idea. And no, the feats were not used in the builds, feeling like a weird afterthought.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level. On a rules-language level, the pdf fails both systems, big time. Neither PFRPG, nor 5e sport the level of precision either system deserves. Layout adheres to a solid two-column full-color standard and the pdf has no interior artworks. Annoying: The “o”s in the font seem to be larger than the other letters. Really looks odd. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Brian Berg can do better. He has done better. Orlando Winters as an additional author hasn’t helped the pdf either, unfortunately. I hate to say this, as I do like this type of book – NPC codices are cool and while the dual-system format makes you pay for a system you don’t use, if the variant gnolls herein would live up to their ideas, it’d be a nice book. However, there s no way past it - everything herein feels sloppy and rushed. There are plenty of formatting issues, rules-language hiccups and deviations, statblock glitches etc. in this pdf – and in a crunchy monster book, that’s just not good. No matter the system you employ, you’ll get a deeply flawed book here, one that displays puzzling levels of ignorance regarding the mechanic aspects of both systems. I would have expected this from a novice, not a veteran. As a whole, I cannot recommend this pdf to anyone, but the most tolerant of GMs. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, rounded barely up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Altered Beasts: Gnolls, Vol. I (PF/5e)
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