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Book of Monster Templates (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/30/2010 21:30:31
They say that variety is the spice of life, and indeed it is. For the PCs in a Pathfinder game, however, the variety that spices their lives is the myriad enemies they face as they conquer evil. But while vicious monsters and ferocious creatures can be new and terrifying, how much more frightening is it to determine that the enemy you’re facing is of a kind you’re familiar with…only to find that it’s not. That’s the nature of a spice, after all; to change the flavor of something, making the familiar different.

Enter the Book of Monster Templates, by Rite Publishing.

Boasting over thirty new templates, this book had me at the introduction, wherein the author outlined the format for how these templates are presented. While it’s standard for most templates to also include an example creature, the Book of Monster Templates goes three steps beyond. All of the example creatures, for example, are from another third-party monster book (just to be extra alien for your PCs, if you decide to use the example creature in your game). They also include “lore” DCs that allow you to learn something of the creature on a Knowledge check, sample encounter ideas, and almost all of them include a new feat or two designed to enhance some aspect of the example creature (either one of its innate powers, or a power from the template it showcases). That’s without even mentioning the in-character descriptive text given by the monster itself.

That alone should be impressive. But what really sold me was how, right in the introduction, the author talks about wanting to go beyond the sorts of templates we’ve seen before – he outright references certain other template-specific monster books, which I thought was very cool – and he backs it up with what’s in here.

Each template has a theme that isn’t the prosaic sort of idea you so often see in a book like this. There’s no template to make something aquatic, or be a fire elemental version of itself. How about, instead, a template for a creature that slays dragons and makes their souls into a ghostly choir that encircle their slayer, providing offensive and defensive powers? Or a template for a creature that can bite the limbs off of a creature, and use the powers of any magic items it subsequently swallows? Or a template for an implacable creature that will unstoppably, inexorably, follow you wherever you go, breaking through everything that gets in its way? All of that and more are here.

The book makes an excellent showing of itself technically as well. It has full nested bookmarks, and allows for copy-and-pasting. Runic borders surround every page, but best of all is that every example creature has an illustration – a must-have for a monster book. Likewise, the end of the book presents an index of all of the templates presented here, along with their increase to Challenge Ratings, as well as an index of all the example creatures by their CR. All the bases are covered.

It should be obvious, if you’ve read this far, that this book is a must-have if you like templates for your monsters. The ideas here are innovative and well-executed, giving you sample creatures, new feats, ecologies and encounter ideas to work with. Whether you want an intelligent magic item to also be a creature in its own right, or a ghostly tax collector that can collect the weapons of its enemies, none of these templates could ever be called “simple.” Spice up your monsters with the Book of Monster Templates.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Monster Templates (PFRPG)
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Publisher Reply:
I wanted to thank Shane O' Conner for taking the time to do a review of our product, 5/5 stars snoopy happy dance of joy. Steve Russell Rite Publishing
Advanced Arcana
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/19/2010 21:33:44
I find that, in most instances, books of new spells are among the hardest things to review. That’s because there’s no cohesive theme for the book (save for the obvious) – it’s a collection of individual components, and so you’re forced to review in broad strokes since you can’t go over every individual spell. With Necromancers of the Northwest’s new book, Advanced Arcana, I was fortunate not to have that problem, for reasons that I’ll outline below.

For the record though, if I’d had to review this book in sweeping generalizations, I’d probably have gone with something along the lines of “made of win.”

Advanced Arcana is a fifty-nine page PDF for the Pathfinder RPG. Ostensibly a book of new spells for the game, it also contains related elements such as new domains, bloodlines, and familiars. As the name hints, it takes into account the recently-released Advanced Player’s Guide, as it has spells and spell lists for the new classes from that guide as well as the more traditional spellcasting classes.

From a technical standpoint, the book hits most of the marks that I’ve come to expect from quality PDFs. Nested bookmarks are there, for instance. However, I ran into some trouble when to word search – which often skipped over words – and trying to copy-and-paste from the book. For some reason, when highlighting large sections of text (e.g. paragraphs) portions of the selected text would be missing, and trying to copy and paste the text that was selected produced weird (and I do mean truly cryptic) results – obviously, this is a flaw in the book’s production, but the sheer weirdness of the copy-and-pasting results almost make it seem like I’m trying to copy the Necronomicon or something. It’s perhaps the coolest error I’ve ever seen in a PDF.

The cover image is a variant of the Necromancers of the Northwest logo, a recurring motif in their books. Beyond that, the pages are all set on a cream-colored background, as though written on parchment. Just over a half-dozen illustrations are sprinkled through the book, each by a different artist but all of them quite good. I was very impressed with the props that the Necromancers gave to their illustrators. Each is mentioned in conjunction with their piece of art on the credits page, and hyperlinks go both to the artwork in the book and to the artist’s deviantart page. Way to recognize the talented people who contributed to the book!

I confess that I was surprised at the book’s three-page opening. Beyond a one-page letter from a father sending this book to his son, there’s then a fairly hefty in-character foreword talking about what drives a wizard to seek out and create new magic. It’s certainly an interesting read, and does a great job laying the foundations for what to expect from the book, but it’s almost bizarre that so much emphasis was given to this opening flavor text. I suppose I’m not used to that much intro; I’m certainly not used to it being presented in-character.

But enough about that, what was I saying before about the spells in this book being themed? Well, I’m glad you asked.

There are slightly over five dozen new spells here, a considerable amount. What makes Advanced Arcana interesting though, is that it doesn’t just throw a collection of new spells at you and be satisfied with that. Rather, there are three different types of new spells here.

The first are the “quick” spells. These are spells that give you the option of casting them as an immediate action, but if you cast them as a standard action, usually last longer or have greater power. It’s a great way to build in variability without having to resort to multiple spells that are almost identical, or utilize metamagic. I personally love having mutability and multiple options built into an individual spell, so these immediately went to the top of my “must use!” list.

The second type of new spells are “fountain” spells. These are relatively high-level spells that, in addition to their basic spell effect, also restore a low-level spell. Cast rejuvenate on someone, for instance, and they’ll not only recover hit points, but also several spell levels’ worth of spells, for instance. Now, most of the people I know would read the previous sentence and already be screaming “unbalanced!” However, there’s inherent balancing factors in these spells – the base effects are weaker than expected for their level, the spells that are restored in this way must be used relatively quickly, and you can only gain back a spell you’ve used in the last day. These are multi-effect spells that don’t tip the balance of power for spellcasters in the game (any more than they’re already tipped, I mean).

The third type of spells here are “segmented” spells. Thematically the opposite of fountain spells, segmented spells are high-level spells that require multiple castings to take effect. That is, simply casting these spells once won’t do it – you need to cast the spell multiple times over, either preparing it more than once or spontaneously casting it more than once, for it to take effect.

The trade-off here is that these effects are more powerful than spells of their level usually would be. You may need to spend three of your ninth-level spells casting create replicant over and over, but doing so will grow a clone that has its own soul, for instance. Segmented spells seemed slightly too close to incantations for my liking, but still present an innovative new option for stronger-but-balanced spells.

Of course, none of these spells dominate the book. Each is roughly a handful of the new spells presented here, with there being plenty of “typical” new spells for characters to use. And even here, the Necromancers did a great job of presenting new materials. A spell that creates dozens of magic missiles to orbit you as a defense, but also lets you erode that defense by firing some of them at your enemies? Genius!

After this are a series of appendices, the first of which is a second in-character discussion of the book. Weighing in at a whopping eight pages, this discusses the lengths the author went to to create Advanced Arcana, complete with footnotes. It primarily concerns his tracking down other mages (the ones who’re the names in the named spells) to solicit their creations. Again, it’s impressive, but between the foreword and this, almost a fifth of the book is dedicated to the in-character narrative. It’s very interesting, but I have to wonder if it would have made a better web enhancement, or if there could at least have been some accompanying new stats (for the eponymous wizards, perhaps).

The next appendix details eight new clerical domains. These are good, covering staples that the guys at Paizo somehow overlooked thus far, such as Shadow or Vermin. However, while I feel a bit greedy saying how I wish there was more, I do – specifically, I wish there’d been subdomains here. Subdomains, from the Advanced Player’s Guide, swap out a domain power or two for one with a more specific theme. That could have been here, but wasn’t. Perhaps in a future article in the Necromancers’ website?

New sorcerer bloodlines follow in the third appendix. There are four here, one for each kind of genie. There’s little further exposition I can give, save to note with some wry amusement that they kept “dao” for the earth-based genies, despite that slot being given to the new “shaitan” genie in the Pathfinder RPG.

The fourth appendix covers “focused” wizard schools, and it was this chapter that eliminated most of my guilt over asking for new subdomains for the clerical domains presented earlier. Why? Because these are wizard subdomains. That is, these are eight alternate wizard school abilities, one for each school, that follows a narrower theme within that school. For example, if you chose the conjuration school of magic, you can take the summoning focused school, which trades away two of the non-summoning powers of that school for two new powers related to summoning creatures. It’s actually a nifty idea, and again I wish there were more of them, since there’s plenty of untapped potential here.

The last appendix in the book presents eight new arcane familiars, and its here where the Necromancers really show off how they’re crazy geniuses. Most of these familiars are fairly standard in that they’re new animals (e.g. a bunny rabbit, a turtle, etc.) but there’s a few that are just off the wall, such as the animated object, the human skeleton, or my personal favorite, the bonsai tree. None of these familiars have stat blocks, instead referencing existing stat blocks and noting the appropriate changes to make. Interestingly, each has a paragraph of expository text describing them, which generate some interesting ideas. Maybe that skeleton familiar is your ancestor ceding you their body to watch over you, for example. Good ideas really make this last section come alive.

Overall, I really got a kick out of this book. While it did have length narrative fiction, the occasional error (I’m looking at you, quickshade), and sometimes lacked something I wish had been included, these small problems were utterly drowned beneath the weight of the gold mine of new ideas this book presents. New spells, new types of spells, new familiars, focused schools of magic, new familiars – and all of such great innovation that I can’t wait to start adding what’s here into my game, and you won’t be able to either. Advance your arcana with Advanced Arcana!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Arcana
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For Love or Power
Publisher: Avalon Game Company
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/16/2010 11:28:44
Sometimes the hardest part of a role-playing game is simply playing a role. PCs, at least, have the entire campaign to work on who their character is and why he does what he does. The GM, on the other hand, usually doesn’t have quite so much to work with in their NPCs; all too often they’re little more than components of an adventure that fade into the background after the scenario ends (if they survive). This can make it awkward when a PC shows interest in the NPC – they haven’t been developed enough to make it clear what a relationship with them would be like.

Even beyond that, relationships are a tricky needle to thread. Should they be purely role-played, with no game rules used? It may seem that way, but dice checks can better simulate how someone would respond to an unknown factor (when even they’re not sure how they feel about something). It’s very tricky to design a system for this, and it’s not something that you’ll find for Pathfinder…until now, with AGES Gaming’s supplement, For Love or Power. Let’s take a look.

For Love or Power is a very short PDF supplement. Consisting of only seven pages, two of these are the covers, one is the OGL, and one is the credits and table of contents, leaving only three for actual game material. It’s actually slightly less than three, since a fraction of that third page is dedicated to “sponsors” – actually short blurbs advertizing two other AGES Gaming Pathfinder products.

There’s virtually no artwork here to speak of. The front and back covers do use some artwork templates to appear like stylized book covers, and the front does have a historical-looking picture of some sort of medieval get-together. That’s it as far as artwork goes; there’s nothing else pictorial in the book’s interior. Likewise, there are no bookmarks to be found either, though that’d be rather pointless in this book anyway.

For Love or Power (the title obviously referring to relationships/marriage) opens by talking about its basic assumptions for how relationships are handled in the game. This is a fairly standard list, noting things like “make sure everyone’s comfortable with the concept in game,” “keep the physical parts of the relationship off-screen,” and “this is for PC-to-NPC romance, not PC-to-PC.”

The next section of the book deals with how to introduce romance into the game. Like the preceding section, it’s fairly boilerplate in what it discusses, e.g. phasing important NPCs in so the PCs have opportunities to meet new romantic interests, keep in-game reminders that the PCs loved ones are also dynamic parts of their characters and the game world, etc. While there isn’t anything here that a good GM won’t have already taken into account if they’re trying to play up relationships in the game, I can’t condemn this section simply because it serves as a good reminder of the basics.

Following a brief notation on developing romance as part of the game world (e.g. romantic customs differ in different cultures), we finally come to the rules-based section of the product, cleverly titled “rules of engagement.”

The main thrust of these rules is a Diplomacy check, made monthly to advance the relationship. The base DC for this check is a static number, set by the NPC’s social level; it’s easier to woo a peasant than a duchess, for example. This isn’t a bad system, but it doesn’t seem to take into account the PC’s own social standing – shouldn’t a character that has been declared a knight of the realm have an easier time pursuing a relationship with a noblewoman than some commoner? I also thought that some of these terms could have used greater definition – what’s the difference between minor, medium, and major nobility, for example? Is a princess major nobility, or does this chart not take royalty into account? More could have been done here.

This mechanic is the core of the system, but there’s more to it than that. A table is given that allows a PC to research a character – this takes time, and gold (the higher the NPC’s station, the more gold), but on a successful research check, you get a free re-roll on your match check.

The match check is the subsequent table in the book, rolled on when you want to begin a relationship with someone, to see how compatible you are. A flat roll, it doesn’t have any modifiers to it (save for the aforementioned possible re-roll), and how good of a match you are is important, as it determines the duration of the relationship and a possible bonus or penalty to the Diplomacy DC.

It’s after this point that we’re told how that core Diplomacy check works. The PC makes the roll once per game month (they can choose not to roll, maintaining an equilibrium, but that increases the next month’s DC slightly), with each successful check counting off from the duration established by the match check. A failed check here can increase this duration, or even result in the NPC breaking things off, embarrassing the character.

Once the PC runs out the duration on the relationship, the NPC make it known that they want to be married; following this is a period of betrothal – this basically extends the relationship window further, and the PC makes more Diplomacy checks until this new duration expires, at which point the two characters are wed and this system concludes.

Following this is a final table that includes numerous modifiers to these monthly Diplomacy rolls. Some of these are permanent modifiers (e.g. a character has a high dowry, and so is more inclined to be distrustful of potential suitors), while others are one-time bonuses (e.g. you buy her a really expensive gift). Some of these are slightly odd…for example, if you two have the same alignment, there’s no modifier. If you’re one step apart in alignment, you get a bonus, as you’re similar but just different enough to be interesting to each other. If your alignments are further apart than that, there’s a penalty. It’s quirky, but not necessarily wrong.

Looking over this book, I’m of the impression that it’s a diamond in the rough. The low production values, and fairly standard set of assumptions and advice, mask a system that’s actually quite elegant, even if it could use some expansion. The relationship mechanics here present a stable framework for a much-needed set of mechanics in Pathfinder; this is a system that has great potential. It’s not without flaws – the social status-based Diplomacy check needs to take the PCs’ status into account, and the match check (and research check) could use an overhaul…but the ideas and rules work.

Whether you’re adding them for love of the game or to assert your power as the Game Master, For Love or Power brings a working set of relationship rules into your Pathfinder game.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
For Love or Power
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Behind the Monsters: Roper
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/10/2010 14:03:27
I remember how, back in the day, Dragon magazine used to have monster ecology articles that were written as short stories involving a group of monster hunters in search of a particular creature. The ecological section came from footnotes and some expository text after the story ended. And then, for some reason, the format changed; there weren’t anymore short stories, but rather the ecologies were written in a style reminiscent of scholarly papers, directly outlining the monster’s physiology, psychology, society, etc. It was an abrupt shift, and I wondered for quite a while why it was done.

Reading Tricky Owlbear Publishing’s Behind the Monsters: Roper, I think I’m starting to understand why.

A ten-page PDF, Behind the Monsters: Roper is part of Tricky Owlbear’s Behind the Monsters series of products, explaining the history of various monstrosities in the game world. With only a single illustration as part of the product title (and the company logo at the end), the book looks fairly spartan. However, I was quite pleased that it included full bookmarks, despite its brevity.

Told from an in-character standpoint, the book presents a character’s recollection of how he stumbled on some ropers opening a gateway, and accidentally fell through himself. There on another world, he came upon a group of humans enslaved to ropers and helped lead an uprising. This led to him falling through another portal – where he had a psychedelic experience of seeing the roper home-world (home dimension?) and had a vision of an alien god who pressed them into service, making them spread to other worlds like a plague – before finally returning to his native land.

The book then reprints stats for a roper (though interestingly, rebuilt as an aberration rather than a magical beast) along with notes for variant types of ropers, and even a few items made from/by ropers.

Looking back over the work, I’m not quite sure that I’m taking the book in the manner intended. While I can appreciate the desire for an origin story, treating ropers as Lovecraftian aliens from beyond space and time, possibly in service to an unfathomable god (which didn’t get deity information here, unfortunately), seems rather ho-hum now. Most of D&D’s classic aberrations came about this way, and it’s become, if not cliché, then at least understood that all aberrations have some variation on this particular tale.

Unfortunately, while the above isn’t an ecology article for this monster, I can’t help but look at it that way; I say “unfortunately” because it doesn’t do a good job in that regard. Compared to, say, the ecology Paizo wrote for the roper in one of their Revisited books (which gave the chilling summary of their philosophy towards other creatures as, “You do not truly know someone until you have eaten them – slowly”), this just doesn’t hold up. We’re given a story about where ropers come from, but not what they really are – there’s no information here on what makes ropers different from other powerful monsters of their ilk; you could have substituted any given aberration in (such as cloakers, for example) and this story would have worked just as well.

As it is, I’m giving this book a four-star rating because it presents workable new crunch, and because I suspect my disappointment is more in regards to this not being what I expected rather than it failing in its goals.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Behind the Monsters: Roper
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Monstrous Races [PFRPG]
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/09/2010 14:12:27
Paizo’s Advanced Player’s Guide put a lot of new options on the table for Pathfinder players. Among these were the new racial traits that the core races could select in lieu of their default traits, as well as new favored class options for certain race/class combinations. It was a nice new set of choices for the basic races, but it almost felt as though something were overlooked in all the fuss…

…oh that’s right; all of the non-standard PC races – they got ignored utterly.

You might remember them from the Bestiary; races like the tiefling, the kobold, or the drow. These are the races that, for the most part, don’t work quite as well as the standard races, but can still be made to fit the mold. These races didn’t get any of the cool new racial options that the core races did. Luckily, Purple Duck Games is here to correct that oversight with their book, Monstrous Races.

Twenty-five pages long, the book covers eight races in total: the aasimar, drow, duergar, goblin, hobgoblin, kobold, tengu, and tiefling. A table of contents lists what’s found where, but I was slightly surprised that there were no bookmarks also included for ease of navigation. There are several pieces of art sparsely scattered throughout the book, though only the cover has color.

I was pleasantly surprised with how forthcoming the book was regarding flavor text with class information for each race. That is, each section gives us a sentence of two of what each race is like as a member of each class (both core and APG). While these paint in broad strokes, it was almost amusing to see some class concepts rules right out (“Drow do not become paladins.”) which is sure to ruffle the feathers of the lone person out there who is undoubtedly playing such a character. It’s only then that it talks about alternate racial traits, and subsequently alternate favored class options.

The book closes out with a page of additional information of a few items referenced among the racial traits and favored class options. Specifically, a new spell (instant armor) is given, along with a new (and delightfully Open Content) drow goddess; she even has subdomains!

Overall, Monstrous Races is one of those products that occupies such a niche that you’ll likely either fall upon it gratefully, or have no use for it whatsoever. While you could conceivably use it for some NPC members of one of these races, the benefits will likely be too small to make any measurable impact. No, this book is targeted towards players who are running one of the aforementioned races and wish they had the same Advanced options that the core races did. If you play such a character, this book has what you need to stand on equal footing with the humans and demi-humans in your game; you won’t be disappointed with the options you’re given here.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monstrous Races [PFRPG]
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Judge Death: Young Death - Boyhood of a Superfiend
Publisher: Rebellion Publishing Ltd
by Shane O. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/30/2010 21:26:06
I’m always leery of reading comic books in an electronic format. While novels can make the transition because they only need to focus on their text, comics need to display pictures and narrative flow between panels that don’t always fit on a screen. Hence, I usually just buy paper copies of the comics I think I’d like.

When I saw this particular comic go on sale, however, I made an exception.

Now, I’m not too much of a fan of Judge Dredd overall. It’s not that I dislike it, but rather never really had a chance to let it grow on me – but I did pick up some things here and there. One of which was the awesome villain that is Judge Death. An undead, unkillable monster who believes that life is inherently criminal and must be eradicated (hence his kickass catch-phrase “The crime is life! The sentence is death!”). So yeah, when I saw that there was an origin-story for this badass, I was hooked.

Judge Death: Young Death – Boyhood of a Superfiend is a ninety-eight page PDF file of the comic. I usually cringe at comics as PDFs, and this was the case here. The front and back covers are placed side-by-side as the opening page, making it twice as wide as all of the other singular pages; this means that when you try to use the “fit to screen” option, it fits it so that that double-page fills the screen, and the others are still filling half of it. You can still resize them up more, but it’s a bit awkward and unwieldy. There weren’t any bookmarks either, but I’m letting that slide because they’d be an awkward fit for a comic with no narrative breakups in the story.

The comic itself is full color, and done in a muted “portrait” style – rather than cartoonish heavy borders and bright colors, the entire comic has a more shaded feel to it. It works quite well, lending a very gothic feel to an already gothic story.

In terms of continuity, this story takes place after the Necropolis story arc, and before Judge Death sets out into the Cursed Earth. The story itself is actually told in two (or, depending on how you look at it, three) separate parts. The first is Judge Death giving his life story to a reporter in hopes that the people of Mega-City One will come to understand what he’s offering them – the innocence of death – which is juxtaposed with the flashbacks of his time among the living. Across from this is a separate story of the Judges investigating a murder. The connection between these two is made early on, and creates a nice point-counterpoint to the story; the end results of both Judge Death’s narrative and the murder investigation are known to us – we’re being taken along parallel journeys to see how things got there.

Judge Death’s story is a fairly depraved one from the outset. His home dimension (before he turned it into Deadworld) is shown as a place where life was always regarded as cheap. We see the young Death is shown to be sadistic and sociopathic from a young age, and at first we’re given to believe this is because of his father (who is shown to be completely off-the-wall psychotic), and initially think that he’s a bad seed from a bad tree. All too soon, however, we quickly come to realize that he’s as much the product of his environment as he is just born evil. When he murders twenty-seven people who appear in his court on his first day as a probationary judge, and the head judge expresses only a mild exasperation at this, it’s clear that it was only a matter of time before someone like him came along.

In a way, I found this aspect of his origin to somewhat lessen the character. I can understand why the writers did it, since it’s a new spin on the old “natural-born psycho” that a lot of villains start as. But even so, showing him as being only slightly beyond the norm for his bloodstained society makes him seem less monstrous – he’s simply the natural conclusion of his cultural values.

Ultimately, like a lot of origin stories, the ending feels inconclusive, if only because it ends where the character’s “on-screen” history begins. When he reaches the point where he transitions to becoming Judge Death, the story is pretty much over. There’s the story that takes place in the present, the one dealing with the murder case, but it also lacks a real climax due to the fact that, once the origin tale is over, it exists only to showcase how the meta-plot for the book concludes. This isn’t something I can really hold against the book – it did what it promised to do, after all, which was tell us how Judge Death became who he is – but its still a weakness of the story.

Of course, one weakness doesn’t undercut the book’s overall strengths. The tale is a long and gruesome one, and whether it’s by nature or nurture it still highlights what a monstrous figure Judge Death has always been, even as a little boy. Filling in the gaps of his history gives us a more thorough understanding of his character, and makes him all the more enjoyable. This graphic novel brings Judge Death to life (crime as that may be).

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Judge Death: Young Death - Boyhood of a Superfiend
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01 Transylvania Overture
Publisher: Monolith Graphics
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/30/2010 14:52:32
Track 01 Transylvania Overture is the first piece of music from the album “Transylvania,” by Nox Arcana and published through Monolith Graphics. Just under two megabytes in size, the sound file is 2:01 long and downloads as an MP3 file.

The Transylvania Overture opens with some very gothic organ music, to which violins act as a softer accompaniment. Roughly the first half of the piece contains an ominous message from a sepulchral-voiced narrator talking about how the dead are restless and those who heed the dark call of the night are damned. After that, the second half of the track is then filled with a choir of people with similarly-deep voices echoing, like a gothic Gregorian chant.

My major problem with this track is that, while the music is done well, the tone of the whole thing feels too overt in nature. I was expecting this to take a more background flavor, in that this would be mood music to set a creepy atmosphere – the sort of thing you wouldn’t consciously pay attention to, but rather let it set a spooky air.

However, the speaking narrator demands your attention, which undercuts using this as atmospheric music. Moreover, his message is fairly nonspecific in nature – yes, the dead are rising and those with dark hearts might be swayed, but presented by itself the lack of context makes the message lose a lot of its impact. This is mitigated somewhat if you take the title (and the theme of the album) more literally – that this is a night in Transylvania – but even that only helps a little.

The chanting in the second half of the track suffers from the same problem, though not quite as bad. Rather than being a soft, wicked humming that makes the hairs on the back of your neck rise, the visceral nature of the chanting is so in-your-face that it makes you want to look around for where the monks in black robes are. Once again, it’s so overt that it bypasses the understated nature of being merely spooky, forcing closer examination that doesn’t lend itself well to an eerie atmosphere.

Ultimately, I can’t help but wonder if this track is meant to act as a prelude; that its short nature and opening narration are meant to introduce the rest of the CD to us. If so, then this would be forgivable in the context of the CD itself – but standing on its own, this single track fails to impress very much. This is what you’d play for someone when you want it to be made as plain as possible that “this is a haunted house” or “here come the supernatural monsters” with no chance of misunderstanding. It gets the job done, but there’s no finesse to it, and that’s a shame since the potential is quite clearly here.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
01 Transylvania Overture
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Advanced Feats: Secrets of the Alchemist
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/30/2010 14:28:36
Pathfinder’s new alchemist class, published in the recently-released Advanced Player’s Guide, is something of an odd duck. It’s part spellcaster, part bombardier, and part Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. That’s not necessarily a bad combination, but there’s still quite a few hats for it to wear. Inevitably, some of them don’t quite seem to fit as well as they could.

It’s with that thought in mind, I’m guessing, that Advanced Feats: Secrets of the Alchemist was written.

Published by Open Design, Secrets of the Alchemist is a short PDF, being only a dozen pages long. It’s fairly light on some of the more technical aspects of a PDF release as well; there are no bookmarks, and notwithstanding the cover, there are no illustrations here either – though, to be entirely accurate, the pages are all given a parchment-style background.

So what does such a short, spartan PDF really bring to your game table? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. The author of the book, Sigfriend Trent, is the driving force behind the Netbook of Feats, which gives him a lot of insight into feat design and development, and he brings that out in full force here. In fact, the real secret of Secrets of the Alchemist is that a lot of these feats aren’t really alchemist-specific, but can be used by almost anyone. In my Pathfinder group, the alchemist is using this book (having taken the Craft Anywhere feat) and so it the barbarian (taking Lighten Weapon). Don’t misunderstand, a number of these feats can only be used by your alchemist, but far more are fit for several different character archetypes.

Perhaps the best part of this book, however, is the way in which the author invites you behind the proverbial curtain to explain why he made the decisions he did. Almost all of the feats here have a commentary section, usually no more than two or three sentences, explaining the feat’s significance. Being told how Organized Inventory works in conjunction with Quick Draw to let you draw any stored items as a free action is good, but noting how well it works with drinking potions really drives the point home.

The book ends with three specific builds for your alchemist. These are basically optimized character progressions explaining what race you should be and what feats, class abilities, ability scores, (and even a suggested list of formulae) etc. you should take to maximize the effectiveness of that particular build. These builds basically specialize in using your bombs, using mutagens, and crafting. As with the feats, there’s some explanation given for the why’s and how’s of these builds, which is all but essential when you’re giving advice for building a character out to 20th level.

Ultimately, Secrets of the Alchemist is an excellent book whose only real problem is that its name may make people think that its applicability is narrower than it actually is. Presuming you don’t want to play an alchemist, you can still put 75% or so of this book to good use – ignoring the builds and alchemist-specific feats still leaves a goodly chunk of excellent feats on the table, whether you’re a melee fighter, spellcaster, or skill monkey. This book’s advanced feats have the formula for success no matter what your class is.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Feats: Secrets of the Alchemist
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DragonCyclopedia: The Mage
Publisher: Glen Taylor Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/03/2010 22:51:28
The fire-and-forget style of spellcasting is one of the hallmarks of the Pathfinder role-playing game (spontaneous spellcasters being a minor variation of this same formula). It’s also one of the biggest points of divergence from most fantasy fiction – unless you’re a fan of the works of Jack Vance – wherein wizards are generally able to toss around magic with no appreciable limit. Now, while we have been seeing some attempts to recapture this in Pathfinder, such as the unlimited nature of cantrips now or warlock-style classes who can toss around a very small set of effects without limit, but none of those really call to mind the wizards from our favorite novels.

And then Glen Taylor Games published DragonCyclopedia: The Mage, and much to my surprised created a class that allowed for an unlimited number of arcane spells to be known, and let you cast them on the fly without preparation…or at least, without much preparation. Let’s take a look at the book and see how it does this, and if it’s balanced.

A twenty-one page PDF, The Mage is nothing spectacular from a technical standpoint. There are no bookmarks, something I feel every PDF should have. Beyond its front and back covers – which contain wavy full-color images that seem almost like watercolors – there are two interior illustrations in the same style. While the cover illustration is credited, there’s no mention of who did the other pictures, though I presume it was the same person. Moreover, while the book does declare Open Game Content, it fails to reproduce the proper citations under the Section 15 of its Open Game License, both for Pathfinder and for itself.

Graphically, the book is fairly spartan. The aforementioned illustrations notwithstanding, every page is given a tan background that has a sort of crumpled look to it, like parchment that’s been in the bottom of a cramped sack before being retrieved. This doesn’t distract from the text, but said text frequently left large open spaces on pages when it didn’t want to break up sections of the book. More illustrations, or perhaps some sidebars expounding on some aspect of the class, would have helped make the book seem less empty in those cases.

But enough about how it’s presented, you want to hear about the class itself! The book opens with a one-page introduction that takes the form of FAQ which covers why this class was designed, how it’s balanced, and how to use it. It’s after this that we dive into the new class itself.

The mage is like a wizard in many regards. It has the same Hit Dice, BAB, and save progressions. It has the same skill points per level and class skills (save for adding Use Magic Device). It suffers arcane spell failure chances in armor. There are some minor differences (weapon proficiencies being one of them), but the big one is the “how” of the mage’s method of spellcasting.

The mage has no spellbook that it records spells in, nor does it have a spells known list. When a mage learns a spell, it’s learned forever, without external record. Casting a spell, however, requires that the mage do something that I like to call “preparing on the fly.” If a mage wants to cast a spell, it must first spend an action preparing it – this will be a full-round action for its highest-level spells, but as the mage gains levels its lower-level spells can be prepared faster. Once prepared, the spell can then be cast normally at any time. But the mage can only have a single spell prepared at a time.

In other words, the mage needs to keep spending an action preparing a spell before it can cast it. So in a fight, he’ll spend a round preparing a spell, and cast it on the next round, then prepare another spell on the following round, and cast it on the round after that, then prepare a spell on the next round, etc. It’s this limit which acts as the major balancing factor to the class. It’s not the only one though, as the mage gains less spells at both character creation and leveling up than the wizard – it can learn new spells from spellbooks and scrolls, but this comes with a significant cost in both time and gold pieces, which also act as limits. In theory, it all balances out.

In practice, however, I’m less certain. I haven’t had a chance to play-test this class at all, so I couldn’t tell you if it was overpowered, or if the increased casting time (which is really what the preparation time is) and drain on gold to learn new spells really balances the class or not. As the mage levels up, it takes less and less time to prepare spells of lower level – as early as thirteenth level, a mage can prepare a 1st-level spell as a swift action, a 3rd-level spell as a move action, and a 5th-level spell as a standard action, all in a single round. Of course, it can still only cast one at a time.

Beyond that, the class gains a mage talent at every even-numbered level. These are special class features that expand on the mage’s capability in some regard. It’s here that I thought there needed to be some serious double-checking on balance concerns, since some of these were far-and-away too strong. A mage talent that lets the mage substitute half his class level instead of spell level for calculating a save DC is much too powerful, for example. Still, there’s some good versatility here. The best of which is that some talents belong to mage colleges – themed collections of mage talents that you can access only if you take a mage talent to join the relevant association (of which there are seven).

The book then discusses various flavors of mages (e.g. explorer, war mage), and how various player races tend to approach being mages, but each of these gets only a paragraph of exposition, so there’s little here that goes beyond common sense and stereotypes. Two new magic items round out the book, a wand and a staff that seem to do almost the exact same thing, save that the wand is slightly more limited than the staff.

Dishearteningly, there were some grammatical and typographical errors in the book. For example, the standard mage way to determine the save DC for a mage’s spells is the same way every other spellcasting class determines them (10 + spell level + key ability modifier). However, the text from the mage talent that lets you use half your class level instead of the spell level had been erroneously cut-and-pasted into the class’s main listing for spells, which made me cringe. Things like that gave me some serious pause about this class.

Ultimately, I came away from the mage with some real concerns about its balance. A mage with the right combination of mage talents can prepare multiple spells, boost the save DCs, and even gain not-insignificant bonuses to spells that require attack rolls. I don’t know if that’d make it more powerful than a wizard or sorcerer, but I’m betting it would. Between that and the technical shortcomings of the book, I seriously considered giving this product a lower rating.

However, when push came to shove, I found that I couldn’t do so, simply because of how intriguing the core mechanic for this book was. The basic spellcasting for the mage is brilliant, and on the surface doesn’t seem overpowered (at least when coupled with the reduced spells gain from leveling, and increased cost of learning new spells). It’s the auxiliary aspects of the book – the mage talents and the PDF’s own technical details – that soured my appetite for what was here. Fix those, and you’ve got something (even more) wondrous and new for your Pathfinder game.

I don’t know if the mage is a class that’s balanced compared to the standard Pathfinder wizard…but I really want to play one and find out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DragonCyclopedia: The Mage
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Publisher Reply:
Shane, Thank you so much for your review! You are very thorough, and it shows. I fixed some of the typos you mentioned (and some you didn't) and updated the file. As for the play balance problem, I'm concerned as well, but haven't run into any problems. One particular area of interest includes the two mage talents that provide bonuses to attacks with ray spells. The bonuses are significant, but since they only affect ray spells, and require talents to be selected that could be used for something else, and are typed (competence and insight) bonuses, are less of a problem than they might seem. They are intended to bring the mage's accuracy with rays up to a fighter's accuracy, but only in a limited scope. The same goes for the two included new magic items; they're a mage's equivalent of magic weapons. I hope I get more reviews that are as helpful as yours for the editing and design process. Glen Taylor
Monster Menagerie: The Kingdom of Graves
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/31/2010 19:08:24
The undead are one of those creature types that tend to get painted in very broad strokes, with subsequent monsters being narrower definitions of the initial archetypes. This is why you tend to have so many differing “breeds” of zombies, vampires, ghosts, etc. It can be difficult to come up with a new kind of undead that isn’t just “it’s a ghoul, but with X new power.” Mythic Menagerie: The Kingdom of Graves represents Super Genius Games trying to come up with that level of innovation for their short monster book of undead. Let’s see how they do.

Kingdom of Graves is thirteen pages long, and contains eight new monsters. Some of these are the aforementioned variations on a theme, such as the lich tyrant (a type of lich) or the bean chaointe (banshee). Others, however, such as the rot giant or the soul harvester, are completely new. While it might be nitpicking for such a short book, I do wish there’d been bookmarks and/or a table breaking down the creatures by CR. It’s not really a big deal, but even for concise books I like to have these extras around.

The cover art is a fairly impressive full-color piece. The remainder of the book’s illustrations are black and white pieces that are of an exceptional quality. I was quite impressed with the pictures of the monsters, which is a very good thing in a bestiary, where illustrations are very important for showcasing the creatures you’re selling.

The monsters here have a unifying theme beyond simply being unliving – they all fulfill a role in a royal court. From the sovereign, to knights, to courtiers, all of these creatures have a place in medieval politics; it’s a shame there’s no undead jester around.

The monsters themselves are fairly interesting, though I noticed that at the lower levels their special powers seemed somewhat sub-optimal for being used in a fight. A rot giant that takes a full-round action to eat a corpse, and then a standard action next round to spit up an animated skeleton is leaving himself open to being whacked by the entire party for a single skeletal helper. This is offset somewhat by the skeleton being able to act on the turn it’s created, and those witnessing its creation possibly being nauseated, but it’s still quite a few actions given up to make one ally of questionable combat effectiveness.

What really killed me (pun intended), however, was that some monsters were clearly variants on existing templates – specifically the lich tyrant and the bloodknight – but how you’d incorporate these new powers, and any other subtler changes I missed, into the normal template for these undead wasn’t touched upon. The lich tyrant, for example, is a specific creature with class levels. It has several powers a normal lich doesn’t, but there’s no retooling of the standard lich template. Do these new powers increase the CR? How else is the base template modified to make a lich tyrant instead of a mainstream lich? That wasn’t here, and I think the book is worse off for it.

Of course, the book is still highly useful in what it does offer. The new undead all have interesting powers, and fulfill useful roles both within and out of combat. The soul harvester, for example, eats souls to power its abilities much like a devourer, but can hold more than one at a time, and serve as a great way for more powerful undead, and necromancers, to go and collect souls that they can then use for nefarious purposes. The Kingdom of Graves is an imperfect book, but not by too much. If you’re less concerned with the how’s of monster building, and just looking to let some new undead challenge your PCs, you’ll get a lot of mileage out of this Mythic Menagerie.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Monster Menagerie: The Kingdom of Graves
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The Genius Guide to Feats of Runic Might
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/27/2010 20:47:10
Runes are one of those types of magic which have a feel to them that’s almost inherent. Runes, as a type of magic, simply evoke an older, earthier style of spellcasting than what “modern” spellcasters use. It’s a sort of pictographic language that has an inherent power all its own.

It’s also a form of magic not very well-represented in Pathfinder. Besides the Rune clerical domain, and a handful of spells that rely on symbols, there’s really not much for a rune-centric spellcaster. Does the Genius Guide to Feats of Runic Might, from the Super Geniuses at OtherWorld Creations, fix this? Let’s take a look.

A ten-page PDF, all but one page are devoted to mechanics (that singular page being for the credits and OGL). There’s an overview of how rune feats work before we’re presented with twenty-six new feats. The PDF isn’t bookmarked, but try as I might I can’t really hold this against the Super Geniuses; after the beginning of the book, there’s really no headings or sections that lend themselves to bookmarking. As usual for these products, several pieces of full-color stock art populate the book.

The rune feats themselves get a fair amount of explanation before we’re introduced to them. Beyond telling us about how it’s an older form of universal magic (that is, anyone can use it) it goes into the mechanics with surprising gusto. The number of runic feats you can have, and how many times you can use them, is detailed alongside information such as the Perception DC to see a rune glow when it’s activated. Interestingly, a number of these feats have maximum ability score prerequisites – that is, some can’t be taken if you have, say, a Dexterity score of more than 9. It’s an interesting choice, but can lead to some odd situations…though the fact that you can expressly retrain these feats (swapping them out for other feats) every other level should take some of the sting out of them.

After all of that though, the feats themselves are…not that inspiring. Most have minor spell effects, or otherwise achieve a relatively tiny mechanical bonus. This is, I think, a limitation based on Pathfinder’s inherent mechanics. These feats all have relatively easy prerequisites, so the designers couldn’t afford to have them be very powerful at all. Even with the limits on how many rune feats you can have, and how often you can use them, A feat to blind an enemy for 1 round is hard to make evocative, no matter how much flowery text you dress it up in.

The result is that this is a good product that, unfortunately, feels rather dry. Of course, rather dry for a Genius Guide is still quite impressive by third-party Pathfinder standards, but not compared to the usual Super Genius fare. To be sure, this isn’t a bad product, but it won’t really set your imagination on fire the way a lot of other Genius Guides do.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Genius Guide to Feats of Runic Might
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[PFRPG] Gods of Mor Aldenn: Ehlora
Publisher: Headless Hydra Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/26/2010 12:47:36
It’s very hard, in my opinion, to design deities and religions that really grab a player. Most of the time, a particular deity is just source of spells and domains, and their church is where you go to buy healing potions and the odd resurrection. Making the institution feel more fleshed-out than that requires a fairly substantial effort in highlighting the myriad nuances of church dogma, practices, beliefs, and other functions, which is a lot to do.

Gods of Mor Aldenn, Ehlora, from Headless Hydra Games, takes this idea and takes a sharp right turn, giving depth and focus not to the religion as a whole, but to a single specific church belonging to it. It’s an interesting idea, allowing them to narrow their focus considerably. So how well then does it work?

The PDF is eleven pages long, with a page for the OGL and a page advertising the setting’s blog. The remaining nine pages (including a sidebar for the credits) are dedicated to the church in the city of Mor Aldenn dedicated to the goddess Ehlora. In what I consider to be a plus, the PDF has full, nested bookmarks despite its brevity; a tip of the hat to Headless Hydra Games there.

The PDF is surprisingly graphic, despite its dearth of illustrations. Beyond the company logo and the picture in the ad at the end, there’s only a single illustration here, of Ehlora’s holy symbol. However, the product is never dull to look at thanks to some ingenious graphic design. All pages have a red border at the bottom and a dark border showing a small piece of a map at the top. Headers are in red text, and there are frequent sidebars that are white text in a red box, or red text against a white background. Additionally, stat blocks frequently appear in gray boxes.

The overall effect is that while none of these effects is particularly noticeable, they create a very vibrant look without impinging on readability. The product gains the illusion of being thoroughly illustrated without actually being so. It’s a very skillful move on the part of Headless Hydra Games, as it keeps the book visually distinctive without going overboard on what must have been a small art budget. Other small publishers should take note, here.

The book’s contents strive to pull off the same sense of giving you more while not actually having that much, but here the success is more limited. Ehlora herself gets about a page of text before the focus shifts to the Mor Aldenn church. Unfortunately, there’s almost nothing given about the actual building itself - no map, no history, no details of what services are available or what resources it has. Instead, the book focuses heavily on the scant handful of clerics who dwell there.

The head of the church is detailed fairly well, receiving a full stat block as well as some background on how she came to be where she is, as well as outlining her current sketch – e.g. what her goals are now, what she will and won’t do, etc. It’s a pretty good write-up for an NPC, and it’s clear that she’s meant to be the product’s most practical focus in terms of interacting with your PCs. The previous head of the church, now a mad old woman, is also detailed somewhat, but the reasons she went mad and what it really means now are downplayed in favor of letting the GM decide how to use her in a game.

The two generic acolytes receive stat blocks but no real character development before the book moves onto some adventure hooks. Three are given, one having a stat block for an antagonist, before the book gets serious about new crunch. There’s a sidebar with a new feat for the faithful of Ehlora, and then we receive eight new spells, mostly minor in nature.

There are a few other things here, such as a brief overview of Ehlora’s holidays, typical spells a cleric of Ehlora would likely know, etc. but this pretty well covers the product. My overall impression was that it wanted to put its most practical face forward, leading with things that would most directly impact the PCs in your game. It does a pretty good job of that, but focuses on that so much that it sacrifices a lot of wider applicability – the new spells help to broaden its focus, of course, and there’s some sense of what these clerics actually do for their city, but it’d have been nicer if we got a sense of history about their church (if not their religion), a map of the building itself, maybe some detail about the two acolytes (despite being only two of them in a church that has a total of three priestesses, they don’t have individual names), etc.

The bottom line is that, while the two major NPCs feel fairly real (and I’m being generous in regards to the mad old woman character), everything else is so sparsely covered as to be barely there. We have only a minor sense of the goddess herself, not much of this specific church, but a fair amount about the woman who administrates it. That’s not bad, but it’s not enough either. Gods of Mor Aldenn, Ehlora isn’t a bad product – I rated it as highly as I did because I like what’s here – but it feels like an incomplete one.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
[PFRPG] Gods of Mor Aldenn: Ehlora
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Fey Folio: Clans of the Fey
Publisher: Alluria Publishing
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/23/2010 16:16:30
If there was a single word that I’d use to sum up the fey (in the context of a Pathfinder game, at least) it’d be “lame.” Other contenders for the top spot are “suckitude” “craptastic” and “eye-rollingly-boring.” After all, how many cool fey can you really think of? Sure, nymphs and dryads are nice eye-candy, but there aren’t any fey who could honestly be called badass; that distinction goes to the demons, the dragons, the undead, and pretty much every other monster type that isn’t fey.

It’s that perception that Allura Publishing apparently set out to combat with their second monster book – Fey Folio: Clans of the Fey. And if its use of the word twice in the title didn’t clue you in, this book is about fey monsters.

A twenty-seven page PDF, the book’s technical presentation lives up to the high standards that Alluria has set for itself. Full nested bookmarks are included, and everything is easily copied-and-pasted. The book has a table of monsters by Challenge Rating, and continues its use of their own set of symbols to indicate type, terrain, and environment.

Of course, I have to mention the artwork. Alluria’s emphasis on gorgeous interior illustrations is second-to-none among the third-party companies, and this book carries on that tradition. Even beyond the evocative cover, each monster has a full-color illustration from the inimitable Vasilis Zikos, which should tell you just how superb the art here is. Each page is also set on a slightly off-white background, which darkens to a parchment-color at the edges, making it look like the PDF is written on an old book. It’s a great way to color the background without drawing attention to it.

But enough with the technical commentary, what are the book’s monsters like? Well, of the thirteen monsters here, these aren’t your typical fey – or rather, they are. A significant number of these fey (maybe all of them, since I didn’t research the mythology) are taken from actual myths and legends – the dullahan, the erlking, the sylph, etc. Of course, the book doesn’t seem to feel constrained by these restrictions, as it paints a fairly interconnected backstory between various fey. For example, several fey are related through being former servants of the book’s big bad evil guy, the Jack-in-Irons. It’s an effective way to make these creatures seem like members of a society, instead of a group of individual monsters.

It should be noted that almost all of the fey here are meant for lower-level play. The book has a table breaking down the monsters herein by CR, and very few hit the double-digits.

Following this is a helpful, albeit brief, guide of things to keep in mind that make fey distinctive from other monsters. After that, a campaign overview is given, separated into three sections (low-level, mid-level, and high level) regarding the fey trying to free Jack-in-Irons while the PCs attempt to prevent it. A single page of new magic items rounds out the book.

Overall, I found myself surprised with just how good of a job this book did of making the fey seem not just interesting, but rather kickass. Both in terms of presentation and mechanics, most of these creatures seemed like a legitimate threat to any party that encounters them; even the ones that aren’t threatening seem that way by design, rather than a failure on Alluria’s part. I actually could see using these fey in my Pathfinder game, as challenging antagonists no less – that’s the highest compliment that I can give the Fey Folio: it makes the fey frightening again.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fey Folio: Clans of the Fey
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The Genius Guide to the Time Thief
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/26/2010 18:18:44
Time. Some people say time is like a river, flowing swift and sure and only in one direction. But I have seen The Genius Guide to the Time Thief, and I can tell you, they are wrong. Come, and I will tell you a review such as none you have ever heard…

It’s obvious where the inspiration for the time thief comes from, and if you’ve recognized it, then you’ll have a pretty good idea what to expect here. The time thief is a character who is able to manipulate the flow of time around herself to speed up their attacks, undo their failures, and other temporal tricks.

A twenty-level base class for the Pathfinder role-playing game, the basic construction of the class follows the pattern laid out by previous Super Genius Games’ new classes; roughly half of the time thief’s abilities are preset, while the other half lets you choose from a list of available talents (a la the rogue), with said list expanding around 10th level. It’s a great design to allow flexibility in how PCs develop their character while still maintaining structure and balance in what the class offers.

A medium BAB progress, d8 Hit Die class, the time thief’s chief abilities revolve around having a number of “motes” to spend to power many of her time-based class abilities. These motes are moments of her own future, little ones that she won’t miss, stolen from their rightful place in the flow of time and brought back to now when she needs them. Whether adding a bonus to an attack roll or speeding up time to self-heal her wounds, the class’s basic powers are fairly well-grounded in existing mechanics, but often have a time-related spin put on them.

It’s around 5th level when the time thief really starts to break out the wild stuff, though. At that point, she gains “aevum,” which are basically super-motes from specific, important moments in time. Hence, they power greater effects, such as damaging a target with concentrated age, increasing her speed up to “bolt time,” or other dramatic powers. Combined with advanced talents kicking in at 10th level, and suddenly your time thief can pull off some very impressive stunts.

It’s clear that the designers had some fun with this product, as they can’t help but drop references to other movies and other media for names of powers. Back to the Future, Time Runner, Time After Time, I had to take a time out from all of the titles being dropped. Still, it’s part and parcel of the Super Genius package, along with the afterword that discusses using the time thief in your game. I liked how this section characterized the time thief as being an “anti-monk” for how it was an oft-chaotic, undisciplined character who used external factors to get by.

There’s also a short sidebar near the book’s end thanking Veronic F. for modeling for the book, and it’s here that this review finally stops ignoring the elephant in the room – or rather, the vixen – that is its artwork.

If you hadn’t already noticed from its preview, this book doesn’t have illustrations per se (notwithstanding the background of the cover image). Instead, there’s a series of photos of a sexy blonde, the aforementioned Veronic – clad in a skimpy garb; basically a bikini with a half-mask, weapons, and some other ornamentation. Including the cover, there are a half-dozen pictures of her throughout the book’s ten pages, which is an impressive ratio overall.

I’ve heard some people grumble about the use of a live model here instead of drawings, either being uncomfortable with such blatant cheesecake, or because they find the Veronic’s pictures to be lacking in context with the product’s theme, making them pretty but pointless. This latter point, however, ignores how her costume plays to a “fantasy Arabia” theme, which plays perfectly towards the book’s major inspiration.

Likewise, it also deserves mention that Veronic is an alias of porn star and model Jenny Poussin, who in the last few months has earned her gamer cred for not only playing Pathfinder, but also taking pictures of herself dressed up as her last several characters. Hence, her appearance here as the iconic time thief is her and the SGG guys winking at their readers who’re in the know. Needless to say, I really got a kick out of this easter egg, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

But back on topic, the book readily acknowledges that the time thief base class moves outside the usual series of party roles covered by most classes. Not a martial combatant or spellcaster, not a skill monkey or healer, the time thief has a group of powers that provide a somewhat eclectic cavalcade of offensive, defensive, and utility powers, all related by their theme. It’s a great change of pace for a player who wants to step outside the usual boundaries of class functionality. I’d heartily recommend checking out the time thief – both the class and the pictures – you’ll have a good time.

Time. Some people say time is like a river, flowing swift and sure and only in one direction. But I have seen The Genius Guide to the Time Thief, and I can tell you, they are wrong. Come, and I will tell you a review such as none you have ever heard…

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Genius Guide to the Time Thief
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Encounters Series 5: Succubus Seduction
Publisher: Corvus Lunaris Ltd
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/22/2010 14:13:05
Ah, the succubus. A sex-symbol from time immemorial, she’s also a warning to those who would readily fornicate, since she takes your soul if you lie with her. Such imagery, painted in the broadest strokes, lends itself very well to any sort of genre, setting, or game, since it deals with one of people’s most fundamental desires and the dangers therein. Given that, it’s no surprise that a succubus is the primary antagonist for Corvus Lunaris Ltd.’s Encounter Series 5: Succubus Seduction.

A short adventure for 3.5, the product is really more of a side-trek than a fully-fledged adventure. It revolves around a succubus stirring up mayhem inciting class warfare between merchants and nobles, and attempting to seduce – or barring that, kill – a young man who’s trying to quell the trouble she’s raising. The PC’s just happen to be in town as she’s getting ready to make her last attempt on the hapless NPC’s virtue/life.

Succubus Seduction comes across as a very home-spun product, both in presentation and execution. For example, the PDF has no bookmarks or illustrations apart from the pencil-drawn cover. The text isn’t confusing, but feels fairly choppy; things such as the flow of the adventure, NPC stat blocks, and what NPCs say when you talk to them are all in their own separate sections, instead of being listed together. Some people may enjoy having everything separated like that, but I’d prefer that such materials be grouped together.

I do have to give the adventure some props for having a section that deals with divination magic. Again, the advice it provides here is fairly self-evident, such as telling us that if the PCs use detect evil, the succubus has a moderate aura of evil…unless she has a ring of mind shielding. Thanks guys, I didn’t realize that.

The map of the inn where the succubus works in disguise isn’t anything to write home about either. Found at the end of the book, it just looks like something made in a basic paint program, being laid out with wire frames and a small key to indicate what frames are what furniture. It doesn’t even have a grid or other scale laid out.

Succubus Seduction isn’t a bad adventure, per se, but it suffers from a thin plot and poor presentation. A lot could have been done to turn this around if the contents of this file were changed up and put forward in a more convenient and attractive-to-view manner. But it doesn’t do that, and it suffers for it. Ultimately, much like the eponymous succubus in this adventure, Succubus Seduction really needs to up its sexiness to make itself more appealing to buy and run.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Encounters Series 5: Succubus Seduction
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