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101 Not So Simple Monster Templates (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/11/2011 09:58:39
One of the best things to come out of the d20 rules is, in my opinion, templates. Being easy ways of customizing your monsters helps to make what would otherwise be generic creatures have a special, unexpected slant to them. Of course, saying templates are “easy” ways of customizing your monsters is a relative term. In fact, templates virtually always require tweaking a monster beforehand. Hence why Pathfinder offered us the new simple templates, micro-templates that made comparatively small changes, complete with “quick” rules that told us how to change a monster on-the-fly.

Rite Publishing’s second book of templates goes with this approach, trying to keep the new material in line with existing simple templates…but not everything herein is quite so simple, as the title acknowledges: 101 Not So Simple Monster Templates.

The title’s honesty is slightly undercut by the fact that this book doesn’t actually have one-hundred-one templates in it, but rather ninety-three. You wouldn’t know it unless you actually counted, though, so it’s not like that’s a deal-breaker.

The templates themselves run quite the gamut in what they offer. Some of these templates are indeed worthy of being called simple, such as templates for creatures that are blind, deaf, or missing an arm. Others are based around turning the base creature into another creature-type, such as the Banshee Creature template, or the Lich-Touched template (which gives the base creature the lich’s paralyzing touch).

Some may find the aforementioned templates to be something of a deal-breaker, as these seem like something easily constructed on your own. That may be, but that’s not the fault of the book – after all, this is focused on simple templates, and that will mean that many of the templates take a single idea and implement it. That the book exhibits a range in the templates it offers is a virtue, not a vice.

Speaking of a range, there are plenty of templates in here that aren’t quite so simple, either. The Walking Fortress Creature template makes the creature into a titanic monstrosity with an actual fortress on its back. A Riven Magic Creature not only shrugs off magic, but drains and destroys it as well. There’s a lot here for those looking to put an unexpected spin on their everyday monster. Most helpful is the chart at the end of the book that ranks the templates by their CR adjustment, ranging from -5 all the way to +4.

The book doesn’t offer any example creatures, and in only a few places are there sidebars that discuss what’s presented. Likewise, while the lion’s share of the templates offer both quick and rebuild rules, not all of them do. In many cases, this is because the template is effect-based, and so the quick and rebuild rules are identical. Sometimes, though, the template just offers one or the other. Again, that isn’t particularly bad, but keep an eye out for the templates that assume that you’ll make things like ability score adjustments ahead of time.

Ultimately, this book is overflowing with templates that are simple and not-so-simple. In fact, some of these are templates of such creativity that they could have gotten the full template treatment. Whether you want your monster to have an exceptionally powerful bite attack (Gnawing Creature) or be the personification of death itself (Grim Reaper Creature), look no further than 101 Not So Simple Templates.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
101 Not So Simple Monster Templates (PFRPG)
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Warfare for Beginners 2 (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/09/2011 13:58:17
My review of the original Warfare for Beginners noted that that product’s strength came from how it eschewed the idea of simulating the actual clash of armies, instead setting the large-scale battles as a backdrop against which the PCs undertook decisive missions which made the difference between victory and defeat. It was a great idea, as it got rid of special rules for playing armies without sacrificing the “feel” of your characters being involved in a major military conflict.

It’s a pity that Warfare for Beginners 2 breaks so thoroughly from its predecessor, even as it depends on it.

At one page shorter than the previous book in the series – having two pages of text and one of the OGL – Warfare for Beginners 2 is, for all intents and purposes, a completely different article from the one it follows. So much so, in fact, that I look askance at this book’s disclaimer of “make sure you have purchased that article first, or this won't make much sense to you!” True, WfB2 uses Victory Points – and doesn’t mention how they work here, clearly expecting you to already understand the concept – but that’s all that this product carries over from its predecessor; everything else here revolves around new mechanics.

Said new mechanics dive directly into the territory that the previous article dodged: the simulation of entire armies clashing. To the product’s credit, its system is simple and easy, but that comes with all of the critiques that go along with that simplicity.

Warfare for Beginners 2 holds to the idea that the PCs don’t simply await for opportunities to arise, but rather are military commanders who decide upon what tactics to have the troops perform, while the enemy responds in kind. In this regard, the book presents eight kinds of military tactics (e.g. ambush, artillery, etc.) with a sidebar briefly overviewing each one.

You can likely guess how things work from there. The PCs and the GM each pick a tactic, and then compare their results to a table on the article’s first page. Depending on the particular combination of tactic-versus-tactic, the PCs can either gain or lose Victory Points (or, in fact, things can be a wash, with the PCs neither gaining nor losing any VPs. This, however, was slightly obfuscated by the table presentation, which presented such results as simply blank squares, rather than a more-helpful “+0”).

Depending on what sort of mass combat rules you prefer, this simplicity is either making you despair or making you cheer. Regardless, it should be noted that the book does throw some wrinkles into the above process. First of all, the PCs can attempt (via a skill check) to ascertain what tactic their enemy will use (though curiously, the GM doesn’t seem to get to attempt the same). Secondly, both sides can attempt an opposed skill check to increase the efficacy of their chosen tactic – success means that the number of VPs gained or lost is increased by 1.

While that’s the sum total of the new mechanics, it is heartening that (also like the previous work in this series) WfB2 does take the time to talk about putting this into a narrative context. For example, it encourages you to put individual faces on the enemy leaders making the opposed skill checks, for example, which is a small but salient detail. Likewise, it talks about the need to dress up the simple comparison of tactics and the ensuing change in Victory Points into something that’s much more exciting.

Following this is a quick note that the scale of Victory Points – that is, the total number necessary to win or lose the battle – is increased under this system.

Unfortunately, the above is the only oblique mention that this article mentions regarding how to use this system in conjunction with the one from the original Warfare for Beginners. In fact, the use of Victory Points is the only thing linking these two products at all – notwithstanding that, you have two separate ways of having the PCs play in a military conflict. That’s a shame, because given the separate foci of these articles (one being commando raids by the PCs, the other being the large-scale movements of troops), they could have been very complementary. They still can be, but it would have helped to address issues that come up when using both systems together. For example, do the PCs need to personally lead their soldiers, or can they issue orders and then go carry out their own mission? Can they launch a small raid that affects the enemy’s use of tactics that day? More could have been done here.

As it is, this book’s system of mass battles is intuitive, but limited. It allows for quick and easy resolution to combat engagements, and even allows for some nuance with its system of opposed skill checks, but it still neglects a lot. There’s no way to incorporate terrain into this system, for example, and issues with more than two units going into battle isn’t discussed, nor is the size of the respective armies, nor their composition (e.g. one is undead, another has cavalry, etc.), though the book’s last paragraph promises that this will be covered in the next in the series.

Wait…the “next in the series”?

I went into Warfare for Beginners 2 under the presumption that it was an afterthought to the original rules, released too late to incorporate into its predecessor – why else would you release a two-page “sequel” that requires the use of the preceding materials after just sixteen days? It was only with the aforementioned promise of new material later that I realized that this was done on purpose, something that rubs me the wrong way.

The problem with Warfare for Beginners 2 is that it sits awkwardly between being its own product and being an adjunct to the original Warfare for Beginners (and subsequent WfB articles). Had the Victory Points information been entirely reprinted, this material could have stood on its own (minus any future products that build on the rules here). Had it gone out of its way to tie itself tighter to the previous product, it probably should have been merged with it into a single book, rather than strung out across a very thin series. As it is, we’re seeing two different ideas presented as part of the same material and THEN divided back into two different pay-for products.

Make no mistake, the mass battle rules presented here are serviceable, but could be much more than they are. For that, however, you’ll need to wait for the release of the next few pages to what’s essentially one book.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Warfare for Beginners 2 (Pathfinder RPG)
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Warfare for Beginners (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/26/2011 16:38:52
Mass combat has never been handled very well in any incarnation of the d20 System, and Pathfinder is no exception. From large and intricate systems that are practically a separate game in-and-of themselves to highly abstract rules-light methods, mass combat has been presented in many different varieties. Unfortunately, all of them are imperfect, tending to be either too complex or too simplistic. Ultimately, a fresh approach to the entire idea is what’s needed.

That fresh approach is found in EN Publishing’s Warfare for Beginners.

A four-page PDF (one page of which is the OGL), Warfare for Beginners throws out the underlying assumption of all other mass battle systems: that you need stats for armies. Instead, it puts the focus squarely on the PCs as individuals and makes them the linchpin for how a mass battle resolves. As the book’s product page says: the underlying assumption is that unless the PCs do something, their side will eventually lose.

It’s certainly possible to take issue with the aforementioned assumption. After all, some may not like the idea that the PCs are ALWAYS on the losing side of a battle unless they go out of their way to turn it around – while the book doesn’t address this, I think it’s important to understand that this underlying default is a purely meta-game construct. It’s designed to set up the system that Warfare for Beginners presents, rather than create an in-character scenario of “why is it our side is always composed of bunglers except for us?”

Warfare for Beginners was originally a 3.5 product that has been converted over to Pathfinder. This is fairly easy to see, since its main mechanic is an original one. The battle is decided by the accumulation of Victory Points. Gather enough VPs and the PCs’ side wins; lose all their VPs and their side loses, plain and simple.

The kicker is that VPs are naturally lost over time…as in, every day of the battle. The PCs must accumulate enough VPs by undertaking missions to bolster their troops and undermine the enemy to be able to win. A d20-based table is presented with various mission ideas, as well as how many VPs they’re worth if completed, and the penalty to VPs if failed. An accompanying table determines events that take place with the rest of the armies, and the resulting changes to the VP totals.

What all of this means in a practical context – and what the book spends about half of its pages talking about – is that Warfare for Beginners doesn’t so much present a system for resolving mass battles as it gives you a series of ideas for encounters that the PCs face over the course of the battles. In other words, if you use this system to determine that the can PCs go out on an assassination mission, you’ll still need to use a battle map, have NPC stats for foes, etc. You’re essentially running short adventures for the PCs, and keeping a tally of how they do.

There are some guidelines given on how challenging missions should be based on how many Victory Points they’re worth, as well as discussion of scaling various aspects of the system (e.g. having things occur over months instead of days). Roughly the last quarter of the book presents some examples of how this would work in actual play around the game table.

Needless to say, how much you get out of this system will depend on what you had in mind for your Pathfinder mass battles. If you want your PCs commanding armies and using large-scale military tactics, then this book isn’t for you. If you want your PCs to be pulling off daring commando raids whose effects change the whole dynamic of the battle, then this product gives you an excellent system for designing short (or even not-so-short) adventures to do just that.

What really makes the difference here is the book’s presentation. While it may be obvious to a lot of GM’s, I give this book kudos for saying “don’t just dryly read off the table results! Present what get from these rolls as natural consequences of the battle! Here’s an example.” This is the sort of advice that’s often overlooked simply because a lot of people just assume this sort of presentation is understood. That’s not the case, however, and dressing up what the mechanics give you is a big part of role-playing, particularly for this book, which is giving you outlines for adventuring during a war.

If you want your PCs to be the ones who make the difference, pick up Warfare for Beginners. It makes them the real heroes of battle.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Warfare for Beginners (Pathfinder RPG)
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Archives of Maere: Forces of Nature
Publisher: Wild Hunt Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/19/2011 19:36:48
Introducing new special materials into the Pathfinder RPG – special materials being the materials you make your weapons and armor from, such as adamantine or mithral – is something of a tricky process. The primary purpose of special materials is usually to overcome a corresponding damage reduction. Beyond that, their uses quickly become niche, though they can still be interesting. It’s with this last thought in mind that Wild Hunt Games brings us Archives of Maere: Forces of Nature.

A 13-page PDF, Forces of Nature portrays itself simply but not inelegantly. It has both a hyperlinked table of contents and bookmarks, which is going the extra mile. I thought it slightly odd that the back cover immediately followed the front cover, but that’s a stylistic choice I’ve seen elsewhere, so I didn’t fault it.

The book’s artwork is totally focused on the new magic item it presents. All except the last item have a single photograph (not illustration; an actual picture) of the item presented below it. I found that interesting, since the pictures ostensibly of something else that the author found; still, it’s impressive to see a picture of an aetherite crow figurine of wondrous power, for example.

The book gives us two new special materials: aetherite and draconium. The former acts as a sort of undead alarm, presenting a bluish mist that drifts towards undead who come near deposits of aetherite. The latter material is highly volatile, and explodes under pressure.

Initially, I looked askance at these materials. Having an auto-undead detector seemed like too much, for instance, until I realized that this wasn’t really presenting anything that a 1st-level detect undead spell didn’t already do (and, in fact, does with better range anyway). Similarly, draconium seems like it could be unbalancing if the player’s start carrying it around as bombs, but they don’t deal enough damage in small doses, and larger ones are impractical to use like that anyway.

Following this are a dozen new magic items (the last of which is a minor artifact) all of which use one of these two new special materials. This lends a nice thematic element to the product that really tied it together. Of the magic items themselves, they were fairly useful, having things like a reusable sunrod that can also heat metal, two new figurines of wondrous power, and a bashing shield that lashes out with fire when used. There are also some pop-culture nods in here, which will either make you grin or roll your eyes (e.g. one of the magic items is called dead lights, for you Stephen King fans). It’s worth noting, however, that the devil’s bombard could probably use some tweaking now that Ultimate Combat is out.

The appendix reprints one spell from the previous Archives of Maere book that the minor artifact uses, and also presents a new cavalier order (see the Advanced Player’s Guide), one dedicated to fighting the undead, which is slightly surprising in that it’s the first time I’ve seen such an order. However, I frowned at their 15th-level ability, which chiefly lets them critical hit undead creatures…despite how, in Pathfinder, undead are subject to critical hits normally. A few points off for that.

Overall though, this installation in the Archives of Maere does fairly well for what it presents. The new materials are in-and-of themselves minor additions to the game, but the use of them in a dozen new items helps to boost their presence; it’s a smart move, and an interesting one as well. I’d personally make these very rare materials that are specific to a certain region of the game world, and I think they’d be a lot of fun that way.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Archives of Maere: Forces of Nature
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#1 With a Bullet Point: 2 Options for the Leadership Feat
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/13/2011 17:58:19
Leadership is one of those aspects of Pathfinder that is clearly a nod back to the game’s history, but at the same time doesn’t quite replicate that history perfectly. Back in the day, having henchmen and hirelings was par for the course, though it could cost you quite a bit in funds. Having the feat provide a matrix by which you can calculate the exact number and levels of your cohort and followers can be rather awkward, to say nothing of the problems with a high-level cohort and a horde of low-level followers.

That’s where the aptly-named 2 Options for the Leadership Feat – part of Super Genius Games’s #1 With a Bullet Point line – comes in.

The PDF is three pages long, one for the title page, one for the OGL, and one for the new rules here. Surprisingly, there were no bookmarks, which was deeply shocking since I thought for sure a product of this length would be concerned about its ease of navigation, but I’ll chalk this one up to someone falling asleep at the wheel.

Seriously though, the book presents two mutually-exclusive options for what benefits you gain if you have the Leadership feat. Interestingly, both do away completely with having a second character (or, for that matter, a host of characters) that follow your PC around on his adventures. Rather, these options are both focused around having contacts and connections that you can exploit.

The difference between the two options comes from how wide, and how deep, these connections are. The first option gives you only a scant handful of connections, but you can get quite a lot from them. The second option gives you a broad spectrum of connections, but these aren’t very specific to any particular individual.

In both cases, the benefits are virtually free of combat utility, and more focused on what the people you know can do for you. Each option has a paragraph describing how this works in favor of the PC, and another describing how it’s easier for the GM. Both make some very good points, and are fairly upfront about the fact that this is to cut down on having to manage what’s essentially a second PC and a useless collection of followers.

Overall, I liked these options, simply because I’ve experienced the problems that Leadership can bring to the game table. Both of these create a stronger “support” role in the mechanics they offer, and have some great material for role-playing the people your character is friends with. If you’re tired of having to deal with cohorts and followers, check out 2 Options for the Leadership Feat.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
#1 With a Bullet Point: 2 Options for the Leadership Feat
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Obregon's Dishonor
Publisher: Brave Halfling Publishing
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2011 14:38:15
I picked up Supplement V: Carcosa a few years ago on a whim, and have yet to regret my purchase. Indeed, my sole complaint was that it left me wanting more – while there was a truckload of role-playing potential in Carcosa, I frequently find myself lacking the time and inspiration necessary to craft an adventure there (that, and my players are all scared of the setting – quite rightly so – and are very hesitant to play there).

As such, you can imagine how delighted I was to find out that someone’s written an adventure for the Carcosa setting. Apparently the only one of its kind, I fell upon Cameron Dubeers’s adventure, Obregon’s Dishonor, with relish. What I found after reading through the material was that, although it didn’t have quite the tone I expected, it was still a wild trip through the world of Carcosa.

For those concerned, this review will have some spoilers regarding the outcome of the adventure.

Obregon’s Dishonor is a 39-page PDF. There’s only one bookmark, which takes you back to the first page of the file, something that I found disappointing. Likewise, there are no other versions of the file, such as an epub format. The book is very printer-friendly, however, having only three pieces of art in total.

I personally didn’t care very much for the art in this book. While Andy “Atom” Taylor can draw black and white illustrations far better than I could, I found the subjects to have a very “flat” look to them. While some may think it appropriate to find the subjects of the world of Carcosa to be off-putting, it shouldn’t be because you don’t think the artistry is doing them justice.

One of the major aspects of Obregon’s Dishonor, which must be noted before we go any further, is the tone that it presents. When I read Supplement V: Carcosa, what I took away from it was that this was a very bleak world. The color-coded humans of the planet huddle in small, isolated gatherings, afraid of not only humans of other colors, but also of the pantheon of monstrous creatures that roam the world. What little “treasures” they find are usually technologies that they can’t reproduce and barely understand. And magic is a ritualistic performance that requires highly specific components (e.g. specific times, places, etc.) that usually requires bloody sacrifices to tame or abjure alien gods for a sort time…and always exacts a high price from the caster.

Needless to say, that’s a harsh game world indeed. It’s also not the world of Obregon’s Dishonor. Don’t misunderstand, this adventure is still set on the world described in Supplement V, but the “feel” of the place is very different. Towns have been constructed, with fairly typical shops and trades going on (e.g. barbers, taverns, prostitution, etc.), gemstones are mined, and people of different colors dislike each other, but are willing to tolerate each other’s existence, albeit tensely.

Several of the new rules also help to tone down Carcosa’s high lethality. One of the book’s appendices introduces the new witch class. Unlike the Carcosan sorcerer, the witch class is a more terrestrial thaumaturgist; she has the power to create elixers which, although nonmagical, can replicate several of the more familiar D&D spells (e.g. a healing elixir, an elixir of sleep, neutralizing poison, etc.), something that can help PCs immensely.

Given the presentation of human habitation and the witch’s benefits, this is a different take on Carcosa – one that’s not so much “Cthulhu’s idea of a pleasant place to vacation” as it is “Conan the barbarian’s idea of a really rough place to live.” The latter is still a harsh environment, to be sure, but not nearly as much so as the former. In fact, the author states flat-out that this adventure is meant to evoke the spirit of the old action-adventure pulp stories (which were a strong inspiration on D&D to begin with), which helps to explain the tone of the book.

The plot of Obregon’s Dishonor is ostensibly a rescue mission. The PCs are in the mining town of Jaftgong and answer the call of a purple woman named Bothess. Bothess wants to hire the PCs to help her locate the spell component that will let her free the soul of her lover, Obregon, after he was killed and pulled into another dimension by the Shambler of Endless Night, something that happened after his apprentice, Darsiaas, betrayed him.

The town of Jaftgong is the initial backdrop for the scenario, despite most of the actual adventuring taking place elsewhere. Jaftgong gets a fair amount of description, including a map, and its clear that the author wants the PCs to regard this as something of a “home base” beyond the scope of the adventure – certainly, the PCs should care what happens there.

Interestingly, the other major key to the adventure is the star NPC, Bothess. I had some problems with Bothess, both in terms of how essential she is to the plot (though, to be fair, the text does take steps to help the GM should she be rebuffed in her offer of employment, or slain along the way), and in terms of her sexuality.

The latter point requires further explanation. One of the points of the old pulps that the author says he wants to recreate in this adventure is the lusty babe showing a lot of skin, and Bothess is the incarnation of that aspect of the story (even despite being a cyborg) – the text goes out of its way on more than one occasion to describe her body. (“If Carcosa had its own version of Playboy, Bothess would probably be the most popular centerfold.”)

This, I had no problem with.

Bothess isn’t just pretty, though; she’s highly outgoing in her sexuality. She’s very willing to offer sex as a reward for helping her – and, of course, she’s unconcerned with skin color, is bisexual, and is even willing to have an orgy with multiple PCs at once if that’s what it takes to secure their help. Later on, she’s willing to strip down and tempt one of the major monsters the PCs face if things become bleak (though it’s as a tactical measure, as she has a weapon for the occasion).

This, too, I had no problem with.

Assuming the PCs take Bothess up on her carnal offers, sex with her grants them some attribute bonuses, and a small penalty. But only the first time, and the bonuses are temporary.

This, I had a problem with.

The problem isn’t so much that the PCs gain stat bonuses for sleeping with her. Personally, I think that’s a valid way to make sex tempting for player-characters; most PCs are solely concerned with what improves their character, either in-game (treasure, weapons, etc.) or out-of-game (experience points, levels, etc.). Since sex is supposed to be desirable, having it grant bonuses in the game’s mechanics keeps it tempting to the PCs.

Rather, the problem here is that the PCs only gain these bonuses the first time they have sex with her. This is somewhat penalizing, since the bonuses last for about a day, and presuming the PCs are quick to have their way with her (and why would they wait?) they’ll likely gain and lose the bonuses in doing so before they get to the dungeon-crawl part of the adventure.

It wouldn’t have been unbalancing, I think, to let the PCs gain the mechanical modifiers for sleeping with Bothess throughout the course of the adventure, particularly given the way things (likely) end. Having it be a one-off series of modifiers tends to waste giving sex modifiers at all. Similarly, it’s never explained WHY sex with Bothess grants these modifiers – the implication is that she’s just that good in bed, but if that were the case, surely there’s someone else on Carcosa of equal talent, and they’d also grant similar bonuses? The in-game reason for the mechanical modifiers should have been spelled out more.

The game’s main feature is the dungeon-crawl that the PCs sojourn through to find the necessary spell component to free Obregon’s soul (a spell that, contrary to the non-banishing spells in Supplement V, requires no human sacrifices). Moreso than anywhere else, this is where the adventure is at its most pulp, as they need to battle through an abandoned monastery to find the object of their quest.

For those GMs who worry about maintaining a bleaker feel for Carcosa, this is also the area that will need the most work. The tone of this area is set not only by the creatures fought here (largely a new type of monster introduced in the book), but in terms of the weapons and items found as location-based treasure.

In the same way that the witch class allows for “potions,” the treasure here presents a lot of “magic” weapons. I put “magic” in parenthesis because while these have the mechanics of magic items, e.g. a +1 sword, they’re actually technological in nature – the aforementioned +1 sword is actually a vibro-blade, for example. While it’s true that Supplement V does present a fairly large number of technological items that PCs can find, most of those have only so many charges. It’s entirely possible for a group of adventurers to end this adventure with, not a large bundle of high-tech items, but long-lasting ones.

Speaking of the adventure’s end, it concludes with a twist on the premise, naturally, but attempts to close with a dilemma for which there’s no right answer – do you save the town of Jaftgong, or do you stop the Great Old Ones from being unleashed? It’s an impossible scenario…except that it isn’t, since the book flat-out tells you that the former possibility is imminent, whereas the latter will take a couple years to do. Presumably, the sense of this being an impossible choice is preserved if you keep that particular clause from the PCs, but this still strikes me as being somewhat sloppy. Making that threat much more immediate (a few weeks or even days), would have put much more pressure on the PCs, as it should be.

Likewise, the text sort of sputters out at that point. While I can understand not going into further detail about freeing the Great Old Ones (since that can be long and drawn out), the process for saving Jaftgong is handled awkwardly, with a link to some rules for running mass battles, and very little other information given as to how the battle is supposed to be played out. More could have been done here by far, and it’s for this reason primarily that I’m giving the adventure less than full marks.

Overall, Obregon’s Dishonor isn’t Geofrey McKinney’s Carcosa, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you want the game world to be a little less of a desolate wasteland filled with xenophobes just struggling to survive, and instead offer a little more dungeon-raiding, damsel-rescuing, heroic-questing, then this adventure will give it to you, along with providing enough new mechanics and ideas that you’ll be able to better craft further such adventures on Carcosa.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Obregon's Dishonor
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Wishtaker
Publisher: Dakkar Unlimited
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/30/2011 13:28:20
It’s not often that I find myself wishing that I could assign a product a sixth star on a five-star scale. While I’ve reviewed a lot of products that were five-star worthy, there’ve been only a half-dozen or so where I felt that five out of five was too small to truly indicate just how good I thought they were. Dakkar Unlimited’s Hot Chicks supplement Wishtaker is one of those books – a merit it earned because it managed to do something that very, very few RPG books have ever done.

It scared me.

This isn’t to say that Wishtaker left me quaking in fear. I didn’t throw up, or run around turning on the lights. Rather, I came away from this book feeling disturbed. Unsettled. Wishtaker was uncomfortable because it presented a horrific picture that, despite being fictitious, was perturbing to contemplate. For a book or a movie to do that is hard; for an RPG supplement to do it is far more difficult, and for that I have to give Wishtaker mucho props.

A forty-page supplement for the Hot Chicks RPG, Wishtaker makes reference to a number of other supplements from the game line. However, virtually none of them are truly necessary to use this product (one small but important exception, however, is Yiffy, Yaoi, and Yahooey, which details the Spirit Claw attack that Wishtaker uses). It was disappointing that there were no bookmarks here, as those would have been helpful in quickly navigating through the book’s many sections.

The artwork is uniformly the CGI artwork that Dakkar is known for, and its copious here. It should go without saying at this point that there is full-frontal nudity in the pictures. However, there’s nothing truly graphic in the illustrations – while there are plenty of images of people restrained and about to be tortured, none of the artwork actually shows the torture taking place (notwithstanding seeing a woman being de-cerebrated). Of course, the artwork doesn’t need to show the actual torture to be spooky.

Wishtaker is a product about the genesis and operations of the character of the same name. Originally one of the servitor wishbringer robots from Villian-Net (q.v. the eponymous sourcebook) that was attacked by a slimey (from YYY), Wishtaker is something new, and even she doesn’t understand exactly what she is or why she is driven to do what she does.

And what she does is torture people. Sadistically, on a physical, mental, emotional, and sexual level. There’s nothing she won’t do to cause someone pain, and she’s constantly looking for new ways to cause discomfort. From making sure they’re restrained naked to taunting them about what she’s doing to their loved ones to denying them even the knowledge of why she’s doing this to them, Wishtaker exists to torture.

What makes this character so frightening, however, is her demeanor and motivation. Someone who tortures for personal reasons (e.g. vengeance) is driven by something understandable that can be used against them, but is more likely to hit you where it hurts. Someone who tortures for utterly impersonal reasons (e.g. a mad scientist) doesn’t attack you on a personal level; the torture can be horrific, sure, but not truly violating, even though there’s less of a level on which you can appeal to them and reason with them. Wishtaker manages to combine the worst aspects of being both personally and not personally invested in hurting you – she makes sure the torture is specific to what’ll cause you maximum suffering, without offering any chance of talking her down (though she’ll happily act like you can, just to yank that hope away from you later).

Even death isn’t an option, as Wishtaker can quickly and easily repair physical damage, until she’s ready to remove your brain and put it in a jar so that you can endlessly suffer complete sensory deprivation, save for those instances where she connects her mind to yours, just to see how much your sanity will warp to avoid another endless bout of nothingness.

Wishtaker, in other words, seems like a perfect blend of all of our post-modern fears of suffering at the hands of a sadistic lunatic. Every “torture porn” film, every news report about a serial rapist-killer, every comic book indulgence about what an immoral super-villain could use their powers to do to their victims that an ordinary person couldn’t…all are incarnated in Wishtaker. Even when the book tells us the real reason why Wishtaker is doing what she’s doing, it only serves to make her more horrifying, as the underlying reason for her very existence is something people don’t like to abide. I won’t ruin the revelation here, but needless to say, it’s excellently done.

Way back when I reviewed Inner Darkness, I conveyed that I didn’t think it was horrifying enough, being mostly RPG stats. Wishtaker, which is mostly exposition with only a few stats (the most being Wishtaker’s character sheet) is the polar opposite of that, and it works masterfully. Now, I can only imagine how you’d use this in a game – since Wishtaker enjoys preying on adventurers most, and what she does to her captives is monstrous and horrific – but if you’re playing in a Hot Chicks game, then your players have likely come to terms with that already.

Wishtaker is the most frightening villain I’ve ever seen for an RPG. If you think your players can handle it, and that you can do her justice, let her bring new levels of horror and pain to your Hot Chicks game. Just be warned…she’ll take your wishes and then some.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wishtaker
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LURCH! The Zombie Chess Game
Publisher: Creative Mountain Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/22/2011 16:06:02
There are certain things that can make almost anything better. Most foods are better with salt. Most action movies are better with slow-mo. And most games are better with zombies, even when the game is as simple as chess. It’s that last idea that forms the basis of Lurch! The Zombie Chess Game, from Creative Mountain Games.

Lurch! comes as a twenty-one page PDF with everything you need to play. Ideally, you’ll already have the 8x8 chessboard, and ideally some zombie miniatures or other counters that you can designate, but if you don’t the game takes care of that (see below). There isn’t really a need for bookmarks here, but they would have been nice.

Visually, the book has a simple feel to it that complements its game design – chess, of any stripe, is not a game that demands an ostentatious presentation. There are a few black and white pictures of zombies presented throughout the book, and one or two even have captions, but nothing that your printer shouldn’t be able to handle. Similarly, there are a number of diagrams that showcase how various moves work, something I was quite grateful for.

As it’s presentd, Lurch! is a fairly simple game – certainly moreso than mainstream chess – as all of the zombies (playing pieces) are identical, and each piece can only undertake one of four possible moves (though you can move up to three pieces per turn). There is a way to make your basic zombie into a clever zombie, which is the equivalent of getting a pawn turned into a queen, but that’s about it…except that it’s not.

If the above sounds simple, then rest assured that it is, but that’s also just the foundation of the game. The beauty of Lurch! is that it’s highly customizable, so much so that the book not only presents three different advanced rules, but also twenty-six “scenarios” each of which are also variant ways to play.

The beauty here is that each way is modular, and while some of them are mutually exclusive, most can be mixed and matched. Hence, what sounds like a very simple game can quickly be made into one with quite a bit of intrigue behind it. I also enjoyed how each scenario is presented alphabetically by name, which leads to some rather amusing titles (“Foosball Zombies”).

Following a brief note on sportsmanship – which seemed rather unnecessary (and can be summarized as “be a good sport”) – there’s an interesting note of making Lurch! a game that’s played in the game world of your role-playing game. I enjoyed that idea a lot, and it’s clear that Creative Mountain Games knows who their audience is likely to be. I particularly enjoy the thought of this becoming the game of choice in a zombie-apocalypse setting (“zombies are just everywhere these days”).

Some quick notes are given on constructing a game board and pieces, which are helpful but not anything that shouldn’t be obvious. Still, it was nice to have it overviewed, as it shows a cognizance that this isn’t quite a game that’s playable out of the proverbial box…unless you have a good printer.

The remaining pages of the PDF virtually everything necessary to construct a Lurch! game. Specifically there’s a board (or, to be more precise, half of one), and a lot of zombie tokens, in white and gray-scale (so as to denote which pieces belong to which player). Nicely, there are tokens for every different type of zombie discussed in the book, as well as a few tokens to mark spaces on the board for those scenarios that call for the board to be altered.

Overall, Lurch! is a very fun game if you’re bored with chess but still a fan of it. Being exceptionally quick and easy to learn, and having many different ways to play, makes this a very entertaining game. Perhaps its one flaw is that it’s limited to precisely two players, no more and no less, but considering its parent game that can’t really be helped. So put aside those dusty old rooks, bishops, and pawns, and sit down to a game of Lurch! Because everything’s better with zombies.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
LURCH! The Zombie Chess Game
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Ancient Warriors: Sons of Sparta
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/15/2011 13:20:45
Spartans have been in vogue around the game table ever since a certain movie gave us tailor-made gamer quotes like “Tonight we dine in Hell!” and “Spartans! Prepare for glory!” The archetypal real-world warrior culture, the warriors of Sparta are icons for those who want to play a martial class in their Pathfinder game. Canny players and GMs know, however, that there’s more to playing a Spartan warrior than the occasional tagline. That’s where Necromancers of the Northwest’s book, Ancient Warriors: Sons of Sparta, comes in.

Sons of Sparta comes in two PDFs, one being the main file and the other being the printer-friendly version thereof. The printer-friendly version is notable in that it removes the parchment-colored background that’s in the main file, and does away with a one-page advertisement for other Necromancers of the Northwest products. Otherwise, the two are identical.

The main file is twenty-eight pages long, though there’s one page each for the front and back covers, the OGL, and a page of ads. Full, nested bookmarks are present, so props are due there. However, for whatever reason the copy-and-paste function still returns a lot of gibberish in with the text, making it nigh-unusable. This is slightly better if you copy-and-paste from the printer-friendly version, but it’s still somewhat annoying if you want to copy a lot of what’s here (such as, say, for a character sheet). The few pieces of artwork in the book are public-domain images of Spartan warriors or other pieces that evoke a similar theme.

But enough with the technical overview, let’s review of the meat of the book itself. Onward, to glory!

After the introduction, the book opens with a transcription of a historical conversation between the Persian god-king Xerxes and a deposed Spartan king at the beginning of the Battle of Thermopylae. It’s an evocative story that sets the tone for most of the book.

Subsequent to this, we’re given an overview of historical Sparta itself, outlining things like the social classes of the people who lived there, their religious attitudes, how their economic and political systems worked, etc. Following this, some discussion is given to what Sparta would be like in a fantasy game world, with discussion given to questions of magic, demihumans, and monsters.

If these sound boring, or like wasted space, rest assured that they aren’t. What’s interesting about these is that the “fantasy Sparta” section flows smoothly after the “historical Sparta” one. In other words, both sections work together to present how Sparta would appear in your Pathfinder game, with the two overviews divided but clearly working together to paint a single picture. (And if the idea of putting Sparta in your Pathfinder game seems awkward, it shouldn’t; taking real-world cultures and putting an analogue of them – perhaps with a different name – into a campaign world has a very long tradition in tabletop RPGs.)

Following this, the book presents us with a base class for the archetypal Spartan warrior: the hoplite. It should be pointed out that the base class has all of the necessary information to make it playable (skill points, etc.) but also includes notations for things like their starting gold and usual starting age, which all too often are overlooked when new classes are introduced.

A full-BAB class, the hoplite’s main class feature is the Spartan Discipline ability that functions much like rogue talents in that, at every even level, the hoplite can choose from a list of abilities (with some advanced abilities being selectable at 10th level and above). Having looked closely at these abilities, none of them are particularly over- or underpowered. In fact, a great deal seem to be inspired by existing abilities in other classes, such as being able to re-roll a failed Will save, a +10 increase to base speed, immunity to fear, etc. Admittedly, there were one or two powers that seemed on the high end of the power scale, but only relatively so – yes, a +1 to all attack rolls is generous, but not game-breaking.

The other class features of the hoplite are similarly balanced and colorful. I found it exceptionally appropriate, for example, that hoplites can use the spear and longspear one-handed at 1st level, for instance, since that’s how those spears are handled in real life. Likewise, there are a number of shield-based abilities here as well, mostly gained by being adjacent to an ally – helpfully, these allies do not need to be hoplites themselves (something I was worried would be required). It was also nice to see abilities to make the tower shield more viable in combat (because, in all my years of play, I’ve seen the tower shield used exactly once, by a guy who was all defense and no offense).

I personally would have preferred to see some APG-style follow-up to this class, such as alternate favored class abilities, or some archetypes for this class, but those are extras whose lack of inclusion doesn’t detract from the class. Likewise, the book does provide some extras in terms of looking at what it means to play a hoplite in the game, including how they tend to relate to other classes and races, how NPCs view them, notable (fantasy) hoplites, and even a table of what you know about them on a Knowledge check.

Alternate class featured are provided in the following section, covering twelve classes (all but two of which, the cavalier and the oracle, are Core Rulebook classes). Interestingly, these aren’t presented as archetypes, but rather are collections of alternate class features, something I was slightly disappointed over – I’m of the opinion that alternate class features work better in packages than they do by letting players cherry-pick the best materials. But again, that’s a small complaint.

It’s in the favored class abilities that we see things swing a little wider on the balance scale. Again, I have to stress that none of these are broken nor unplayable – just that there are a relatively scant handful of options that are notably better or worse than existing options. For example, the bard can swap out their 20th-level power, deadly performance, for an ability to grant all allies +4 to their AC, attack and damage rolls, and saves. That’s great for everybody else in the party, but I doubt that the bard would want to give up a save-or-die effect for buffing everybody else, particularly when they already have (less powerful but still not-inconsiderable) buffing abilities. On the other side of the scale, the new sorcerer bloodline has, for its bloodline arcane, the sorcerer using a d8 Hit Die and a ¾ BAB, without having to give anything up. I haven’t playtested that, but it seems too good compared to other bloodlines (in 3.5, when Unearthed Arcana introduced that option, it lowered the sorcerer’s spells per day and spells known by 1 each, for example; though to be fair, 3.5 had a lower power level than Pathfinder does).

Having said that, most of what’s here is great material. The cavalier, for example, has a new order introduced, which among other powers lets them – just a few times per day – survive an otherwise-fatal blow, which instead reduces them to 1 hit point (and can’t be used for 1 minute after it’s been used). Balanced and effective. The cleric can lose channeling healing or harming energy to channel buffs or penalties instead (to their allies or enemies, respectively). The monk can swap out evasion for a power that’s identical but applies to Fort saves instead, etc.

To summarize all of the above, these alternate class abilities allow for a character to be much more martial than they’d otherwise be; in accordance with a character from Sparta.

The book’s last section covers new traits, which was fun to see as traits are one of the new parts of the game that I enjoy the most. Three general traits are presented, along with traits for each of the three social castes in Spartan society.

Again, there are good and bad points to these. Most traits (like feats) that I’ve seen usually provide a small bonus – having them provide too large of a bonus is too generous, while having them provide a bonus and a penalty is flavorful, but not beneficial enough. Again, those are the upper and lower ends of the zeitgeist of trait design, so breaking it may not result in a weaker character, but it makes some of these traits seem, on their face, sub-optimal.

And again, that doesn’t apply to most of these traits, either. Of the eleven traits here, having one that grants proficiency in leather armor, the buckler, and the longspear, for example, is perfectly in line with what traits should do, as is one that gives you a +1 Fort bonus to resist fatigue and a Strength 5 points higher for encumbrance purposes. It’s when a trait has you losing skill points to gain increasing weapon and armor proficiencies that these become sticky.

The traits, it should be noted, are the last section of the book, which is odd because the introduction says there’s also a new prestige class. Perhaps it’s dining in Hell?

Overall, Ancient Warriors: Sons of Sparta presents a good sourcebook for ideas on having Sparta – or some version thereof – in your game. More than just a new class, its holistic presentation encourages having an entire region like the historical warrior city-state in your campaign world, and does a good job presenting how it’d function in a high-fantasy setting. The new base class is a solid presentation that stands alongside the fighter, paladin, barbarian, and other martial classes in terms of how viable it functions. The alternate class features and traits may require some oversight, but for the most part are great new additions that helps to present how everyone would be in a military nation. If you want a martial character that will fight in the shade, make him one of the Sons of Sparta.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ancient Warriors: Sons of Sparta
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#1 With a Bullet Point: 13 Witch Hexes
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/08/2011 15:33:53
It’s funny how sometimes, less really is more in an RPG book. For all that we gamers love to talk about beautiful art budgets and long page counts, an artful idea remains artful, even when it only takes up a single page. Hence the #1 With a Bullet Point line from Super Genius Games. In this particular product, Owen K. C. Stephens turns his attention to my favorite class from the Advanced Player’s Guide: the witch.

The witch’s hex power, a set of supernatural abilities, usable at will, is expanded upon here, with thirteen new hexes presented. These are all lower-level hexes; no dire or grand hexes are to be found here. In terms of balance, all of them fall artfully within the limits set by the standard array of witch hexes.

While it’d be impractical to cover all of the hexes in this book, there are a few that are notable. The Seal Wife hex isn’t your typical hex, for instance, because instead of producing an at-will effect, it grants movement ability in the water that escalates as the witch levels up. Dead Sexy allows for mind-affecting effects to be used against the undead. Wound Drinker lets the witch harm herself to cause equal healing to an ally. That’s just a sampling, but it’s a good representative of what’s here: nothing that completely alters the class or its hex power, but instead adds a dash of versatility.

If you want to expand what your witch can do, these thirteen hexes make for a good way to widen the options of their signature power.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
#1 With a Bullet Point: 13 Witch Hexes
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101 New Skill Uses (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/01/2011 19:44:43
I’ve been waiting for this book for a very long time. Skills are one of the most underutilized parts of a character, often being ignored entirely save for the occasional Perception check to notice a clue or spot an ambush. Yet there’s much more that skills can offer a character, and with Rite Publishing’s 101 New Skill Uses, that list just became much longer.

The one hundred and one new skill uses are distributed across the existing skills of the Pathfinder RPG; no new skills are presented. This was a wise decision, since introducing new skills tends to be problematic at best (e.g. what classes treat them as class skills?). Full bookmarks list the individual skills, though I wish they’d had a list of what the new uses were simply to create a nice at-a-glance reference for all of the new tricks that the book presents.

The distribution between the skills is fairly uneven. Some skills (e.g. Perform) have only a single new uses presented, while others (e.g. Diplomacy) gain more than a half-dozen! Still, there’s something here for every skill in the game…with one exception. It’s a pity that Profession was overlooked so completely, particularly since it desperately needed some expanded uses to make it more practical. Still, it’s a minor omission, all things considered.

The new uses themselves introduce a great deal of additional versatility into the game. The bulk of these are useful outside of combat, such as covering any tracks you leave (Survival), sliding down a surface (Climb), or blending into a crowd (Disguise). Several, however, do lend greater options to combat, such as a leaping charge (Acrobatics), blood-kissed threats (Intimidate), and throw rider (Handle Animal). There’s something here for your character, no matter what part of the game he excels at.

One of the best features of this book is also one of the most obvious, but one that I feel needs to be called out: its modularity. While this is true for most sourcebooks, its especially helpful here, as you can pick and choose what skills to allow these new uses for (and even what new uses to allow for a given skill) as you like. If you think Handle Animal and Survival are too limited, but other skills are fine, now you can beef them up without increasing the power of other skills. This book is exactly as useful as you want it to be.

Personally, I can’t wait to introduce this book into my campaign, and if you wish that your PCs got more mileage out of their skills, then you likely won’t be able to wait either. Pick up 101 New Skill Uses, and bring the most underutilized portions of your characters front and center!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
101 New Skill Uses (PFRPG)
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Divine Favor: the Druid (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/25/2011 19:24:46
Druids have long been known as the potentially strongest class in d20 games, Pathfinder included. While the latter game does tone them down some, it more tries to counter their dominance by bulking the other classes up more than it nerfs this one. But for all its strengths, there’s still a lot the druid can’t do. Divine Favor: the Druid, by Open Design, aims to give nature’s defender more versatility.

Divine Favor: the Druid is a nineteen-page PDF. While I can’t hold it against Open Design too much, it’s something of a shame that there’s no printer-friendly or ePub options available, though the PDF itself is laid out quite nicely, allowing for copy and pasting and having full, nested bookmarks.

The book’s introduction covers some of the basics of the druid class, talking about their wild shape abilities, their spellcasting, and viable feats for them. It’s a good overview, but didn’t feel as holistic in the ones in the Advanced Feats series, which analyzed every portion of the classes they covered.

Two variants for wild shape are given next, one which allows the druid to turn into multiple animals, the other of which allows the druid to become some sort of actual swarm. At first I thought there abilities were similar enough that they should have been one, but there was a subtle distinction that I overlooked. The first power lets the druid become an actual set of singular animals that need not remain contiguous, whereas the second one is a swarm that stays together. It allows for some interesting ideas on what the druid can become (though as alternate class abilities, you can’t choose both).

Unfortunately, this is where I noticed some errors creeping in. The nature’s multitude alternate class ability functions as per beast shape II…except when you use it to become a small animal at 6th level; then it’s as per beast shape I. It’s a minor problem, but it is a problem, and it’s the sort of problem that happens again and again throughout this book.

A single variant option for animal companions continues with the theme of multiplicities of animals, as the flock companion lets you have several animals of a given type.

Nine new druid archetypes are presented, divided into three overarching categories: moon druids (archetypes for full, new, and phasing moons), the greenmen (green wardens who have power over unnatural creatures, and forest children who have power over natural creatures), and elemental shamans (one archetype for each classical element).

It’s unfortunate that these archetypes are the weakest part of the book. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with them per se (though the air elemental shaman’s bonus language is wrong, and its elemental transformation power is poorly explained), but rather most of them seem like slight variants of the other. The elemental shaman archetypes, for example, are one archetype with four slight variations between them. Ditto for the moon druid archetypes, and even the greenmen archetypes. You can see why the book put these into three categories – these are really just three archetypes, with a few changes between them.

The five new domains do a pretty good job of presenting some new options for clerics and druids. Where they utilizes spells from the Advanced Player’s Guide, alternate spells from the Core Rules are provided in parenthesis in case you don’t have the APG. I can appreciate the sentiment there, but it seems like a wasted effort since the APG is in the Pathfinder SRD now. Oddly, they then mention that several subdomains from the APG are applicable here…and then don’t reprint the alternate subdomain power, but do reprint the alternate spells (with, I should add, no parenthetical alternates; and in a few cases, leave out an alternate domain spell or two).

Five new animal companions are presented next. These are in animal companion stat blocks only, with no monster stat blocks or even exposition on what exactly these creatures are. I’m unfamiliar with brain oozes and green slugs…this really feels like an afterthought that was added to fill up space. There’s nothing truly wrong, here, but nothing makes these creatures anything more than stats on a page.

Ten new feats close out the book. Some of them are inspired, such as Healing Tongue, which allows a creature to lick you for a successful Heal check. Most of the others, however, seem fairly lackluster, such as Primeval Counsel, which gives you a +2 to some knowledge checks when in a natural area.

Overall, Divine Favor: the Druid seems like a product that underlines how a book can be good without being great. It’s never poor – though I wish that the small errors I kept seeing had been caught before it released – but it never goes the extra mile to really make what it presents unique, or give any context to show where this can fit into your game. It shows you what its got and walks away. These alternate options for the druid aren’t bad, but as a book they, like nature itself, are rough around the edges.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Divine Favor: the Druid (Pathfinder RPG)
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The Depravity War Companion
Publisher: Dakkar Unlimited
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/17/2011 21:02:51
Any production has ideas that get left on the proverbial (though sometimes literal) cutting room floor. While there once was a time when such things disappeared altogether, nowadays it usually gets presented somewhere. DVDs have their bonus features, graphic novels have sketch pages, and RPG materials…well, presumably they get reused somewhere down the line. Sometimes though, not often but sometimes, there’s enough left over to make a whole new book just out of the cut material.

Welcome to the Depravity War Companion.

A 76-page supplement for the Hot Chicks RPG, the Depravity War Companion doesn’t technically *require* you to have Inner Darkness 2: The Depravity War…but it really helps. A lot. The best way to summarize this book is that it’s the RPG version of a movie’s commentary track on the DVD; using this without having read Inner Darkness 2 is likely to be somewhat confusing.

The book opens up by noting that their books sometimes have too much artwork to squeeze into them, and that in this case there was so much that it was a shame not to share it all, hence this product. It’s an interesting take on making an RPG book – and a surprisingly frank one, if nothing else – particularly since the designers felt little need to round out the pictures with actual game mechanics. Some slight discussion of the rules creeps up here and there, but it’s only incidental. This book’s text is simply the author talking to us about his characters, and what’s going on with them.

Needless to say, the book is resplendent with artwork, almost all of which is in the full color CG style that’s Dakkar Unlimited’s signature style. There are a few black and white pencil sketches though, which seem oddly out of place alongside the rest of the illustrations. To be fair, some of the CG material is recycled from Inner Darkness 2, but the vast majority of it is new (though some of it is the same picture from a different angle).

The major technical complaint I have with this book is that there’s no easy way to navigate through it, besides just scrolling. The lack of bookmarks here is really inexcusable, since there’s a table of contents (without hyperlinks) for the book’s clearly-defined sections.

So what does this book cover? Exactly what was in Inner Darkness 2. There are sections on each of the three major villain factions, and a quick overview of the heroes who got pretty well wiped out in the framing fiction for the aforementioned book. There’s also a section examining how the bad guys go about invading and abducting people, and a concluding chapter on what happens to those so victimized. Almost every page has a large, beautiful illustration, with the narration running along the space left at the bottom. This is as much an image gallery as it is an overview of the major players in the Depravity War.

Make no mistake, the book isn’t for the faint of heart, either. While never truly explicit (in that there’s no gore or sex actively depicted in the artwork), the book doesn’t shy away from the darker nature of its villains. These are the guys who play towards what we fear, namely sessions of physical, psychological, and sexual torture, which are often carried out in such a way as to keep the victims not only in a state of suspended terror, and also alive, for as long as possible. The text makes no bones about thoroughly presenting what these guys do (though, like the artwork, it doesn’t revel in it).

Of course, you likely knew that if you’d already read through Inner Darkness 2, but that doesn’t make it any less skin-crawling to read about.

Overall, this book is something of an extra to its parent work. If you want some added insight into the major players of the Depravity War, and the people it affects, this book will do some good. I’ve knocked a star off due to the lack of bookmarks and the all-but-total lack of game material; there’s nothing wrong with an art book, and I like art books with commentary, but I went into this thinking it had game stats – that it doesn’t is something the book’s sales page needs to make clearer. Having said that though, this book is one that will let you peer even deeper into the darkness within the world of Hot Chicks.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Depravity War Companion
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[PFRPG] Achievement Feats: Volume 2
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/10/2011 20:06:25
There’s something to be said for doing something truly epic in your game. I don’t mean in the sense of getting more than 20 levels (though that’s certainly impressive), but rather those actions that are above and beyond the usual course of game-play. Killing an enemy and healing your wounded ally is par for the course; leaping onto the flying enemy mage from the top of the tower, slashing his throat, and riding his magically-flying corpse to the ground just in time to heal your dying companion is epic. It’s with that sort of thought in mind that we have Achievement Feats: Volume 2.

It needs to be noted that the “volume 2” here is a misnomer. This book is unrelated to the previous Achievement Feats. Instead, this is a different take on the same idea. Whereas the first Achievement Feats book was based around the Xbox-style achievements where you do enough of something to get a special reward, this book takes a different tack; as stated above, it’s about doing something truly impressive.

The book tells us that each PC has a single “achievement slot.” This means that you can only ever have one achievement feat (which is gained automatically when you meet the prerequisite) – if you later qualify for another achievement, you have to choose between the new one and the one you have, and if you trade your old one in, you lose all its benefits. You can gain a second achievement slot (via a new feat, or an alternate human racial trait), but you can never have more than two.

As for the achievement feats themselves, over thirty are present here. While some of these have prerequisites that don’t seem too over the top (e.g. spend all of your skill points on one skill when you gain a level), most of them range from “damn, that’d be tough to do” to “are you freaking KIDDING me?!” Seriously, there are achievement feats here for taking control of a major world religion, slaying the ruler of Hell or a similar plane, or killing everything in an entire plane of existence.

Yeah, you read that right. Killing everyone on an entire plane of existence.

Now, pound-for-pound, the benefits you get from an achievement feat are quite a bit stronger than what you’d get for taking a normal feat. But given the prerequisites mentioned above, I’m almost tempted to think they sound positively miniscule in comparison to what you have to do. Still, these are pretty hefty bonuses. Take control of a major world religion, for example, you get free Knowledge (religion) ranks, free extra spells, and can never lose class abilities due to personal conduct. Not too shabby.

The book ends with a surprising, and surprisingly-helpful, section discussing making up new achievement feats. It divides such activities into ad hoc feats (made up to suit something epic) and pre-made feats (made ahead of time for something epic that you think the PCs will do). It also talks about if you should let the PCs know ahead of time what these feats are and how to get them – there’s pros and cons either way, making it interesting to consider.

Ultimately, this book’s takes on feats of achievement is that less is more; it’s not about how often you do something, but about how epic a stunt you pull off. And that’s something I can absolutely respect; if your PC accomplishes something uber-impressive, why not give them a powerful reward for being just that awesome? If you want your characters’ achievements to have a tangible impact on what their character can do, pick up Achievement Feats Volume 2.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
[PFRPG] Achievement Feats: Volume 2
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Faces of the Tarnished Souk: Belladonna, the Face of Love Unrequited (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/05/2011 16:18:09
“Oh dream weaver, I believe you can get me through the night.” Woe betide the man who says that about the subject of this book, the eponymous Belladonna, the Face of Unrequited Love.

This 18-page PDF is for the Pathfinder RPG, and is specifically meant to work with the Coliseum Morpheuon adventure/sourcebook from Rite Publishing. It doesn’t take much work to port this character to another setting, though, so don’t be put off if you don’t own the latter book.

Opening with a brief summary of her past and her current outlook, Belladonna is a literal living nightmare, but not one that causes terror so much as one that causes despair; she’s the literal incarnation of unrequited love. Her rules for dreamburning are presented rather oddly though, as they seem to describe what her hope, goal, and aspirations look like rather than telling us what they actually are. It’s not hard to figure out the meaning, though, so it’s not really a point against the product, just a slight oddity.

We’re told a little about her place of business, as well as given some DCs to find out more about her, and a sidebar on how to get her to interact with the PCs, before we move on to her stat block. Now, I personally don’t think that Pathfinder is all that complicated of a game, but in this instance I had a slight bit of sympathy for those who think it is. To put it simply, I don’t have Secrets of the Taskshaper, which presents the class that Belladonna has levels in (that is, the taskshaper class). This made reading her stat block slightly more difficult than I’m accustomed to.

Now, to be fair, all of the class abilities that Belladonna has are fully written out, so they’re usable in the game, and a careful read-through will dispel pretty much all the confusion you might feel if you’ve never read that sourcebook. Make no mistake, you can use this character as-is; it just feels like you’re playing with a bit of a handicap. And of course, none of this applies if you have Secrets of the Taskshaper.

Seven new feats are presented, four of which are taskshaper-specific, with the other presenting some nice utility abilities (e.g. sense magic naturally). Two new magic items round things out before we come to the next major section in the book: magical alcohol.

I have to admit that this was by far my most favorite part of this book. Almost a dozen new drinks are presented here, and all are very colorful in their names and abilities. From ambrosia itself to juggernaut juice to pixie clover wine to good old rotgut whiskey, these are drinks your PCs won’t soon forget! Especially since each has a specific effect (though not always a good one – it’s a poor fool who wants to prove their mettle by drinking rotgut). Interestingly, each of these drinks has two ways to create them, one via Craft Wondrous Item, and the other with Brew Potion. Prices are given for various quantities served, and there’s a handy chart noting how much each size contains. A sidebar notes that you should also enforce whatever intoxication and addiction rules your game uses.

Following this we’re given two lower-level stat blocks for Belladonna (which, interestingly, have different titles – a touch I found to be a fun little extra), and the Nightmare and Nymph Child templates.

Overall, Belladonna’s character is one that’s rather obliquely described; I’m not sure I totally understood what it was for her to be the incarnate nightmare of unrequited love. Similarly, there are some gaps in regards to the tavern and gambling hall she runs, with mostly the liquors being the main drawing point. None of these are terrible omissions, however, and are easily filled in. Moreover, once you dig into Belladonna’s stat block, she really has the potential to become almost any nightmare a character has, with a lot of options in combat. Add in the role-playing potential inherent in her character and the establishment she runs, and she’s got a lot to offer your game. The latest face at the Tarnished Souk is a pretty one, but don’t get taken in by Belladonna, the Face of Unrequited Love.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Faces of the Tarnished Souk: Belladonna, the Face of Love Unrequited (PFRPG)
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