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vs. Stranger Stuff Adventure: Krampusnacht
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/15/2019 11:24:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module-compilation/series of connected vignettes/deluxe-sized adventure clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 29 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

Originally, this was intended to hit sites in time for Christmas, but due to my injury, the review fell by the wayside. Since then, I’ve been asked by one of my patreon supporters to move this up in my reviewing queue, so there we go – a holiday module! (As an aside, I like to plan ahead, so yeah, reviews are, in a way timeless, right?)

Anyhow, this compilation takes place in the meta setting of Crestview Hill, and a player-friendly map has been included in the pdf. A sample character sheet is also part of the deal, and we get a charming, hand-drawn map of a sample default house of the town. This pencil-drawn map, while sans scale or the like, doesn’t require them either, courtesy of the VsM Engine’s relative simplicity and focus on narratives. Anyway, it should be noted that this was released for the first season of Vs. Stranger Stuff, which means that it may end being somewhat easy when employed in conjunction with the second season’s rules. These rules are btw. included in the download, though personally, I’d very much recommend getting the excellent second season.

This book contains a series of 6 brief “adventures”, which you generally can complete in a single session of playing each, potentially even within an hour in some cases – these should be considered to be more akin to encounters; fast groups may even tackle more than one in a protracted gaming session. I will continue to refrain to them as “Adventures”, since that is the nomenclature employed within. The adventures can also theoretically be taken out of sequence and played as stand-alone modules/encounters/expansions for your scenarios with a bit of work, should you choose to – module #1 and #6, though, are pretty obviously ones that should be run in their intended spot when using this as a mini-campaign of sorts. I should mention, though, that these respective adventures behave more like chapters of a unified narrative, so basically, you should consider them part of a bigger adventure. It should also be noted that this does have an optional connection you could develop to Vs. Stranger Stuff: Send in the Clowns.

All right, got all of that? Great! So, in order to discuss these, I will have to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . All right, only GMs around? Great!

As for the flavor of the backdrop: Crestview Hill is suffering from the dwindling logging industry and, apart from a small plant, it’s pretty much a piece of rural Americana in decline. A recent focus of general anxiety on the youth of the town for petty crimes has blown up to a “crime wave” (Too soon for a “war on crime”, though…), and when a pentagram was spray-painted on a back wall, a healthy slice of satanic panic entered the fray. The leader of this outrage mob would be Montgomery Batefield, member of a wealthy local family.

We start these events as the adults are living it up at the Community Center, while the well-liked Jenny Winslow, a teen, does the babysitting for a lot of the neighborhood families – the PCs are thus gathered, watching some cool late night movie, when Jenny comes in bearing popcorn and pizza. The idyllic evening is interrupted by a phonecall, and Jenny seems to be agitated – she seems to be fighting with her boyfriend, her parents don’t approve of him, and since the town is considering a curfew, he tries to convince Jenny to run off with him. Visibly rattled, jenny will leave the PCs to the tender screen, to wrap some presents – and after a while, the PCs can hear thumping upstairs…and a cold breeze will be blowing from upstairs.

Investigating will yield a present, crudely-wrapped, with oozing liquid seeping from it and leaving a trail behind. Approaching the grisly package will see it develop stubby limbs that will carry it back into the room – where they’ll see the Krampus. He pronounces a sentence (Big kudos for getting the German right!), leaps from the window…and the present attacks! It btw., obviously contains the dismembered bodyparts of poor Jenny, animated as a corpse puppet. Phones are dead…and what to do now??

Well, module #2 sees the PCs trying to get to their parents – as they pass the department store, they witness little elf-like creatures vandalizing the Department Store; the PCs follow them, probably, but ultimately will have to best them in the manager’s office, where they show that they are grotesque imps – killing the weak and annoying critters sees them burst into flames…but on the plus side, the PCs can restock here!

Entering Maple Street will have the PCs witness Krampus dragging away 3 kids in chains – kids the PCs go to school with! Seeing the PCs, he’ll fling his chain up a tree and face the PCs! But before he can reach them, he mysteriously bursts into an icy, snowy flurry – from here on out, the freezing wind will act as a global penalty to PC draws, and when the PCs dislodge the chain to free the PCs, they’ll witness the chains animating as pretty tough adversaries.

Continuing, the PCs can see that there’s a power outage in the cold – all save the blaringly-lit house of Mr. Stern, which features the excess of blinking and flashing lights. Passing near, the strange lights will start to color themselves a wicked red, bathing the streets in a putrid, pinkish-red glow, as the plastic decorations are filled with unearthly life and attack – including reindeer and a snowman…and once these have been taken care of, plastic Santa will come as a pretty tough boss.

While the others are site-based, the 5th sequence is not – Cruel Christmas has the PCs see ominous signs of violence – blood splotches on snow banks, hoof prints in the snow, a car with holes punched in…with piles of crashed cars as strange barriers…and when the PCs hear a gunshot ringing, they will witness deputy Dewey bleeding out, skewered by a zombie reindeer! Powerful and deadly, there are plenty of them…and they’ll herd the PCs towards the Community Center. It is here that Batefield used his occult knowledge to dupe the townsfolk into contributing their energies to the subtle summoning of Krampus. The smartest PCs get to engage in a Brains challenge to come up with a couple of deductions that may or may not be true, depending on the GM: Depending on how complex you’d like to make the showdown, you can use multiple components of the potential Krampus-binding to modify the showdown, for the adults have been drugged. It’s up to the Kids to stop the cultist and Krampus – both of which are potent foes…nice angle, btw.: Particularly good children may be invulnerable regarding Krampus, for he can, after all, only hurt naughty children. (And yep, going outside is a convenient justification to declare PCs naughty if you have a group of goody-two-shoes.)

The pdf closes with notes on how to handle longer adventures such as this, as well as suggested rewards.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting re very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a nice one-column or two-column full-color standard with a nice mix of photography-style b/w and full-color artwork. The cartography is nice and full color. Downside: The pdf is not properly bookmarked, which constitutes a comfort detriment.

Lucus Palosaari and Rick Hershey provide a nice Christmas mini-campaign for the Vs. Stranger Stuff game. The series ticks off all the different takes and takes on a particularly apocalyptic tone that I didn’t expect here; not content with a series of standard vignettes, this goes one step further, and is better off for it. Global effects and pretty tough challenges that can be customized, particularly in the ends, represent pretty cool components. I kinda wished that the connective tissues here had been a bit more pronounced, that there had been a bit more interconnectedness and consequence between and within the sections of the module, but this is me complaining at a high level – the finale and start and overall atmosphere make up for being mechanically somewhat straight. All in all, I do consider this to be a fun, well-wrought mini-campaign. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Stranger Stuff Adventure: Krampusnacht
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(5E) Expanded Options #07 - Skill Specializations
by Darryl J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/10/2019 01:38:03

A nice system for introducing some more depth to characters. Applying a proficiency in narrow situations, and even having rules for skill specialization while being proficient in a skill gives useful growth opportunities.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
(5E) Expanded Options #07 - Skill Specializations
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(5E) Expanded Options #02 - Monster Lore Skill for 5th Edition Fantasy
by Darryl J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/10/2019 00:42:37

A very simple system for having characters know more about the world around them. This will mesh perfectly with a setting that prioritizes harvesting parts from kills.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
(5E) Expanded Options #02 - Monster Lore Skill for 5th Edition Fantasy
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vs. Stranger Stuff Adventure: The Mad Gasser
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/01/2019 15:08:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure for Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 1 (fully compatible with season 2!) clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

I’ve been asked by one of my patreon supporters to move this up in my reviewing queue.

It should be noted that this adventure is also fully compatible with Vs. Ghosts.

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . All right, only GMs around? Great! So, there is a case of “mass hysteria” making the rounds, as there seems to be a prowler on the loose, who anaesthetizes people. The people seem to be paralyzed, which may sound like sleep paralysis or the like – or be similarly explained away. So far, these attacks have not see the people affected injured, but yeah…when Jessica, a smart, cute and popular girl fails to show up at school, the PCs will bring her homework and look after her – she is rattled and tired, and while her dad maintains that nothing happened on a spade, the PCs probably will want to investigate.

Investigating her house will notice old boxes at the back of the house, marks in the garden, and really diligent PCs may remember something on the WWII-era Mad Gasser – though research at the library will be really helpful – and show that only families descendant from the original victims are hit by these visitations…and that the culprit was never found. Staking out the place will put the PCs in conflict with the Mad Gasser – who gets stats for both Vs. Stranger Stuff and Vs. Ghosts, being quite tough in both systems.

Here’s a big plus: The pdf does not prescribe a solution. Instead, from not explaining the phenomenon to government R&D, madmen, a cryptid, a nazi ghost – all possible. And better yet, the different solutions regarding the entity actually matter on a mechanical level, for both systems! Cool, btw.: The gasser cannot just paralyze everyone – this is no “save or suck”-style scenario.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard with thematically-fitting b/w-artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Ben Dowell’s brief little yarn is a short encounter-series and a pretty basic investigation, elevated by the versatile villain and the variations provided here. It’s not a gamechanger, but it is a fun little module. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Stranger Stuff Adventure: The Mad Gasser
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vs. Stranger Stuff Adventure: Creepy Clowns
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/01/2019 14:58:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure for Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 1 (compatible with Season 2, just fyi) clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

I’ve been asked by one of my patreon supporters to move this up in my reviewing queue, so there we go!

It should be noted that this adventure is included in Vs. Stranger Stuff: Send in the Clowns, which also provides rules and additional adventures. If you want to dip your toes into Coulrophobia, this pdf is the way to go; if you really want to embrace darkened clown-tales, get the big book – it has more stuff and revamped and refined layout etc.!

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, fall is approaching and, in a time-honored tradition, older kids, bullies and pricks have decided that it’s fun to do the horror clown and frighten the young ones – so that’s the backdrop. The module then proceeds to do something structurally interesting: Taking a cue from RPG-classics like the original Ravenloft module, the adventure has a randomization effect: The module has the players draw cards in the beginning – the suits then determine the structure of certain aspects of the game, hooks, etc.. We begin with an encounter with a clown-painted bully, and after that, the Kids will, after school, notice absurdly large footprints – following them, they may well witness a clown goon, recruiting one of these bullies, transforming them! Beyond the combat, there may well be an epidemic if the kids don’t stop it! And indeed, the local carnival may well be the source, with no less than 4 radically different scenarios, including 3 different boss stats, waiting for them! Really cool little adventure. Huge plus for the replay value! This makes for an excellent convention game that doesn’t become boring for the GM after running it twice. The module also comes with a nice good gimmick as a reward.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and while not as refined as in the big book, it’s a nice pdf to look at. The pdf sports some rather creepy full-color artworks and has a single bookmark that points towards the start of the module.

I really enjoyed this module by Ben Dowell – the randomization enhances the replay value significantly, and the adventure per se is fun, diverse and intriguing. 5 stars, with the caveat that I strongly encourage you to get the big “Vs. Stranger Stuff: Send in the Clowns”-book instead, as linked below on my homepage.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Stranger Stuff Adventure: Creepy Clowns
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vs. the Wasteland
by James E. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/13/2019 14:05:19

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this product for the purpose of this review.

It's bigger! It's badder! It's probably going to result in a lot of Mad Max references, too. This black-and-white product is 110 pages long, most of which are content. Like most of the other vs. M system products, this is extremely easy to pick up and play. Character creation is just a few choices, and from there you're ready to dive into the wasteland. The speed and simplicity of the system means that this product is best played over one or two sessions with friends - it is not, and is not intended to be, a years-long campaign slogging through the grim darkness of the not-so-far future. It is, however, very good at what it is designed to do. It's best played with a deck of cards, but you can substitute a d12 using the provided guidelines if needed. A helpful random adventure generator can generate plots if you need them.

Overall, I like this product. Post-apocalyptic is fun and this is a great way to pass some time with friends or family.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
vs. the Wasteland
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Publisher's Choice -Equipment Subscription
by Brian E. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/24/2018 22:35:41

All of the images included in this product are of good quality, but I have to say that I was quite disappointed to find that none of the items on the cover image are included. I would not have purchased if that had been clear, so I feel this practice was deceptive.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher's Choice -Equipment Subscription
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Quick Covers- Landscape Edition
by Bryan H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/21/2018 10:12:55

There aren't many covers in this format, and to get four in the pack is deligtful. Highly recommend, especially if your cover art can "pop out" of the center area.

Protip: if you want to make the center area larger, you can crop both halves and adjust accordingly! I can't do that with many of these cover projects!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Quick Covers- Landscape Edition
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Standard Stock Art: Issue 6 - Vile Beasts
by Richard W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/13/2018 08:05:58

These are some weird-looking monsters, exactly what I needed for my setting book!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Standard Stock Art: Issue 6 - Vile Beasts
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Publisher's Choice - Classic Horror Portraits
by Richard W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/13/2018 07:57:59

I used a couple of these portraits for pregenerated characters in my minimalist RPG, they were perfect!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher's Choice - Classic Horror Portraits
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Rick Hershey Art Rates 2018
by Richard W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/04/2018 02:33:58

It's very convenient having a list of rates and examples like this, I wish more artists would do the same.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Rick Hershey Art Rates 2018
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5th Edition Horror
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/23/2018 04:45:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive toolkit clocks in at 132 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 127 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested to be moved up in my queue by one of my patreons, and winter’s always been the season for horror for me, so I was more than happy to oblige!

Now, as you can glean from the sheer page-count, going into the usual level of detail for this book would bloat the review beyond any immediate usefulness. Hence, I will instead attempt to take an approach focusing on broad strokes.

First things first: I’m a sucker for horror and dark fantasy; I am exceedingly well-read regarding horror-literature, and RPG-supplements. This, alas, makes me a pretty critical fellow regarding supplements such as this, which purport to provide the necessary toolkit to play a proper horror game with an engine that is not necessarily made for it. As an aside: Neither 5e nor Pathfinder or similar games with a relatively high PC-power-level are made for horror games, but it is very much possible to use them as such, courtesy of the modularity of the systems. Such games may not be particularly adept at depicting purist Cthulhu-horror akin to what Call of Cthulhu does; instead, these systems excel at providing the frame-work for campaigns wherein the PCs are the lone, the mad and driven, those that dare peak beyond the veil and face the horrors lurking just out of sight, that battle these overwhelming foes.

As such, and I have written on that subject matter rather extensively, the first thing that is important to drive home, would be the tone and how the players and GMs approach the game. I likened this to a contract of sorts: Players are expected to not attempt to “win” the game and instead focus upon developing the atmosphere and experience; similarly, GMs are expected not to abuse the pretense of a horror game to engage in a power-trip and kill off PCs just for the heck of it or to make a point.

This supplement does the first thing right by explaining how the tonal differences require different approaches by players and GMs alike and then, the book proceeds to explore different horror-subgenres and what they may or may not entail. This also discusses the role of creatures in horror and how they should be used – in short, the beginning of the book represents a well-reasoned and pretty comprehensive series of ideas that players and GMs alike should carefully read and contemplate. This eliminates one of the biggest hurdles that games dabbling in horror tend to experience, so kudos for the awareness!

The second chapter provides the new write-ups for races that fit the idea of a horror-campaign, and indeed, I was delighted to find that the races themselves, in power-levels, tend to gravitate towards the more conservative side of things, even when depicting the more monstrous side of things. What makes sense from a narrative point of view certainly can be found among the abilities in mechanical representations. Calibans, the catch-all term for the somewhat disfigured individuals, for example, get a feature that lets them, once per long-rest-interval end up at 1 hit point instead of below 0. The rules provided here, to further use this example, counterbalance their more powerful critical hits by imposing disadvantage on all Charisma-based checks. This is as well a place as any to note that, while for the most part, the editing and formatting is consistent and maintains functionality, there are quite a few instances where minor deviations can be found. A reference to an attribute that is not capitalized here, racial features that have their names bolded, but not italicized (at least this deviation is consistent throughout most of the chapter – excluding the wretched, which are properly formatted), a spell reference not italicized – there are a couple of these to be found. Thankfully, these usually do not impact the functionality of the respective rules-material within. Among the races, we can also find changelings, the graveborn risen from humanoid races (with variable racial heritages), ravenfolk, shadelings, were-kin…and aforementioned wretched, who are basically living constructs. Mechanically, graveborn and were-kin are probably the most interesting ones here, as the former provides different ability score adjustments for 5 different were-species, and it makes original heritage regarding race matter, which is a big plus. While the more horrific races tend to be slightly stronger than the less horrific ones, it should be noted that social stigma and the like can and should be much more pronounced within the contexts of a horror game. The graveborn’s template has a slightly confusing formatting glitch in the Ravenfolk heritage column of its table, which implies an ability to choose size, which RAW the Ravenfolk race does not have.

The next chapter provides the apothecary base class, which is, oddly, called “alchemist” or “pharmacist” a couple of times in the flavor text, which is something I’d certainly appreciate in a novel, but slightly less so in a gaming supplement. The class gets 1d8 HD, proficiency with light armor, shields, simple weapons, hand crossbow, the poisoner’s, medical and herbalism kits as well as the alchemy lab, and they get proficiency with Constitution and Wisdom saves as well as two skills chosen from Deception, Medicine, Nature, Perception, Sleight of Hand and Survival. The class comes with a proper equipment-selection and quick-build table. The class gains ability score improvements at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, and basically could be called a full spellcaster of sorts, save that the spell-engine is translated into so-called philters, with byproducts taking the place of cantrips. The supremely ambitious component of this class would be that it recodifies the spells as drams, oils, smoke bombs and throwable glass vials, which means that the respective base spellcasting engine does feature a rather extensive change of how these spells feel when they’re applied. The governing key ability modifier for the class is Wisdom. The class features gained are actually pretty interesting and well-chosen for their respective levels; 3rd, 6th, 10th and 14th level provide the so-called field abilities. A field of study is basically the archetype/primal path/etc. of the class, and three are provided…including experimental medicine that may duplicate restoration effects at the cost of exhaustion levels…and no, said levels may not be cured by the ability. Nice catch! Aforementioned alchemy lab item is presented alongside a pretty nice spell-list. I did not expect to like this neat class-hack to this extent.

All core classes also receive their own archetypes, and the design continues to follow a path that is not the most simple one, but ends up being more rewarding. Let’s take the possessed berserker, for example – as you have guessed, this would be a barbarian primal path. This one is actually three archetypes in one: You get to choose whether your possession and black-outs stem from a possessing entity, a supernatural curse or an unholy lineage, and this choice radically changes the abilities you will gain as you progress throughout the archetype. I really enjoyed this fellow, more so that the by now somewhat obligatory sad/tragic bard college, which, in contrast, feels a bit less interesting. We also get the Entropy domain, the circle of primordial might, an undead hunter fighter, a corrupt contemplative monk (cool!), the paladin oath of light (including proper tenets of devotion),a monster hunter ranger…and rogues can become detective. Sorcerors may choose the aberrant bloodline, warlocks can swear fealty to an undead lord (cough Strahd, Azalin, et al…) and wizards can elect to become void savants…which is interesting, courtesy of a unique cantrip that is pretty potent and which may instill permanent madnesses in targets. As an aside: The theme of void magic has also been done admirably for 5e by Kobold Press – the Deep Magic supplement on Void Magic makes for a great complement to this book. But I digress.

One of my favorite aspects of 5e, and one that is imho often underappreciated (and underutilized by designers), would be the background. Granted, this may be due to the pretty limited impact it has on character creation, which may well be one aspect that e.g. D&D 5.5, should it ever happen, contemplate increasing. Anyhow, the backgrounds within this book mostly do actually come with the extensive tables for personality, ideal, etc. generation, and the features they provide tend to matter more as well, courtesy of the tighter focus on horror gaming on the one hand; on the other, also thanks to the author actually doing some interesting things: We get alternate features to choose from, and e.g. an innocent may be overlooked by the darkness, the mad (who needs to be…well…mad) be taken for a harmless fellow…you get the idea. These backgrounds are really cool and emphasize the angle of the humane, of the being that is not necessarily a superhero.

However, as the book managed to allude to in chapter 1, the most common and beloved genre among horror adventures would be the investigation, and D&D 5e’s skill system is not necessarily geared towards monster identification. The book addresses this by introducing the new Monster Lore skill…but more interesting (and less intrusive) would be that there is a breakdown of the skill to present knowledge: A monster type is associated with an existing skill as the focus, and an affinity, which would be a class. Barbarians, for example, will be more knowledgeable regarding beasts, paladins regarding fiends, clerics regarding undead – this split of competences is explained in a concise manner and makes sense to me. It also ensures that all members of the groups will be in a position to contribute to the subject matter at one point in time. The explanation of the check per se is also tight and easy to grasp at first reading.

The pdf also presents an array of diverse feats that include being a (not yet, but probably soon-to-be tortured) artist, the ability to tweak your spells to inflict necrotic damage, better hiding, being associated with the undead…the feats are as potent as 5e deserves and as thematically-consistent as the subject matter demands. Yes, there is a feat for PCs who want to be Grotesque. The book also contains a pretty massive equipment chapter that notes improvised weaponry, diverse kits, stats for neck guards, fortune-teller’s decks…you get the idea. The pdf also features an array of new spells, with appropriate classes noted. While the “At Higher Levels.”-header isn’t italicized properly for them, they do fit thematically and fit the themes. Damage isn’t beyond what you’d expect for the respective levels. Now, literature is filled with examples of rituals being performed by those not steeped in their lore, as well as the dangers this may entail. As such, the book provides a ritual-engine that is based on 5e’s already existing rules for spells with the ritual-tag, but does expand them with a misfortune table for flawed rituals, including the suggestion of curses. The rituals themselves are classics – from exorcism to magic seal the 4 such rituals presented made me grin from ear to ear. This is certainly a section that could have used a couple of expansions. Anyhow, there obviously also are magical items within this tome, and these range from the bag of rats (cue in all endy-makes-a-bag of rats/kittens-complaint ever…) that does what it says – it calls forth a rat swarm. No, the item, ironically, can’t be abused. More lethal murder blades, cursed gems, idols sanctified by demons, a magical grave-robber’s shovel...a fun selection here, with item scarcity properly noted.

Chapter 8 of this tome deals with a topic close to my heart – hazards. From poisons (which include ones that cause temporary petrification) to diseases, we get a couple of stars here, including rules for calcification viruses (yet, now you can quickly convert more than one module from PF or OSR-games) to rosen doom, these often tie back to classics. The Marblewife syndrome certainly hearkens back to visions of Pygmalion, and Telepathitis…can just be nasty. In this chapter, the author obviously went all out and blended creative tricks with classic tropes for fresh and fun executions of diseases that the players will fear. Now, since I already touched the matter of conversion: One of the issues you may encounter when converting a late 3.X or PF module would be haunts. Well, no longer. The supernatural effects and the like now receive a proper, easy to grasp and comprehensive engine in 5e that can vastly enrich horror-gameplay and take a ton of work off your shoulders. And yes, sample ones are provided.

….and this is where we take a look at the supreme discipline of any such horror toolkit ever. Fear & Madness. Too loose, and things feel wrong; too stringent, and the roleplaying aspect is lost. D&D 5e already sports a pretty robust madness-engine, thankfully, and the book indeed does build on them, suggesting changes to a couple of spells, providing additional disorders and suggestions for nonmagical curing, etc., as well as Medicine skill uses for proper care of the afflicted. The rules-suggestions here can be picked apart and chosen as per your preferences and remain, as a whole, sufficiently modular. The book, in a plus I did not expect, actually discusses the effects of combining insanity and the realities of a fantasy setting in some detail. That being said, somewhat to my disappointment, we do not, for example, get a 6-step fear condition-progression, which imho would have suited the theme rather well.

This concludes the section that is intended for both players and GMs alike – so yeah, the book is smart in that the player-facing components start out the supplement. Advice for the GM regarding treasure and campaign structure, about places where the planes blur and mingle…you get the idea. Even if you are a veteran, the GM-section does have something for you: Approximately 20 pages of the supplement are devoted to delightful horror monsters, featuring often rather efficient b/w-artworks that drive home rather well how twisted these are. Some classics like dark folk are found here alongside corpse dragons and marrow oozes. And yes, where applicable, lair notes are provided. I believe in credit where credit is due: The formatting here is much more precise and consistent than it previously was – big kudos! The section goes beyond that and provides something that 5e often shirks away from, even though it is super helpful: Templates. Need a mastermind, a serial killer, etc.? Just take the base critter, apply the template, et voilà! It’s not for every critter, obviously, but for key NPCs? Damn fine. I love these, but oddly, ability names have neither been bolded, nor italicized here. We conclude the book with a final, sample villain and some ideas.

Conclusion:

Editing is generally very good on a rules-language level, and similarly rather impressive on a formal level, particularly considering the size of this massive toolkit. That being said, the same can’t be said about formatting. It is only in this aspect that the book truly feels somewhat rushed – one concentrated pass to ensure that spells and features are properly formatted would have taken away the one constant aspect that kinda bugged me about this book. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard, with blood-splotches and a grimy feel – it is just as beautiful as we’d expect it to be. the interior artwork greatly benefits from the use of b/w-artworks that, in stark, black lines, set themselves apart from the background. The artworks manage to blend the copious original pieces and stock art in a quasi-journal-like manner that ends up looking impressive in how concise it is. In short: The layout is gorgeous. The second aspect, wherein the book feels slightly rushed, apart from formatting, would be the bookmarks. We only get bookmarks for the chapter-headers, which means that navigation of the electronic version could be a tad bit more comfortable. I cannot comment on the print-version, but considering the broad scope in which this book may be applied, I’d probably designate that version as the go-to iteration.

I am honestly impressed by this massive toolkit. Not only has author Ismael Alvarez written, at least in my book, perhaps his best supplement so far, he has actually managed to craft a toolkit that is almost ridiculous in its usefulness. He has written the 5e-horror-conversion guide that I never had the time to finish writing for my home games. Am I going to use all components of this book? Heck no. But I’m bound to return to this time and again – from the haunt-rules to the diseases to the surprisingly cool (and still down to earth) races to the class options, this turned out to be a veritable treasure trove of horror material. Granted, the book does show some signs in its formal criteria that it had to be rushed to an extent to meet the Halloween-season head-on, but these formal hiccups don’t really impede the quality of what’s here. While these do keep it from claiming a spot among my Top Ten candidates for the year, I am still exceedingly impressed, and grateful, I might add, to now have basically a one-stop-shop destination for horror gameplay and 5e, whether it’s for Ravenloft, Shadows over Vathak or other settings and supplements. As such, this book, in spite of its minor blemishes, claims the 5 stars + seal of approval that rightfully belongs to this tome. If you even remotely enjoy horror games and want to bring that to 5e, well, then this is your book.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
5th Edition Horror
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vs. Stranger Stuff: Season 2 - So You’re a Teenage Witch
by David F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/11/2018 14:55:53

Fat Goblin Games creates a fantastic expansion to their already super sweet Stranger Things Season 2 core rpg. This 23 paged (by pdf count) booklet is packed full of magic goodness and draws its inspiration from (but not limited to) Chilling Tales of Sabrina, Charmed, The Craft, Salem, Hocus Pocus, The Witches of Eastwick, Teen Witch, Witch’s Brew. The information is well layout and is a very fun, quick read but the information found within can change a game of Stranger Things Season 2 into a very different beast and turns it up to 11 with the amount of options available here.

Lucus Palosaari's writing talents are on point and strong in this one (as always), along with the ever present talent of head gobbo Rick Hersey. The two have created a very strong and "must have" expansion to an already top notch core product like Stranger Things Season 2. And the for the price point you are getting more than your money's worth with how usable the information found within.

Fat Goblin Games once again shows their love and passion for making great games and in creating top quality support products for their in house game lines. This expansion adds more options to an already robust toolkit found within the core book. I can't wait to implement this into the next game I run.

Well done!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
vs. Stranger Stuff: Season 2 - So You’re a Teenage Witch
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Shadows over Vathak: Ina'oth - Echo of Plagues
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/30/2018 11:58:25

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This horror-adventure clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This module is set in the region of Ina’oth in the criminally-underrated Vathak setting. If you even remotely enjoyed Ravenloft and similar settings, I firmly suggest checking out the whole product line right now – it features some of the most inspiring sourcebooks out there, and I’ve reviewed pretty much all of them. (The Ina’oth-guides for Players and GMs, in particular, will help you get a feeling for the unique themes – and in horror and dark fantasy, theme is extremely important.)

It should be noted that the pdf includes 6 sample pregens, who, power-level-wise, are approximately on par with one another. These use Vathak-specific rules, obviously, but all that you need to run them is included within this module. The pdf does feature copious amounts of read-aloud text, so if generating a proper atmosphere is not your strong suit, this has you covered.

All righty, this being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Only GMs around? Great! We join the PCs as they are on the road through the regions where the fell Plague of Shadows once ravaged the lands, towards the former capital of Ursatur, and they are escorting the romni trader (lavishly-illustrated with a stunning artwork) Nuri Brovna, and they’ve been on the road for some time. The pdf does provide a couple of hooks here for your convenience.

Anyways, after a flavorful introductory text, the adventure proceeds to confront the PCs with a cadre of bhriota raiders – these guys attack the wheels, and the module uses an abstraction here, telling you to track the number of attacks executed against the wheels. While I totally get the narrative importance of the state of the wagon, I do think that providing stats for the wagon would have been the more “Pathfindery” thing to do here. It doesn’t negatively impact the adventure, but from an aesthetic point of view, it’s something that bugs me.

After driving off the raiders, the PCs will have a chance to test their skills and problem-solving in a skill-challenge of sorts, wherein they extract the wagon from the raider’s pit. Tracking down the raiders, now or later, to their camp will be appreciated by the locals, just fyi. Arriving at Jelsana, the wagons and PCs are inspected by locals muttering under their breath about diseases before being allowed to enter the village, where furtive and fearful gazes are sent towards the PCs by the funerary-garbed locals. A brief run-down of the village and its movers and shakers is provided for your convenience, and the movers and shakers have small quests for the PCs, which can be used to gain favor with the respective important NPCs.

They may well be invited by the councilor (whose header lacks an “l” – his last name is “Spiel”, German for “game”, not “Spie”…), and while the PCs are waiting for the wagon to be repaired, Spiel will get down to business after a pleasant meal: There is a mass-grave from the time of the Plague of Shadows upriver, and bodies have been exposed by the recent rains. He is looking for folks willing to burn the bodies, just to make sure that they don’t attract ghouls or are washed downriver. At the grisly site, dangerous, massive maggots constitute an optional and nasty fight…

Guard capain Krunedorf has a smuggler-problem, and the smugglers may need some convincing to divulge their methods…but, you know, that smuggler fellow…he looks fit, but he’s sweating profusely…does he have a fever? The local priest, Father Heinrich, is constantly creating new remedies, and testing one and providing feedback may help win him over…though the slightly disturbing method he uses may caution PCs: The medicine includes old human bones…which the smugglers get into town…

All of these quests are a setting of the stage for the main meat of the module: The outbreak! A disease is suddenly there, and it’s quickly dubbed “traveler’s fever” – and the goodwill of the authorities is all that holds back a lynch-mob! The PCs, whether they know it or not, are on a timer – and if they dawdle, they may very well face the need to escape from town in the dead of the night. But the wagon may well not yet be repaired…

The truth of the subject matter can be deduced by various means by the PCs: The bones sold to father Heinrich are harmless, but the flesh that the smugglers removed from the excavated mass grave’s victims…well, it’s not, Sharing this with the public in a convincing manner will see the smugglers burned alive, with a climactic battle purely optional!

Personally, I think this is amazing: The module does not throw yet another tentacle thing as a boss at the PCs, it is a tale of paranoia and violence, of greed and human frailty, and the climax, the burning, can make for a great tonal reinforcement that serves to drive home the themes and feeling of Vathak.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level; I noticed a few minor mistakes, but nothing serious. Layout adheres to Vathak’s amazing two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports really nice full-color artworks. The module comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Okay, veterans of my reviews will have deduced what the one thing is that I don’t like about the adventure. It has no maps. Not for the road-side ambush (okay, we can make those), but also, alas, not for the village and the places within. There is a map for the region, taken from the Vathak-sourcebooks, but that’s it. This means, ultimately, that the village feels slightly less defined than it should be, a bit opaque, if you will. Granted, it is an issue that is easy enough to remedy with the copious amounts of villages and their maps from e.g. Raging Swan Press’ village backdrop-series, but yeah…that’s a downside.

In spite of that, though, I found myself enjoying Landon Winkler’s adventure much more than I expected to. While the set-up and tasks are deceptively simple, they manage to perfectly establish how a Vathak campaign should feel; that it’s not just a high-fantasy world with dark stuff painted on. Instead, the module establishes the leitmotif for the region in a concise manner; it highlights anxieties and opts for a pretty daring conclusion. It is, in short, more courageous than I expected it to be, and does a better job of showing, not telling, the PLAYERS how Vathak works and feels differently. (As an aside: Yes, you can play this in Ravenloft and similar settings with minimal tweaks.)

So yeah, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would! My final verdict for this one will be 4.5 stars due to the minor hiccups and lack of cartography, but I will round up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows over Vathak: Ina'oth - Echo of Plagues
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Castle Falkenstein: The Black Lady of Brodick Castle: An Adventure Entertainment
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/22/2018 09:32:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Mesdames et messieurs, it has been too long since I had the opportunity to welcome you all in my salon for the purposes of the only past-time appropriate for the discerning connoisseur of proper pedigree – it is time that we once more engage in our favorite past-time and start a round of the Great Game! We shall, during today’s meeting, engage in a subject matter that is not for the faint of heart, but as Samhain’s approaching and thus, the season may seem appropriate to indulge in the darkly romantic flights of fancy one associates with those newfangled degenerates touting themselves as “Romantics” – with the proper distance of a distinguished New European perspective, of course.

Our discussion will today focus on the latest adventure entertainment released by the esteemed Fat Goblin Games, penned by none other than Lady Jennifer R. Povey. We are looking at a booklet of 26 pages in size, with one page devoted to the cover, one to the editorial, and one to advertisement – it seems the Fat Goblin Games authors are peddling wares beyond those immediately applicable, but nonetheless potentially useful for our purposes.

In the unfortunately all too likely event that some dastardly scoundrel has recently managed to compromise your integrity by stealing this most valuable of commodities commonly known as time, rest assured that a total of 6 different pregenerated dramatic characters are included within this booklet, presenting a variety of beings, included a distinguished member of the Fae, and, please be strong, dear ladies, an American – a woman, and one who is both unmarried and wealthy! Uncouth indeed, but it is right and proper to share culture, correct? Is it not the responsibility of the noble and distinguished of New Europa to elucidate and enlighten, to teach to transcend?

Exactly! Anyways, these illustrious being have direct reasons provided for partaking in the sojourn presented within these pages, and they all feature a visual representation to help you picture them in that most wondrous of third eyes that we often call imagination. The attention to detail here does, I’m very much afraid, cut into the fabric of this fine tome, though – no less than 10 pages are devoted to this illustrious and well-written cadre.

Now, it is obvious and proper, but I’d like to exclaim that only the most dastardly of scoundrels would continue reading what it to follow; only the illustrious society of right and proper hosts should continue reading, as we are bound to dive deeply into what the common man has taken to call by the moniker of “SPOILER” – pardon my French.

..

.

Now that all potential people of proper pedigree that wish to partake in this adventure entertainment taken their temporary leave, now that we hosts are among our peers, let us discuss the curious and confounding subject matter and happenstances elucidated within these pages.

After a brief recap of the dramatis personae encountered within, all of which are presented with the information deemed necessary to employ them in the capacity of conversation partners or foils for the dramatic characters, we are introduced to the lay of the land – in this case, regarding the Isle of Arran in Scotland, which has recently seen a significant influx of land consolidation, as progress marches ever onwards. The eponymous Brodick Castle has always, as superstitious rural folk are wont to weave them, been host to many a macabre tale, but in recent times, a new specter seems to have actually manifested there – the Black Lady. Speculation, obviously, runs rampant as scholars of dubious repute and devotees of the macabre speculate on the nature of said entity – are we looking at a ghost? A dread banshee, mayhaps?

The esteemed London Society of Phantasmal Research, to be more precise, the esteemed Mrs. Memory Lord (a peculiar name, n’est-ce pas?), seeks to proper investigate the cause of this puzzling phenomenon, and thus contacts an illustrious cadre of cavaliers and ladies, i.e. the dramatic characters, to travel to the Isle of Arran and investigate the occurrences. Mrs. Lord is childhood friends with Lady McIlroy, and as such, worries, as any kind-hearted soul would, for the safety of her childhood friend.

Approaching the castle, the dramatic characters will bear witness to this novel idea of tourism, this notion of visiting places for sheer enjoyment; while understandable regarding the changes that have come upon the centers of our bustling economies, it is still a tendency I believe to be one that is rather peculiar and that warrants some investigation and contemplation regarding its moral consequences. A henchman named Sheach acts as the carriage driver and person to introduce the dramatic characters to the quaint village pub, aptly named Eider’s Down.

Laird Thomas McIlroy, a gentleman of flawless manners and mien, proceeds to invite the dramatic characters to tea and lunch, as is right and proper, but curiously those among you gifted with sufficient empathy, or those who have developed the keen sense of characters commonly ascribed to the fairer sex, may pick up on the curious notion of the Laird being less than enthused by the presence of the dramatic characters. The interior of the castle is, much like the outside, one that hearkens to the gifts of some of the more maligned among the Fae – impressive at first glance, they show signs of decrepitude and decay. And indeed, an exorcism of sorts is considered to be completely out of the question, which reminded me of the old adage of the madness of living in one’s history, but I digress. Still, a curious defense of a spirit so haunted, isn’t it?

The Lady is, alas, not much help either, as poor Lady Sheena McIlroy is bedridden with a malaise and thus not wont to engage in much wandering. More helpful would be the nexus of any form of rumormongering engaged in through the spheres, whether sub-or supralunar – the barkeeper can indeed fill the dramatic characters in regarding a rather interesting assortment of peculiar observations; one of these is an illicit affair between, scandalously, the pastor’s daughter. Yes, sure, the Laird would be the other party, but noblesse oblige, isn’t that right Mesdames et messieurs?

The girl does not take kindly to strangers and seeks to avoid confrontation, but ultimately buckles under the cajoling and proper application of social graces and decorum exhibited by so well-traveled individuals as the PCs, admitting to the affair (which, in a manner that is rather scandalous) seems to not only have been consummated – she actually has been promised the tawdry frippery of money to follow her pipe-dream of taking to the grand stages of New Europa! A truly thorough investigation of the castle’s gardens will not only unearth the Black Lady’s glove, but also a secret entrance, undoubtedly intended for use by servants in husbandry – but curiously, no trace of magic!

Indeed, attempting to confront the Black lady may well have her drop a scarf that should render the truth rather obvious, even if you, which you undoubtedly have, already are very much cognizant of the actual situation: The Laird has been using his mistress to generate…income. A member of nobility? Verily, New Europa is heading towards turbulent times, it seems! However, just as the dramatic characters are convinced that they have solved this mystery 8and they’d be correct in that assumption), the doors of the castle fly open and Caitir Mac An Aba, the banshee of Arran, storms in, intent of punishing the Laird for sullying her good name and legacy! The mighty fae may be reasoned with, sure, but is that the right course? Would a grisly demise at her talons be more appropriate? It is up to the dramatic characters to decide that.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, the terms applied to judging the formal criteria of prose and adherence to conventions by tradition and necessity, are executed in an expertly manner. The artworks taken from the wealth of visual representations taken from what is commonly known as public domain, are well-chosen indeed, and the artistic rendition of the pages themselves, organized in 2 columns and full color, is aesthetically pleasing, as we’ve come to expect from rick Hershey. The magical shortcuts, those fae-paths that allow for quick navigation of the ephemeral, magical version of this adventure entertainment, the things commonly referred to as “bookmarks”, are provided for your convenience.

Lady Jennifer R. Povey proves that the mind of this lady can indeed conjure forth adventure entertainments that can provide a rather entertaining time for all concerned; however, one should not be remiss to mention that the adventure entertainment may best be suited for newer players of the Great Game; veteran investigators will potentially consider the truth to be rather obvious from the very arrival onwards – a couple of false leads and a few more pages would have elevated this adventure entertainment beyond the comparably simple solution provided. This notwithstanding, I feel comfortable in pronouncing, judging from both mien and reaction of those gathered here, that enjoyment was had while solving this mystery – mainly courtesy of the finale, I might add. As such, the verdict bestowed upon this adventure entertainment will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Castle Falkenstein: The Black Lady of Brodick Castle: An Adventure Entertainment
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