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The Genius Guide to Horrific Haunts
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/15/2012 17:57:38
The Genius Guide to Horrific Haunts, man....the title says it all, doesn't it? Haunts are one of those oddities for me in the realm of gaming, as they can be so many things depending upon how they are handled. The rules with which they were presented were, as often happens, truncated. I don't say that as a slight to Paizo in any way at all, it is merely the way of things. When new rules are presented one of the first things that happens is someone else looks at them and instantly sees room for growth, and expansion. Which is always a good thing in my opinion, as I like more options, and the concept of the haunts is a good one that needs more...lots more.

So, what does Owen have for us here...New rules to allow for several variations to give your haunt more of a personalized feel to it....and a great mechanic to make sure that a great haunt never gets old. Let's start with the advice on how to make the most out of your haunts in your campaign, as Owen has a few thoughts on this, and they are sound ideas. First up is the idea that a haunt makes a perfect companion piece in an encounter for a freaking encounter people...what do I mean by that? How about pairing a haunt, with a critter? Or perhaps a band of highwaymen, taking advantage of a haunted coach's midnight run down an old roadway by ambushing the victim's as they run...A gelatinous...well, anything...paired up with a haunt born of the agony underwent by the victims who died a slow, painful death by digestion to said gelatinous years ago...Seriously, lots of options here.

Second up in the advice category, take advantage of foreshadowing. It's a great story tool in the first place, and here it allows you to throw a great deal of misinformation. Letting the PCs hear tales of a great creature with abilities witnessed by survivors is a fantastic way to keep your PCs guessing when the list of abilities they are hearing are from both the creature, and the haunt. Last up, and I can not agree more with this tidbit of advice, use haunts sparingly...they should not be so humdrum and common that they are just another day at the office. It takes away so much of the mystery and the excitement.

Modifiers to Haunts would be where we get into new rules, with things of the nature of Location, Trigger, and HP Variables. We're not going to get into the specifics of the math behind any of this, as I think Owen explains his rules far better than I do, but I will touch on the ideas. Expanded locations gives us the idea of a haunt taking up more room than usual, with appropriate adjustments to CR accordingly for larger amounts of space. Object Location gives us rules for a haunt tied to a specific thing, not a place. This, of the three location variations, is easily my personal favorite. The idea of a haunt following an item appeals to me, and makes for great story telling, as haunts are a different issue all together in how they are dealt with. Most any PC worth their weight has dealt with cursed items or foul magic, but haunts...now there is a horse of a different color. Lastly for the location rules we have Wandering Locations, which allows for a haunt to shift where it manifests. Several examples to help understand the scope here would be a haunt that manifests up and down a river, one that is tied to several points within a jungle or woods, or a wandering haunt within a castle or keep, as opposed to stuck in one hallway.

The Trigger Variables cover the idea that perhaps a haunt doesn't go off every time it is encountered, and that there might be more than just the presence of someone required, such as a Cyclic Trigger Variable. With the cyclic variable, the haunt is tied to an anniversary, perhaps of the haunts creation, or the day of the week of the original tragedy...perhaps the birthday of the person who's pain caused the haunt to be created. A Random Trigger Variable is exactly that, and can be a great means of aggravation for a group of PCs attempting to glean information from interacting with the haunt, since the manifestation's triggering will have no discernible pattern to judge anything useful from. The Reactive Trigger Variable is perhaps the one we are all most familiar with, and I feel is defined here more so because variations are now being defined, henceforth a baseline must be as well. The reactive trigger responds to specific stimulus, each time, every time. Usually this is tied to the haunt's creation, but can be as varied as the haunts themselves.

Finally, the HP Variables, two options to increase the difficulty in dealing with a particularly difficult haunt. Resistant and Tough, giving resistance to channeling damage and/or an increased hp total along with a higher effective caster level.

So, armed with new options to pimp out our haunts, we come to the new haunts. First up, the Bruja Cauldron. A witches/hags cauldron for a coven, the bodies of their fallen members end up in the pot for soup, literally, infusing their souls into the cauldron. The energy of the witches/hags cooked into the cauldron gives us a specific item haunt, in that the coven can utilize this item to call upon their dead members and tap into the power contained by this item.

A Drowned Doxie, second up for new haunts, is essentially formed when an innocent is drowned and weighted down. The manifestation takes on both a cyclic and a wandering variable, in that it appears at various points upon the river within which the victim was drowned, and only when the moon is in the same phase as the night of the original murder....and only when male humanoids enter the area...This one could be excellent for seriously screwing with a playgroup, as the physical manifestation could be so drastically different from the original victim and reason for the haunt as to have a group chasing their tails for quite some time trying to deduce what exactly is going on.

And lastly, and before I go into any more words of review, I must say...Owen, you're an evil evil man....lol.....and we must talk, soon.....OK, lastly we have what I can pretty much bet will be my playgroup's new nightmare...the Unending Laboratory. Here's the scene...alchemist or spell-chucker spends their life crafting golems within their laboratory only to finally pass from this world, leaving all of that raw spirit harnessing essence going still...awakening the lab and it's tools to continue his work. Yeah, let that sink in for a second. This haunt is a freaking monster factory...the creation numbers are low enough to not make this insane, but still more than adequate to screw with a countrysides ecology.....best part? Every golem made is animated with no master, no instructions....just cut loose as if berserk (as per the flesh golem ability).....Mwahahahahaha....um..eheh..sorry there. And, if all of that just made your eyes light up a little, wait until you see what happens when folks actually make it to the laboratory itself....

OK, time to tie it all up and stamp a rating on this. I wasn't sure what to expect when I grabbed this, a book of rules, a book of new haunts....a grab bag. The balance is a good one, as the rules are logical and work without making anything feel broken, and the new haunts are all interesting. OK, there's one particular haunt that won't get out of my head...but that is the mark of a good design, is it not? To inspire others to run with an idea and create, to game, and inevitably to enjoy.

This is an easy 5 star rating, well worth the price of admission, and a perfect example of what one can do with a haunt.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Genius Guide to Horrific Haunts
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The Malefactor Base Class
Publisher: Total Party Kill Games
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/15/2012 12:26:22
The Malefactor....oh where does one begin. Do we open with the sheer deviousness of this class? The insanely cool artwork that will forever define for me what this class is all about? Or the equally wicked NPC presented herein to accompany that oh so awesome cover image? How about we touch on all of it, lol.

23 pages of deliciousness, with the obligatory cover/OGL/TOC page count, all centered on very interesting character class idea. The malefactor. But, what is a malefactor exactly? To strip it the basics, the class encompasses those who have taken the crap luck given them by the world and life in general, and have learned to harness it, focus it, and use it to affect those around them. Give me someone who has spent their life just ahead of the torches and pitchforks, and I shall give you a malefactor hellbent on revenge. Yeah, that kind of character. Now, that is not to say that they are instantly an evil aligned character, but they certainly lend themselves to the darker side of the tracks when it comes to their dealings with friend and foe alike.

With opening words from both Brian Berg (the man behind TPK games) and Gary McBride (Writer/Creator of Way of the Wicked...quite possibly the only successful evil story arc...ever), the theme is set for this book right off the bat. This class is not for flower loving, let's all sit around the fire and hug kind of players. The malefactor is not for those seeking shiny acknowledgment and accolades...this class is for those wishing to twist the fate of all those around them, whilst escaping their own. A darker class for a darker player, without breaking the boundaries and going truly evil. It's a balancing act, to be sure, but one that is accomplished very well here.

PDF follows the standard dual column approach, with one embedded table for level progression. Background texture is marbled grey with a stylized border that can be challenging to read through in a few spots, but overall is light enough that most people should not have a problem with it. I can't help but think perhaps in editing setting the margins just back from the framework on the page would have helped immensely in the visibility of the text, but again, this is me being extremely nit-picky, and most will not have an issue with it. There were a few instances of spaces between words left out however, but there were only a few, and they truly didn't interfere with the understanding of the text.

As with many classes, the malefactor has its own set of cool goodies that reward the PC for continuing through the level progressions. Malediction (various “curses” that the malefactor can choose from as she progresses), Harrowing Strike (A maximized attack that only gets better as the levels get higher), Strife Points (a pool of points that the PC can spend to activate several different abilities. Very similar in nature to Psi points, or Time motes...any player familiar with either of these concepts will recognize this idea instantly)...and then we have the Aura of Misfortune. As long as the malefactor is conscious, every one around her (within range of course) suffers a negative to their saving throws. Now, here's the kicker folks, that negative...that everyone...yes, that means the fellow players standing around the Malefactor PC, and quite possibly her herself if she runs out of strife points. That born with crap luck sucks, lol.

So, why in the world would anyone want to play a character living under the weight of curses and bad luck you might be asking by now.....well, simply put...Those who understand an evil, are better equipped to deal with it. The malefactor class puts a character in an interesting position to deal with curses amongst others, as they can literally draw these curses to themselves, relieving others of them. They can ignore the effects of curse items, using them as if they carried no curses upon them, or even steal the victory right out of the grasp of their enemies by simply changing their luck from good, to bad.

So, how do they do these awesome things? The Yla. The Yla are the spirits of luck and chaos, for lack of better explanation, and they are that which the malefactor deals with when it comes to making a great many things happen.

Grand total we are presented with 18 Maledictions in this guide, 5 Archetypes and 12 Feats designed specifically for this class. We're also presented with the favored class options for 11 races. That's a rather impressive amount of information to get a class up and running, by any standard. Do I want more? Of course I do, and I have no doubt that eventually we will see more maledictions at the least...they are flat out to interesting not to have more designed.

Ending with an example, a fully fleshed out NPC to accompany that insanely excellent cover image, this PDF, intended to deliver a new class to us, gives us an amazing new character to drop into our worlds. And that cover image? Included inside without the text, just in case you have a spot on the wall needing some cool art.

Wrapping it up, I can say no more than what I have said many times now, buy this PDF!!!! The class design far outweighs the very few editing issues, this is one of those cases where design outweighs everything, period. This class brings some really cool ideas to the table, as well as inspires even more. Ignoring the one heading with spacing issues, this book is a solid 5 star. Yes, I just admitted there is an editing issue in the same line that I stated the book gets a perfect rating. That is how much I like the design work for this class, and how much I want to see more done with it. Oh, and since I failed to mention it earlier....full Hero Lab support files. Yeah, just keeps getting better.

Pick this one up folks, it is Well worth the price of admission!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Malefactor Base Class
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100% Crunch: Liches
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/15/2012 10:43:57
Third installment in a series is kind of a stressful position to have...I mean, by the time we have reached a third we've already seen the break out title, and the follow up. We have expectations, as consumers. The bar has been set, and we are more inclined to be critical to see if the magic will continue. That's the position 100% Crunch: Liches finds itself in.

Julian Neale has tackled that epic foe for this collection, the lich. The very mention of a lich at a game table should rightfully inspire dread and excitement amongst the players. With challenge ratings that rival the most fearsome of dragons, and an arsenal of magic at its disposal that should invoke fear and jealousy in the best of wizards, this is not a villain to take lightly. So, why do so many groups look at these BBEGs as not being all they can? Simple, the design time. Think about it, the lich, boiled down to the black and white of it is a spell battery, and a very powerful one at that. They don't tend to have spell lists filled with boring and useless filler novelty spells. No, they are designed with intelligence, picking spells through out their very long careers of study that will do one of three things, aid in combat, aid in research, aid in procuring material for research. Yes, there are more specific concepts once you get into your lich being Bob, fourth lord of Ymlstein...but until we skin the guy, the needs of a lich are pretty specific. And those needs can become very time consuming for the GM, quickly. And it is that time consuming problem that first sparked the idea of the 100% Crunch series, and led us to this collection of liches, and this review.

As is my habit, I like to give any PDF I am reviewing a virtual “flip through”, before reading anything in depth. I want to have that first impression one would get when they picked up a book in a game shop and scanned through it quickly. The eye gets drawn to artwork, tables, basic layout and such. If one thing has held true for me over the years, it is that the look and feel of a book is just as important as the material contained within. Truth be known, it is far harder to get people to spend time looking through a non visually pleasing book no matter how good one's material is. Which brings us to the reason I brought this up in the first place. One of the things that any publisher will tell you is to avoid wasted space, no matter what. It is a taboo, and a product killer. Yes, in PDF space is relative and not nearly as important as in a printed product where the real estate costs per page, and yet that idea of wasted space is still there. So my reaction upon flipping through 100% Crunch: Zombies at the immense amount of white page was understandably shocked...until I began to see the pattern. Realizing fairly quickly what Creighton had decided to do here, and how much value it actually brought to this product, I applaud what could possibly be a very brave and risky choice made on his part. The voids are a result of the layout not just running the statblocks together, making it far easier to print out a lich for a game session. Each statblock will print clean, as they were laid out to be printed separately. Could he have filled the space with art? Yes, truthfully that could have been done...but let's explore that idea for a second shall we? As consumers we all want art, lots of it...but art costs, period. There are a lot of great alternatives to high cost art out there, but this collection has 42 liches folks...that's a lot of moldy spell chuckers to account for with unique art, which would pretty much guarantee a massive raise in the product's price. So no....the route taken here was not only the better alternative, but a brilliant decision given what this product is. In the end the Crunch series is all about saving the GM time, period. Need a critter? Boom, covered. Print out page such and such, stomp your players and watch them rise to the challenge, much fun had by all.

Now, having talked for what has now felt like an entire review saying very little about the actual product itself, let's delve into this PDF, shall we?

56 pages of Lichdom make up this PDF, with the typical obligatory page count for covers, OGL, TOC and such. No, I didn't count them this time, lol. Small side note, Raging Swan puts one of what I consider the handiest things in the front of each of their products, a checklist. I love this thing, I do. It's the completist in me, but I like to see what is out there, and what I still need to get. A brilliant move on their part. OK, back to lichness.... Layout follows the standard dual column format, with the occasional piece of B&W artwork embedded within the text (as well as one full page piece of art). Editing appears to be up the standards I have come to expect from the Raging Swan camp, with no real errors jumping out and grabbing my attention. A linked TOC (always a plus in my opinion), and an extensive bookmark listing make this one extremely navigatable PDF. Creighton starts us off with his typical foreword explaining the thought behind why this product exists in the first place, and I admit, I look forward to these, as they give an insight into why certain things find their way into production. We also find here a mention of the decision to go with the layout choices for the statblocks mentioned earlier.

As has become the standard for this series, we open with a CR breakdown of what awaits us within the following pages. And again, I find myself slightly disappointed. I so desperately want this chart to be linked to the appropriate statblocks...I know, the TOC and bookmarks already handle all of this, but the inclusion of a CR breakdown acknowledges that sometimes this is the best way to organize, period. Looking over the list I can guarantee you this, there is a lich here for ANY situation...Julian has really outdone himself here in going beyond what the standard fare calls for when the term lich is brought up. Drider, serpentfolk, pukwudgie, and succubus are just a few of the not quite so standard races one expects to see when looking over a list of liches. Yes, we have the more standard concepts as well, plenty of human and elven (even a few drow and dwarven), but even these are not all what one might expect. Julian challenges us to step away from the standard Wizard/Cleric lich, and offers up Druid, Sorcerer, Bard, Oracle and Ranger liches....oh, now I have your attention huh? CR ratings start at 12, and roll all the way to 20, with 42 different, ready to terrorize your PCs liches...ohhhh, and did I mention the two different dragon liches? One green, one red. Yeah. Evilness at its best. And yes, no lich book would be complete without a nod to the demilich, and our madman at the design helm agrees, so have no fear there my friends.

As this series has shown up to this point, we are going to get more than just some well designed statblocks, we're also going to be treated to variants and templates...this time up that includes the Atrophied Lich and the Forsaken Lich. The atrophied is an interesting alternative, and presented as a plot device as opposed to a stat or template. Basically it covers the idea that those old dudes should move around from time to time, because shriveling up just might be a bad thing. The Forsaken gives us one seriously dangerous concept for a lich....yeah, think about that for a second...as if a lich wasn't already a big enough problem. The Forsaken Lich is created when things go wrong, and the lich finds himself “kind” of created into undeath, but with an extremely short amount of time to exist before the magical storms he unleashed in his failure consume not only his body, but his very soul. A lich with nothing to lose is a very very dangerous thing to unleash on a campaign world, and I can not wait to do it..

From there we get a quick look at the core Bestiary collection, and the races within with innate magical abilities that might make for an interesting variant lich. I've come to like this feature in this series, and would really like to see this expand beyond the boundaries of Paizo's official source material to include a few of the bestiaries from other 3PPs...of course depending upon which bestiaries make that list, that could become a product of its own.

Now, by now it must be nothing but statblocks right? Nope, not quite...there are three Archetypes here as well, the Unliving Bard, Druid, and Ranger. Each with a list of spells to remove from their lists, and spells to add. Out of the three, the bard has the most changes made to the core class, in that they now affect the undead as they once affected the living.
Now....a full description and breakdown of what exactly a Demilich is, and how one goes about becoming one, along with the variant Awakened version...and we arrive at the wealth of Lich statblocks. As stated previously, 42 of these uber villains waiting to be unleashed upon your PC's all in total crunch format, perfect for print and go, or to inspire a time rushed GM to design their fluff and NPC around.

This series continues to do nothing but impress me, and the addition of this PDF to the line really raises the bar, as there are some excellent builds in here, with some truly new concepts for what we consider the lich to be. Having found one whole thing to whine about, and that being the CR breakdown page not being linked, which, let's face it, that's really not an issue, just something I personally want to see...yeah, I can find nothing to fault this PDF on, at all. A well deserved and fully earned 5 star rating for an excellent product that I can guarantee will bring hours, and I do mean hours, of evilness to any table. A welcome addition to any collection, and well worth the price of admission folks.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
100% Crunch: Liches
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Up From Darkness (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/07/2012 02:02:27
Up From Darkness, Rite Publishing's latest offering in the continuing attempts to punish PCs everywhere, is a tale woven by Jonathan McAnulty. 35 pages, with the obligatory page count adjustments made for covers, OGL, credit pages such on and so forth give us a total page count for the adventure of 22, with a 5 page section of GM aids...we'll get to those, you'll like. The pdf also gives you 5 pre-generated characters to utilize, which in this case are an extremely handy thing, which shall be explained.

Formatting follows the standard dual column layout, with embedded artwork, as well as a few pages with a solo art piece tucked in here and there. The pages are decorated in a pattern that will have invokes thoughts of stylized oriental bamboo framework. Michael K. Tumey's cartography brings a very old school feel to this project, and gamers with an appreciation for older generations of RPGs, or even fans of the many nostalgia clones on the market will instantly feel comfortable with the mapping style used for most of the cartography used in this adventure. Now, I say most as there is one seriously odd duck in regards to the cartography. One particular area has not only been done in the classic style for the interior, but a 3 dimensional CG model has been provided to show the exterior of the section as well. The purpose behind it makes sense in that it helps visualize the manner in which the rooms relate to each other, but the two drastically conflicting styles really make this particular map page look odd.

OK....so all of the basics and non story-point specifics out of the way, this is an adventure review...and we all know what that means, now don't we? That's right. Players, begone. Seriously, stop reading, forward the link on to your GM, close the page and go peruse your GM's wishlist to see how you can further let them know you appreciate all they do for you....OK, we alone now? Just us GMs and such? Alright. Let's take a look into this story, shall we?

First off, this is not anything I would call a standard adventure. The basic story idea is as follows...The PCs are attempting to earn a spot amongst the Hakayami, an elite unit of Shogun within the Kaidan setting. How elite? Final initiation involves ritual suicide and transference of one's soul into a “loaner” body entombed at the bottom of a pitch black dungeon. The PCs assume the roles of these newly self assassinated initiates. They awaken within stone coffins, alone, in the dark, with no memories or clues as to how they got there, who they are, and what the hell is going on. Throughout the adventure there will be key times that the PCs will trigger snippets of memory to surface, as well as moments that they can trigger through roleplay (much like a reward system, earning additional memory snippets). Along with the loss of identity, and of course their original bodies, comes the loss of gear....all gear. The PCs start with kimonos, and must explore to put together enough gear to survive the challenges that roam the dungeon, as well as the obstacles through which they must go on their upward ascent to escape the dungeon. Surviving the dungeon and regaining their memories as they go will earn them the coveted position amongst the Hakayami...it goes without saying the ranks of the Hakayami don't often swell with new recruits.

So...what we have here, story-wise, is a self encapsulated adventure. As a GM I would be hard pressed to sell this to my players as something to incorporate into an ongoing campaign or storyline. And, truth be told, I think that is where this adventure's strength lies. It is not concerned with where the characters were before this, who they were, or where they thought they were going. By limiting the playing field down to what it is, and stripping the PCs of their memories, it forces the players to go back to basics and work as a team to survive, period. The pregens supplied are recommended to be used as they have been written with this adventure in mind, and lets face it, most players are not going to be to happy to hear that their characters killed themselves to earn a right to be part of this adventure, so pregens avoids that entirely. Now, are there potential issues with this, yes. Right off the bat I find myself wondering about spell casters...the PCs have no memories, why would a spell casting character still have spells available to them? And no, I'm not even thinking along the lines of study time being lost to the whole dying situation, no I am thinking why would I, as a person, try to cast a spell unless I knew I could do it? Also, we have a pregen with some physical enhancements, for lack of better wording. Very cool concept utilizing a necrotic warrior (bone)....but I don't see why the “loaner” body would automatically get the bone spikes and spears abilities, as I see that as more of a physical concept of the PCs body, not an attachment to their soul...So, these would be what I see as being hurdles to the idea of waking up 1) in someone else's body, and 2) amnesia...both can be worked with and around, just giving a heads up to GMs, as this would be something for me that I would want to put some thought into to be prepared to answer when a player challenged it at the table.

Now here is where those GM aids really come to bear, with a selection of random memory snippets, as well as finishing touches for the pregen characters. A very nice touch in making sure that every time this adventure is played through it will be a different game. There are a few editing issues here with misspelled words though, and that does not help sell these as well as they should have been.

Now, right off the bat the PCs can manage to get themselves into trouble, as the room within which they awaken contains more than just the bodies they are inhabiting. Opening any other stone coffins runs the risk of allowing the creation of a tamashinaki, as an elemental spirit may take control of the “empty” body and immediately attack. Obviously this would pose an interesting challenge for the group, as they are weaponless at this point, but a great way to make sure they understand what level of danger they are up against.

Ghostly samurai, haunts, traps and hungry critters all await the exploring PCs on the lower levels of this dungeon...with areas set up to equip the PCs with the gear they will need to survive. And thematically I am really liking the feel of where the story is going at this point as far as the over all vibe of the dungeon itself...crawling their way from the bottom to the top, facing an ever growing level of difficulty in creatures that are not your standard run of the mill grab bag of creatures, the PCs are in for a gauntlet that will more than likely cost a few of them their lives. The adventure is prepared for that though, remember there are additional bodies in the lowest level. Yep, if a PC dies they wake up and get to start all over again, no memories, no clues...evil...love it.

I am not a huge fan of adventures that are as self contained as this one is, I will not lie. But this one surprised me, pleasantly. The story idea is a good one, the idea of this being a one off with pregens works well for me and my playgroup, a nice break from our normal game. I can easily see this being used as an opener for a Kaidan campaign as well, if one were looking to attach the PCs to a faction for story purposes. My point here, this is a good story. An extremely good story. Which is why the next part of this really sucks. The pdf has several editing issues, odd spaces in the middle of paragraphs, irregular underlining format to the statblocks, misspelled words...and the map keys not being present. I can overlook a great deal of editing hiccups if they don't truly cause issues with comprehension...but being told in text that trap X is marked on the map at location C, only to go to the map and find no C...over and over...that I can not overlook.

-EDIT-
OK...take note folks...for this is an important thing to realize. When things are not right, and people are willing to listen and go back in and fix them, that is how customers are won...period. This adventure is an excellent story concept that for me was held back by the original maps drastically. Not only have the maps been updated with proper markings to tell you where the author intends for encounters, haunts and traps to be located, the secret doors and stairs have been properly labelled. In addition, the second map's odd style change has been addressed, and I have to say the new map showing the ascent path is very impressive. This type of willingness to bring a product up to the bar it sets for itself is to be commended. Well done, well done indeed. Rating has been happily changed to reflect a well earned and solid 5 star rating.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Up From Darkness (PFRPG)
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Shadowsfall: Shadow Plane Player's Companion (PFRPG)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/29/2012 08:48:09
The Shadowsfall Shadow Plane Player's Guide from Jon Brazer Enterprises is one of those pdfs I have been looking forward to, and initial scans through the book do not disappoint, as this is one very professional looking project. Filled with a blend of color and B&W artwork, and one piece of B&W cartography that very much reminded me of long ago days of drawing up maps of fantastical lands for games with friends, the formatting adheres to the standard dual column approach. 34 pages total, with only four of those going to covers, OGL and TOC...leaving 30 pages to the material itself. Well, almost, there's an intro, and a cool coversheet of sorts (a “letter” with illustration) that starts us off.

So...Shadowsfall. Much anticipated as a setting, and here I have yet another piece of this puzzle, this time in the form of a player's guide. And what pray tell does Mr. McCoy choose to cover in this guide? Read on my friends, and I will do my best to cover the pertinent reasons you NEED this book.

Right off the bat it is important to understand that in the Plane of Shadow we are not the top of the food chain when it comes to playable races, nor even the densest population factor. To put it short humans are pretty much outnumbered. In terms of most per capita, the title belongs to the walking dead, as the Shadowsfall setting is about as close as one can get to playing a zombie apocalypse setting without abandoning the fantasy genre. There is a very real underlying threat of the undead permeating this setting, which brings with it the obvious darkness that makes this setting a real treat for those looking to add some Gothic horror to their standard campaign. Second, Shadowsfall, or the Plane of Shadow if you prefer, is an immense realm filled with the forgotten and lost material, places and people of countless worlds and realms. The possibilities for a campaign are insane in that there are so many different cultures worth of items, material and locations all tucked into one place, just waiting to be discovered.

Introduced in the player's guide we finally get stats for the beautiful Umbral Kobold that graces the cover, and that Dale has been teasing us with. An offshoot of the standard kobold race, they are the descendents of a clan of kobold who found themselves trapped upon the shadow plane, and with no heroes to cull their numbers grew and evolved to survive their new home. Also introduced here is the Wanderer, an intriguing player race for a fallen angel essentially...but think more in terms of City of Angels as opposed to Fire and Brimstone here...these celestials asked to leave service for whatever reason, and were granted their leave. Both new races are also accompanied with an archetype suited not only for them, but the shadow plane specifically.

New class options include a new order for cavaliers, new bloodlines, evolutions, hexes and schools continue to provide more options to truly fine tune your character to the shadow plane before delving to deep into these lands. Of these options, the new school of elemental magic was probably my personal favorite, Shadow. Quoting straight from the text, as I think this really speaks for itself...”Shadow represents the memory of what was, the loss of what is, and the broken dreams of the future. It is the lifelessness and despair that comes from a former glory wasting away...” Starting to get the idea that perhaps the term Shadow Plane is referring to more than just that thing you cast on the wall yet?

New plane of course gives us new familiar options, some being shade variants, others being new to the list entirely...giant nightcrawler anyone? Or perhaps a riding dodo?? Nothing says don't mess with me like riding into combat on a dodo...lol

As is the standard within a player's guide for a setting, we are given a brief description and write up for several communities and settlements, their people and basic traits. The immense difference here in looking at how these communities interact is that they essentially don't. Outside the walls of fortified structures lies the undead hordes. Wandering through what is known as the Outlands, or the lands between strongholds, the zombie population and random critters make sure that travel between strongholds is a dangerous enough proposition that one does not partake of it for no reason short of dire importance. Which is why it is easy to see how each of these stronghold settlements have become as vastly different as they have. Each coming to be as a means of defending a place to settle and live against raiders, monsters and the undead in general, they all have adapted a different outlook on what is the best path to take in doing so. Strongholds such as Blackbat – in business with vampire lords trading captured zombies to be used as labor in mines collecting material; Bloodchain – ruled by kytons, the humanoids within these walls pay for their safety by giving in to the sadistic desires of their masters; Kingsgrave – a once mighty stronghold complete with magical orchards providing plentiful food and a contingent of golems protecting them from the undead hordes. All was perfection until the golems turned on their masters, leaving this once mighty region into a ghostland still filled with plentiful foods and treasures for those willing to brave the still patrolling golem guardians. These are but a sampling of the settlements and strongholds detailed here, and truthfully, each has an interesting enough flavor that I would love to see them all expanded upon in future volumes.

Thirteen new feats flesh out the next section of the book, with such offerings as Shadow Style (Combat, Style) – increasing base land speed, and adding your Wis bonus to Fly and Stealth checks. Additionally we are given 2 feats that chain with this combat style to further add to the enhancements. Augment Undead does exactly what you might be thinking it does, adding to STR and HD for undead you create. Fighting Retreat stood out to me as one of those feats that I can see a great deal of intelligent players taking, as it allows for an attack action during a withdraw action...and let's face it, sometimes you just have to run rather than die. And it is always a good idea to be able to fight as you go until you are clear enough to run.

New equipment options include the wartrident, a variant pike style weapon, and several alchemical items like the deathburn and holy orb. Deathburn is a liquid that after application to an undead will change their physical damage to acidic, or cause acidic damage when applied to living tissue. The holy orb is essentially a glass grenade filled with holy water. Two vehicles are presented here as well, one strictly realistic in its design, the other following the eldritch/alchemical route.

Four pages are dedicated to laying out the pantheons of the Shadow Plane, explaining the portfolios of the gods, the viewpoints of their followers, and the subdomains associated to the former. Here within are the Kyton subdomain (Evil, Law) and the Shadow subdomain (Darkness). We're also given a new mystery for oracles, Joy.

Six new spells are introduced with a section opener explaining that within the shadow plane many spells more common on other planes are less effective...I would have liked to have seen perhaps more detail to this statement in game mechanics. It states that fireball would be one of those less effective spells, but does not give us any stats to show this. I am assuming this information will be within the setting guide itself for GM's, as opposed to the player's guide...so I shall be looking for it. If the statement is going to be made that common spells are less useful, and the subschool of shadow is in fact more powerful on this plane (which makes perfect sense) I would think some form of demonstrating this would be extremely useful.

As with the spells, we are given six new magical items as well, with a brief intro stating that very few magical items are actually created within this plane, as most people are concerned more with the task of day to day survival. Amongst these items we have a Cowl of Undead Command, a Kyton Slavery Whip and a Cloak of Darkness. Now in direct contrast we close the book with a chapter detailing several common magical items that have found their way to the plane of shadow, and been altered. And by altered, well, I mean altered...lol. Take the Necklace of Exploding Beads for instance, appearing as a standard type IV necklace of fireballs the beads on this necklace explode instantly upon removal from the strand, not giving you the chance to throw them at a foe....I so want to drop a few of these for my PCs to find...(insert evil laugh)...But, as cool as this section is, I think it further supports my problem with the new spell chapter. The plane changes things, and the time was taken to show that for a few magical items to help clarify this, but the same level of attention was not afforded spells. By stating that spells don't work as effectively, but not detailing any of what is meant by that, I feel a little shortchanged...especially after reading through the excellent magical items section.

OK...final tally of thoughts here. PDF is fully bookmarked, which always makes me happy. TOC was not linked, which makes me frown, but truly, that is a personal thing since bookmarks handle that anyway. I managed to find one editing error in 34 pages...one. That's pretty good, good enough I'm not even considering it as a negative. The art ranges in quality, with a few pieces being truly excellent, the writing was all of good caliber. The idea that has grown into Shadowsfall is interesting and original enough in its approach that it feels brand new without losing the touch of familiar that a setting needs to truly be inviting. That alone deserves it high praise, as that is not an easy task to pull off. So...my feeling that a more expanded explanation of why/how some spells are not as effective would be helpful being my only true negative...and seriously, if that's all I can find to dig at you should have realized by now that this is an excellent player's guide to a fantastically written setting.

I am going with a rating of 5 for this book, as my only complaints came down to personal preferences, not actual issues with the product itself.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowsfall: Shadow Plane Player's Companion (PFRPG)
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#30 Evocative Vehicles (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/28/2012 06:35:41
#30 Evocative Vehicles brings us another installment in the #30 series from Rite publishing. Liz Smith is at the reins this time around, and has presented us with an interesting collection of vehicular oddities. Each presented with a Statblock to handle the game mechanics side of things, along with a brief history and explanation of the vehicle's abilities. Formatting and editing stand up to the standard set by Rite publishing, with Steven doing his typical excellent job in that regard. Layout adheres to the dual column approach, with embedded B&W artwork from that treasure chest of classic artwork Mr. Russell has a knack for plumbing. Bookmarks are present, but unfortunately are handled with an alphabetical subsection (B-C, D, E, F-H....) instead of linking to the actual items. Not a huge problem, but a slight disappointment.

Being that we are looking at thirty items, and to detail them all for you would negate the entire reason to purchase said product, I am going to instead touch on a few that caught my eye. The Dancing Phoenix would be the first up, an aasimar wizard's ship, built to catch the planar winds this vessel was designed to travel the various planes in search of fellow aasimar. Something about the idea of sailing the planar seas always appeals. Dreamstead shows an obvious nod to a certain classic movie from yesteryear. A four-poster bed that will animate to gain the capacity to walk and fly with the manipulation of carving upon a bedpost. Not the most original of ideas true, but the way it is presented here did get a smile out of me.

The Infinity Thief introduces us to a ship upon which no-one can die, no matter what. Regardless of damage you stabilize right before the point of death. Now that sounds all well and good until you realize that nowhere in there did I say no damage, or no pain...this is more a curse than a benefit folks, and makes for one seriously demented crew to unleash upon a campaign world sailing the seas in their twisted curse of a vessel. And, in case you're wondering, yes, the minute you leave the vessel you regain mortality. Kekette brings me around again to an homage piece, this one being a bright yellow colored submersible...I think we'll just leave this one alone at that.

Pelte strikes me as one of the oddest, and yet cool vehicle ideas in this collection. A copper sphere large enough for 1-2 (depending upon size) the basic idea here is you catch a ride inside a gelatinous cube, using a system of rods you can extend from the sphere out past the cube's mass that extrude the scent of food to steer the creature where you want it to go. Now, idea wise, interesting. As presented however, serious issues. First off, I'm thinking if you have to open anything on this sphere to extend these rods, you're allowing the cube in, as it is a semisolid, and will ooze through openings. Second, how does one stop? How do you get out of the cube's mass once in it? Intriguing idea and all, and one I could see making for an odd encounter with an NPC for a dungeon crawl, but there are a few details I would have liked to have seen covered in its entry.

All in all, this is exactly what it states, a collection of vehicles of various ideas. Some of these vehicles are of the common enough type that they will feel instantly familiar, carriages, ships, etc. Others are a little more odd, like the steam driven medusa head warmachine (simply a walking style machine with built in siege weapons, not equipped with a gaze attack). The author approached the source material with a great deal of humor, and admittedly there are several points I feel that detracts from the over all product. Not just in the nature of how the vehicles are designed so much, or even what the vehicles are, but in reading through their descriptions and histories. An alchemical mechanical dragon comes to mind, as its history suggests that it was last known to be in the possession of a love sick wyvern who is still trying to get it to speak and return its affection.

All in all, if your either OK with the humor, or can look past it, the vehicles here range from flat out weird and niche to interesting and usable. This one fell towards the middle for me, not really wowing me enough, but at the same time not failing to deliver on what the title suggests either. In the end I am settling on a rating of 3 stars.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
#30 Evocative Vehicles (PFRPG)
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100% Crunch: Zombies
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/28/2012 05:27:30
So, second up in the 100% Crunch series are Zombies. Benefiting from the very idea that a zombie's physical requirements for being a dangerous creation are very similar to the skeleton's the lists within this book are going to see some familiar races from the last installment in this series. But in no way does that necessarily detract from the cool factor. Having just finished the Skeletons tome shortly before delving into this one, I was like a kid skipping straight to the CR list to see what goodies would catch my eye this time...and to my ultimate delight the T-Rex was there. Also a Pit Fiend, an Ice Linnorm and a freaking Whale....oh the sheer bizarreness for zombieness this collection brings to the table.

So, for those not yet familiar with the series, the 100% Crunch line seeks to tackle some of the classics we all know and love, and not only streamline them down for time beleaguered Gms everywhere, but expand upon the stock we have all been using. Let's face it, as far as zombies go for the most part we're all picturing a shuffling humanoid, doing its thing trying to eat...but why does it have to be humanoid? Why can't it be a Dragon Turtle? Or a Girallon? Why, because most of us don't have the time to delve into the math of applying the template for zombie to a mass amount of cool races, that's why. And that is where this series is really kicking in to high gear.

A CR list with the offerings broken down by their levels of badassed-ness, the full zombie template presented here for sake of ease and completion. A variety of alternate zombie templates that should be familiar to most anyone, again here for the sake of completion. A handy listing of creatures from the three bestiaries, broken down by which book they can be found within and their CR/HD ratings, that would be perfect for zombification...and then a mass avalanche of zombie statblocks. Yeah, this book handles your zombie needs as a GM.

And, while we're discussing what all this pdf includes, there is a small section of lines that ALMOST borders on the concept of fluff. And it is those lines that I want to thank Julian Neale for the most, as these lines discuss the concepts of how one might go about getting their hands on certain bodies to use for zombification...bodies not of the norm, like perhaps planetars and such. A few races are suggested for their talents in planar travel, and the idea of them “harvesting” battlefields of various planes and worlds sparked an entire organization within my campaign world that even now rolls around in the back of my head. The ultimate grave robbers, trafficking in rare and unusual bodies. I love when a book sparks a thought that wont go away.

Editing and format are as to be expected from an excellent publisher like Raging Swan, and the layout adheres to the dual column format, with bookmarks and linked TOC. I can find nothing to complain about in terms of this product other than that I want MORE!

The 100% Crunch series continues with a second excellent entry, and has again earned a 5 star rating. Well worth the price of admission folks, the sheer amount of time you'll save as a GM demands this product be a part of your arsenal. Combine this with the excellent So What's the Zombie Like Anyway and you have the recipe for one seriously memorable horde of flesh hungry undeath to unleash on your PCs.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
100% Crunch: Zombies
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Inkwell Stock Art: Elemental, Fire
Publisher: Inkwell Ideas
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/28/2012 04:55:13
The stock art collection coming out of Inkwell Ideas continues to impress for various reasons, and the fire elemental is yet another of those pieces.

Struck me more as a minor elemental, with an almost playful sense to it, in a destructive violent way lol. Would love to see this artist's take on perhaps the same elemental type at a higher progression, or even an elemental lord.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Inkwell Stock Art: Elemental, Fire
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Stock Art: Iron Lich
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/28/2012 04:51:41
Images that instantly spark an entire adventure always earn a special place with me, and this is one of those images. This picture cost me an entire night of sleep, as the second I saw it that hamster started running and the wheels started turning. By morning I had a full adventure fleshed out and written, all centered around the character this image inspired. A very cool not so typical fantasy image that shows off how cool stock art can be.

Love this image.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Stock Art: Iron Lich
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100% Crunch: Skeletons
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/28/2012 04:48:48
Julian Neale opens the 100% Crunch series for Raging Swan with Skeletons. Now, we all know these walking bone piles, and for a great deal of game tables out there the skeleton has for many years been a go to for cannon fodder. But they can be so much more. Ponder this, when you think of the word skeleton, the image of a human, or at least humanoid skeleton comes to mind, doesn't it? Not hard to understand why, as they are the easiest and most basic of the creature when it comes to a statblock write up, hence forth they are the creature most of us have faced or used. But what if it wasn't an issue of time and difficulty in applying the skeleton template to a mass variety of races? What if there were a repository of pre-built, ready to go statblocks of skeletons that defy the norm?

That my friends is exactly what the 100% Crunch series is all about. Giving the GMs of the world a resource of statblocks with options, lots and lots of options...97 of them to be exact. With creatures ranging from merfolk to T-rexs, rats and orcs, dolphins and fire giants...if you can't find a new and cool skeleton in here to keep your stories fresh I'll be surprised. But, just in case you cant, and you have an idea not covered there are hints in the book on how to handle that easily, and with minimal effort.

A full CR breakdown listing of all the statblocks included, a listing of skeleton worthy creatures from the three bestiaries, the full skeleton template provided here for the sake of ease and completeness. A handful of various templates including many we have seen before like the bloody and burning. A great deal of what is here is in fact material one could glean from “official” sources, that is very true. But, I know I don't have the hours it must have taken to put this listing together, and I doubt you do either. And that is where a product of this nature excels. By providing in one source one specific theme, with a large amount of options and potentials.

Could there have been some new and interesting twists thrown in? Sure. But adding a great deal of new stuff without any fluff could get rather boring if you think about it, and that in the end is detrimental to the new material. This series promises 100% Crunch, and provides just that.

Editing and formatting follow the high standards I have come to expect from Raging Swan, with a dual column layout and a few pieces of art that invoke an old school feel. Now, I feel the need to state, for the record, that I didn't think I was going to like this product. Heck, I didn't think I was going to like anything in this series. I am primarily not a crunch kind of GM. I understand its importance, but I prefer the story element to the rules element. I always have. So I went into this book with a halfhearted reluctance, feeling more an obligation to review it than a desire to. It didn't take me long to begin to not only see the value of a product of this nature, but to find myself enjoying the read through.

My point being this, I am not a huge fan of Crunch only material, and I liked this product...I liked it enough that I am looking forward to the next in the series. It made me realize how underused the skeleton really is when it comes to various racial options for the base creature. It brought to light the immense amount of time one could put into designing various skeletons to use, and why so many people stick to just the basics. This product belongs in your collection folks, as I guarantee it will save you an immense amount of time, as well as inspire you with ideas...(skeletal merfolk??? Seriously???)

Stamping this with a golden 5 star rating, and labeling it well worth the price of admission!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
100% Crunch: Skeletons
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Stock Art: Evil Tree
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/28/2012 03:36:10
Creepy Tree what?? OK, so a creepy old tree is a pretty basic image yes? Yes. But the devil is in the details with this one, the eyes, the skull...the fact that the tree looks like it's getting ready to reach out and grab someone. Perfect image for those needing to set a darker theme for a story.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Stock Art: Evil Tree
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Demon Pack
Publisher: Kimagu
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/28/2012 03:33:49
It is hard to go wrong with an art pack from Kimagu, as the level of quality and talent is always high. Perfect for the small publisher looking to add some excellent imagery of the demonic kind to their stocks.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Demon Pack
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Portrait Pack 4
Publisher: Sade
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/28/2012 03:31:45
I bought this package because of the redhead on the thumbnail, I needed an image for a module I was building and she was perfect. The image is used in two other packages also available, one a full body with more washed out colors. So, upon deciding which of the packages to purchase I took into account total price, the descriptions of what was included and the overall coloring, for as I said the full body image of this woman appears washed out coloring wise.

What I got in return for choosing this package over the others was not what I was expecting to say the least. Looking at the quality of this image used for the thumbnail you would assume the other portraits would be of an equal caliber, and you, like I, would be wrong. The other images are extremely inferior to this one. There are exaggerated anatomies to the point of caricature, extreme cartoonish imagery and just over all unusable artwork. It is a shame that they were bundled with this image, as it lessens this purchase vastly..

Now to be clear, I very much like the image of the red-headed woman, and highly recommend you purchase any of the other packages with her in them if you are in need of such an image. It would be the other portraits bundled in to this package that make it very hard for me to suggest to anyone that they spend their money on this product.

So, in the end, 2 stars, solely for the image of the woman in green.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Portrait Pack 4
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Inkwell Stock Art: Dryad
Publisher: Inkwell Ideas
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/28/2012 03:22:37
For what it is the image is well done. Very clear and well colored. My issue would be that it seems a lot more cartoonish then it needed to be in the end. I think between the very bright colors and the facial expressions, not to mention the "bikini" of leaves, this image comes off almost as a whimsical take on a dryad...a Saturday Morning Cartoon version perhaps. Still, if that works within what you need, then the image is of good talent and skill, I just would have liked to have seen a more serious look at the dryad.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Inkwell Stock Art: Dryad
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001 - Goblin Cutthroat
Publisher: Ironhead Arts
by Joshua G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/28/2012 03:19:21
An excellent grayscale image of an older styled goblin, easily usable for a mite as well. Well Done!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
001 - Goblin Cutthroat
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