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The Goblins of Summerkeep
Publisher: Brent P. Newhall's Musaeum
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/17/2010 16:21:27
The Goblins of Summerkeep is a 4e GSL adventure that sees the characters attempt to liberate a noble's keep from the clutches of a small goblin tribe. The adventure is suitable for character levels 1 through to 10, and the author has gone through considerable and welcome effort to provide stat blocks for a variety of different character levels. Unfortunately the remainder of the adventure doesn't scale that well, although, to be fair, there aren't really any skill checks, puzzles or traps that would need to be scaled. As one would expect, the adventure holds a far more sinister secret, and the players are left to uncover the truth and save more than the keep from the powers of evil.

I guess there are two main things to say about this adventure - first, it's very well organized. The author has put a lot of effort into making it easy to run, easy to work through, and easy to play. From that perspective the adventure is in a way more suitable to beginner party's and DMs. I expect that 10th level characters will expect more of a challenge than the combat encounters this provides. That level adventure should play differently - it should challenge more than just the brute force of the party, but also their ingenuity and their available resource. Which leads me to the second point - the adventure is awfully linear. There's almost no scope for playing the adventure differently than scripted and no dynamism in the script that would challenge the players to think about their strategy for invading the keep. If the goblins had a better prepared battle plan, making use of their cunning to avoid such incursions (which they must assume will be coming) the adventure would've played out a whole lot better.

It's a decent adventure, very well organized and presented, with useful maps and even battlemaps for miniatures. I wouldn't be tempted to challenge higher level parties with something this simple, or at least not without modification. I did like the tension created once the characters discover the true purpose behind the keep, although again I wish there had been more opportunity to reflect, and more of a threat. Stumbling from one major encounter to another without the possibility of the characters getting it wrong or being able to control their own actions is unfortunate. Good effort, more for beginner players and DMs, and well designed with true ease in running and playing.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Goblins of Summerkeep
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Tower of the Stargazer
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/16/2010 17:05:16
Tower of the Stargazer is an adventure for OSRIC/Labyrinth Lord style systems and is suitable for beginner players and referees. The adventure takes place in a mystical mage's tower, where the characters must deal with all sorts of obstacles and traps en route to finding the answers to their questions or merely the treasure foretold to be there. The adventure is well written and presented, and I particularly appreciated the design notes and explanations offered by the author on various scenarios, justifying encounter and design decisions (even if I didn't agree with all of them). In essence it's a rather simple adventure, completely location based, with little follow-up or opportunity for much further beyond this. However, the background information and adventure detail are enough to make this a fun romp.

The adventure is focused more on navigating the tower's defenses and locations rather than infiltrating a well-guarded area. While there are combat encounters to be had, these are actually quite few given the number of tower locations. Here I wish proper details on statistics had been included, rather than the vague references contained in the product. The traps and puzzles in the adventure are quite clever (particularly the elaborate ones related to the telescope and the treasure levers), and the majority of them make sense even without the author's complete design notes. However, I'm not really in agreement with the deadly nature of the adventure, even if it does make sense. Beginner players don't want to have their characters die ten minutes into the game. And while it can be justified, I think it can turn players away. It felt in places like the adventure was more for a sadistic referee to have fun with rather than the players characters to learn the ropes of a new system or roleplaying in general.

Be that as it may, I think the adventure has some merit. There's good atmosphere around the tower and its confines, and the wonderful art will make for good handouts to inspire and creep players out. I wish in a way the adventure had been a little more dynamic - as is, there's nothing stopping the characters taking their time through the adventure. One other point of note is that this adventure can end rather quickly. While well designed to be rather non-linear in how it can be played, a few lucky choices can see the main encounter done pretty soon. Overall, perhaps not so much geared to teaching new players as new referees, but an adventure with lots of opportunity for cleverness, good puzzles and good atmosphere.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Tower of the Stargazer
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Bleached Skull Gnolls
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/16/2010 15:24:00
Bleached Skull Gnolls is a Pathfinder RPG supplement that details the culture and society of a new kind of savage and brutal gnoll. The product is well organized and well designed, and includes useful features such as a table of creatures by CR, a feat table, and a table of spells by level. It even goes as far as including reference rules from the Pathfinder RPG to assist in understanding the material. I though the attention to detail was good, and some of the artwork, particularly the image of a brutal gnoll, was excellent. Sometimes it's the little things that sway you towards a product, and Bleached Skull Gnolls has enough fine details to do just that. It includes several welcome sample encounter builds and a tribal encampment layout, complete with a map.

The material itself is well written. These gnolls largely differ from standard gnolls in their selection of feats, and the product includes just over a handful of new feats that make these gnolls unique. The feats cater well to the culture and background details, and while the concept of feral gnolls is not new, the shamanistic influences of ritual sacrifice make these creatures enticing and interesting to play. One of the best concepts in the product is that of the sacred tree, fed of the blood of sacrifices to create the dreadful bloodspawn treants. I though that was an excellent touch to make the background culture and society more than just feral gnolls. A good variety of creatures is included, such as scouts, snipers, warriors, shamans, champions and others. The combination of new feats and new adept spells, along with the bloodthirsty culture, make these gnolls feel different to standard gnolls, and that's a plus in my book. The collection of new adept spells and new magical items, all pervasive through the statistics blocks of the gnolls, round out an overall good product.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Bleached Skull Gnolls
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[PFRPG] Albion Armitage's Astounding Arsenal
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/15/2010 17:29:10
Albion Armitage’s Astounding Arsenal is a Pathfinder RPG adventure for 8th to 10th level characters. The adventure sees the player characters stumble upon a magical map that leads to an extraordinary and astounding merchant shop. In essence the adventure is divided into two parts - the first a long journey filled with danger and peril while the PCs are hunted by those that also wish to acquire the map, and the second a magical journey through Albion Armitage's merchant shop where the characters will discover new weapons, armor and tools unheard of anywhere else. The product is very detailed, giving full details and even statistics blocks on even minor NPCs in the adventure, and has well-crafted background details and adventure information. The items found in the Arsenal are impressive - I particularly liked the addition of several new siege weapons, and the weapons and tools are well-designed and useful. Some good art accompanies all aspects of the adventure, particularly Larry Elmore's art.

The adventure part itself was a little disappointing, consisting mostly of weeks of pointless journey with random encounters. The excitement comes from less than a handful of special encounters that form the main part of the adventure and tie in to the storyline, but by and large it's one random encounter after the next, something which can be quite tedious. That said, between the encounters in table after table of lists there are quite a few ones that fit the story well. More could've been made of the journey itself, either by shortening it, or by making it more dynamic to give the PCs a real sense that they're hunted. The adventure also doesn't offer much advice on how the NPCs would respond to the PCs being pro-active in their actions against those that hunt them. The merchant shop and its mystical wares is far more impressive and offers several unique items, well-described and carefully designed. The product even includes some clever construct monsters that are designed well to fit the background of Albion's Astounding Arsenal. Overall, a somewhat disappointing adventure, but the merchant shop, its NPCs, wares and background details make up for the lack of adventure excitement.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
[PFRPG] Albion Armitage's Astounding Arsenal
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Thank you for the review.
Fey Folio: Clans of the Fey
Publisher: Alluria Publishing
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/15/2010 13:11:40
I've never been a large fan of fey creatures, largely because the treatment they get in the core fantasy books is often weak and without that specialness that attracts or appeals to many GMs. As a result, many publishers have brought out various books on the fey in an attempt to do them justice, and I have to say that Alluria Publishing's Fey Folio: Clans of the Fey is hands down the best treatment for fey I've yet seen on the market. This product shines - it's got fantastic production values, with mind-blowing art, and vivid and descriptive writing that leaps out of the page. But that's not all - the creativeness behind the design and implementation of the mechanics, and the unique and novel background material are top quality. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this book - if you're looking for a book on fey creatures you can look no further than this product.

The product details 13 different kinds of fey, and gives them the royal treatment by allocating enough page space and descriptive/background material to make each creature unique. I was very impressed by the ingenuity and handling of the fey - as twisted and dark creatures that aren't entirely evil. The fey creatures just leap out of the page and scream to be used. The interaction and hierarchy between the fey creatures creates a novel and interesting culture of fey creatures, complete with the dark and malevolent lord of the Fey, Jack-In-Irons. The product even includes an interesting campaign that builds on the material presented, and one that I suspect many GMs will itch to run as is, or with some minor modification. I thought the special abilities and attacks that the fey creatures had were fabulous, really integrating neatly and elegantly with the fey creature's personality and background. On top of that, the product also includes a handful of fey related magical items. Overall, it's hard to beat a product like this - excellent all round.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fey Folio: Clans of the Fey
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Book of the Faithful: The Worshiping Swords (PFRPG)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/26/2010 11:36:08
Book of the Faithful II - The Worshipping Swords is a 14 page pdf product detailing nine new and unusual swords all infused with the consciousness of a faithful follower to a god. This product is the second Book of the Faithful released by Jon Brazer Enterprises, the first one dealing with the power of prayer and offering new feats and magic for believers. The overarching theme of the series is that religion does not have to be class specific but that you can use the flavour of religion to offer non-clerics and non-paladins different religious options. This product details nine swords, one for each alignment, and each containing the consciousness of a godly saint, one prepared to serve their god beyond their own mortal lives. This product is compatible with the Pathfinder RPG (and hence 3e d20 OGL as well).

This product comes as a single, neatly presented pdf file. The product includes front and back covers, good bookmarks, a credits and OGL declaration page, and one page of advertisements. Of the 14 pages, 9 pages are devoted to content, one for each sword presented. Artwork for the swords is provided by a number of artists including Sade and Rick Hershey, while writing is done by author Dale C McCoy Jr. The format and presentation is neat and simple, with a good design layout and nothing that detracts from the product. A couple of writing and editing errors slipped through, with some clumsy and long-winded sentences in places, but overall a good effort. The general presentation is about par for the course for such a short product, although artwork count is high, with one good piece for every weapon presented and described.

The premise of this series of product is to give religious characters with non-religious classes access to material and concepts that will help them to expand their characters. In the case of these products, the conscious and intelligent swords provided offer a good way to introduce plot hooks and ideas into the campaign to give such religious characters a natural outlet for their faith. Whether it is to do the bidding of the saint in the weapon, or to destroy the weapon devoted to a specific deity, the product offers options to make faith a central or recurring theme in the campaign setting.

As mentioned earlier, there are nine swords, one for each of the nine primary alignments. Each sword comes with a decent back story or background, detailing the origins of the weapon and the consciousness that it holds. Examples of the swords include one created by a young brass dragon to serve the deities of fire, or another being the phylactery of a powerful lich that holds the lich's very soul. The backgrounds provided lend new ideas to the reader as well as providing some useful flavour to the weapon statistics. Each weapon comes with a detailed set of powers and abilities, and some of the weapons are on the high end of powerful abilities, so not to be given out lightly. I generally enjoyed the various write-ups and found them useful and intriguing enough to be able to include them in any suitable campaign setting. In general, though, these are more the weapons for the highly powerful and skilled characters (the lowest weapon cost starts at 50000 gp), rather than beginners and as such might not get to see so much use. Perhaps some sort of tiered ability structure would've made them more useful across more levels.

Overall, there's plenty of useful material in this product and some fascinating stories that the DM can not only use for these weapons but perhaps even integrate further into the campaign setting, thereby building a whole adventure or adventures around the weapon and its history. On the down side, not so useful for the lower level characters, and it would've been nice to see something that such characters could use as well. Good and useful product.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Book of the Faithful: The Worshiping Swords (PFRPG)
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Kill or Be Killed #1
Publisher: Neuroglyph Games
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/26/2010 06:16:41
Kill or Be Killed #1 is the first product in a new series of 4e GSL encounter products from Neuroglyph Games. This product is Neuroglyph Games' first pay product, their first product being the freely available 4e GSL adventure A Curse at the Old Inn. Each product in the series features an encounter module for the 4e GSL, with the aim to provide epic battles or encounters where the outcome is defined by the series title - Kill or Be Killed. This first product in the series pits the PCs against a powerful demon-like creature with powerful abilities that will shock and surprise them. This product is suitable to the Paragon Tier, and specifically for 12th level characters, and can be used in any campaign setting.

The product comes as a single well-presented pdf file, featuring both front and back covers, a credits page, and 13 out of 16 pages of content. While not critical for a product of this length, it's worth mentioning that bookmarks are not present. The general presentation is good, with some fresh art from artist Robert Kusiak, good and clever layout and design, and good writing from author Michael Evans. I like the way the product is presented, allowing you to easily know from the outset where the encounter is going, and having enough information at your fingertips should you be unsure about how to run the encounter. An encounter map is provided, along with some black and white monster counters should you need them, and the details and legend are clear enough to make sense of the encounter terrain. One objection I have is that the map is a little too dark, making it difficult to discern everything clearly. Perhaps a lighter shade for the background and border would've been better. Overall, solid presentation for a first product.

Kill or Be Killed #1 presents a paragon tier encounter for 12th level characters, pitting them against a solo creature of considerable might and ability. The aim of this product is to present an dynamic encounter suitable for the end of an adventure or campaign, and hence also being suitably dangerous and deadly. This encounter sees them facing a powerful elemental creature, born from the might of demons and the power of the elemental chaos. The product provides plenty of useful and intriguing advice on using this encounter, integrating it into one's campaign, and suitable plot hooks to catch the interest of the player characters.

This encounter is built around two new monsters, Kor-oggo-rok the Sporelord and the fungal fiends. The encounter setup is very well done, providing adequate lore and information on the two new creatures, and plenty of advice on battle tactics, running the encounter and the various phases of the encounter. I was hoping to see certain events in the encounter integrated more fully into the creature statistics, where the Sporelord uses an ability to spawn fungal fiends that is not described in its statistics block. Not generally a big deal, but for those wanting to use this creature beyond this product, more details would've been useful.

The encounter is cleverly crafted, and will certainly entertain the player characters and keep them on their feet. Tactics of the creature are continuously changing, creating a dynamic and fast-paced encounter that will both terrify and entertain the players. While the encounter is cleverly crafted, the Sporelord does have a burrowing ability that is quite powerful and one has to wonder why the creature doesn't just use this all the time to eliminate any threats. In essence, it has a near game-breaking ability that it doesn't use fully, simply for the sake of the encounter. I wish something a little more plausible had been used here, even though this particular phase of the battle is quite riveting. At least a proper description of this ability as mentioned earlier would've been more useful.

The product doesn't only provide an exciting encounter, but for more of a challenge several new terrain hazards are included to add spice and danger to the encounter. In addition several new relic magical items are presented as treasure for the encounter or just for general use. These additions, along with the main content of the product, make for a very complete encounter, with good options and versatility for expanding beyond the raw meat of the scenario.

Overall I was quite pleased with this encounter and this product. It's provides something dynamic and exciting, coupled with something novel and unique to provide a good play experience. Too often products that provide encounters don't actually bring anything new or unique to the table and I'm pleased to say that this does. The only negative is the slight mismatch between the playing of the encounter and the actual statistics of the creatures, and things are a little unclear/unbelievable in places. This shouldn't detract from an otherwise good and definitely challenging encounter, and I'm sure GMs can easily avoid these issues with some clever thought. Good encounter and good presentation. Looking forward to seeing more from Neuroglyph Games.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Kill or Be Killed #1
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The Shattered Skull (PDF)
Publisher: Usherwood Publishing
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/29/2010 09:47:32
The Shattered Skull is a 56 page OSRIC adventure from Usherwood Publishing, and is the 2nd adventure in the Bone-hilt Sword campaign, following on from the first adventure, Yrchyn, the Tyrant. This adventure can either be played as part of the campaign series, or as a stand-alone product, and details on how to adjust the module to both ends are provided in the product. This adventure sees the characters delve further into the mines of Yrchyn, the Tyrant, and uncover a blood-thirsty tribe of orcs responsible for all sorts of atrocities. The party must face these beasts in the dark caverns, and uncover their association with Yrchyn and the mystery they are searching for. The Shattered Skull is suitable for a party of 4 to 6 characters of levels 2 to 4.

The Shattered Skull is one of the best presented products I've seen. It ticks all the boxes - reat layout and design, great art, fantastic maps, great attention to detail, and finally useful additions to enhance the product. Usherwood Publishing have done a splendid job of presenting a smart product designed to mimic that old-school OSRIC feel, and to do that in spades. It includes several new monsters, a very useful and detailed character sheet, pre-generated PCs and NPCs - pretty much everything one could ask for in terms of utilities for an adventure. The maps are beautiful and clear, the art (mostly stock art, it should be said) is vibrant and colourful, and the writing and attention to detail craft an adventure that provides all the detail. Splendid presentation in The Shattered Skull. This is an OSRIC presentation at its best.

This adventure follows on from the exploits of the characters in the first book of the Bone-hilt Sword campaign. If your players have played that adventure, this adventure offers a natural continuation of the events in Yrchyn, the Tyrant. If this is played as a stand-alone adventure, the product offers some plot hooks to get your to the dark mines and caverns of the Shattered Skull orc tribe, and treats the first level of the mines as largely abandoned (having assumed that the kobolds of Yrchyn have been routed).

The real meat of the adventure, though, takes place as the characters delve deeper into the mines, and take on the might of the Shattered Skull tribe, unravelling their purpose in the mines, and the nature of that which they seek. One little nitpick about the plot hooks provided is that the caverns are said to be located roughly 75 miles from the small town where the party received their quest. One wouldn't be hard pressed to not question this distance, and whether any orc party would be raiding that far from a designated stronghold.

As mentioned before, the meat of this adventure sees the characters arrayed against the might of a brutal orc tribe. Inside this complex they must defeat the guards and associated of the orc chieftain, and in doing so uncover the truth of the orcs' presence. The campaign details of the adventure are largely kept in the appendix, meaning that it makes the adventure easier to run as a stand-alone. The campaign details themselves offer tantalising details on the adventure background, the future of the campaign and its subsequent adventures, and indeed the machinations of the orcs in the caverns. The adventure is largely a dungeon-crawl based adventure, with little opportunity for roleplaying (barring finding a few prisoners), and I wish the adventure had included more details for roleplaying certain encounters. On the other hand more details on handling multiple excursions and dynamic strategies of the orcs in the mines would've been very useful, particularly given some of the unique features of the cavern maps. As is, the adventure does provide strategies for guards in the mines, but only on a short-term basis.

The latter part of the product contains the many detailed appendices, including campaign notes; new monsters which include a new orc variant, deep dwarves, evil excretions and others, and lastly the many maps, village details, further campaign details, and the pre-generated characters, NPCs and character sheet. The combination of all these additions make for a very complete and detailed adventure with lots of additional utility, and one that can be readily played on short notice.

I'm quite pleased with the effort that's gone into this adventure, particularly the presentation and attention to detail, and indeed the adventure itself. On the other hand, more could've been done to make this more of a dynamic dungeon crawl, rather than a fairly static affair as it is at present. The versatility of the combat encounters is good, and PCs will face a variety of challenges, although roleplaying is largely limited. Overall, a very good adventure, and it looks like the Bone-hilt Sword campaign is shaping up to be something that is worthwhile taking a look at with the aim of playing.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Shattered Skull (PDF)
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The Lost Prince
Publisher: Revenant Games
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/29/2010 07:25:45
The Lost Prince is a 24 page adventure for the Fantasy Craft gaming system. This adventure is a SAGE (Society for Adventure Gaming Enthusiasts) adventure set in Revenant Games' Wyrmstone campaign setting. SAGE adventure are similar to RPGA adventures in that they offer 'worldwide organised play', although this is the first such type of organisation I've seen devoted to the recently released Fantasy Craft gaming system. This adventure WSG09-01 sees the PC approached to find the whereabouts and remains of a long-lost adventuring prince, and along the way make a few discoveries that will haunt them for a long time. This is a Menace III adventure.

The adventure comes as a single, well-presented pdf file. The Lost Prince, like most organised play adventures, is arranged in a style dissimilar to typical adventures, and instead adopts the more formalised and regimental approach often associated with organised play adventures. The adventure is divided into scenes, each with their objectives and .challenges, thereby allowing rewarding of the adventure to take place using the XP reward/penalty sheet provided. The adventure is well written and designed, and despite the formal approach (required, largely, for organised play), I quite liked the way each scene had been sculpted and created. Editing and design is good as well, and the product contains a fair mixture of some good art and layout design. Overall, a neatly presented adventure with a good standard of presentation.

The adventure starts with a very helpful introduction and synopsis, providing the GM with an overview of each scene, the expected outcome, and the progression of the adventure. This adventure takes place over quite an extensive area as well as extensive time, and will see the PCs travel widely across the land in search of the remains of a lost prince. On their way they will have to uncover clues as to the last adventure of the prince, deal with the bureaucracy of an important library, find hidden clues in ancient ruins and eventfully navigate the path to the prince's last known location. Naturally along the way the PCs are in for a few surprises, as are they when they reach the adventure's conclusion.

The adventure contains an excellent mix of combat and roleplaying encounters, all using Fantasy Craft's system of resolution. There's an opportunity for most character types to shine, and players will enjoy the assortment of challenges, events and encounters that come their way. I'm also quite pleased to see that the adventure requires players to think, as the outcome and resolution of each scene will require some ingenuity on the players' part, and some canny detective skills to decide on the appropriate course of action. While it's true that the adventure remains largely scripted, at least the PCs will feel that they had some part in the script of the adventure as the story unfolds.

Overall, despite this being an organised play adventure, I enjoyed the way it had been designed, how the events interacted with one another, and generally thought the action was challenging and would keep the players interested for the duration. Naturally due to some of the times involves, multi-day long journeys will need to be shortened as not much is catered for in between the various scenes. The outcome is left a little vague near the end, although perhaps that is best so as to give the GM further use for the characters and NPCs of this adventure in future scenarios. Good adventure, and good to see a Fantasy Craft being taken to organised play.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Lost Prince
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Avalon Encounters Vol 1, Issue #1
Publisher: Avalon Game Company
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/29/2010 05:44:15
Avalon Encounter Vol 1, Issue 1 is the first product in a new series of encounter products for the Pathfinder RPG. These short pdf products are aimed at providing a brief encounter and series of plot hooks for GMs that want something new and different to challenge their players. This first issue deals with a powerful sword and bane of demons, but naturally everything is not what it seems, and a few hidden surprises can make for an interesting encounter with difficult choices.

This product comes as a zip file containing printer-friendly and full-colour versions of the product. Of the 12 pages of the main product, only 3 are devoted to written content, while the majority of the product contains advertisements for Avalon Games Company's other products and systems. While I'm all for publishers providing information on their products, I'm sure if I appreciate this heavy-handed and almost over the top display of advertising in your product. Nevertheless, that's largely easily ignored, and the product itself is well presented with some pieces of clip art, fair writing and organisation. It's not a presentation to write home about, but it's pretty neatly done and not really to be smirked at.

The majority of this product details the background and history of a particular demon-bane sword. The history is detailed, containing enough information to make the most of the material provided and give one a feel for the purpose and aim of the product. Naturally this sword has a far more sinister motivation that an unsuspecting PC would expect, and the general plot hooks provide an interesting series of events for players and their characters to get involved. I have to admit that the outcome is rather lacklustre - I expected something a little more tangible than that which is provided. It's one thing to have a sword that's bent on destruction, but quite another to find that the object of its destruction is largely an empty and barren wasteland. Much more could've been done to the premise and execution of the plot hooks, that would get the PCs more involved, captivate their minds and give everything a little more purpose.

The product provides extensive details on the Pathfinder stats of the sword, which are useful for evaluating the encounter mechanically, although there are some inconsistencies in the write-up. For example, the sword is inclined to seek out good wielders, but at the same time bestows negative levels on such wielders. I find it hard to believe that something like that wouldn't be noticed by the wielder, but one could work around that. Overall, I think the product and the encounter has promise, but the execution leaves a number of holes and tired events that are unlikely to live up to the product's billing to keep your player's thrilled. For all the fairly impressive setup and background details, the execution unfortunately falls flat. Fairly decent product with a usable story, but will require some modification to make it work better and hook the players for the duration.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Avalon Encounters Vol 1, Issue #1
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The Genius Guide to the Shadow Assassin
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/31/2009 10:56:35
There's little doubt that the release of the new Assassin Creed II video game has inspired quite a few character concepts amongst roleplayers over the world. d20 OGL classes like the Assassin, Shadowdancer and Rogue are likely getting increased attention from those keen to follow in the exploits of the video game's characters. For those playing the Pathfinder RPG, The Genius Guide to the Shadow Assassin offers a good option to explore if you want something along those lines or just want something that's a little different to the norm.

The Genius Guide to the Shadow Assassin is a short 9 page pdf product, and the second product (of three on the date of this review) in a series of character-aimed books presenting new and hopefully unique classes, templates, spells, and magic items. This particular product presents the Shadow Assassin, a new 20 level core class for the Pathfinder RPG. The product is written by the well known Owen K.C. Stephens.

This product is very neatly and professionally presented, with good use of new artwork and the occasional stock art piece. Writing and editing is good, and the layout is in the less common three-column format. This makes the text a little crowded on the page and more difficult to read, but that's largely a minor point. It still baffles me a little why publishers are unwilling to add a few extra pages to improve layout and readability. Overall, though, this is a very well presented product, with a high standard of execution and presentation.

The Shadow Assassin core class is built on stealth, deadly attacks against single opponents and fighting with light (easy to conceal) weapons. It blends parts and aspects of the Assassin and Shadowdancer prestige classes from the d20 OGL, while adding a touch of its own flavor essentially modifying the core abilities to suit the class. So the Hide in Plain Sight Shadowdancer features is present in an alternative form where it grants various bonuses to Stealth at low levels, while at higher levels the class can turn into living shadow or travel via shadows. The Deadly Focus ability is similar to the Assassin Death Attack, but much more streamlined, evolved, and easier to implement and use. In essence, the Shadow Assassin takes known abilities and makes them more playable as it combines them into the class. I really appreciated the level based development of all the class features, as you can see the difference between a higher level Shadow Assassin and a lower level one by their execution of signature abilities.

The class also incorporates some of the Rogue class abilities like Evasion and Uncanny Dodge, and includes useful weapon fighting styles to highlight the classes skill with specific weapons. Very useful advice is provided on how to use this class as both an NPC and PC class, paying particular attention to the fact that this class doesn't have to be evil like the Assassin. Overall, a solid mechanical base, making a workable and easy to understand/use class with none of the Hide in Plain Sight issues that the Shadowdancer had. In one sense I'd have preferred the Shadow Assassin's abilities to the Hide in Plain Sight class features as it's much simpler and in a way more elegant.

Overall, while the Shadow Assassin class is not the most unique implementation I've ever seen, it does have good mechanics and elegant use of mechanics to build an interesting and more importantly playable class. The product is well worth a look at for those fans of Pathfinder that are looking for a darker class to play that has some good potential for both roleplaying and combat. Good class and a good product.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Genius Guide to the Shadow Assassin
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Class options volume II: Paladins Prevail!
Publisher: Gun Metal Games
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/30/2009 06:03:47
Class Options Volume II - Paladins Prevail is a short 11 page pdf of paladin options for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. This product is from Gun Metal Games, formerly Reality Deviant Publications, and is the second in a line of products offering new and expanded class options for the classes in the Pathfinder RPG. Class options, as the name suggests, are alternatives to existing class features, and allow one to alter or customize the flavor and mechanics of the class to better suit the players' concept of their characters. This product is written by Stefen Styrsky.

The product comes as a beautifully presented single pdf file. Cover and interior artwork is excellently provided by the talents of Jason Walton, while David Jarvis has done a good job of handling the design and layout of the product. It's pleasing to see such high production values in short pdfs - it indicates that the authors and publishers are committed to the industry and their customers/fans. Writing and editing is good as well, and I was generally pleased with all the new mechanics and the power levels the mechanics contained. Overall, a very pleasing pdf and neatly presented.

Paladins Prevail is about options, and in the pages of this product you'll find scores of new and useful options to enhance or customize your paladin character. Most of the options take the form of alternative class features, but the product also presents a large number of useful feats that build on these features or offer further customization. There's pretty much an alternative option for every paladin class feature, all presented in order of their level. I guess here is one of the few weaknesses of this product in that a table summarizing these alternative class features and the features they replace would've been really useful. All the alternative class features offer a different take on the paladin's mind and role, and the product very helpfully defines some of these roles with suggested class features. Roles such as Avenger, Champion, and Defender are explored within the scope of the alternative class features presented.

The class features themselves are generally just like-for-like alternatives to existing paladin features. So, for example, the Mercy class features can be replaced by several different options, including Justice, Sacrifices or Sword Rites, each offering to build a paladin with a different purpose and outlook. Aura of Resolve can be replaced by Aura of Radiance or Aura of Watchfulness and so on, offering a plethora of different options. Naturally certain options fit better together than others do, but that's nicely covered by the suggestions offered for paladin roles. It would've been nice to see more roles explored though, as the ones chosen are somewhat stereotypical. Something off the beaten track would've been good to see. The whole approach is very modular, which makes it easy to implement and easy to use.

I have to admit that I was pleased with this product. If you're interested in building an alternative paladin or simple don't believe the existing class features fit the concept you have in mind, this product might offer what you're looking for. I also don't believe I've seen similar class features to these before in other products under a different name, so in that sense it's an unique offering. As I said before, something off the beaten track would've been nice, but at least providing options and alternatives is an excellent way to offer customization to players and DMs alike. Good product with good production values and loads of useful advice. This product can easily become a much used product for paladin characters at the gaming table.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Class options volume II: Paladins Prevail!
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Supplement #1: The Alchemist
Publisher: Vigilance Press
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/23/2009 05:57:33
The alchemist is a concept that's seen many incarnations in many different gaming systems. In most cases, it's always been a secondary, NPC or prestige class rather than a primary or base class. I suspect that the reason for this is tied to both a concept that lends itself rather well to the NPC execution, and because the concept doesn't quite fit the adventuring PC that can't lug around an enitre laboratory. As such, I have to admit that I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Vigilance Press' alchemist for the OSRIC system, but I was pleased that this alchemist is a playable one for both PCs and NPCs.

Supplement #1: The Alchemist is a short 5 page pdf product presenting an alchemist class for the OSRIC system. The product contains 3 pages of content, but includes a useful cover that contains the only bit of atwork on the product. I have to admit that the artwork on the cover looks more like a wizard than an alchemist but the similarities are not lost on me. Presentation, design and layout is good, as is the editing and writing, and overall this is a neatly done product along the same lines as other products from Vigilance Press.

As one would expect, the alchemist is a master of all things potions and mixing brews. As such, the class abilities over 20 levels are aimed at building up these specific features of the class. The most noteworthy is the ability to brew three main types of substances - acids, poisons and medicins. The product has done very well to include a good range of the options available as well as expanding the craft to advanced and later master levels as the character progresses in levels. One related ability is Mixology, which allows the alchemist to mix the abilities of two potions. While this is certainly a useful tool, I thought the implementation wasn't particularly elegant and probably could've used a separate ruling. Nevertheless, the alchemist at later levels becomes a true master of his craft, and I appreciated the fact that the 20th level ability, Philosopher's Stone, was left open for the DM and Player to decide what the alchemist's ultimate craft will be.

I thought this was a well designed and well built class, with the class showing a clear path towards an ultimate goal, and the progression being evident as the class advances in level. I liked the way the abilities were staged and built upon each other, and how the alchemist at later levels becomes free from the need to have a huge laboratory. I was perhaps hoping to see some more herbology or perhaps science in with the alchemist, but I guess that can be worked into the existing class structure and flavor. Speaking of flavor, there isn't a lot of it to be found in the product and it would've been nice to see the class expanded in these areas beyond just a very broad and general blurb.

Supplement #1: The Alchemist is a good pdf that present a useful class that can find application in almost all OSRIC games. It wouldn't take much to convert this concept and class construction to d20 either, should you want to use it there. I liked the mechanics of the product, which showed good execution and staging through the class' levels. Overall, a good class and a good product that would've been better with some added flavor and one or two minor mechanical fixes.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Supplement #1: The Alchemist
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Blackdirge's Bargain Bestiaries: The Created - Lesser Golems
Publisher: Blackdirge Publishing
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/27/2009 09:08:58
Blackdirge's Bargain Bestiaries: The Created - Lesser Golems is the first product in the latest new series of monster products from the creative mind of Aeryn 'Blackdirge' Rudel. This 7 page product is the first in a series of bargain bestiaries - short pdfs containing a handful of monsters for good value for money. This first instalment features five new monsters, all of them lesser golems, created creatures moulded from cheaper and more common materials than the standard high power golems. This product is suitable for use with the 4e GSL.

Despite the low price tag, the product is very neatly and professionally presented, with all the frills and features one would expect from Blackdirge Publishing. As usual, regular artist Jesse Mohn is back to illustrate all five golems, while author Aeryn Rudel creates well written descriptive text and well crafted mechanics. The format, design and layout is very good, with 5 pages out of 7 devoted to content, one page to each of the monsters in the product. Overall, very professional presentation, apart, perhaps from one or two editing errors in the stat blocks where cut and paste went awry.

Lesser golems are created creatures much like iron or stone golems, except made by those spellcasters that do not have the skill or fortune to make a more powerful or expensive golem. Nevertheless, these lesser golems function much like their more powerful cousins, and can still serve as guardians or servants to their masters and creators. The golems included in this product are the dung golem, glass golem, straw golem, wax golem and wood golem. The power levels range from 1 all the way to 10, with a good mix of creature types and roles. Not much is said about the details of creating these creatures, but it's fairly easy to come up with something suitable to enable one to offer these lesser golems to your party spellcasters. A little guidance would've been useful though.

Each monster entry in the product provides a brief paragraph or two on tactics and background, as well as skill checks required to know or learn more about these creatures. That's pretty standard fare, really, being largely based on the type of material the golem is made of, and similarly the statistics are fairly standard as well for creatures of their level and role. The product does, in my mind, an admirable job of creating a bunch of new and interesting monster abilities that are specific to these creatures and will make them more unique than just a golem with big fists. Each creature's ability entries are quite novel and more importantly useful - they're not just abilities added for ability's sake, but rather carefully crafted to fit the concept and theme of the monster. The straw golem, for example, can create an itching cloud; the dung golem a stench, and the wax golem is particularly good at disarming people.

Overall, this is the kind of pdf that you would expect from Blackdirge Publishing - good monsters, good presentation, good art, good value. The monster abilities are creative and seem fun to use, and the monsters themselves are easy to insert into any campaign. There isn't really a down side to this pdf, although the flavor is a bit on the thin side but only just. Good pdf.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Blackdirge's Bargain Bestiaries: The Created - Lesser Golems
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Subterra: The Underground City
Publisher: Wydraz
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/26/2009 07:36:16
Many gamers will fondly remember the classic 1e adventures that took the characters into the depths of the underdark, there to face dangers uncertain, new fantastic races like the drow, and a world beyond what they'd encountered so far. Many gamers also have a general fondness for underdark adventures, be it because of the dark nature of these adventures, the horrible dangers, the strange and terrific creatures or a multitude of other reasons. Subterra: The Underground City is a 56 page pdf product that makes the underdark far more accessible by presenting a fairly civilised city that can be used as a base of operations. This product details all aspects of Subterra, including politics, environs, races and city details. This product is setting neutral, meaning that it can be inserted into any campaign setting, although it does have a slight d20 OGL slant to it.

Subterra: The Underground City comes as a single pdf file that's adequately presented with no real effort having gone into the layout and design of the pdf. Artwork is present, but fairly rudimentary, and nothing that stands out amongst a small host of filler images. The maps are clear and fairly well done, though they too don't really capture the feel of the city. I guess that's one of the main issues with the product - while the design is lacklustre, the content is too in many ways, meaning that you never get a feel for the mood, character and atmosphere of the city. So much time is spent detailing various aspects of the city that the real character of the city is lost and the atmosphere dwindles away. Writing and editing is fair, but overall, a little touching up would make the product far more presentable and professional.

Subterra, the City of Shadows and Magic, is a large underground city stationed along a well known and well trodden underground traveller's route. It's a city that's guided mostly by its own rules, and controlled by the power of the various guilds that run the city. This product details all aspects of the city, from the politics and various factions, the guilds and their relationships to one another, the deities of Subterra, the various races present and their relationships with another, and a detailed city map with a legend entry on pretty much every building in the city. There's a lot to work with here in creating an exciting adventure or base, and the product even provides a bunch of useful adventure hooks and ideas to get you started in the city of Subterra.

By and large I enjoyed reading the material presented in this product, with some interesting ideas, concepts and thoughts to work with an craft into adventures. On the down side, though, it reads very much like a text book rather than creating an atmospheric city that oozes with life. I think that's a fault of both the content as well as the design, and would've like to see something with so much potential really come to life. While the major players and guilds in the city are described, they too lacked the personality that would make this product work better. Very little is said about the motivations of the major players in the city. Which also brings me to my second complaint about this product - there's nothing terribly unique about it. It just another city filled with semi-lawless orcs, humans, goblins and other sentient races all trying to get the most power or monetary gain out of the city and its inhabitants. While there are some glimmers of interesting aspects in the city such as mana quakes and other features, it's very much an above ground lawless city that's placed underground. I would've liked to see things that make this more a city that has to be underground, rather than above ground.

While I've said a number of negative things about this product, I think it's still got a lot of potential. It won't take too much to convert the text-book like format into a city that has a little more life, purpose and presence in the larger world. If you treat this product as a bare minimum base, then there's plenty to build on to create something truly unique. I liked some of the adventure ideas, and the interactions between the guilds have some good things going for them. And, with a legend for hundreds of buildings in the overall map, there's plenty to add on or expand with. Overall, the product offers an interesting look at an underground city with some glimpses of good material that can make the city unique and something worth remembering.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Subterra: The Underground City
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