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Islands of Plunder: Tarin's Crown
Islands of Plunder: Tarin's Crown
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Ponyfinder - Campaign Setting
Publisher: Silver Games LLC
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/13/2014 16:19:35
Crossovers are something I’ve always enjoyed, and that’s doubly true for bringing characters from my favorite media into role-playing games. There’s an undeniable joy in being able to represent your favorite characters from comics, movies, and television in your campaign.

Said characters usually tend to be superheroes or the cast of various anime, in my experience. While I knew that there were plenty of fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic who fell outside of the show’s target demographic, I wouldn’t have thought that there’d be many Pathfinder fans among them, let alone enough to warrant an attempt to bring the former into the latter.

The existence of Silver Games’s Ponyfinder Campaign Setting is a testament to just how wrong I was. While unofficial (in that it doesn’t reference any of MLP:FiM’s intellectual property), this is still THE book for playing ponies in Pathfinder. Let’s take a look and see how well it brings the show to your tabletop.

Before we go any further though, a disclaimer: at the time of this writing, I’ve seen just over a dozen episodes of MLP:FiM (and read the show’s Wikipedia entry). As such, while I have a basic grasp on what it is this book is trying to showcase, there’s a good chance that I’m missing some of the finer points; if you’re a hardcore pony fan, then keep in mind that I may be overlooking something notable from later in the show.

I also need to take a moment to talk about the book’s artwork. I’ve seen plenty of first-offerings from new companies that were clearly operating on a shoe-string art budget, and wow was that not the case here. Ponyfinder is a book that’s resplendent with full-color art! Immediately after the colorful covers is a two-page map of the Everglow campaign world, drawn in a very bright style that makes it pop off the page. Moreover, the interior pages are all set on backgrounds reminiscent of the main Pathfinder books, being lightly-colored in the center of each page but slightly darkening towards the edges, where there are subtle designs in the background.

But far more notable than that are the character illustrations. The book is absolutely stuffed with colorful images of ponies (and other races). These illustrations are remarkably talented, and more than once I found myself smiling at the adorable pictures. Visually, this book knows exactly what to show to its fans.

Of course, all of this art means that the book is about 80 megabytes in size for 120 pages. Personally, my computer had no issues with displaying the images or scrolling through, but that might be an issue for some readers. Moreover, that makes the lack of a printer-friendly version all the more notable. This is similarly true with the book’s lack of search options – the table of contents isn’t hyperlinked, for example, nor are there any PDF bookmarks for ease of navigation. Still, the text is copy-and-paste enabled, so overall the book’s technical achievements are something of a mixed bag.

But enough about that, what about the ponies? Very cogently, the book opens with the first thing most readers will want to see: rules for pony characters.

Presented as a type of fey, full PC racial information is given for standard earth ponies. Smartly, the book doesn’t retread the same ground for other pony types, presenting breeds such as unicorns and pegasi with alternate racial traits, rather than presenting full stat racial stat blocks again and again.

If it had stopped with just the basic three types of ponies, that probably would have been enough for many, if not most, fans. But I have to give Ponyfinder props here – it went the extra mile and then some: there are over a half-dozen other pony breeds presented next, ranging from gem ponies to sea horses to zebras and more!

It doesn’t stop at just mechanics either, there’s a good page and a half of descriptive text regarding the pony race, and each breed has several paragraphs of description. Humorously, the book also discusses the mechanics of a race that can use their forelegs in a somewhat arm-like manner, but lacks fingers (hint: it’s not nearly as burdensome as it sounds – after all, the ponies on the show get along without fingers just fine). There’s also several paragraphs given to describing pony members of each class (although sub-classes such as ninja and samurai are ignored, as is the inquisitor, rather oddly).

A series of pony-specific mechanics follow, including two bloodlines (e.g. Unification, which is focused around bringing the pony tribes together), several class archetypes (ever wondered how a pony would be a gunslinger?), pony-specific evolutions for an eidolon, and quite a few feats for ponies. The last section is of specific note, as it’s here that we see a lot of the more notable aspects of the show brought into game form: a unicorn levitating items with her horn, for example, is a short feat-chain here, as is the way pegasi physically push clouds around, etc.

That’s not the end of it, as the book then moves on to seven other non-pony races that live in the world, such as griffons, sun cats, phoenix wolves, and others. Again, full racial information is presented alongside a discussion of their society, alignment, relationships, etc. Each even has a few (usually just under a half-dozen) race-specific feats presented.

That was the book’s first major section. While it was largely mechanics with a generous dose of expository writing, the second takes a more balanced approach between fluff and crunch. It opens, for example, with the eight gods of the pony pantheon. Deities such as the Sun Queen, the Night Mare, and Princess Luminance are all familiar shout-outs here. We also receive the height/weight and aging tables for the races in the previous chapter (information that I thought for sure would have been overlooked – kudos to the authors there).

I was quite pleased to see rules for ponies as animal companions and familiars presented next. That’s because having ponies as prominent, PC-focused NPCs like these is a great gateway to seeing how well ponies can work in your party if your group is unsure about the idea. Finally, a few optional rules (mostly in regards to how much realism you want regarding how well ponies can manipulate objects) are given.

Everything so far has been high-quality work, but it was the next chapter that truly sold me on Ponyfinder. This section, which highlights the timeline of Everglow, the campaign world, is where the book truly comes into its own.

A relatively young world (it’s entire recorded history spans less than 750 years), Everglow’s history is covered in three broad sections. These are the early days when the Pony Empire was just beginning, the height of the Empire, and after its fall (the latter presented as the default option). After giving us a timeline, each era’s major events are overviewed. Interestingly, the book then presents major factions active in each era (including faction traits) and several era-exclusive rules, such as breeds that are found primarily during that era and no other.

What grabbed me about this section was the tone that it presented. Rather than rigidly sticking to the (almost naively) optimistic tenor of the show, Ponyfinder does a truly excellent job of presenting the ponies as living in a more nuanced world. This isn’t a setting that pretends that everything can be solved with friendship – there are differences of opinion with no clear resolution (e.g. was the early expansion of the Empire the work of a unifier or a conqueror?), wars with evil ponies, and an overall sense of poignancy as the ponies have realized that their best days are behind them with the death of their great Empire, with no clear idea about what that means for them or what they should do about it.

For that alone, I admit that I’m very impressed with Ponyfinder. It’s can be tough to admit that the tenor of the source material needs to changed when changing how it’s presented; actually pulling off such a change without completely alienating the original feeling it evoked is even trickier. But this book pulled it off. I think that the best example of this is the Denial of Destiny feat found in this chapter, which represents a pony that has voluntarily scarred her Brand of Destiny (e.g. her cutie mark) off of her flank, representing her rejection of the role in life that the gods have chosen for her in favor of one she’s chosen for herself. That’s the sort of mature take on a familiar subject that elevates Ponyfinder above simply aping the conventions of MLP:FiM.

Following this are roughly twenty pages that outline the various locations of Everglow, along with several ponies (and groups of ponies) of note. I do wish we’d seen some stat blocks here, as there are no NPC listings to be found, and this would have been a perfect place for them. While I can see the advantage of not setting levels for specific NPCs (such as the Imperial Queen), it’s better to have them and decide not to use them, than to want them and find that you need to make them from scratch.

Several pages of adventure hooks (covering each of the world’s eras) are presented before we are given a chapter full of new mechanics. Here’s where you’ll find equipment meant specifically to be held in the mouth, for example, along with things like the “elements of destiny” magic items, a spell to make hooves sticky (and so grip things better), and quite a few starting traits (including ones specific to certain times and locations).

The book closes out with a bestiary, and while nothing here was bad it felt like something of an afterthought. The deeptide horse has no descriptive text, for instance, and the vanguard inevitable, with its emphasis on punishing liars and oathbreakers, doesn’t feel like its breaking any new ground. It’s a slightly weak ending for the book, though one that’s easy enough to overlook.

I should also take a moment to mention that a few errors did crop up throughout the book, though they were rarely anything more than minor. For example, the alternate racial traits for zebra ponies didn’t have a -2 ability modifier (which every other race had and so I assume was an oversight), or that the deity entries had their domains and subdomains all listed in the same line, rather than separating them.

What was more notable were several areas that a Pathfinder aficionado would likely look at as a missed opportunity. While nothing was lost, per se, by not doing so, there were several areas that could have benefited from additional Pathfinder rules. The various pony racial stats don’t have costs in Race Points (from the Advanced Race Guide) for example, nor do the gods have inquisitions listed (from Ultimate Magic). While the factions do have faction traits, I wonder if they could have benefited from full faction rules (from the Faction Guide), or if the towns listed could have had – rather than just their alignment, government type, and population breakdown – full community stat blocks (from the GameMastery Guide or Ultimate Campaign). Certainly, the fact that the Imperial Queen was an earth pony who became an alicorn is reason enough to create an alicorn mythic path (from Mythic Adventures).

I want to reiterate that I don’t hold any of these exclusions against the book; it’s just that I’m cognizant that it could have presented more than it did. Still, when the worst thing you can say about a book is that it left you wanting more, that’s not too bad a criticism.

The material that is in here though is excellent for what it presents; enough so that I’d call this a 4.5-star book (rounded down). The coverage of the source material is not only thorough, but is evocative of what’s presented in MLP:FiM while still being suitable for a Pathfinder campaign setting. While it seems like a stretch to bridge that gap, Ponyfinder successfully straddles the divide and keeps one hoof planted firmly in each world. That’s something that anypony, er, anybody can appreciate.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ponyfinder - Campaign Setting
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[PFRPG] - Potion Details Generator
Publisher: Ennead Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/13/2013 11:43:46
When gamers think of crafting an excellent campaign, we tend to think of grand sweeping epics that strike major archetypes and tell compelling stories. While that’s not untrue, it misses out on the fact that excellence is often found in details; that the little things are often what bring a game world to life. One of the aspects of these little things are the nature of “mundane” magic items – anyone, for example, can chug a healing potion and move on to the next encounter. But it’s something else again to have any details about that potion, what it smells like or what sort of container it’s in.

That’s an area that Ennead Games fills in with its Potion Details Generator.

Sixteen pages long, the Potion Details Generator is just what it sounds like, providing you with various details for your game’s magic potions (and, as the book notes, these apply just as well to oils too). It does this through a series of tables you can roll randomly on, allowing you to generate everything from the color of a potion to the details of its label (if any) and quite a bit more.

The book divides itself into roughly four sections – the first two being the details of the potion’s container, and then the details of the potion itself (not the game effect, but the sensory descriptions of it). Each of these has several sub-sections with tables for rolling up various aspects of the section in question. The container section, for example, has you roll for the material it’s made of, the shape of it, the size, the label, any marking or decorations it might have, and the cap. The potion itself has similar tables for things like the color, smell, taste, thickness, etc.

It’s not stated outright, but the implication that you should just skip a particular table if that aspect of the potion isn’t applicable (e.g. it has no label) is fairly clear.

It’s after these sections that we start getting into the purely optional materials; here we get things that actually affect the game mechanics of the potion. The first of these are two optional details: the potion’s freshness (e.g. the older it is, the less effective it is) and any lag time it may have before the effects kick in.

Side effects come next. A huge table of a hundred possible effects, these mix together mechanical effects with flavor effects. You could have a potion that causes the drinker’s eyes to glow as easily as you could have one that gives you a +2 to initiative. There’s no real rhyme or reason here.

Quirks follow this. The major difference between a quirk and a side effect is explained in the book’s introduction, and tells us that whereas the latter affects the drinker, the former is an odd quality of the potion itself, and has no real effect on the drinker. So here, for example, we’ll find results (on another table with a hundred possibilities) such as the potion container shakes and vibrates until it’s opened, or that the potion turns to dust when drunk (but still has its effect).

The book closes out with an appendix containing three expanded tables for colors, smells, and tastes – each put into a d100 table rather than a d20 from the preceding section.

Overall, the Potion Details Generator is a book that offers quite a bit of development for such an easily-overlooked area. Everything that’s here is useful, and indeed can quite stimulate the imagination of an innovative GM…which sort of leads me to my major complaint about the book, that being what’s not here.

Leaving aside a few technical details (the book has no declaration of Open Game Content nor Product Identity, and the Section 15 of the OGL has no statement for the Potion Details Generator itself), and that the materials for the potion container could have at least suggested a GP value for them (along with a multiplier for the size of the container), the book’s major issue is the omission of the ideas that spring to mind from what’s here.

While it’s tempting to just assume that magic is chaotic enough that every potion will have its details determined randomly, there’s a lot of potential here for fleshing out the game world by making certain details be consistent with certain criteria. Maybe all of the potions produced by a famous archmage are colored deep red, for example. Or maybe all healing potions smell like lilacs. Ideas like these aren’t discussed, and that’s a shame, because that’s where the greatest potential for world-building is to be found – not in the random details of a single potion, but in the consistent details for particular categories of them. That’s where, I think, the book’s offerings are strongest, but this strength is muted because it doesn’t bring this idea up at all.

That said, if a book’s greatest weakness is that it doesn’t take full advantage of its strength, that’s still a comparatively minor weakness. An enterprising GM will still pick up on this immediately, and use what’s here to help generate details for categories of potions, rather than singular ones. The Potion Details Generator is a great tool for helping to flesh out an easily-overlooked area of your campaign. I just wish it told you how to get the most use out of it.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
[PFRPG] - Potion Details Generator
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Wondrous Creations 7: Monstrous
Publisher: gannet games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/03/2013 19:58:03
It’s a sad fact that monsters get the short end of the stick where magic items in Pathfinder are concerned. It’s not that most monsters can’t necessarily use most magic items, per se. Rather, it’s that none of the magic items in the Core Rules – or even in the expansions – speak to monstrous abilities specifically. Sure, anybody can use an item that boosts their Charisma or gives them a higher AC, but where are the items to protect against channeled energy or help heal constructs?

The answer is that they’re found in Wondrous Creations 7: Monstrous, from Gannet Games. This book presents almost four dozen new magic items, all of which put the monsters first. As the title indicates, all of these are wondrous items, all written in the familiar Pathfinder format.

In terms of presentation the book is a spartan affair. There are no illustrations of any kind to be found here. Each of the items receives a sentence or two of description, however, so the text does help to flesh out how each item looks in addition to how it functions.

Said functions are fairly multifaceted, as they vary widely in what sorts of being can use them. Some, for example, are targeted at very narrow ranges, such as the cohesion sphere, which stops oozes from splitting when damaged. Others can be used by almost any sort of creature, such as the pouch of usability, which contains a small magic item that affects whatever’s carrying the pouch (e.g. so a naga can put a ring in there, and receive its effects).

While a few are specialized in being used against creatures of a certain type, the vast majority of these are made to abet monsters. A few have universal enough applicability that anyone can find some use for them, such as medusa syrup, which turns the gear of a petrified creature back to its normal state, while leaving the creature itself still petrified.

Overall, what I enjoyed most about this product was the element of verisimilitude it presents for a Pathfinder game world. Monstrous spellcasters that make items are going to inevitably make some that are specialized towards their needs; it’s here that we get to see such creations. Armor that’s designed to aid flying creatures, for example, or goggles designed to let creatures restrict the always-on nature of their gaze, are something you’d think would be more common. And of course, GMs will get a mildly sadistic kick out of their PCs slaying the monsters only to find magic items that they can’t use.

Show your PCs that there’s more magic in the world than that of men and elves. Some wondrous items are monstrous in what they do.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wondrous Creations 7: Monstrous
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The Deluxe Guide to Fiend Summoning and Faustian Bargains
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2013 15:23:20
The nature of power is that it’s hard to obtain, particularly if you don’t already have it. Because of that, the idea of finding a shortcut to gaining the things you want without having to put in the requisite effort required is a tempting one. If such a measure can be found (and if it works), it’s also virtually always incredibly dangerous.

Occult lore has long stated that such a shortcut is to summon and bind spirits to do your bidding. Pathfinder has similar traditions, though unlike the real world ones these actually function (within the context of the game world). Of course, that doesn’t mean that they’re actually effective in their function.

The problem is that game balance defeats the concept of a quick and easy path to power. Worse, since only spellcasters can summon outsiders to begin with, the fact that they can already use powerful spells sort of defeats the purpose…especially when said outsiders can’t seem to offer anything except “service.” What good is that if they’re just offering to kill things for you (as though adventurers aren’t already well-versed in killing things) or use their spell-like abilities (when spellcasters can already use comparable magic)?

In other words, the entire idea of the Faustian bargain is one that, simply put, doesn’t work in Pathfinder. That’s the problem that the Necromancers of the Northwest set out to fix.

Having just read The Deluxe Guide to Fiend Summoning and Faustian Bargains, I can tell you that they succeeded wildly. Let’s look further and see what this book conjures up.

The book opens, in true Necromancers of the Northwest style, with a few pages of fiction that sets the tone for what’s to come. Following this is an introduction that lays out some of the problems with bargaining with fiends in Pathfinder, such as the balance issues mentioned above, and the general lack of details regarding exactly what the fiend wants in return (e.g. “so why did the vrock want 7,200 gp anyway?” “No idea, maybe he wants to make a sword +2 back home?”).

The Guide lays out a four-step process by which making a deal with a fiend is done. First, the fiend in question must be researched. While it’s easy enough to say that this could be boiled down to a few Knowledge checks, this section denotes the different aspects that the research can cover. Just the fiends name alone isn’t enough, you also need its sigil, and after that you can research various lore about the fiend that will be helpful when summoning and binding it (e.g. it’s tempted by lamb’s blood, but repulsed by roses that bloomed under full moonlight, for example). Of course, this is assuming you didn’t make a mistake in your research…

This leads directly to the summoning part of the process. The summons is fairly difficult to do, as you not only have to beat the DC to summon the fiend, but here is where your efforts to make your ritual elaborate can really help or hurt you, as extra steps made to attract the fiend’s attention translate into bonuses on the attempt.

One thing I quite enjoyed about this part was the repeated notation that the effort expended by the summoner in acquiring and performing these additional steps is a very important part of the process. For example, a summons that requires a human sacrifice would provide a negligible bonus if you kidnapped some 0-level drunk off the streets and killed him in his sleep (or killed a mook in combat that you were going to kill anyway). Whereas going out alone at night and single-handedly defeating a foe who is your fighting equal, without killing him, so that you can drag him back and sacrifice him in a ritual manner is going to earn you a much bigger bonus.

This was a recurring theme throughout the book; various actions can get you specific numerical modifiers, but it’s the effort behind them (and, in some cases, the intent) that make these actions qualify. Trying to cheat the fiend by fulfilling the letter of a bargain without really working at it (or using a loophole) will at best get you nothing, and at worst have dire consequences.

Assuming you manage to perform the summoning (and it’s possible to not only fail, but fail with a severe backlash), then you need to bind the fiend. This is essentially a flipside to the summoning, and is presumed to be researched alongside the summons. If the fiend fails its save against your binding check, then it’s bound (and, interestingly, can’t directly lie, though it tries to bend the truth), and you can now start the bargaining.

The actual process of bargaining is given more of an overview than anything else; instead of focusing on the mechanics for cutting a deal, the book takes a surprisingly in-depth look at the things that a fiend can do for a summoner, and methods of payment that fiends will accept in exchange.

This is where it gets interesting. Fiendish “boons” are quantified into seven categories (such as war, magic, lust, death, etc.) each with three tiers, and each tier having two or three specific books. Different fiends have access to different categories at different tiers that they can grant, alongside a “universal” category that all fiends can grant. (Helpfully, the book notes that fiends can only use these in service to another, and not at will, as they’re powered by the efforts of the summoner; it’s little things like this that made me really enjoy the book.)

These boons run quite the gamut in terms of what’s offered. Virtually all of them avoid being simple retreads of spells (though some refer to spell effects as a shorthand for what they can do). For example, the death 1 book Attract Accident makes it so that the next time a specific creature is threatened with a critical hit, the crit is automatically confirmed and the multiplier is increased by 1…or, if the target doesn’t get into combat within a week, he’ll somehow run afoul of an accident (e.g. a trap) with a CR equal to one-fourth of the fiend’s. Likewise, the Knowledge 3 book Pierce the Veil of Secrecy allows the fiend and its summoner to (make a check to) defeat ANY sort of magical or supernatural concealment effects on a specific target.

Boons are, needless to say, powerful. But they have a cost associated with them…literally, as there are point values for each book. These values come into play in the next section: Payment.

Payment can take many forms (the book says that most fiends would accept most of the forms listed there, though I’d recommend that GMs determine that fiends prefer some much more than others), but all of them are fairly painful for the summoner to part with. Each payment has a cost associated with it, from wealth (the least accepted form of payment, and which has strict guidelines for how much can be used) to your memories (e.g. feats and skill) to human sacrifice, to your own soul. Reneging on these is also discussed, but usually to say it’s exceptionally difficult to pull off. Let the buyer beware, here.

Of course, this wouldn’t be very helpful without some delineation of what fiends could grant what books. The book briefly discusses using existing creatures here, talking about the differences between using specific creatures versus generic ones (e.g. researching a particular succubus versus one in particular), leaving that largely up to the GM. It then presents two long tables of virtually all of the evil outsiders in the three Pathfinder Bestiaries, one for the calling DC for each outsider, and one for the types of boons they can grant.

All of this takes up about a fourth of the book.

The remaining three-quarters of the Guide is where the authors really outdid themselves. Presented there are seventy-two “new” fiends that can be summoned. I put “new” in quotation marks here because these fiends are actually drawn from the Lesser Key of Solomon, a real occult book of demon summoning which also had seventy-two demons described. Each of them is not only given a unique stat block here (with Challenge Ratings ranging from 5 to 25) complete with unique abilities, but also unique boons that only they can grant (in addition to the boons presented earlier). That’s in addition to a description of their background, their home realm, and specifics that can be found in researching them.

The authors even take the time to talk about these entities in contrast with existing planar conventions, discussing various options that can be used to make these fit in with or stand apart from “traditional” demons and devils, etc. The fact that they all have a new subtype with new abilities certainly helps.

Overall, The Deluxe Guide to Fiend Summoning and Faustian Bargains is one of those books that sets itself into the “required” category of game supplements. Not only does this book set a standard in an area of the game that’s always been glossed over, but it pulls double-duty by presenting a plethora of new monsters, which can be used specifically for summonings or otherwise presented as new fiendish antagonists. I didn’t even get to some of the book’s smaller offerings, like the handy one-page sidebar that condenses the rules for research, calling, binding, and bargaining, or the rules on fiendish possession (it’s a form of payment), using planar binding spells in conjunction with these summons, and quite a few more.

The Deluxe Guide to Fiend Summoning and Faustian Bargains brings a fiendish amount of great new material to your game. And you don’t even have to sell your soul for it.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Deluxe Guide to Fiend Summoning and Faustian Bargains
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Russ Morrissey's 1d100 Technobabbles
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/07/2013 10:44:43
Ah, technobabble, the duct tape of science fiction – when you need to tie an action and a resolution, and hope that people don’t examine the connector too closely, this is what you use. After all, it’s not important that people know what “multi-modal reflection sorting” or “de-polarizing the phase discriminators” actually is; what’s important is that it’s an excuse to move the scene along.

This can often be the case in sci-fi RPGs, where the PCs need to make a particular skill check regarding some futuristic system. When you’re developing a cure for an alien plague, for example, which sounds more fun? Saying that you’ve made the skill roll, or saying that you’ve successfully utilized an astrophysical tetryon mutation? That’s where this product comes in.

Russ Morrissey’s 1d100 Technobabbles is pretty self-explanatory in its title. The brief introduction quickly takes us to the table of technobabbles, which are laid out in no particular order that I can see. Most of these appear to be nouns – that is, these are things that you use, rather than things that you do. Of course, that’s not really a barrier to a creative player, since it’s easy enough to turn a “photonic quantum disturbance” into “I’m disturbing their quantum photons,” etc.

Other than that minor presentation issue, what’s here is, well, about as plausible as any other technobabble you’ve ever heard. More relevant is that it can be surprisingly difficult to come up with good technobabble, especially on the fly. It’s instinctual to want to make sense of things, so coming up with nonsense that sounds at least somewhat plausible can be surprisingly difficult. Having it done here for you can be more helpful than you’d think.

Pick this up and start working on your phased dampening signal today!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Russ Morrissey's 1d100 Technobabbles
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Publisher Reply:
Verbs - good suggestion! I'll make sure the sequel contains verbs - manipulate the ambient frequency interference and redirect the nucleonic quantum phenomenon!
Prestigious Roles: Long Striders (PFRPG)
Publisher: Amora Game
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/22/2013 15:47:17
Despite some greater focus than its predecessor gave it, mounted combat is still something of an underrepresented aspect of Pathfinder. Part of this is due to simple issues of logistics, e.g. it’s hard to take your horse down a set of steps and into a dungeon. That said, little attention is also given to areas like tracking enemies over long distances, or having groups of mounted characters who fight together.

Prestigious Roles: Long Striders, from Amora Games, attempts to put some greater focus back on those latter options.

The long strider is a five-level prestige class, meant to be taken at about 7th-level, based on the skill requirements. I personally would have lowered this to about 5th, since the +5 BAB requirement assures that druids and similar characters would lag slightly behind while rewarding mount-focused martial characters (e.g. cavaliers) that wanted to become long striders.

The class requires that you already have an animal companion or mount of some sort, though it need not be one that can be ridden. This latter point is solved in the first level of the prestige class, as it says that you discard an existing animal companion if it can’t be ridden, gaining a more appropriate one.

The long strider (which refers to the character; confusingly, the mount is referred to simply as “strider”), gains a number of abilities – two per level, and three at 1st-level – that enable him and his mount to focus on, as a theme, hunting. Being able to run for hours at a time without tiring, using their Reflex saves for each other, moving at full speed with no Stealth penalty, the long strider is fairly tight in its focus, and players who want to play a sort of “mounted bounty hunter” will find this prestige class very much to their liking.

The major drawback of the class is that its narrow focus cuts both ways; several of the abilities here make very specific presumptions about the type of mount and the type of character being played. For example, one class ability gives the mount the scent ability – if it already had that ability, you gain nothing. Another ability grants a bonus to range when using thrown weapons while mounted. Don’t use thrown weapons? Too bad, you gain nothing then. Being able to do a quick (dis)mount when you and your mount are very different sizes is nice, but doesn’t help you if you and your mount are only one size category apart to begin with.

It’s these limitations that present the greatest hindrance to the class. If you work within the scope it already presents, there’s a lot here for you; deviate even slightly, however, and you’ll start to lose out. It’s a shame that the class didn’t present some alternate options for those characters who had slightly different abilities than the ones outlined above – saying that if your mount already had scent then the range of its scent doubled, for example, would have seriously widened the versatility of what’s here.

That said, the class is still a good one for those who want what it offers. It eschews bland bonus feat options, for example, and each level offers a comparatively great amount of abilities, something wise since few of them contribute to combat directly. As it is, the long strider sets a great pace, but only if you can follow in its footsteps.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Prestigious Roles: Long Striders (PFRPG)
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Amazing Races: Drow!
Publisher: Abandoned Arts
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/08/2013 18:35:47
The drow have been archetypal ever since they were introduced back in First Edition, and it’s easy to see why. They took the mystique of that most captivating race, elves, and removed all restraints and inhibitions. Whereas we still think of elves as being Tolkien-esque beings of peace and harmony, drow put that stature towards selfish and violent ends. It’s hard not to be captivated by seeing what such a lack of restraint can do.

That’s a theme that’s served surprisingly well in Abandoned Arts’ Amazing Races: Drow.

The PDF here is a very short one, being four pages long with two pages of content, which is split between new feats, traits, alternate racial abilities, and a new archetype.

The four new feats are something of a mixed bag. I liked the teamwork feat, which grants you a bonus on attacks of opportunity for using aid another actions (since aid another actions desperately need more incentive), and the feat to allow characters with wild empathy to influence spiders was a nice touch also. However, the metamagic feat that let you add a dose of poison to a spell seemed a bit too highly-priced, increasing the spell level by two; I’d recommend changing that to one, since it specifically says the poison DC is reduced for every additional creature affected. Likewise, the Demonic Consular feat had a penalty in addition to its comparatively modest bonuses, which made it seem to be lacking, overall.

The drow traits were much the same. I did like the trait that granted a bonus specifically to convince a charmed creature to do something it didn’t want to, but even for traits that seemed specific. The trait that let you add hit points to demons that you summoned was better, though not nearly as much so as the one that granted you a bonus to attack other drow, simply because of how much of a traitor you are. But by far is the Wicked Pleasures trait, which lets you drag out a coup-de-grace against a creature, and in doing so earn bonuses to attack for a time (presumably for how much you enjoyed it).

The two alternate racial traits are better in presenting a very drow-specific theme. One bumps up your use of Stealth (a bonus and a re-roll), while the other grants two feats that are highly suited for treachery (though the Betrayer feat is incorrectly labeled as being in the APG; it’s actually in Ultimate Combat).

The malus is, as the name suggests, a wicked magus. It adds two new magus arcana abilities, one for inflicting bleeding wounds that resist magical healing, and another to use antipaladin cruelties. It trades its bonus feats for new spells that are anti-good in nature, which seems equitable, but it also gives away medium and heavy armor proficiency for once-per-day use of normal and major hexes. This is where I felt that the archetype fell down, since the use of armor (and being able to cast spells in it) is a pretty big benefit. A once-per-day ability is not worth the trade-off; I’d recommend allowing these to be used at will to make it more equitable.

Overall, the drow options here are quite flavorful for what they offer, though there are a few areas where things don’t quite hit the level they’re aiming for. Still, the ideas are clearly in the right place, even if the execution is imperfect. Nonetheless, those looking to make their drow a little more wicked should find some good options here.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Amazing Races: Drow!
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Class Expansions: The Unhorsed Cavalier [PFRPG]
Publisher: Interjection Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/02/2013 13:35:19
The raison d’etre of Third Edition, and by extension Pathfinder, is “options, not restrictions.” That is, you shouldn’t be bound by (relatively) narrow design ideologies when trying to make the character you want to make. So if your character necessarily uses a certain type of animal, it flies in the face of that credo, making the Pathfinder cavalier something of a design throwback.

That’s the reasoning put forth by Class Expansions: The Unhorsed Cavalier, by Interjection Games.

The book offers four cavalier-specific archetypes that break the dependence a cavalier has on its horse (or similar animal). Unfortunately, the book stumbles almost immediately out of the gate on its quest to make the cavalier mount-free, largely due to not taking complete advantage of the nature of class archetypes.

This is fairly explicitly showcased in the first such archetype, the attended knight. This archetype trades in the cavalier’s mount for a squire, a low-level commoner who acts as the personal valet for the cavalier. I did admire how the nature of the squire was very well fleshed-out, insofar as saying what its class and levels are, what gear it has, what special abilities it gains by virtue of being a squire, and even how this interacts with the Leadership feat. Indeed, virtually everything was covered here, with one notable exception.

That exception is everything else that’s mount-based about the cavalier class. That is, while this trades in the class-based mount that the cavalier gains, the cavalier still has the class’s Expert Trainer ability, which is a lot less useful now. That can also be said for the cavalier’s charge abilities (Cavalier’s Charge, Mighty Charge, and Supreme Charge), which are still part of the class under this archetype, and yet have far less relevance when there’s no inherent mount granted to the character.

This is an issue that plagues virtually every archetype in this book. The longshanks, for example, gains a few level-based abilities that make using armor easier (though holding off Endurance until 11th level struck me as a fairly late time to gain such a minor benefit), all for trading in the mount. More could have been done in recognition of the need to also trade in the aforementioned class abilities.

The seeker of all knowledge archetype is perhaps the one archetype here that doesn’t fall prey to this. Indeed, this archetype doesn’t mandate giving up the mount at all, because it’s focused entirely around altering the benefits gained from a specific cavalier order (the Order of the Tome). This is an intriguing idea, as orders necessarily have an in-game presence, and so alterations to the benefits have built-in flavor changes, and likely could have been the basis for its own product (albeit with more such archetypes). Why it’s here is a bit of a head-scratcher, save for it being cavalier-focused.

The wind-kissed knight archetype is the last one, focused on the equally intriguing idea of reining in excessive use of magic. The focus of the class admits that there’s no real agreement on what exactly constitutes that, which offers more role-playing potential than I think is covered here. That said, it falls into the same trap, giving two abilities (staggered across a few levels) in exchange for the mount…abilities that I think are slightly too weak for what they give up (e.g. wind-kissed blade offering only a single spell that can be used once per day, changed only when gaining a level? Not very much at all).

Overall, there’s a great idea here that simply isn’t being executed as fully as it could be. This product’s heart is in the right place, but in trying to dismount from its horse, it ends up falling off the saddle.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Class Expansions: The Unhorsed Cavalier [PFRPG]
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Shot down in flames
Publisher: Arkania Studios
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/26/2013 11:06:18
I should start this review by pointing out that I’m something of a philistine, where music is concerned. I don’t know anything about the technical aspects of music, and imperfectly deconstruct something that I’ve heard enough to discuss it in any sort of practical context. Please keep that in mind as you read this review.

“Shot Down in Flames” is an instrumental track that’s just over four minutes in length. It starts out slow, with a rhythmic, repeating “crackling” noise that could conceivably be the sound of flames. Minor keyboard notes complement this intro, conveying a generally unsettled tone as the track begins. It helps to evoke a sense of immediate but passive anxiety – the sort of sense you’d get if you found yourself stuck in a bad place or situation, but weren’t in immediate danger.

This changes fairly quickly though, as the music adds a quick beat to the mix, increasing the tempo considerably, along with a synthesizer at roughly the one minute mark. I had mixed feelings about those parts of the song, as they add a much more active element to the feelings the music evokes.

Presumably, this is trying to convey a sense of urgency, that there’s an imminent threat to your situation. I can appreciate this, but as the track continues, I can’t help but wish that it had let there been a longer build-up with the slower music first, to let the tension build over time. As it is, the music does let the tempo wind back down in the last twenty seconds, but at that point it’s for a noticeable fade-out, and lacks the earlier emphasis.

To be fair, the sense of heightened threat throughout the majority of the music is done fairly well, but the techno-sounding beat used to do it seems to undercut the keyboard used at the beginning. It does create a rising tension, but I can’t help but feel that a slower use of minor chords to unsettle the listener would have been more effective. Still, this does help to create the sense of a narrative, so I can’t find too much fault with the track.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shot down in flames
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SlaughterGrid
Publisher: Neoplastic Press
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/19/2013 11:29:42
I really didn’t want to go back here. When I reviewed the Teratic Tome, I mentioned that I was going to need some time to recover from the twisted works of the sinister fiend Rafael Chandler. These few months have not afforded me the requisite recuperation necessary, and yet with the release of his first adventure – the unsubtlely-named Slaughtergrid – someone has to step up to warn the role-playing world about the horrors found herein. As no one else has done so yet, it falls to me.

The book – which has amusingly changed its titular game system to Gateways & Golems – opens with, of all things, a soundtrack. Actually, “soundtrack” is the wrong word, as these were the songs (a hundred or more) the author listened to when writing the material, rather than being music keyed to specific areas in the game. That said, this is probably the first real warning of what you’re going to get here, as showcased by listings of November Doom’s “They Were Left To Die” or Deicide’s “Hang In Agony Until You’re Dead.”

A brief backstory is given for the module, and this is where I think Chandler’s sense of humor shows through brightest: the backstory in several places utilizes random tables to determine elements of what happened. For example, the immediate need to enter the dungeon is because (Table 5) entered and haven’t been heard from since.

There are some notes given on running the dungeon. At first these are the usual fare of random encounter tables and how much experience and treasure the PCs can expect to find if they survive. However, things start to become more complex when notes are given regarding the use of thieving skills (alternate if the percentages mean rolling high or rolling low), your chance of tricking the monsters (make a roll opposed by their Intelligence score), weaponizing ooze monsters, etc.

The fun here begins when you read the section on what happens when you die in the Slaughtergrid. See, the dungeon that is the Slaughtergrid was once a gigantic animated statue of a naked woman, used as a war weapon. It’s long since fallen apart, however, leaving only the anatomically-correct pelvic and lower-torso areas still intact. Leaving aside the issue of entering the dungeon (and yes, it’s exactly what you think), when you die in the Slaughtergrid, the dungeon will immediately give birth to a clone of you…though this involves rolling on the mutations table, which I can assure you you do not want to do.

A map of the general region around the Slaughtergrid is given, which I found to be a pleasant surprise. Divided into hexes, there are no rules for travel times or surprise given. Rather, each hex is simply given a paragraph of description. These are, in keeping with the themes of body-horror, mostly encounters with creatures intent on committing violence, often sadistic, on other creatures, often the PCs. For example, the Monocerous in hex 502 is looking for a virgin to impale so that it can devour said virgin’s genitals. The PCs can either bring it one in exchange for information about the nearby areas, or fight it.

The Slaughtergrid dungeon itself is a huge three-level dungeon, spanning several dozen rooms. Each room is given about one to three paragraphs description, all of it generalized for the GM (in other words, there’s no “boxed read-aloud” text). Most also have several bullet points describing the most noteworthy features of the rooms.

Personally, I didn’t care for the bullet point format here. I found it slightly off-putting for its offhanded style of notation. While it’s never difficult to put these notes into the proper context for their room, the lack of narrative context here makes them feel like they were designer’s notes added as-is, rather than trying to put them into a more naturally-flowing narrative. It’s a comparatively minor point, but it feels jarring to read.

It’s in the dungeon itself that the adventure lets loose in all of its mutilated glory. Here we get all sorts of foul creatures and circumstances, like the NPC who, when starving, committed suicide, was reborn, and then went back and ate his old body. Or the torso of a previous adventurer that’s been hollowed out and put on display. Or the polyp-gate that, when passed between, causes you to eject a random internal organ while having a vision of someone you love suffering a long and painful death.

The artwork, I should mention, is fairly sparse here. There are only a handful of drawings, all black and white, but all depict some of the more shocking scenes from the dungeon, such as an orc being tortured by a draugr (undead creature), the Progenitor (the “final boss” of the dungeon, which is a creature that’s largely a composite of horrific sexual imagery), and my personal favorite, Kaiva Grey-Nail, the living example of what happens if you die and are resurrected in the Slaughtergrid too many times (it’s hard to tell that she used to be human).

Following the dungeon proper, a small set of NPCs (or, if you prefer, replacement PCs) are given, along with some oddly-extensive tables for names (divided into those for commoners, nobles, and royalty).

The monsters used in the adventure are given last, and this is no small thing. There are over thirty monsters here, all of them new. However, I felt that their novelty was somewhat undercut by the lack of illustrations of any of them, and that their descriptive text was reduced to a handful of bullet points. I couldn’t tell you what a stygiac looks like, for example, or what it does or anything similar. Just that if it hits you you’ll be cursed for 1d20 minutes from 1d6 different curses. Given how awe- (and nightmare-)inspiring the Teratic Tome was, it’s keenly palpable that these creatures aren’t quite living up to the same level of terror, even if they are primarily meant to be taken in the context of the dungeon.

If you’re a fan of Neoplastic Press, you’ll find Slaughtergrid to be the fulfillment of the promise made by the Teratic Tome. The horrific monsters there none too subtly offered adventures based around themes of torture and mutilation; here we have the first such adventure to do just that. Whereas the monsters in the TT had the potential to ravage your PCs, here that potential is actualized. This adventure says “a meat grinder for level 2 characters” on its front cover, and it means it.

I’m giving the adventure four stars only because those bullet point notations irked me. In the dungeon they were mildly annoying, but for the monsters at the end the sheer minimalism of their presentation was a bit too much. I applaud that a mini-monster manual was included here, but if that’s going to be the case, it should be more than stat blocks and a bullet point or two.

Having said that, the dungeon, as well as the environs, is a panoply of horror just waiting to be unleashed on your characters. Those who venture into the Slaughtergrid will find gratuitous levels of perversity and evil waiting for them, where even death is no escape from the horror. It’s almost elegant in its depravity, and will leave its mark on your PCs, one way or the other.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
SlaughterGrid
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Publisher Reply:
I truly appreciate the review, Shane! Damned decent of you. Point taken about the bulleted descriptions -- that's not an idea I'll pursue in my next dungeon. Quite gratifying to see that all this brutality was well-received. I must say, this is the kind of review that compels one to work even harder on the next project. A thousand thanks!
Grey Alien Racial Guide
Publisher: Little Red Goblin Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/11/2013 11:03:13
Sometimes there’s an idea so awesome in its simplicity, you find yourself saying “now why didn’t I think of that?” That was the reaction I had to Little Red Goblin Games’s Grey Alien Racial Guide, a free mini-supplement for adding the “classic” grey alien to your Pathfinder game.

While the idea might initially seem like an odd one – after all, the Greys are usually thought of as the province of science fiction, travelling in technological spaceships and performing scientific experiments – it’s not that hard to see them in a fantasy setting. Leaving aside the issues that come with spaceships in a fantasy game, your average Pathfinder world has so many sentient species, many of them with origins in other planes of existence, that it’s not really disruptive to add the Greys into the mix.

The book is only four pages long (with one page for the OGL, though there’s no declaration of OGC or PI), it does a fairly good job of explaining why there might be Greys on your world. For example, many of them are colonists there to explore and study the world for several generations. Likewise, they’ve visited enough world and gathered enough data to know about the existence of gods and magic, so there’s no real issue with Grey clerics or wizards.

The Grey racial write-up is nicely balanced, giving them no greater or worse penalties than other standard races while still preserving a unique flavor for them, such as denoting how they’re used to fighting space-born monstrosities, and so gain a bonus to damaging aberrations. As a bonus, this notes their Race Point total (from the Advanced Race Guide).

Several favored class bonuses are presented, and while most of them were quite good (e.g. fractional bonuses to alchemist discoveries known) others were odd. For example, why gain fractional bonuses to conjuration (teleportation) spells for the wizard class? Given how few of those spells there are, I’m not sure that’s the best choice for a favored class bonus. Or how the fighter gains a bonus to damage with firearms…and yet there’s no favored class listing for gunslingers.

Two new class archetypes round out the book. The first is the cleric of the Supreme Ideal. This is mentioned in the flavor text as being the Grey version of the standard cleric; since they can’t quite bring themselves to worship deities, the closest they can come is to worship an idea, which is what this archetype represents. However, there’s little actual text regarding what this means in a practical context – as it is, the major changes are a restriction on their domains, and that their channeling grants a short-lived untyped bonus (or penalty) to an ability score(!). I’m not sure if that’s too powerful or not, though I suspect that the severe limit on its duration, and that it has to be the same score for everyone, will help out there.

The Star Explorer ranger archetype doesn’t have quite as much exposition, sadly. In fact, it’s little more than its mechanical changes, which require taking the planes as a favored terrain, and switching medium armor proficiency for firearms proficiency. Needless to say, much more could have been done here.

Overall, the central idea of this product, bringing the Greys into your high fantasy Pathfinder campaign, is one that’s handled surprisingly well. The exposition stumbles a little, and the mechanics could use some tightening, but overall this is an excellent starting point for bringing a well-known but rarely-used race into your game. Given that it’s free, there’s really no reason not to pick this up and add these bug-eyed little guys to your game world.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Grey Alien Racial Guide
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TOME: As Likely As A Goat Herding Fish
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/04/2013 14:15:19
It’s a truism that heroes are only as great as the monsters they overcome. The reverse of this, that monsters are only as monstrous as the heroes they face, isn’t quite as elegant an idea. Nevertheless, it does communicate the more elemental principle – for RPGs at least – that monsters are meant to be used in the course of a game.

To that end, the Tome of Monstrous Encounters series is an attempt to do just that for the creatures from the eponymous Tome of Monsters from 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming. This first entry in that series, As Likely As A Goat Herding Fish, from Purple Duck Games, showcases a simple encounter for a 1st-level party. It’s an interesting encounter, and simultaneously manages to showcase both the strengths and, at least in this first product, the weaknesses of the idea.

The adventure here is fairly straightforward, with roughly a page of text laying out the entirety of the premise and setup. A farming village sends the PCs to investigate the ramblings of their local “the end is night” doomsayer when the town cleric finds that his current prediction – that some sort of evil will descend on the town from a nearby forest – stands up to her divinations.

In the forest, the PCs find a group of caprians (goat-people; if you need help imagining that, think of catfolk, but with goats instead), herding a school of flying fish to a distant city for sale. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but they’re taking them right through the village’s farmland, and the voracious fish will devastate the town’s crops, something that the Chaotic Neutral goat-people don’t care about.

As noted above, all of this is laid out over roughly a page. The rest of the page count is devoted to giving stat blocks. The adventure is surprisingly forthcoming with these; there’s a settlement stat block given for the town (though oddly, it has no name, unless its inhabitants named it “Quiet Small Farming Village”), stats for the local doomsayer and the town cleric, as well as for the flying fish and the goat-people (including PC and NPC stats). While I’m fairly certain that they’re reprinted from other sources, there are also several new spells and even a new settlement quality to be found here as well.

It’s interesting to note that this adventure is nominally set on the Purple Duck Games campaign setting of Porphyra. I say “nominally” here because the game world uses neutral language in describing the setting – a single paragraph is dedicated to where this would be on their campaign world. At a casual glance, that’s all there is, but there’s more here that suggests their campaign world’s touch, such as how the human NPCs have a special racial trait (which is annoyingly referenced, but not expounded upon), and the eclectic nature of little things that the NPCs have, such as the caprians having a dictionary for the catfolk language, or the cleric having a “living steel heavy shield.”

While I can appreciate these little touches – they certainly give the adventure a very distinctive aspect that is completely in line with what I know of Porphyra – they fly in the face of the adventure’s apparent desire to remain setting-neutral. If the adventure is set on Porphyra, eliminate the “On Porphyra” sidebar and let it be set there, but if it’s not meant to be, then campaign-specific elements should be scrubbed from every place except that section. Splitting the difference like this only muddles things.

Another muddling element is the lack of notations for game elements that aren’t from the Core Rulebook. The town stat block, for instance, notes that one of the medium magic items for sale there is an aquatic cumberbund. That’s from Ultimate Equipment, but you’d never know it here, since there’s no superscript with an abbreviation to help figure it out. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if there was a link to the d20PFSRD, perhaps, but there isn’t. Why certain spells were reprinted in full while other materials weren’t even hyperlinked is beyond me.

Ironically, certain other words are hyperlinked to the d20PFSRD, despite having no particular relevance in doing so. The word “wish” appears in the middle of a sentence, for example, having no relevance to the spell of the same name, and yet it’s a hyperlink to that spell in the d20 PFSRD, for no reason that I can tell. Worse, there’s no visual indicator that this is a hyperlink, so you’ll likely click on it by accident.

I should also mention that there are some issues with the layout that I didn’t care for too much. I’m not a fan of having all of the relevant stat blocks for an adventure at the end of the adventure, for instance. That’s not quite a big deal here, given that the adventure proper is a page long, but it’s a preview of coming attractions for the TOME series that made me frown. There are also no maps of any kind. Again, that’s not such a big deal, but it really keeps things on the simple side – there’s a village, and a forest, and that’s it. You start in the village and go to the forest and immediately find what you’re looking for. Much more could have been done here, with additional forest encounters, random encounters, etc. I understand that it’s natural to keep a free product bare-bones, but this is certainly an effort most minimal.

By far the element I liked the least, however, was how the adventure lacks any sort of clear victory conditions. To be clear, it’s obvious that the goal is to stop the caprians from letting their flying fish eat the town’s crops, but the adventure is silent on specifically HOW the PCs are supposed to do that! It does say that killing them is an option, though a poor one, but then completely fails to lay out what the other options are. Presumably a single good Diplomacy check could pull it off, which makes this quite possibly the shortest adventure ever, and also one of the most anticlimactic.

This isn’t some sort of mistake in the adventure so much as it is a complete oversight on the part of the writer. There’s no listing of XP awards, which follows perfectly since there’s no suggestions for how the PCs are supposed to accomplish their goal (short of butchering the goat-people shepherds), and even the monetary rewards that the PCs gain from the village are food and a few rations. Ironically, the PCs will be rewarded by the caprians also (why?) by teaching them a phrase in their language that earns them, when they use it, a permanent +4 bonus to Diplomacy checks with their kind – this has all kinds of narrative problems, such as how exactly do people who already speak that language not have this permanent bonus?

Ultimately, the first adventure in the TOME series isn’t so much bad as it is incomplete. All of the pieces are here, but they seem to have been simply plunked down, with only an outline to connect them, rather than a full scenario. This encounter needs to be fleshed out, have its layout tweaked, and its technical issues tightened before the rest of the series debuts, lest we all decide to close the book on the TOME.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
TOME: As Likely As A Goat Herding Fish
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Character Workbook: Universal for PFRPG
Publisher: Asparagus Jumpsuit
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/28/2013 19:42:33
There’s something to be said for going the concept of “showing your work.” It’s easy, when we think we know something inside and out, to do the intermediary steps of a problem in our head and write down the conclusion. After all, that’s fast and simple, whereas taking the time to write things down, especially when we know them well, can be tedious and inconvenient.

The problem is that, all too often, we make a mistake in our off-the-cuff calculations, or find that we’ve forgotten a pertinent detail when we go back and review our work later on. This is natural, of course, as we’re only human, but it can still be irritating, particularly since we’ve no one to blame but ourselves.

The Character Change Log for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, from Asparagus Jumpsuit, is an attempt to make it easier to walk through the basics of leveling up characters so that nothing gets missed.

The product’s format is a fairly straightforward one. The book has twenty-two pages; one for each level (with level one having two pages) and the OGL. Each page walks you through the basic aspects of what you gain each level, leaving plenty of blank spaces to write down what you’ve gained. Each such sheet is largely the same, through the book wisely has certain level-dependent effects, such as new feats and new ability bonuses, noted when they occur.

The most salient detail to remember about this is that its name is accurate: this is a log of changes made to your character – it is NOT a character sheet. It’s certainly similar in function, and even somewhat in appearance, but whereas a character sheet is meant to display your character’s aggregate abilities, each sheet of this book is meant to record only what you’ve gained for that specific level.

Some might not see a need for such a book, and I can understand that view. However, I’ve gamed with people who’ve had to go back and frantically rewrite some aspect of their character in the middle of their game because they realized they’d done it wrong, or that they had simply forgotten something while leveling. Notes are, in my opinion, never a bad thing.

The downsides to this product are largely the compromises that it had to make in order to be universal to every class. These aren’t too bad, but you’ll likely feel the differences between using this to record the changes to a fighter versus the changes to a summoner; in fact, you may want to use another set of these sheets to record the growth of class-based NPCs, such as familiars or eidolons. It’s the cost of making a one-size-fits-all log, and while slightly inconvenient, it’s nothing that seriously compromises its utility.

Overall, I think that this is a book that is likely to be underestimated until you start using it. Being able to go back and chart your character’s growth over each level is more valuable than I think many players realize, and I certainly think that it’s worthwhile. I’d definitely recommend that players, especially new ones, record their levels in the Character Change Log.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Character Workbook: Universal for PFRPG
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A Necromancer's Grimoire - Sorcerous Lineages
Publisher: Necromancers of the Northwest
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/21/2013 18:48:58
One of my favorite changes that Pathfinder made over 3.5 was the inclusion of sorcerer bloodlines. While this was an interesting mechanical way of distinguishing sorcerers from each other depending on what bloodline they chose, it also had the effect of building in a back-story for the character. Now there were character backgrounds about how your sorcerer was the descendent of a demon, was chosen by destiny, or some other compelling in-game reason for his magic.

The problem is that the flavor text never quite lived up to the crunch. While it certainly preserved the freedom to embellish on the scant information provided, sometimes you want the fluff to be provided also, which the small amount of flavor text never did. That’s the position of A Necromancer’s Grimoire: Sorcerous Lineages from Necromancers of the Northwest.

Just over three dozen pages long, Sorcerous Lineages presents ten new sorcerer bloodlines. While each of these has all of the requisite mechanical information, it matches it with a high degree of flavor text. Each bloodline is treated as more than just its point of origin; rather, each one has blossomed into some sort of organization that is (at least partially) focused on the circumstances that also granted their sorcerous powers.

Take, for instance, the Zartol Consortium bloodline. This is based around the eponymous Consortium, which was originally a mundane mercantile empire, until hard times made one of its less scrupulous heads cut a deal with a devil. Now, the mercantile empire is one built on human (and humanoid) trafficking, and the members of the family that run it are all “baptized” into a contract with that devil shortly after birth, granting them their unique sorcerer bloodline.

Isn’t that far and away more interesting than simply having the boilerplate Infernal bloodline from the Core Rulebook?

Each of the ten organizations here are given roughly one-and-a-half pages of background material on their origins, current sketch, notable traits, and how a character might be found outside their structure, in addition to their bloodline. While many are political or dynastic entities, not all are. The Sivix Conspiracy, for example, is a group of individuals dedicated to justice in a very Batman-esque way (e.g. give up everything except working to punish the guilty). They gain their bloodline by having it imbued by a powerful (and undetailed) artifact.

The bloodlines themselves are notably well done, and offer some interesting options. Those with the Descendents of Ho’Lah bloodline, for instance, have a horse as a bonded mount, and gain a number of enhancements that make them formidable mounted spellcasters. Those with the bloodline of House Faulkhor, on the other hand, are skilled torturers, being able to inflict terrible pain, with the ability to skin creatures alive at higher levels (and the capstone power of remaking those that they’ve skinned into servants, all the while keeping them alive).

Overall, A Necromancer’s Grimoire: Sorcerous Lineages is one of the less common kinds of sourcebooks that pays equal attention to the flavor and the mechanics. Indeed, it melds them together in a way that’s much more tightly integrated than many other parts of the game. Sorcerer bloodlines have long held the promise of being a hook to a greater back-story, but it’s only here that that potential is fully realized.

My one complaint about the book is that its tight focus kept it from branching out even a little – these days, some “extras,” such as a sidebar with a new spell or a new cavalier order about a group mentioned (such as the Knights of Lumina, for the Church of Lumina bloodline), but I can’t fault the book for not going that far abroad – easter eggs are extras, after all. This book presents sorcerer bloodlines as more than a set of rules with a label slapped on them, and that’s something quite sorcerous indeed.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Necromancer's Grimoire - Sorcerous Lineages
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Monster Focus: Skeletons
Publisher: Minotaur Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/14/2013 20:00:55
Ah, the skeleton. One of the classic monsters, it occupies a sort of polar opposite to the mighty dragon or other monsters whose iconic status is (at least partially) concurrent with their great power. Indeed, skeletons are most notable for being the lowest-level undead most PCs will ever face, if not the weakest of any sort of threats. True, the skeleton template does allow for some upward scaling, but by and large these are lesser enemies, and little more.

That’s not nearly good enough for such an iconic monster, and so Minotaur Games brings us Monster Focus: Skeleton, to try and flesh out (not literally) not just skeletons themselves, but related materials to allow for greater command or destruction of these bony beings. Let’s take a look.

Monster Focus: Skeletons is a fairly short book, being a grand total of a half-dozen pages in length, including the cover. Several black and white illustrations liven up the presentation. These all seem to be hand-drawn; interestingly, these pictures are rough, but not quite so much that I’d call them of poor quality. Rather, their unpolished nature seems to capture the rough feeling of an undead skeleton, chipped and imperfect but still whole and functional. I’m not certain if Jason Bulmahn did that on purpose or not, but it works to surprisingly good effect.

As a supplement themed around a specific type of monster, the book basically presents a selection of new crunch related to that monster. The book opens with a set of escalating skill DCs for what knowledge checks reveal about skeletons; this is nice, if somewhat expected, since most PCs are likely to know pretty much everything your basic skeleton has. More helpful is the note that for stronger skeletons, the DCs should be increased on a 1:1 scale with the CR. This is good advice, though it should be noted that the information should be tailored slightly in that case, since it’s possible to make creatures of varying CRs using the basic skeleton template.

Three feats are next, two of which go towards damaging skeletons (though at their narrowest these feats still deal with undead made primarily of bones, e.g. liches, as well), and one towards commanding greater numbers of them. I have to say that I particularly enjoyed the Bone Breaker feat, as it allows for slashing weapons to beat DR X/bludgeoning, something that always seemed like a no-brainer to me.

A half-dozen alchemical items are next. Roughly half of these are essentially power components, in that they’re used with certain specific spells to enhance the spell’s effects. This is sensible, since Craft (alchemy) has long been the province of magic-users.

Five new spells follow. I wasn’t particularly impressed several of these, but some of the other spells here did, I must admit, wow me. Corpse Rebellion is a creative way to attack an undead creature – by allowing its departed spirit to reach back and try and confound, if not destroy, its defiled body. That does rub up against the whole “no unwilling resurrection” prohibition, but only slightly. It also calls up interesting questions for undead who are presumed to be still in possession of their warped souls, such as mummies, vampires, and liches, but that’s the sort of grey area that cunning GMs will love.

Seven magic items are present, each of which is a specific item rather than a magic weapon or armor quality. These weren’t bad, but as with the spells nothing seemed too innovative, something I suspect comes from most of them simply regurgitating specific spell effects. A few go beyond this, such as the Skull of Fangs, which can independently attack creatures on command.

The book ends with three new skeleton templates, getting back to the monsters that are at the heart of this book. The decrepit skeleton is one of the rare kinds of templates that makes a creature weaker, rather than more powerful. The monstrous skeleton template exists solely to allow creatures that had powerful abilities in life to retain them as skeletons. The skeletal lord is an enhanced version of the skeletal champion, being layered on top of that template. It was here that I wish a sample NPC had been included, not so much because it was necessary as because it would have been really cool to have had a pre-made skeletal lord NPC on hand. Three skeleton-based adventure ideas round out the book.

Overall, Monster Focus: Skeletons isn’t a bad book, but while it does have the occasional gem of an idea, there’s little here that reaches out and demands that you buy it. There’s no insightful ecology or game-changing idea found herein, nothing that makes you think that this is “Skeletons Revisited”-level inspiring. That’s a shame because such iconic monsters really need something on that level to do them justice. That said, what’s here is certainly viable for your game, and you likely won’t regret picking this book up. It is, ultimately, a bare bones product that needed some more meat on it to make it truly substantive.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Monster Focus: Skeletons
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