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Scourge of the Tikbalang
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/17/2018 04:20:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, this module is made with two systems in mind – Zzarchov Kowolski’s NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival) and OSR-gaming. Which system? Well, none. Like in the other self-published modules the author has written, we get very minimalistic OSR-stats: Class and level, if any, are noted. AC is given with the armor equivalent à la “AC: As leather and shield (high Dexterity)”, and attacks are similarly noted, though sample values are provided. The Stats also come with hit points.

NGR, a criminally underrated system in my book, gets somewhat more detailed stats, so if you have the luxury of choice, I’d suggest the latter. Still, fleshing out the OSR-stats is no big deal and won’t take long.

Anyways, I should note that you can run this, at least potentially, as is. Why? You can actually solve the module without shedding a single drop of blood, without rolling a single attack roll. I’d suggest around 1st to 3rd level regarding level range. The module has no maps, but needs none.

In spite of the option to solve it sans violence, “Scourge of Tikbalang” represents one of the darkest modules I have ever read, and the author has provided a trigger-warning in the beginning – AND urges GMs to really think about it. I applaud this. And the module actually doesn’t achieve its gravity and impact with gore.

This module takes place in a quasi-Phillipine village, with a very subdued potential note for a colonialist angle, but reskinning to e.g. Europe during the time of witch-trials or Loudon-ish contexts is pretty simple. You just need an equivalent for the Tikbalang.

And this is pretty much as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great!

In case you’re not familiar with the Tikbalang: It’s an ogre-ish trickster-spirit with a horse-skull head (nice b/w-artwork included!) that has hooves, is somewhat malignantly mischievous…and it ostensibly rapes virgins to produce more of its ilk. Yes, folklore can be messed up.

This is the issue the PCs have to solve: In a backwater village of motley napa huts, under the auspice of a greedy, old elder, the PCs hear a tale of woe, as Dakila Magbanua’s wife, the beautiful Mayumi, has been raped by the tikbalang. Dakila, the leader of the local militia, was first at the scene. Mayumi has since started showing that she’s pregnant – a horrible fate awaits her, for if the tikbalang is not slain, she will give birth to such a monstrosity….a fate that the backwater village culture is poised to prevent in the obvious manner. Worse, Mayumi has not been the only victim: Since then, Kiko Tala, a frumpy teenager, has also fallen prey to the tikbalang’s predations. One Magtanggol Palad, an accomplished pig hunter, confirms the presence of the monster, and nonagenarian Malaya Laksina has seen the horrid thing over the village…it seems like the PCs have their work cut out for them. Find the monster and slay it!

Except, that’s not the case. The cake is a lie, the tikbalang doesn’t exist. The old woman is senile. Kiko is, pardon my French, an attention-whore who doesn’t grasp how sex works yet. Dakila, if pressed, mentions that Mayumi did not exactly scream like she was having a bad time. Married to Dakila against her will, she actually never was raped. She made that stuff up, and the rest is a mixture of hysteria and deliberate deception. You see, her lover is one Makisig Palad, a scoundrel who has gone into hiding. He could have had his pick…but he had to go for the militia leader’s wife. Now, his brother Magtanggol is perpetuating the lie Mayumi blurted out when Dakila almost caught her and Makisig in flagranti.

The rest is a case study on how misguided faith and morals can wreck people…but what do the PCs do once they find Makisig? Do they perpetuate the lie? Do they unearth the truth? Both will have severe and unpleasant consequences. Makisig does have a plan: If the PCs just manage to steal the one horse from the pirates occupying the neighboring village, they can slay the tikbalang, right? It should be noted that this will NOT have nice consequences for the neighboring village.

There is no easy way to solve this, just an appalling situation with consequences that will not be pleasant for those involved. Then again, considering the story-line, I am not exactly brimming with compassion for the atrocious behaviors exhibited by the NPCs…and that is clever and intentional.

As an aside, the last page does mention an oddly out of place monolith as well as several pretty cool further adventuring hooks.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches of hiccups. Layout adheres to a professional, neat two-column b/w-standard with multiple pieces of original b/w-artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn’t need any at this length. Same goes for a map.

Zzarchov Kowolski is always trying to push the envelope in some ways, but there is more here than shock value – this is not dark due to gore, difficulty and the like. Instead, it is very much a perfect example for the concept of the banality of evil. All characters within are despicable in some way – but in a very nuanced and human way. There is no ill intent underlying the actions, just humane fear.

The moral conundrum posed here is truly that – and it is handled in a mature and tasteful manner.

All that in just 10 pages. If you’re looking for something different, and if your group can handle the dark subject matter, then this represents an inspired little adventure. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Scourge of the Tikbalang
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Rampaging Monsters
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/16/2018 09:32:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

The revised edition of this little generator clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page inside of back cover (with a nice little artwork of a slimy golem thanking us for the reading the file, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, as we’ve come to expect by Zzarchov Kowolski’s books, this one sports a rather neat and dry sense of humor, evident from the introduction onwards – sometimes, you don’t have the time to prepare a new plot, right? You’ll need filler, because “that Golden Girls marathon doesn’t watch itself”, to paraphrase the supplement. Well, the solution this booklet proposes is to generate a rampaging monster that scours the countryside!

The generator provided here indeed allows you to generate a creature, depending on your speed and familiarity with Neoclassical Geek Revival (NGR)-rules, in less than 5 minutes, so the convenience angle is definitely fulfilled – you could, in theory, do this behind the screen while the PCs are shopping, for example. Now, an important note here: Unlike many offerings by the author, this is NOT a dual-statted NGR/OSR-product – we have only Neoclassical Geek Revival support here and thus this does not translate too well to e.g. S&W or LL since NGR (which you should check out!) is pretty far away from standard OSR-rules.

All righty, that out of the way, how do we proceed? Well, first, we think about the monster’s size in relation to humans and then, we take a look at attributes – 6 values are provided, allowing you to quickly and easily generate scores with descriptors – very dexterous monsters would have Agility (A) 16, very clumsy ones instead Agility 7 – simple, quick, convenient. If in doubt, you revert to rolling 3d6. Now, in the new version, these pieces of information are clearly assigned mini-tables, and they employ one-letter abbreviations – this is made possible due to some rules-nomenclature changes of the system in its latest iteration. Then, you determine how a monster behaves and assign pies to the monster as though it was an NPC. Does it stalk its prey? Rogue. Bruiser? Fighter. Does it spread plague? Priest. You get the idea. While not all abilities may seem like they seamlessly apply, the pdf provides a bit of guidance there. The new iteration also provides a suggestion for when pie pieces of fool would make sense.

Here, the pdf becomes actually valuable beyond convenience for the GM – for next up, we get combat tricks…and if you recall my review of NGR, you should know how much I like the modular combat and its tactical depth…in spite of how easy to grasp and run it is. Size 8 monsters may e.g. damage foes by jumping up and down; shaking vigorously can cost grappled targets their actions, etc. – while these may not look like much, they can actually be employed in rather cool ways. If you’re like me and absolutely ADORED “Shadow of the Colossus” back in the PS2-era, you may be smiling right now – yep, the content herein does allow you to create such scenes…though, this being NGR, they will be much deadlier than in SoC…but the cheers will be louder. Believe me. Snatch attacks, knock-down assault with wings…pretty cool. This design-paradigm also extends to innate monster spells, which translate just as seamlessly to NGR. The examples cover the cool basics – breathing fire. Breathing exploding balls of fire…and LAZER-EYES[sic!]. Yes, this is a misspelling in the pdf. Yes, it made me cringe. Still, laser-eyes? Heck yes! Here, we can also see some system-changes: Breathing explosive balls of fire, for example, now either affects areas or Long Missile Range, and the innate spells of monsters no longer have a complexity rating, which makes sense to me.

Anyways, so now we have a monster…but why does it rampage? Motivation is up next – 6 basic ones, ranging from hunger to greed and malice, add at least a little bit of depth to the critter created.

Need a hamlet to destroy? Roll a d12 and a d8 and compare it with a table of 24 entries – 12 for the first part and 12 for the second part of the name. The position of the dice denote which one you’ll use for the first part and which for the second. These names will also hint at the peculiarities of the place – hamlets named “Carp-something” will e.g. sport ponds etc. Now, the new version has the two columns more cleanly laid out, so that’s a plus. The pdf sports 4 sample rewards for slaying the critter.

Finally, if you absolutely have 0 time left, a sample giant, a big statue, a wyrm and a T-rex are provided, should you need a monster to drop immediately. The presentation of these monster stats imho really benefits from the new presentation: It’s clearer, using bolding and smart structure to make reading the statblocks swifter. Obviously, the stats have been revised and adjusted to reflect the new version of the game as well. However, in the new version, we get more: A wyvern, a giant skull floating in a pool of ectoplasms, a giant spider and a cockatrice complement this section now, doubling the sample monsters featured.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good – I noticed no glaring issues in the rules and only minor typos. Layout adheres to a nice, printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard. The pdf use fitting b/w-artwork, but is mostly text – the pdf’s new layout is much cleaner and makes the pdf easier to read. Information is compartmentalized better, and the overall impression is one of a more professional file. Utterly puzzling: In stark contrast to the previous version of the file, this one has no bookmarks, making navigation slightly harder.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s little toolkit is still helpful, fun and easy to use; in particular the combat tricks and monster abilities, both mundane and magical, made me smile from ear to ear. The generator does what it’s intended to do…and yet, it made me realize how much I would have liked a full-blown monster-expansion book for NGR. The tricks and abilities presented are cool and fun and made me crave more…to the point, where I almost lost sight of what this tries to be and what it doesn’t try to be. This is not a big monster-enhancer toolbox for NGR – it is a generator for the time-starved referee caught unprepared…and though I very much would have loved to see a big monster book, and though this made me CRAVE more, it would not be fair to rate this generator according to a premise which it never intended to fulfill. As a generator for monsters ravaging the country-side, this does a great job – not a perfect one (it is hampered a bit by its economical size and the corresponding loss of depth that it could have had), but yeah. Now, while it looks like the revised version is shorter, that’s not the case – the new presentation is just tighter, and we actually get more content! While I’d usually contemplate upgrading my final verdict, the loss of bookmarks in the revised edition does partially mitigate the benefits of the streamlined layout and additional content. Thus, this remains a neat book for NGR-referees that is well worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Rampaging Monsters
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Hark! A Wizard!
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/16/2018 09:24:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

The revised edition of this supplement clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages blank in the back, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, first things first: Unlike most books by Zzarchov Kowolski, this is NOT a dual-stat book. This toolkit is intended for NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival); while there is some value to be found within this for other rules-systems, but in the end, the majority of this books contents NGR-material. I assume familiarity with NGR in this review.

So, what is this about? Well, I think that pretty much any GM has encountered the random wizard issue before. Unlike sorcerers and similar spontaneous casters, the wizard sports a big issue for the referee: The reward-to-work-ratio for making wizards for random encounters and anything other than BBEG often just isn’t right. Making spellbooks and selecting spells is a chore…and with some bad luck, your cool, detailed wizard will be crited to smithereens after one spell…or perhaps before that.

Things get worse when books note “choose xyz spells” or “1d6 random spells” – it honestly infuriates me. Anyways, this book is intended to remedy this issue to a degree in NGR. The first20-entry table contains general grimoire names for wizards to hold on to; after that, we get 8 different tables, 8 entries strong each, with different themes like hedge magic, wizard schools, quasi-religious tomes, etc. – you get the idea. After that, we get the in-depth entries for the grimoires, including read-aloud texts. The read-aloud text is often inspired, and it also sports the subtle and hilarious humor of the author here and there: The Book of Aarrrgh… for example is so named due to the supernatural entity bound within, conveniently unleashed upon reading the book… The Rot on the Roots of Yggdrasil talks about the dread MiGo, here envisioned as a demon-god…or is that a misunderstanding? The referee will ultimately decide. Little handbooks, strange astrological tomes on constellations on the Western pole…you get it. Really nice diversity here! There have been minor improvements here: E.g. the text missing in “Secrets of the Nightsky” now properly notes its sorcerous rite as “A master of constellations: Dead Pixie in a Jar” – this is not a spell, but Pixie Dust may be reached from the corpse. The pdf then provides a brief and succinct write-up pertaining the use of the Sage power to reverse-engineer the abilities of strange creatures as spells. It’s a third of a page and works perfectly in conjunction with NGR. The aforementioned pixie autopsy has been added to the list of examples featured here.

The remainder and lion’s share of the book, though, would be taken up by a massive selection of different spells for NGR. They note their respective templates to difficulty, cost, range and complexity and add some further depth to the engine. Take “A Master of Constellations”, which allows you to set a condition to a spell to activate or deactivate, tying magic to astrological or astronomical conditions, explaining a metric ton of unique complex properties and things you see in many a module…and, obviously, letting players for once use this type of thing can be really rewarding! And yes, toggling on/off can also be done with this one. Organization is tighter here: “A Master of Constellation” no longer can be found at the start of the spell presentation, instead featring among the “M” entry of the alphabetical presentation. It should also be noted that the new edition of NGR no longer features complexity ratings – these are thus absent from the revision. Blood Pact is a new one, as is Conjure Poltergeists. The easily cheesable “Defiler of Gaia” spell has been eliminated, thankfully. Gazing into embers via Ember Trance is a nice new one that lets you scry targets, and “A Mighty Yarn” allows you to command ropes and the like. There also is a spell to interact with sizes, and these are pretty potent in NGR.

Generating illusions in a limited square, DR, enhancing items by inscribing earth runes of “Base of the Mountain”, concealing yourself in starlight…the spells have a subtle aesthetic that hearkens closer to actual real-world beliefs regarding magic, less to the flashy magic-laser-beams. This ultimately makes the chapter feel more alive and evocative. That being said, there are damaging spells – like a conical “Bee Swarm” blast or one that lets you use Beelzebub’s hellish flies. Spells for gaining influence via “BFF” are here, and there is a spell, where you can conjure forth vents, inflicting a nasty disease that may cause the target to return from death as an undead, making great use of NGR’s engine.

Speaking of spells that evoke themes we are familiar with and that tie in with game-mechanics: What about drinking blood under moonlight to replenish mana? The new version now causes intoxication, preventing abuse by less scrupulous PCs. “Carrion’s Debt Foreclosed” can generate undead from carrion eaters and there is a representation of containing spells in bubbling broth or potion, though its power will decrease over the course of time – so yeah, no stockpiling…and power-loss once more ties in perfectly with NGR’s spellcasting engine.

Now, this is something you either may like or hate, but the “Congress of Yig” no longer requires sexual intercourse with serpents, instead tying into the mutation engine component. This does prevent abuse of the spell and renders its design better. It’s less icky, but, you can take care of that, should you so choose.

Mechanically interesting would also be “Cooled Passions”, which allows for the indefinite increase of a spell’s duration at the cost of not being able to cast the spell again; alternatively, the spell can be linked to a trigger spell, which can act as a means to end that binding. Thoroughly creepy: “Cordyceps Mammalia” does the “Last of Us”-move and animates the dead via cordyceps fungi, potentially with free-willed consequences. Yes, I am freaked out by this one.

Siphoning magic from eggs is also really cool, and the verbiage is now tighter and accounts for cases like mammalian eggs and those of fish etc. There would be a spell that helps eliminating mutations at the cost of stress…which may actually hasten the transformation of deep one to hybrid, for example. Funny and interesting: “Fireworks of Happyland”, which only deal damage on a 1 or 6, with 6s adding more dice for potentially brutal consequences, otherwise focusing on blinding foes temporarily.

The “Grand Idol of Bhaal” allows for the caster to bind demons, djinn, etc. in idols, once more codifying a classic trope within the context of the game. What about “Happily ever after”, a spell that acts as a trigger based on e.g. a prince’s kiss. Or Influence-based hypnotic gaze, appeals that damage supernatural targets or a spell to remove texts, images, etc. via” lost to the ages”? On the necromancy-side, we get a spell to animate a target you have personally drained as a vampire…and, really macabre (and some might argue, tasteless), one that animates a stillborn child as an undead. Yeah…personally, I could have done without the existence of this one. On the plus-side, strange spores, calling miniature comets and tapping into the power of e.g. eclipses makes sense and works well.

There is also an advanced locking spell…and Schmetterling (German for Butterfly, just fyi): A flight spell that only allows the target to be attacked in melee by non-fliers when interrupted while attacking someone in melee. There is a spell to create a portal in the shadow of objects…and one that lets you emit a horrid blast of static, white noise-like shrieking. Oh, and what about locking supernatural targets into the skulls of targets? Yes, they may be alive. Yes, those voices may either be insanity…or dread magic…Well, you get 3 guesses what Toad! does…

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches on either formal or rules-language levels. The new design decisions made herein are tighter and less open for abuse. The revised edition’s öayout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports a couple of nice, original b/w-artworks inside. The new presentation makes using the pdf smoother, so yeah, an improvement there. The content-expansion, however, is paid for with an absence of bookmarks that is puzzling and constitutes a comfort-detriment.

Sooo, I really liked Zzarchov Kowolski’s “Hark! A Wizard!” – but I kinda did not get what it says on the tin.

The official description reads: “Hark! A Wizard! Is a generator to give NPC wizards a cohesive set of spells in just a few seconds. It is a useful tool for further lowering the prep required with a game of Neoclassical Geek Revival.” This is not what I got. Not at all.

Did I love the cool modifications and options presented in all those spells? Yeah! The revised rules are tighter, clearer and less prone to abuse. Similarly, I really, really liked the sample read-aloud texts and diverse ideas for grimoires, making spellbooks feel, well, interesting and creative. The subtle, dark humor of the author makes reading this rules-book actually enjoyable.

But know what? I got this pdf because I expected a generator to make wizards quickly. Are the modifications herein capable of making the NGR-magic rules more versatile and smart? Yeah! They are! They are great. They help you make spells more unique, modify them, etc. Pretty much everything here is really cool…

…but it’s not a way to give NPC wizards a cohesive set of spells in a few seconds/minutes. It’s an expansion of the magic-engine. That rocks. It sports great spellbook dressing. Which once more rocks. However, as a generator to make quick wizards for NGR? Honestly, I don’t even get where that aspect is coming from. The revised edition STILL does not really offer that. Beyond the grimoires, it does not expedite the process of making a wizard in the slightest.

As a reviewer, that leaves me in a weird place, particularly since the revised edition had the chance to make finally good of its promise. Frankly, I should rate this down. Were I to rate this on its merits as a generator, I’d have to pronounce this a failure, as an, at best as a mixed bag. Then again, if I rated this as a spellcaster’s expansion for NGR that adds depth and fun to the already impressive magic system, then this would be a 5 star + seal of approval recommended masterpiece.

The matter of fact remains, though: This is NOT what it was advertised as. While I consider this to be a must-won expansion for fans of NGR, I have to take that into account as a reviewer.

As a wizard generator, I’d consider this to be a 2-star file. As a magic-expansion for NGR, I’d consider it to be 5 stars + seal of approval. The new content and design-wise streamlining makes this better than before, but lack of bookmarks mitigates this improvement. In the end, my final verdict will fall in between these, at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hark! A Wizard!
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The Temple of Lies
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/02/2018 04:14:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little module clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

As with all dual-format modules by Zzarchov Kowolski, this adventure provides general stats for OSR-games, which are pretty basic. To give you an example: “A level 1 thief. Unarmoured with a high dexterity bonus. Attack as weapon + poison. Excellent morale. Speed of an unarmoured man.” As you can glean, this gives you an idea, sure, but it does mean that you’ll have to hack this into shape.

The second set of stats is for Zzarchov Kowolski’s own game, Neoclassical Geek Revival, which is abbreviated as “NGR.” NGR is an amazing game. It takes a bit of time to get into, but it does Stealth really well, emphasizes player-agenda and from customizable spells to martial traditions does an excellent job at creating a smooth and fun playing experience – it’s one of the few systems that manages to marry old-school feeling and aesthetics with the design-improvements of more contemporary games. If you do have the luxury of choice, play this with the NGR-rules.

Now, as far as organization is concerned, this is smart: NPCs and enemies are provided with red text; treasure is noted in green text and general terrain features are printed in blue. This makes spontaneously running the adventure surprisingly manageable if you’re fluent in your system of choice. Otherwise, I’d recommend at least a bit of prep-work. Stats are collected in the back and provide information for pretty much anything that can be interacted with. The treasure-appendix deserves special mention for its exemplary attention to detail. We get descriptions for pretty much everything of value within. Yes, gp values are provided for things like silk curtains and the like, so if your PCs tend to loot everything that’s not bolted down, you’ll definitely appreciate this. Orange text is used to denote hidden dangers.

The inside of the front cover contains a b/w-map that is isometric – but which, alas, lacks a scale or indicators like squares to denote the dimensions of a room. The map also does not specify where North is. No player-friendly version of the map is provided, which is a bit of a bummer.

Now, as for level-range, the module is designed for levels 1 – 2, though personally, I’d use it as an introductory module, as one of the ways to use this module subverts a central tenet of how adventure modules are written nowadays…and I love this subversion and what it can bring to the table.

There is one more thing to note: The black humor is strong with this one. I actually chuckled a couple of times while reading this adventure for the first time. “The Temple of Lies is a small light hearted adventure about the typical shenanigans one gets into involving human sacrifice and severe opiod addiction” – to paraphrase the publisher’s blurb. The book does contain references to evil cult practices, but they remain pretty tame. I consider this to be basically PG 13. Unless you’re already appalled by a pdf mentioning sex in a non-explicit context, this will not shock you or anything. It can be sanitized pretty much on the fly, if you’re picky about the like.

The front cover artwork, depicting a piece by Jean-Léon Gérôme, one of the artists of what is now known as academism, shows one of his pieces in line with his Orientalism-phase. “The Snake Charmer” pretty much encapsulates the atmosphere of the adventure – we have a decadent tale that could well be set in one of Conan’s desert kingdoms, most places like e.g. Qadira in Golarian, Al-Qadim, etc. Since the adventure takes place almost exclusively in a dungeon-complex, reskinning to e.g. Victorian or fin de siècle England and similar contexts is very much possible without much hassle. The module can easily be inserted into another adventure – in fact, that’s how I used it once: Just have McGuffin/fugitive run inside/vanish and there you go. An extraction, PCs fleeing into the place, etc. is similarly possible. The PCs just have to stumble into a back alley – that’s all.

All right, this is as far as I can go without getting into SPOILERS. As always, potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the alley provides access to a cellar, guarded by thugs and beggars, who are actually killers in waiting – managing to survive through these, the PCs enter the complex, which is basically a combined opium lair/serpent cult crossover. If they’re not careful, they may trigger an alarm. As a minor complaint, for NGR, I would have liked Suspicion increases noted, but the game is designed to allow for defaulting here, and the RAW assumption is that triggering the alarm results in awareness of everyone. The alarm is basically small hammers striking massive crystals, btw. – there is a sense of the fantastic in the very first room, and this is further emphasized by the rather vile serpent cult members: There are, for example, so-called “nuns” that have scales tattooed all over their bodies, and tongues split.

There is a very deadly pit of writhing snakes in the complex, and the centerpiece of the cult is a massive python. This very much resounds with Conan’s Stygians and their Set-worship, right?

Well, here is the unique part, the subversion I mentioned: The serpent cultists may all be deluded hacks and addicts. The high priest may be either a holy man of a dark religion…or a charlatan who has brainwashed/conned the cult. Yes, with separate stats. Any supernatural component of the module, from the high-priest’s stats to the treasures found, is entirely optional. There may be a serpent demon lurking in a sarcophagus…or just a mummified snake. This is amazing for a couple of reasons.

For one, just because that crystal in the beginning looked magical, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, it’s mundane. Similarly, this establishes a gritty, low-magic aesthetic that elevates actual magic showing up at one point during the campaign. It also does not detract from the module, and rather elevates it in my book. Why? Because, even if we’re playing in a low-magic game or campaign setting, we expect to stumble over magic. It’s just part of the deal, and chances are that one PC or another will have magical powers. That makes the impact of the mundane hit much harder. It also humanizes and contextualizes the behavior of the addicts/victims. If no supernatural evil is responsible, that makes the body-modifications and abhorrent human sacrifice practices hit harder. I love this.

As an aside: If you do want to go for a magical serpent cult, I recommend Rafael Chandler’s “Obscene Serpent Religion” for abilities and depraved concepts you may want to flesh out. Beware, though: That book is definitely for mature audiences!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a no-frills, two-column b/w-standard, with color used to facilitate running the adventure. Experienced GMs should have no issue running this off a b/w-print-out. I did just that. The pdf has no interior artwork and I liked the cover artwork, as it establishes the themes of the module. Yes, there’s a naked backside on it. Personally, I don’t mind – it’s about as sexual as a Greek bust. The cartography is functional, but pretty weak. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is an annoying comfort-detriment for the electronic version.

Zzarchov Kowloski’s “Temple of Lies” is a fantastic introductory module that oozes pulp flair galore. Its down-to-earth nature and two play-modes enhance replayability. The details are surprisingly concise and best of all – this is PWYW. It is definitely worth the suggested donation, and manages to be better than quite a few commercial modules I know. It is smart, atmospheric and just plain fun – it manages to execute the old trope of the serpent cult with panache and grace. That being said, were this a commercial module, I’d have to detract from the final verdict due to the lack of player-friendly maps and bookmarks, but as a pay what you want offering? Very much worth checking out!

As such, my final verdict, taking the PWYW-nature of this module into account, will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. If you’re looking for a great module to kick off your sword & sorcery campaign, this delivers in spades and is definitely worth a tip.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Temple of Lies
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A Thousand Dead Babies
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/12/2018 06:36:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second of Zzarchov Kowolski’s self-published dual-format NGR/OSR-adventures clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreons.

So, let’s talk about the pink elephant in the room first. The title is basically a gigantic trigger warning. This module is NOT about killing infants or the like, quite to the contrary. However, it deals with a really sadistic, high-impact conundrum that involves, well, babies. If infanticide by bad guys and the like are not something your group can handle, then don’t even bother. It goes without saying that this module needs to be handled with care, and that it is NOT for everyone. Genre-wise, this is really gritty, really, really DARK dark fantasy, so the title, ultimately acts as a deterrent and as a caveat emptor for anyone contemplating getting this. In that way, the title must almost considered to be a form of fair warning.

Anyways, this is the second of the author’s NGR/OSR dual-statted modules, and difficulty-wise, it is a step up. Some monsters for OSR-games are referred to by being e.g. wraiths, and chances of being heard, for example are presented as e.g. 1/6. Formatting-wise, e.g. magic items are noted as bolded in the text (not as italicized, as in most games), and e.g. some key-NPCs have notes like: “Level 4 Cavalier, Anti-Paladin or Fighter with XYZ strength (not capitalized) and maximum hit points.” If you’re using this module with more classic OSR-games, you’ll need to do a bit of work. For NGR, the book is more precise, noting parts of classes, specializations and the like. More importantly, holy/unholy ground is rules-wise more relevant and noted where applicable. As far as level-ranges are considered, I’d probably play this at the very soonest at 2nd level in most OSR-games, as the adventure can become TPK-y-lethal very fast otherwise.

This can also be found in the new spells: 8 of them are provided in total, but 2 only exist in the NGR-rules – bane of mush’kar, which allows for the storage of a removed tooth of a still living person. When burning the tooth, the spell is cast by the burning being. Breath of the moors is a spell that conjures forth fog, based on the obfuscation spell template. There are three low level (level 1 for OSR) spells for magic-users: One conjures forth a bee swarm, with the OSR version being a bit confused regarding verbiage:”… in a devastating cone with a radius at any given point equal to the distance from the caster.” Cone or radius? The NGR version does not have this issue. Faerie sense lets you smell magical items, and screams of anguish doesn’t generate more than, well, a scream, which can make for a good distraction. In NGR, the scream can slightly increase the difficulty of another spell. At 2nd spell level for OSR, we have a wall of thorns, and the 3rd level spell dire goose makes a goose (which are FRIGHTENING when angered – take it from me, I grew up in the country!) into a massive monster with 3HD, AC as leather and two 1d6 wing attacks. In NGR, the stress mechanics explain the rage of the monster. No, you don’t control it. Yes, I consider that to be funny. Finally, there is a spell to bind extraplanar beings in empty tomes, filling the book with cursed text – in OSR-games, this is a 5th level spell. In NGR, the spell is more interesting, requiring the creature to be defeated briefly after being touched.

There are quite a few magic items to be found in the module as well; even basic items like a +1 dagger of bone that also acts as a holy symbol get their one section, and the book of Aarrrgh (aptly named due to the demon bound within), a scroll made of manleather, a cursed coin, a pouch of teeth and the like provide a surprising depth regarding descriptions and effects for both systems.

One item is btw. also the central fixture and high-impact problem that the PCs will need to deal with, but before we discuss that one, I should note that the module comes with a really elegant layout and cartography (though no player-friendly maps), and that it has consequences for the actions of the PCs, and there is a pretty good chance that things will not end up well for the surrounding area – retaining the status quo should be considered to be a success. Did I mention Old MacDonald’s farm?

All right, in order to discuss further details of this adventure, I need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great! So, the module is somewhat akin to the first dual-statted module published by the author, in that it takes places in a remote locale, here, the vale of Corroc, named for the settlement of the same name. As in the “Gnomes of Levnec”, we are introduced to the key-NPCs for the settlement, including the yeoman, a local berry-plucker, the village priest, etc. We also get such a fluff-centric write-up for e.g. the cook of the lumber camp, and the settlement New Smithwald, south of the Thousand Acre Wood, houses a potent knight, who has not been punished for not converting due to his stalwart loyalty and reputation.

Converted? Well, yes, for we once more have a situation akin to that of “Gnomes of Levnec”, where a remnants of a pagan cult are competing with Christianity (or its stand-in), but unlike in that module, there is no misguided cult of blithering, violent idiots responsible for some of the odd happenings. Instead, there is but one active human (she does have elven allies) member of the cult of Titania left – in the power vacuum that accompanied the purging of heathens, a dread cult of Baphomet has taken root. Alas, the none-too-smart village priest can’t keep it in his pants, having an illicit love affair. If his deeds are brought to like, they will have dire consequences for the poor maiden engaging with him, but failure to do so will not be helpful in the long run either. The very medieval aesthetic also is represented in the existence of a rather pitiful example of a black library of the church in town, which btw. also houses the crypts of once mighty pagans, where clever PCs can get magic items…or get a blessing from a fountain that may guarantee offspring. No matter the usual physiological hindrances like race or sex.

Anyways, the PCs are most likely here because they heard about footprints of an upright walking goat, and indeed, the dark cult of Baphomet is busy at work: Beyond the cultists in the settlement, there is a very potent black knight and an upright-walking, razor-sharp teeth sporting demonic goat monstrosity that watch over/participate in the grisly orgy/ritual every night…for they have found a mighty juju tree, once sacred. The tree is now afflicted with a demonic fungal infestation, a literal corruption, one that may be dealt wish, provided the PCs manage to stop the cult and water the heart of the tree with blood…provided they can survive the trip into the small dungeon, that is.

But how can a cult generate enough sacrifices? How does the cult manage to keep up all this mystical pressure on the potent tree? Well, the Goat in the Woods has a potent cursed artifact, found after the previous owner has committed suicide, being unable to cope with the responsibility. This vile artifact would be responsible for the module’s name – it’s the stork’s bassinet, and it teleports to its owner (who may only be saved by death or potent magics from ownership) every day. It then produces a single, healthy baby. Every. Single. Day. In the lack of an owner, the babies simply pile up. Are they teleported away from somewhere? Are they magical simulacra? Clones? No idea, but whatever choice you opt for, the consequences will be DARK. In the aftermath of the cult’s demise, it is quite likely that a PC will end up being the owner of the bassinet, which will require a quest to destroy. While it is easy enough for the GM to rule that one of the magic items in the module can destroy it, this is per se not intended by the adventure. This is also the reason why this adventure can really use the title to scare away folks that definitely will be offended – leaving the item or the babies generated anywhere will be a rather bleak and dark move for PCs and players to swallow, and even if you devise an easy and quick way to destroy it, there still will remain the fact that an untold number of these infants were slaughtered. This is not for every table.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, there are a few minor hiccups and, due to the dual-stat nature of the module, the formatting can be somewhat unconventional. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports two really neat original b/w-artworks that could come straight out of Death Frost Doom – no surprise, as Jez Gordon is responsible for both. Same goes for the cartography, where the absence of player-friendly versions of the maps makes for a comfort detriment. The pdf sports a couple of basic bookmarks.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s “A Thousand Dead Babies” is, on a formal level, more refined that “Gnomes of Levnec;” the presentation is smoother, and while we don’t get a cool “getting lost”-generator this time around, the module’s presentation and sequence is professional and nice. That being said, where the supplement on the gnomes focused on the weird and genuinely hilarious, this one is pretty much the epitome of super-dark fantasy. There is some subdued quip to be found here and there, but considering the subject matter, this is probably one of the darkest modules I know.

…and, to be honest, I don’t think the module required the shock value. If you tone that aspect done, you water down what makes this module have such a gut-wrenching impact, but you’re also left with a rather well-crafted adventure. Now, I firmly believe that a reviewer should be capable of abstracting being offended and the like, and I do not condone the subject matter; killing kids and infants is one of the few things that I do not tackle in my games, which otherwise tend to gravitate towards the dark. That being said, the PCs ARE the heroes here; they get to end this horrid massacre, and while the consequences may be hard to swallow, I can see this work well for groups seeking to explore the logistic and moral conundrums that arise from ownership of the vile item that made the cult’s atrocities possible.

Would I inflict this module on my players? No. But it is not up to me to decide what works and what doesn’t work for you and your game.

Which leaves me with the craftsmanship of the adventure, its locales, etc. – and here, the module manages to create a grim, captivating atmosphere that feels very medieval, grimy and desolate. Prose-wise, this is impressive. As far as the rules-components are concerned, I’d consider the NGR-rules to be significantly tighter than the OSR-material posed; lack of adherence to a specific system and minor inconsistencies mar that aspect for more common old-school games somewhat.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot to like here, and the module is not a gratuitous gorefest; however, it is hard to stomach due to its subject matter, and at this point, you probably already know whether this is for you or not.

Which leaves me with the job of rating this. I won’t lie. I wouldn’t have reviewed this sans the request, mainly because I have a hard time giving this a fair shake, because it’s really hard for me to look past one of the few things that I, as a person, consider distasteful and don’t want to see in my games. As a person, I frankly considered the grimdark topic of the adventure to be…well, superfluous. The base line is similar enough to the “Gnomes of Levnec” to allow for direct comparison, and where the latter went the weird (and hilarious) route in a slightly dark manner, this one goes pitch-black regarding its themes. If you enjoy that kind of thing and thought that Gnomes was too lighthearted, if you really wanted a twisted moral conundrum and shock value galore, if you thought that LotFP’s “Doom Cave of Crystal-Headed Children” was too gonzo/goofy and didn’t provide real grimdark themes…well, then this one delivers in spades.

If you’re not that into super-dark subject matter and want to check out what the author has in store, I wholeheartedly recommend the “Gnomes of Levnec” without any reservations; for this adventure, I am left with a per se captivating dark fantasy yarn that, depending on your preferences, either is enhanced or ruined by the themes presented. Hence, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, and I’d ask you to round up if you are interested in the like; if you’re offended, then steer clear. However, the minor imperfections in the OSR-rules and the lack of suggestions regarding the central moral conundrum in the aftermath represent both needless detractors from the adventure; a “solution” or at least some suggestions, would have gone a long way to render this more palatable, at least for me. My final verdict will hence round down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Thousand Dead Babies
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The Scenario from Ontario
by David M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/29/2018 11:07:01

Okay, maple zombies... I get it. Now I know it was a friendly challenge, but as you're selling it, wouldn't it have been great to rewrite it a little? Its painfully amateurish.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
The Scenario from Ontario
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The Gnomes of Levnec
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/25/2018 03:31:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was made possible and commissioned by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my leisure.

Now, first of all: This is a dual-format adventure, providing mechanical stats for both NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival) and the more traditional OSR-games. Stat-wise, we get the bare minimum for OSR– hit points/Hit Dice, AC expressed as “as Plate and Shield”, for example, and morale noted in general terms. The NGR stats work a bit better as far as I’m concerned, and use more terrain features. Now, both systems get a selection of different spells that can be found here – for example an iteration of the old hover disc spell; avenging bolt is a level 1 damaging spell that deals less damage, but may have the target barf…and, nastily, cause delayed damage after completing the next sleeping cycle. Open sesame can open objects, windows etc. and stone spirit, which is the only non-1st-level spell herein conjures forth just that. For OSR, this spell suffers from not adhering to a single system, making its rules-language somewhat elaborate for what it does. Now, two of the best spells herein are NGR-exclusives: Chalk mist transforms the target into chalk in a damaging manner, while childish conjuration is a cantrip that can transform material into different, malleable one, but only if no one is looking. The best spell available for both systems would be the level 1 spell beckon the dragon, which has the caster whisper the name of a dragon within 100 miles, beckoning the dragon to the caster’s location. No, this does not make the dragon liable to like you. Yes, this spell will potentially bite the PCs into their behinds, but it’s also ridiculously high-concept and players will love it.

Okay, the module does contain a charming, hand-drawn map of the region it’s set in (no scale, but that’s kinda intended), and it is basically a sandbox-set-up – the module presents a situation into which the PCs are introduced, but it remains wide open – there is no read-aloud text, but plenty of personality to be found. It also sports some…somewhat mature topics. Nothing grimdark in the traditional sense, mind you, but there is a macabre undertone here, though one that is also suffused by the author’s glorious, dark humor. To give you an idea, here’s the quote from the publisher-blurb:

“The Gnomes of Levnec is an adventure about the fate of an empire and the byzantine machinations of a court that no longer has a monarch. Just kidding, it’s about Gnomes.“ Such deadpan lines suffuse the module as well. They work. They make reading the module really FUN.

While the pdf does not specify a level-range, I’d suggest that it works best for new characters, i.e. level 1 for most games. As a special aside, I should note that DCC-judges should continue reading, in spite of this sporting gnomes. You’ll see why soon. The module is setting agnostic and works perfectly in most settings, including our own world, with magic very much subdued. E.g. the Black Dogs-zine theme-hack for LotFP by Daimon Games would make a nice fit – the area around Levnec is basically a frontier backwater that works well with gigantic forests and a lack of civilization or structure as a baseline.

All right, this is as far as I can go without entering SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

The area around Levnec is under the command of one Lord Kristoph, a rather bad and pathetic ruler, and indeed, this is a leitmotif of sorts: The area feels like a world that has moved on from a more fantastic epoch, but which, at the same time, hasn’t replaced the danger of the mythical era with an equal substitute – instead, it’s very much down to earth and somewhat grimy. Levnec is a poor thorp, with the write-up mentioning 4 different NPCs with a fluff-only write-up and a brief sketch of two locations that tie in with the metaplot of sorts. You see, the place isn’t necessarily considered to be fantastic, but there are ostensibly still pagans around, clinging to the old ways, and the church of St. Nicholas, while beloved by many, is a rather poor place of worship. The corrupt lord doesn’t help, and indeed, when fires ravaged the fields prior to last harvest, the lord refused to have his cattle slaughtered, resulting in a tenth of townsfolk dying. Wildlife is sparse and even the rats are gone in the aftermath of the starvation-inducing winter. While there is a low-level magic-user here, the tower is rotted as well, the caster a rather paltry excuse, who is planning to create a gargoyle to exact vengeance on the disrespectful townsfolk.

There is another plot here, one that ties in with the pagans I mentioned – the Coven of Veles. “These cultists believe they will be able to crush their enemies and be immune to the ravages of time […] So, there are a couple of things wrong with this. For starters there are no clerics here, only funny people believing funny things.” The humor here is hilarious, and they like abducting folks, dancing naked with masks on, and then making a manhunt of the poor sod, who’ll have his hands broken. Yeah, they’re bastards – to quote the pdf: “I am not sure Veles would even want them as followers.”The cult has a fully mapped temple hidden in the woods, and the temple comes with a nice, professional map, though no key-less, player-friendly map is provided. This mini-dungeon manages to evoke a concise atmosphere, portraying a dilapidated temple that may actually, Dark Souls-style, collapse into a gigantic chasm, evoking flashbacks to the deep regions of From Software’s series. Similarly, the dungeon sports interesting features and indirect storytelling that can be rather deadly – a mummified head with a stitched-shut mouth teaches present magic-users the beckon the dragon spell…and casts it. This is very much Soulsian, and it earns this by being fair, yet obscure – it’s a hard balancing act, but I feel this earns the favorable comparison.

While we’re on the subject of the dragon – it’s not a majestic beast, but a pot-bellied, paltry thing…but it’s still a dragon. But yeah, let’s return for a second to the “pagans”/wannabe-cultists. They also think that they might become woodwose, the big, mythic predators that ostensibly haunt the forests. They are wrong. Few woodwose remain, as the starvation and scouring of the local wildlife has rendered their numbers lower than knights ever could, but some remain.

Levnec itself has something rather strange for such a small place – toyshop, closed down. While the townsfolk are not helpful, some investigation will show that the owner was one of the mythical gnomes that ostensibly only exist here…and that the gnome feared being eaten “sooner than expected” by the townsfolk, which should be shocking, considering the childlike innocence of the writer. Some asking around will note that some of the villagers actually vanished completely in the forests, leaving only clothes, but no trail of their physical forms behind.

So yes, there are gnomes here. There is a gnome village in the woods, and it is inhabited by cute garden gnome style beings, with pointy hats and all, whose elite warriors are absolutely paltry…but in order to find the gnomes, the truth about the missing villagers, the cults, etc., the PCs will have to enter the forest…and here, a massive “Lost in the Woods”-generator makes for the mechanical meat of the module. It sports an 8-entry table of where, a d6 table of “What” a d4-table of “Weird” aspects…and rolling3 of the same number yields super-weird Trips-encounters, while two 5s or 6s add additional treasure…like, you know…food. Oh, and maximum rolls on all dice lead you where you actually set off to. This is a surprisingly fun “getting lost”/”Stumbling through forests”-generator, and it makes finding e.g. the gnome village a rather tough and fairy-tale-esque proposition. Now, the gnomes themselves, as mentioned before, are horrible combatants. They also have names like Nuttercloud that you can generate in a small name-generator. They also smell deliciously, garbage turns into delicious raw materials, and the smell of cookies suffuses the air. They only have few taboos, namely not giving them a name – apart from the leader, the Grand Poomba, they don’t seem to have a sense of individualism.

Oh, btw.: Magic-users claim that eating gnome can enhance your magical abilities, and the gnomes, while shy of discussing this, will not dispute it. Heck, it almost seems like their carefree nature, their smell of honey and cinnamon etc., might make them delicious. And indeed, clever players will be able to pinpoint gnomes that know about their “mothers” having memories of missing people. Who are nowhere to be found. You see…the gnomes are WEIRD. They are all they say they are. They are just as innocent and cutesy. They have innate magical powers and indeed, they grant magic powers when eaten. Alas, there is a resolution to what they truly are that is creative and really, really cool, as it ties into the woodwose having been decimated by the humans, and it makes all of it make sense in a delightfully, capital letters WEIRD way. No, they are NOT nefarious. They would not try to fool someone into eating gnome and there is no straight twist here...and if you really want to know what’s up with these strange gnomes, you’ll have to get the module. It’ll be worth it, regardless of system you’re playing!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level, as far as you can claim as such for the generic, non-system-specific OSR-components. The NGR-components are precise and to the point. On a formal level, I noticed a couple of typos, but nothing jarring. The layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard that is crisp, well-presented and easy to read – surprisingly nice for a first offering. Same goes for the maps, though I do bemoan the fact that we do not get player-friendly versions. I strongly suggest printing out the pdf, as the electronic version has no bookmarks, which constitutes an annoying comfort detriment.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s freshman offering (as far as I know) is an impressive scenario for advanced GMs. The sandboxy nature and presentation requires that the GM knows the module properly and doesn’t bother with much handholding. At the same time, the scenario features a really cool mini-game and makes SENSE in its weird own way. The atmosphere is absolutely superb and its strong motifs echo throughout the book; the threat of starvation looming over the region makes for an uncommon and challenging obstacle for the PCs, and the reveal is amazing. This module can go a ton of different ways, courtesy of its open structure, and thus sports a ton of replay value. From a focused convention.game to a long-winded mini-campaign, it could carry a selection of different playstyles.

It’s also frickin’ hilarious. At least it was for me. I only rarely laughed this much when reading an RPG-supplement, and it earns this dark humor, without having it spoil the atmosphere. Now, the absence of bookmarks and player-friendly maps would usually lock this down to the 4-star-regions, but this would honestly not do the module justice. The Gnomes of Levnec is an amazing 1st-level module (or 0-level funnel for DCC) that manages more in its couple of pages than many modules with twice that page-count. It also gets the freshman offering bonus, which is why I will round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars…and since I really enjoyed this, I will also slap my seal of approval on this, in spite of its formal imperfections. If you like your fantasy dark and weird, with a dash of black humor, then put this in your cart ASAP. Have I mentioned the hand-out? Well, it has one. I’m not going to SPOIL what’s on it, though.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Gnomes of Levnec
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The Trail of Stone and Sorrow
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/11/2018 05:40:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This small roadside encounter/mini-module clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, this adventure is provided with rules for both NGR and OSR-style games, both of which receive basic tools to allow you to contextualize the challenges posed by the respective beings. Characters can, for example, note that they are “4th level magic-user or alchemist with a random assortment of spells.” As you can see, this means that you will probably need to do some statting work. The NGR-stats are slightly more detailed, offering, for example: “He is 2 part wizard (Sage, Anti-Magic: Dispel, Psychic Potential) and one part rogue (Expert). He has a random grimoires (see Hark! A Wizard!).“ Skills are called, for example „difficult tracking check“ and the like.

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

..

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The stage is set in a small mountain valley, where a local boy found a perfect statue of a bear – probably petrified! There was no contact to a local farmstead, and the townsfolk are concerned that, ostensibly, a warlock living in a nearby chattel, may be responsible. The man is actually not involved – Dr. Brenner may be an alchemist who has currently developed something akin to kerosene, and he has interest in the phenomenon, but apart from being wealthy, he is innocent of the charges fielded by the suspicious populace.

The PCs can, with some cajoling, make nervous villagers lead them to the statue and track, from their, the way to the cliff and valley beyond, which contains a strange cavern with an odd statue, as well as hints of something large having hibernated there. Game trails may also lead the PCs to the cantankerous Ol’Lady Bibic, who is a whopping 27 years old, with prematurely grey hair. She is responsible for the snares that dot the landscape. The aforementioned farm, then, will show the PCs that they’ve closed in on the threat: A few petrified sheep will be seen next to living brethren, and similarly, the sheepdog. A local pilgrim’s wagon and the fully mapped environment, as well as some social interaction should make clear that the ox-sized beast reminds veterans of the Catoblepas…but why the inconsistent petrifications? Why the odd sequence? Well, here’s the part where the “sorrow” from the title comes into play. When you meet the gaze of the catoblepas (which comes with full stats for both systems) you are not only petrified on meeting its gaze, you also switch minds with the monster – the beast, thus, currently is inhabited, tragically by Polde Kosovel, the man of the household, whose petrified remains had been, barely, secured by the family. Slaying the beast does not return beings turned to stone back to life, and thus, this brief module does actually provide potentially much more challenges for good groups – attempting to undo the soul-switching chaos could provide enough motivation for plenty of gaming sessions. Or, well, you could play this as a brief, somber one-shot.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard, is elegant and nice. Structure is clear as well, though I wished a couple of boldings and the like would have made the sequence easier to run for the GM. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The b/w-cartography and artwork is surprisingly neat and b/w.

Zzarchov Kowolski provides an interesting, fun sidetrek here, one that has a truly intriguing fallout potential that clever referees and players can develop far beyond the humble confines of this PWYW-module. While a few more notes regarding potential solutions for the conundrum presented in the aftermath would have been nice, and while I would have loved a means for really smart PCs to revert the damage wrought by perfectly reconstructing the sequence of events, this is a PWYW-scenario and as such, allows you to take a good look and then determine whether you consider it worth your while. Personally, I think this is very much worth checking out. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform, as I consider this to be closer to being good than to being excellent.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Trail of Stone and Sorrow
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Down in Yon Forest
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/18/2017 04:28:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page blank, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 28 pages, so let’s take a look!

Wait, before we do, a couple of notes: One, this adventure sports stats for both NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival) and general OSR-stats; if you have the choice, I’d suggest using the NGR-versions.

Secondly, this is a so-called buystarter. This is a term the author uses for an interesting concept: You purchase basically a completed manuscript; each day, the price of the project goes up slightly, as proceeds from the product’s sales are reinvested in artwork, layout, etc. Zzarchov Kowolski has done so twice before. (Yes, reviews of those projects are coming.) So yeah, sufficient interest provided, the adventure’s formal criteria will improve; hence, I will rate this with a WIP-status in mind.

Now, why did I move this ahead in my reviewing queue? Well, it is only seasonally available. You can get this adventure only for a very brief timeframe: At the 25th of December, it will once again vanish into the ether for a whole year. So yeah, if you are interested in this, you need to act fast.

Now, in case you were wondering: This is not a happy-go-lucky Christmas adventure; it sports the rather dark and dry humor of the author, so yeah – not recommended for kids.

This out of the way, let us dive into the details! From here on out, ladies and gentlemen, the SPOILERS will reign. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great! So, we all know how Christianity superimposed holidays on pagan traditions, right? Well, The Holy Church did just that (accompanied by copious mockery of pagan traditions) – thing is, they did know that the pagans were on to something: In certain locations, the veil between worlds grows dimmer. While the rhythmic chanting of yuletide congregations held the Krampus at bay just as efficiently as the pagan rites, this year will be a bit problematic. You see, the drunken priest has managed to burn himself alive and, in the process of doing so, he also burned down the church. Joy. (Told you this had a dark humor…)

So, the threat is, basically, that Krampus will take all the children…so what to do? Well, breaking off crosses at the cemetery may be smart (blessed, they can hurt the entity…) and there are a couple of additional complications: A child-eating, horribly deformed witch living in an abandoned mill is one issue; convincing some hussars that the old tale is real may be nigh impossible, but hey, worth a try, right? Islands that house perchten (beast-men), random tables for the ice-covered wilderness.

There are roughly 3 different, completely different ways, in which the module can be tackled: 1) The PCs can attempt to delay Krampus; while the entity is too strong to properly defeat (unless they are really lucky), delaying tactics may well work. A breakdown of individual strategies are provided. There is also a fortress, abandoned due to plague and now infested with powerful gargoyles, which may yet act as holy ground, holding the entity at bay – but convincing the townsfolk to go there, even if the fully mapped place is cleared, may be tough. Thirdly, there is the option of awakening the Winter King, a local pagan deity, currently sealed in his abode, which constitutes another dungeon that is fully mapped and depicted – smart players will not loot everything here and try to be respectful, while not being slaughtered by the undead…and hopefully, also not by the nosferatu interloper…

Cool, btw.: From the bodies of defeated foes, new magics may be unearthed (when using NGR rules), while two grimoires may be found – one is btw. the book of moderate darkness. This dry humor also extends to the magic items – there are several items devoted to the Winter King’s rites, including everlasting cakes.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good; since this is not yet the final version, I am more forgiving regarding formatting inconsistencies and the like. Layout adheres to a no-frills 1-column standard of black text on white paper. The version I reviewed does not yet have interior artwork. The cartography in b/w by Dyson logos is great, though I wished we got player-friendly versions. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment in my book.

I ended up enjoying Zzarchov Kowolski’s pagan holiday adventure; it is a dark yarn set in an age of ignorance, but it does have its fun components. Structure-wise, I thoroughly enjoyed the multiple ways in which the module can be tackled and the open-ended problem-solution options taken into account. There is serious fun to be had here – though it should be noted that this is not necessarily a Christmas module in spirit; instead, we have a dark fantasy/horror yarn that makes use of Christmas tropes, but that becomes its own thing. I most certainly consider it to be fun, if not a module I’d play to get into the holiday spirit.

Then again, if you’re like me and have…problems with the holidays, some sort of baggage and want a module that fits the season without hearkening too close to the things we associate with the holidays nowadays, if you want a dry, dark critique on the season, then this pretty much is perfect.

Now, I really enjoyed this module, due to completely different reasons than most Christmas modules; because it is kind of anti, but without resorting to a full-blown inversion or spitefulness; it is a tale of the holidays in a world, where the meaning behind such a celebration may well spell the difference between life and death.

Now, as mentioned, this is a buystarter; that means it currently does not sport a couple of things I’d usually consider to be crucial – bookmarks, player-friendly maps, formatting – these show definitely that this is a WIP project right now. As such, it wouldn’t be fair to judge it according to the same standards as finished projects – if this was the final version, I’d probably be less lenient. Right now, this is an incredibly inexpensive offering, and it provides some seriously different takes on the themes; as such, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars. It has the potential of becoming a proper 5-star adventure…or to drop to 3. Only time and this project will tell. We’ll see. If the above sounded interesting, then check it out – every day means a slight price-increases…and, as mentioned before, it will vanish on the 25th…

Endzeitgeist out.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
Down in Yon Forest
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Neoclassical Geek Revival Art Free Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/15/2017 06:10:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This roleplaying game clocks in at 112 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of ToC/editorial, 2 pages blank, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 106 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, what is this? In short, we have an OSR-rule-set here, one that, however, deviates so strongly from the roots of the game-chassis that it basically becomes its own beast. As such, we begin with asserting the global rules: The book denotes some of the rules with a “B” – these would be basic rules; for more complexity, there also are “F”-rules, with “F” standing for “Fiddly” – self-explanatory so far.

Interesting: The pdf does note basic rules for rolling dice: All modifiers need to be mentioned in no more than 2 statements before the roll – total modifier or total roll. If a modifier is forgotten, it does not apply. Coked dice and those outside of the dice-rolling area get rerolled. Positive or negative rerolls (à la advantage/disadvantage) get rolled at once, with the highest/lowest result, respectively, being used. Repeating/Exploding dice means that, when the die shows the maximum value, you roll again and add the result together.

Here, things become VERY interesting: The total modifier of a d20 (or any dX-roll) cannot do more than double the roll of the die. E.g. a d6 +3 that comes up as a 2 would result in 2 + 2 =4. The Dice-notation ?d8 refers to the required maximum roll to escape a given predicament/succeed – In this case, an 8 would be required to avoid/escape the hazard. Dice-steps refer to this sequence: d2 –> d4 ->d6 ->d8 -> d10 ->d12 -> nada -> nada -> nada ->d20. (If you’re using weird dice from e.g. DCC, you can modify this sequence accordingly.) However, please note that this stops working with the concept of inverted dice. Basically, the total of the original die and the inverted die result in 16. A d12 inverts to a d4, a d10 inverts to a d6 – you get the idea. D20s invert to 0.

“Cumulative” refers to a value increasing in a manner that reflects adding the integers of the previous number. Doubling refers to the interval being doubled – fro simplicity’s sake, the system assumes 64 doubling to 125 – unless you’re like me and my group, this solution will probably be more elegant for you as well – kudos! If a PC attempts to perform an action and the player doesn’t know the rule for it, he must select another course…or look up the rule. Doing so, however, yields a -1 awesomeness penalty for the player; GMs needing to look up rules grant all players +1 to awesomeness. More on that later. If these rules seem complex, rest assured that a nice cheat-sheet page of die steps, cumulative charts etc. are included – put them on the inside of your screen and there we go!

Next up would be character creation – the section btw. also contains a really nice, aesthetically-pleasing character-sheet. The character generation follows a principle dubbed “Schrödinger’s Character” -the PC will select a name, species, gender and distribution of attributes. During the first session, skills, traits and starting inventory will be developed. NGR provides 80 attribute points, which are to be distributed among 7 attributes. Alternatively, rolling 3d6 and adding 10 free points to distribute is suggested. Attributes may not be below 1 or above 20. The summary of their effects fits comfortably on half a page.

Strength determines the maximum damage limit, encumbrance and starting inventory. The modifier is used for melee bonus damage and the die is used for Stun Damage attacks. Agility’s modifier is used as a bonus to combat modifier and the die is used for initiative. Health is used for healing, maximum poison and disease limit. Perception’s modifier is used for bonus damage for missile attacks and the Stealth modifier. The die is used to accrue suspicion in stealth conflicts. Intelligence determines starting skill points. The modifier is used for the bonus to occult and reduces XP-costs. The die is used for social influence in social conflicts and may be used as an optional initiative die. Charisma determines you maximum Infamy limit; the modifier nets you a bonus to presence and the die is used for Luck points regained with a party. Will, finally, determines the maximum Stress/Influence limit. The bonus is used for faith and the die is used for mana per level for some wizards.

Attribute modifiers range from -3 (1) to +3 (20) and the corresponding die ranges from d4 to d12. Supernatural attributes have a score of 30, a modifier of +7 and a die of d20.

Okay, next up would be races. Here would btw. be a good place to note that, for a book of crunch, this is a surprisingly fun read. To quote the entry on mankind as a race: “If you are reading this and expecting great insight into the biology of mankind, please stop reading until you can find an appropriate safety helmet to wear.“ It may rub some folks the wrong way – personally, I had surprisingly much fun with these interjections. Now, in an interesting change, the respective entries actually focus on interesting peculiarities: Dwarves have problems in bright light, but can see farther than humans – oh, and they are immortal…provided they stay out of the sun’s reach – sunlight calcifies them slowly over the course of a human lifespan. Interesting! Elves can’t stomach meat very well and have a bloodline, which grants them an innate spell that ignores the difficulty. They gain an additional health die of mana in their mana pool. The wee folk have a size modifier of ½, while the brutish wodewose (half-ogres, half-giants, etc.) need raw meat and is immune to some sicknesses and natural hazards, but traveling in civilization is very hazardous for them. They have a size-modifier of 2.

Okay, this would be where Schrödinger’s character comes into play: Players can select a number of skill points equal to their Intelligence scores, an inventory of item with dots equal to their Strength score, 2 traits, 2 or more relationships, a major and minor morality and 3 pie pieces for class.

Speaking of which: NGR assigns three pie pieces per character (2 if you start with level 0). 10th level provides another pie piece. Each class increases one of the five modifiers: Warriors improve Combat, modified by Agility. Wizards improve Occult, modified by Intelligence. Rogues improve Stealth, modified by Perception. Bards improve Presence, modified by Charisma and Priests improve Faith, modified by Will. 0 pieces of pie are equivalent to a +1/3 modifier per level and 0 powers. 1 piece nets +2/3 per level and one power; 2 pieces provide +1 per level and 3 powers; 3 pieces yield +1 per level and milestone and all 6 powers. 4 pieces retain these benefits and add the locked power – more on that later. There is one more option: You can put a pie in “fool” – this grants no powers, increases no stat and has no special item roll at the end of a session. However, each piece of pie spent on the fool increases the luck die and luck bonus of the character.

So, each of the classes presented comes with 6 different powers, a locked power and personal items – for achieving important tasks, each class can gain a special, signature item benefit at the end of a quest/task/session. The fool is a special case: Beyond the aforementioned benefit, he gains a +1 bonus to awesomeness at the end of every night – why is that relevant? Well, the luck die determines your luck points per level – these are pretty important, for they keep you from suffering serious damage – they basically are the hit points of the character!

Now, there are a couple of traits provided to provide guidance, though the system does encourage making new traits: Being a barbarian e.g. lets you reroll Health checks and Health die rolls, but forces you to reroll Charisma-checks and Charisma die and take the worse result.

Skills fall in 3 categories: Languages, Knowledge and Weapon: There is no common tongue (thankfully!), so languages will be important. Knowledge provides a +2 knowledge bonus on related attribute checks or +1 to a lone attribute die. Weapons where you have no skill gain the unsuitable tag. Characters gain a new skill for each season spent training full time – at the end, they make an Intelligence check, gaining the skill on a success. Less time equals a higher difficulty. Nice: Upon establishing a party, you determine a group relationship – family, protector, employed – all have individual benefits. Similarly, 6 starting packages of pre-defined item-kits are provided – simple, convenient and easy to grasp.

Character morality is important: Major terms of morality provide the leitmotif and primary concern; the minor concern of the character is the priority of self-interest versus the good of the community. Finally, you choose a lucky number between 1 and 20. When it comes up on your roll, something cool’s supposed to happen.

Spellcasting works via mana and piety, respectively – they fuel the spells/miracles/etc. Fate points are basically rerolls and you gain more by being risky and stylish.

Let’s recap: We have 7 attributes, 5 modifiers, luck points and 1 fate point – at this point, you can basically start playing!

Okay, so, regarding global adventuring rules: 20s are critical successes, 1s are critical failures. A character that is CALM can take 10 with any roll. If a roll seems unlikely to suffice, a character may choose to become ON EDGE and instead roll 3d6. A character who is CALM or ON EDGE can become RECKLESS, you can roll 1d20. Here’s the thing: Once you go from CALM to ON EDGE or RECKLESS, you can’t go back for the remainder of the adventure! I really like this rule! When a character spends luck points, he becomes ON EDGE; a character spending fate points becomes RECKLESS.

On easy attribute check is DC 15, the standard man vs. nature check is 20. Saving throws are interesting: The d20 rolled correlates to the milestone achievements of the character – and here’s the thing: The more creative and cool your description is, the less damage you’ll take on a failure or success! NICE!

So, here’s the thing: NGR knows more than damage – it has one “damage”-value per attribute! Damage, Stun, Suspicion, Stress, Influence, Disease, Poison – these values all accrue against an attribute and cause penalties, effects and come with different removals etc. – really cool! This makes relevant debuffs and hazards feel very organic and easy to grasp: From Intoxicants to Fear and Infamy, Mutations or the Unknown, we also get concisely-defined uncommon hazard types. Here’s the thing: As anyone who has played e.g. Shadowrun can attest, such accruing penalties can result in a death spiral – hence, luck points may be spent on a 1:1 basis to negate the various types of detrimental points you can accumulate. Healing is based mostly on rest and conditions – and luck, just fyi, regains at 1 point per day. On the flipside, character partying hard may regain more luck points! Misers regain less luck for being stingy. Mana regeneration depends on the environment you’re in – orderly cities and structure seems to be anathema to mana regeneration – interesting choice there!

Now, we already mentioned creature size modifiers: Basically, you multiply damage by the size modifier: 4 becomes 12 with a x3 size modifier, for example – so yes, the big dragon will squash you. Similarly, the modifier applies to opposed Strength checks; for Agility, things are reversed – a size modifier of x2 would halve the Agility-result, for example.

NGR knows three types of conflict: Covert actions, arguments and combats. They have rounds. Each round, a character gains two actions. Initiative is governed by the Agility or Intelligence Die, with d6s as tie breakers. Note that initiative based on Intelligence does not make the character count as defending him/herself, requiring an action as a balancing strategy here. Skill bonuses may be applied, but only when all actions taken that round pertain to the skill in question. If no one chooses to go first, the character with the LOWEST initiative goes first – however, any being with a higher initiative can interrupt the character! The highest initiative interruption is resolved first, then the second highest…Really cool system!! This system also ties in with weapon reach. Aggressive rolls are compared with defensive rolls (not the biggest fan of such swingy systems), but in a nice change of pace, characters focusing on defense can roll again with a do-over – this means that offense is not necessarily better than defense. Some tricky maneuvers require multiple successes. All the tricky maneuvers you’ve come to expect from modern games – you can pull them off in an easy to grasp manner. Simple, right?

Covert action and social combat follow a similar stratagem and can be considered well-made. Morale, vehicles, quick and dirty mass combat rules, simple rules for incorporeal beings, trampling, trials, exorcisms, swaying the mob. Heck, if you’re like me and love the Thief games (the old ones…), you’ll like the 0 – 10 scaling between light and darkness. Now, I already mentioned that items are codified in “dots” – basically, they are abstracted by size and cumbersomeness – Large items have e.g. 4 dots, Reinforced plate 8 – you get the idea. Easy and simple to track. No complaints. Containers, with quick search times, different item materials…really cool.

Armor provides a base armor modifier, which penalize Agility and ½ of it applies to defense rolls. However, armor provides damage reduction – per damage dice incurred! If you take 3d4 damage and wear a DR 2 armor, you reduce the total damage rolled by 6 – cool idea for a finer-grained take on damage! Armors are further defined by tags. Helms, in a callback to the days of yore, help decrease the likelihood of being critically hit. Weapons follow a similar presentation – dots for weight, tags – and once again, the presentation is clear and well done.

Okay, do you want a strategically engaging combat beyond the aforementioned options? Something where charges, throwing opponents etc. matters? Well, that’s where the combat trick section comes in – they can be taught, have difficulties, effects and limitations – and succeed where A LOT systems fail: They make playing melee characters engaging and fun – you won’t be just standing around, saying “I attack (with most efficient combo of feats/features/etc.” every round. I adore this system to bits. Cool: There are preset trick selections and you can find a handy table to choose them on the fly.

Now, magic works as follows: The caster announces casting the spell, selects a spell power and pays any costs required, then casts the spell as a conflict action. Power level increases also increase difficulty, cost and scope of the spell in question. Occult is added to the roll. For each point by which he failed, the wizard must pay an additional point. Magic has a cost – you suffer 1 point of stress per point of cost. Components matter, because they can decrease difficulty and or offsetting costs. The counterspelling rules make use of the unique initiative system presented and similarly make sense. Dispelling is similarly easy and does NOT require a spell – though it is unreliable and has a stress point cost. Spells are simple and follow, in presentation, a system that is pretty close to how combat tricks work – now, we begin with a massive selection of spells that also act as a template to convert spells from a vast variety of resources; then, the book provides a sampling of spells converted from other sources.

Miracles work differently: The resource employed, piety, is directly related to the behavior of the character. Starting characters have 20 piety. Following the doctrine of the divine patron, spreading the faith, etc. all can earn piety points. These come, just fyi, in a similarly concise and detailed array, featuring tongues, summon wind, making a golem – the result of the piety mechanic being directly tied to the behavior of the character is amazing: Miracles actually feel different from spells!

The system, as hinted at before, knows two types of randomizer dice: Fate points represent minor tweaks – rerolls. Destiny points are tied to the character’s destiny and are more potent – and rare. At the end of a round, one player is voted MVP – most valuable player – this player’s character gains +5 to the awesomeness roll. At the end of the session, the player rolls a d20 – if the player manages to roll below the awesomeness collected, he regains a fate point, subtracts the die roll from the awesomeness result and rolls again – 20s are always fate points. On a failure, the awesomeness-rolling is concluded. Awesomeness is reduced back to 0, regardless of fate gained – you track it anew each session.

NGR uses a 10-level (plus optional level 0) character progression and level 1, 5 and 10 sport milestones that need to be completed to gain the level. XP values for wilderness survival, for finding strange places, defeating minions, etc. – all provided. Slaying proper monsters can yield massive luck, fate and even destiny. XP-values for solved riddles, treasures, etc. – all provided. The final section of the book deals with strategies to end a campaign in style.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I did not notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a crisp and clean two-column standard with printer-friendly, white backgrounds. The pdf does have a few color-highlights. Artwork is thematically-fitting b/w-public domain art – so yeah, there is actually art in the book, and I’d rather have good public domain art than bad stock art. I can’t comment on the physical version of the book, but I’d suggest getting it. Why? The pdf, in a puzzling and annoying choice, lacks any bookmarks. Subtract 1 star for that massive comfort detriment for the electronic version.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s NGR was a surprise for me. I expected yet another retro-clone with some nice houserules and was surprised in a positive manner: For one, the author’s sarcasm is something that made me chuckle more than once – this may be a massive RULES-book that focuses on crunch, but I had more fun reading it than in almost all other supplements.

Moreover, and let me reiterate that: This is NOT just any OSR-system. NGR deviates strongly from the classic chassis and is better off for it. Why? Because the system is surprisingly easy to grasp and surprisingly fun. We have martials that have tactical choices available and thus no big issue regarding caster/martial disparity. The different accruing damage types may sound complex, but they really aren’t and lead themselves really, really well to gritty gameplay. Conversion into NGR is surprisingly simple and the system covers pretty much everything from pestilence to mass combat.

Let me talk about combat for a second: The initiative interruptions are brilliant; so are the social/covert ops tricks, as they make such scenarios exciting. You won’t just be “hitting it with your axe” and the system manages to retain quick gameplay while providing a depth of options. In short: This retains the virtues of old-school gaming combat while also presenting choice, player agenda – fun. The de-facto class-less, free combination pie-system is cool and I love the inclusion of fate/destiny points, how luck points work – in short, I loved reading this. Even if taken just for scavenging purposes, this is well worth checking out.

Here’s the thing, though: NGR plays really, really well. Playing it feels like OSR gameplay, but at the same time is fresh, evolved and engaging. It’s a bit like experiencing old-school gaming for the first time once more, just with, you know, the progress in game design aesthetics being taken into account. NGR plays actually better than it reads. And it is a very engaging reading experience. If you’re looking for variant rules or an old-school setting that is radically different from Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry or LotFP, then please, check this out. It manages to feel fresh, its presentation is didactically concise and easy to grasp and the mechanics marry simplicity with choice – what’s not to like? Well, the missing bookmarks in the electronic version suck. For that version, consider this a 4 star verdict. For print, make that 5. And I really loved how different, yet familiar this system is – hence, this gains my seal of approval as well.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Neoclassical Geek Revival Art Free Edition
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The Gem Prison of Zardax
by David R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/01/2017 05:06:17

The adventure does what it says on the tin: the Gem Prison is a place to escape once you're in it, providing a break from more traditional dungeons. If that's what you're after, this is worth your time.

On first reading I quite liked it; having now run it, and while I still recommend it, I see a weakness I didn't at first.

The thing is quite clearly a puzzle dungeon, and just about any group will start writing down the room glyphs and trying to decode them. So far, so good, though it won't actually get them out of the dungeon.

But the fact that it's obviously a puzzle dungeon brings me to my biggest gripe. There's a puzzle in room 10 that, as written, isn't actually solvable. It was once, but was broken by previous adventurers. Which at the table is a giant waste. It's a timewaster and red herring in an adventure that's already encouraging the players to slow down, write down glyphs and solve puzzles. It adds nothing to the game except penalizing the players for playing along and trying to grapple with the dungeon. Nor is it even obvious how the puzzle was supposed to be solved before it was broken, which would have made the whole thing immediately salvageable at the table.

So that's one strike against it. I don't hold the single exit against it, given it's explicitly a prison, but consider warning your players in character that it is a prison before they go in rather than springing it on them. There are a couple of ways past that single exit and its guards, which I appreciate. There's also a notable treasure in there, that my players missed entirely in choosing not to fight a powerful foe, another grace note I appreciate.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Gem Prison of Zardax
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The Temple of Lies
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/12/2016 17:11:52

Nice clean scenario that should fit into just about any campaign. Great use of space. Price point cant be beat. Kowolski continues to impress.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Temple of Lies
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Under the Waterless Sea
by Thomas W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/01/2016 12:18:43

Have you ever wished you could play D&D in an underwater tropical paradise? Of course you haven't. But now thanks to the unlikely-named Zzarchov Kowolski you can!

The setting is a pacific-inspired archipelago that is in the end-game of a run in with a rival underwater nation - the Deep Ones. There's quite a bit of innovative flavour here, some it coming from names of real pacific island nation equipment and monstrous races from mythology (wikipedia is your friend). There's some scope for political and economic adventures above water if that’s your party's thing. The real 'meat' however is underwater. Kowolski has come up with a novel way to enable an underwater adventure without the messy mechanics of actually dealing with the water: to anyone entering the sea through a small and shrinking portal on the surface the sea water simply appears to have been replaced by air (a wizard did it). This means the party can easily interact with any underwater denizens. The body of the adventure is driven through 3 interesting encounter tables (interesting both mechanically and from a content point of view), and a 6 map dungeon - there is also a nice diagrammatic illustration of the deeps and the shore inside the back cover. The module is rounded out by 7 pages of new spells and magic items, and a table of long-term consequences based on the "score" of the human and Deep One sides, a score that is affected by what the party encounters and how they act (or not).

The module contains stats for Kowolski's self-admittedly byzantine OSR-inspired system "Neoclassical Geek Revival (NGR)", and basic OSR compatible stats - very basic, e.g. "3rd level Lawful Evil cleric with 15 Wisdom" - so you will have to hack this into shape a little for your table, but that's the Old School Revival spirit, right?

All in all this is interesting, well made and value for money with a good amount of sandbox and possibly replay value. Try it as a change to your usual settings; as they say: "a change is as good as a holiday".

(Caveats: a got a PDF copy free from a mini competition the author ran on Google+. I was not asked to write a review. I have not played this, only read it.)



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Under the Waterless Sea
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Neoclassical Geek Revival Character Sheet
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/17/2016 12:40:10

It's a pretty good character sheet. I like the art. It could use more ribbon, though.



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Neoclassical Geek Revival Character Sheet
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The Trail of Stone and Sorrow
by Ahimsa K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/17/2016 13:19:40

I've run this twice in the last month, and both times it made for an engaging couple hours. It's an adventure with no fighting and not even really a mystery, at least not in the gathering clues sense, and yet it's highly engaging and strangely challenging. Definitely a nice curveball to mix into your campaign.



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The Trail of Stone and Sorrow
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