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5E: Nightmares on Parade
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/29/2018 13:45:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 35 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This review was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons....ah, who am I kidding? After the absolutely superb Pixies on Parade, I would have covered this as fast as possible even without that.

Speaking of which - I strongly suggest playing Pixies on Parade before this one. While it can stand alone easily, I do believe that it has an added sense of gravitas when played as a kind of sequel - the pdf makes use of the concept of imagination magic and the inclusion of the dream-like logics should make pretty clear that yes, this will have an excellent reason for championing a thus more mutable reality. With the dream realm overlaps featured within, we get really nice global rules that set adventuring in the realm of dreams apart from mundane adventures – the mutable nature allows for unique tactical decisions, hijacking of specific dreams and the like. It is a truly distinct playing experience that thankfully has been translated in a tight and concise manner to 5e.

Now, this is obviously a conversion of the original module released for PFRPG; usually, that would have me worried…particularly considering how good the original was. In case you missed it: “Nightmares on Parade” made the #1 spot of my Top Ten the year it was released. Translating that level of excellence is an extremely tough task. So, can the 5e-version hold up to the PFRPG version’s excellence?

...and this is as far as I can go without SPOILING anything. Potential players SHOULD jump to the conclusion. This also includes some SPOILERS for the prequel, “Pixies on Parade”, so please don't read on if you want to play them. They're worth it.

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In “Pixies on Parade”, the PCs have managed to save Edwin from the clutches and malign influence exerted over him by the Nightmare King. He may not be escaping anytime soon...but he does not sit idly by, instead using his considerable power to draw the picturesque village of Glavost right into his nightmare realm! Uniquely empowered by their experiences in “Pixies on Parade”, the PCs thus receive the ability to manipulate reality - wishing for a unicorn, for example, may actually manifest one - though the created dreams generated do not feature the abilities of the things they're modeled after, instead employing the lesser dream statblock included within. Indeed, the somewhat parasitic/dependant nature of these dreams allows people tied to them to shape them.

Anyways, the module begins with an ominous darkening sky, a quake and mists drawing in - if your PCs have gone through the gauntlet of Ravenloft at one point, that alone will make them paranoid as all hell. Aforementioned dreams seek out the PCs and bond with them. As the PCs walk outside, they will notice Belle Leaflower walking the streets, unable to communicate or, well, perceive anybody - creative problem solution is the name of the game, as her anxieties manifest themselves and thus influence the next encounter, namely saving the ancient Elas Leaflower, who is obsessively trying to read as many books as possible at once, fearing that he is running out of time - and if the long beard and constantly multiplying books (which do not take kindly to intruders!) are any indicator, he'd be right. The PCs will have to contend with falling bookshelves, book swarms and find a way to convince Elas that his quest his futile, his books, as they are wont to be in dreams, but gibberish.

This would be a kind of leitmotif to be found here - the Nightmare King has provided some delightfully twisted (and goofy) nightmares for the folks of Glavost: Dwarven chef Rus Ulden is hunted by jello-oozing killer cupcakes. And yes, you can actually eat these...which makes for a cool prop when fighting them...just as a note... Each fellow saved and encounter passed provided an inspiration as a reward – a reward the PCs will really need, but more on that later.

Beyond these detailed encounters, however, there are also more simple, optional ones provided for your convenience: The more invested the PCs are in Glavost, the better. The fight for the minds and imagination of Glavost takes the PCs, ultimately, to the major's house, where a semi-solid sheathe of darkness covers everything and Edwin needs to be saved from what seems to be the nightmare king...though it is, in fact, "only" the most powerful dream plaguing Glavost. Having defeated this threat, the PCs now will have the proper power of a town's imagination backing them up, namely in the ability to duplicate mirage arcane as an innate spell-like ability...except that, here in the realm of dreams, these illusions are real. Kind of. They don’t cause damage per se to most beings…but they fully affect lesser dreams! This is super important for the adventure.

But the Nightmare King is not just going to throw in the towel because he's been foiled here - instead, he figures he might as well go big or go home...and sends a frickin' army in the direction of the PCs. And this is where the plot thickens and parents and adults alike should take a good, long look: The kids of Glavost, while considered to be "heroes", were basically treated with condescension by the adults; as kids all across the globe are wont to be; one crucial and important lesson anyone can draw from this book and project to the real world is that kids deserve respect.

In real life, kids may not create phantom armies...but that doesn't mean that they can't save the lives of others, that they may not be the triumphant factor in the battle for the hearts and minds of the adults around them. Just something to figure - kids are not property, they are people we accompany for some time along the way, that we try to help prosper and hopefully leave the world a better place for...but I digress.

The PCs have saved the adults and so, they may shore up the defenses and use their imagination to save the town with offenses and defenses created. There may a saboteur in their midst - the teenage night hag Isabeth, who proceeds to trap the PCs and request them doing horrible, annoying chores - but they will have to do them, if they are to escape...and there's a way to befriend Isabeth in the process, which may well be used as a means to teach kids how to deal with folks (like elder siblings…) in puberty...but that just as an aside.

The module continues to "teach", if you will, life lessons while being played - there is a detention scenario next, where the PCs are targeted by suggestions and the gremlins running the show try to get them to acknowledge that they should not be brave etc. - the idea here is simple, yet brilliant: It is mathematically unlikely that all PCs fail the save (though such a scenario is accounted for as well), and thus, the PCs will have the chance to rebuttal the theses thrown at them, with grudging acknowledgement from the gremlins....but, of course, the more PCs fail, the more will they be forced to reply as per the wishes of the "teacher". This is something that the current generations definitely should take to heart: My experience with the younger kids is that, more often than not, they are taught to cave to peer pressure, to maintain a "pleasant" environment with their comrades, even if goes against their beliefs and convictions - when I compare my cousin's school experience to mine, for example, we have been horribly rowdies and rebels who stood up for what we believed in, whereas my cousins tend to just assume the path of least resistance, modifying their convictions due to fear of being ostracized. I think that kids should be taught, as soon as possible, that their convictions have value and that the majority is not always right. This encounter does just that, without jamming its message down one's throat. It's also creative regarding how the rules are presented for 5e, so yeah - amazing!

Next up would be yet another interesting one - a satyr skald offers the PCs a fair deal: He was tasked to delay them, but finds this strategy distasteful and thus offers to fill the PCs in one the background story of the Nightmare King, which is provided in lavish detail - it is here that the old truism of knowledge equaling power may be taught...and the respectful demeanor and no-strings, straightforward and respectful attitude of the satyr progresses the thematic sequence of being show proper respect for one's achievements. The sequence here is important: This “lesson” comes right after the one that teaches to not cave to peer pressure and authority. It emphasizes that knowledge deserves respect, and that accumulating knowledge can make resistance to the opinion of the majority valid, justified.

Once the PCs have heard the story (or left of their own free will), it will be time for the army of Glavost's dreams to duke it out with the servants of the Nightmare King! Here, things become once again amazing, as, while the module recommends a descriptive and flavor-centric take on the battle of the armies, groups that enjoy rules-intense scenarios can employ the easy and quick to implement mass combat rules provided here! Yup, statblocks for the armies are provided. I intentionally did not write "kids will use descriptive, adults the rules", mind you - I certainly know enough young ones that are REALLY into the nit and grit of rules! The amazing thing here is that the PCs may use their imagination to greatly influence the way the battle works: Mass imagination magic, flexible benefits - if properly employed, this is frickin' amazing indeed! For 5e, it also offers something I enjoy: For the fellows that prefer the rules lite side of things, the descriptive option works; for those that enjoy the tactical side more, it’s here as well – basically, an everyone wins scenario.

Returning to the theme of respect - as the nightmare armies crumble, Behast, the Nightmare King waltzes to the PCs and actually offers an imagination duel; a scenario wherein he creates obstacles with his power for the PCs to overcome...an usually a respectful way of solving conflict sans violence amidst otherwise immortal beings.

Having even the BBEG actually treat the PCs with respect is a truly amazing progression of the themes employed in this book.

Speaking of amazing: The PC's actions throughout the module have direct consequences here - Behast may not enter the fray directly, but his champion has several abilities, each of which is tied to one specific type of action the PCs may have done...the better they treated their fellows, the more they helped them, the bigger are their chances against Behast's champion! Know, how in those cool 80s/90s kid's movies at one point, the kids would combine their powers, reap the benefits of the good deeds they have sown previously? It may be a bit cheesy, but it always put a good kind of shiver down my spine.

Oh, and don't tell anyone, since the PCs have to find out the hard way...but don't worry about player frustration in this book - a sidebar's got you covered, and the book provides guidance time and again.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good - with the exception of a very minor aesthetic hiccup at one point, the book is pretty flawless. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard with a turquoise background. This may not make it too printer-friendly, but I'd suggest getting this in print anyway. The artwork adheres to Jacob Blackmon's comic-like style and is nice and internally consistent. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Apart from a darker map of Glavost, the pdf lacks precise maps, but considering the morphic theme and mutable nature of the surroundings in every encounter, it does not need them; I was a bit skeptical regarding this component, but actual playtest did affirm that the module works smoothly.

Stephen Rowe has been a kind of anomaly among RPG-designers in that he's equally at home in the writing of crunch and fluff. Additionally, his modules so far have not failed to impress me, with both Pixies on Parade or Directive Infinity X being examples of excellence.

Nightmares on Parade is a whole different level, and it is to my utmost pleasure that I can state that this holds true for 5e as well.

Let me elaborate a bit: Playground Adventures generally provides modules that can help educate kids, teach concepts and knowledge in a manner that is not obtrusive, in a manner that is fun.

Pixies on Parade was a pretty much perfect homage to 80s' kid's movies - you know, when we still treated kids as proper beings, not as second-class citizens to be sheltered to the point of generating narcissists, to the point where they're not ready facing a reality that does not cuddle them all the way.

Pixies was brilliant in that it provided a scenario that dipped into creepy themes, but at the same time maintained a child-friendly levity in theme and execution. Oh, and in the hands of an even remotely capable GM, you could run it as a balls-to-the-wall horror/dark fantasy module.

Think of a certain Goblin King's labyrinth, think of the last member of an equine, horned species and you'll see what I mean: Watching these movies as a child delighted me; watching them as an adult provided a wholly different context for both. Pixies did that and did it perfectly. Age-wise, all but the most sensitive of kids should be good with it and I ran it for a then-4-year-old sans issues. The target demographic, though, should be about ages 6+, for really, really sensitive kids probably 8+. It always depends on the kid in question.

"Nightmares on Parade" is the successor in that theme in more ways than one, maintaining the leitmotifs...but also presenting a dimension that far exceeds what regular modules offer, what you can witness in any of its predecessors.

What do I mean by this? I have to wax poetically a bit here: The German concept of "Bildung" denotes the collective process of education and personality-formation, including a development of one's own personal ideology, convictions, etc. - the very word generates an association with building one's self as an eternal process, of describing the totality of construction work of your own personality and accumulated knowledge in all fields of life. There is exactly one other module, Richard Develyn's brilliant "Seven Sinful Tales", which has ever made me employ this word in the context of adventures you can run.

You see, the structure of this adventure teaches not by stating precise information in a traditional sense; it goes beyond that. By virtue of its meticulously-structured encounters and their diverse themes, it imparts genuine wisdom upon the players, life lessons if you will. The module shows, rather than tells, what happens if you let fears (like not having enough time) define you; what happens if you're consumed by work (with a kid-friendly, literal analogue); to stand up for your convictions and what's right in the face of authorities and peer-pressure...and to never underestimate the power of imagination that so many adults have lost. (Though roleplayers tend to be safer there...)

There is not a single encounter in this module that does not provide, in unobtrusive subtext, a truly valuable, morally and ethically valuable lesson. And this does not only extend to kids: Parents running this module for their kids should carefully read this module and analyze it, for the aforementioned leitmotif of respecting your child, the importance of that aspect for the development of adults and the way in which this module treats kids can, in my most deeply-held convictions, potentially improve the horizon of parents alike. The theme of respect that ultimately is awarded to the PCs and their players by the BBEG culminates in a glorious experience that may well, in some cases, end night troubles...after all, the nightmare king has conceded defeat. But that as just an aside.

Beyond these psychologically relevant aspects and the wonderful, respectful way this book treats its audience, regardless of age, one should not be remiss to emphasize the downright amazing use of imagination magic throughout the book and the fact that, beyond the glorious lessons imparted herein, it ALSO is a truly amazing module. Whether or not you go mass combat, whether or not you play this as horror (Concerned parents, rest assured that this module, as written, is as wholesome as it gets...but any only semi-decent GM can make this very dark very easily and basically transform it on the fly into a horror-module just by adding non-kid-friendly dressing!) for adults, as a kid-friendly adventure as written, as emphasizing the crunchy aspects or de-emphasizing them via Imagination Magic, you retain maximum flexibility in how you actually run the module. I've run this twice and both times in radically different manners - and in both cases, the structure held up: The kid-friendly run worked as amazing as expected, replacing Pixies as their favorite module. The experience of running this as an adult module with my own trademark tweaks went over just as well.

Ultimately, "Nightmares of Parade" may be a glorious module on its own...but its value lies beyond that. It is a module that not only dares to teach in a didactically unobtrusive manner, it is one that teaches in a tailor-made, carefully and in truly intelligent way, to leave particularly kids and parents as better persons for having played it.

If you think I'm overanalyzing this, btw., then I'd point you straight towards the fact that this obviously is intended to achieve said stated goal; each and every facet of the module is devoted towards cultivating a respectful and benevolent development, a component of "Bildung" not only between the players, but also in their interaction with others and amongst themselves. It teaches spine and courage in the face of adversity and the value of behaving in an upstanding, honorable manner while still being kids. In short: Nightmares on Parade is a masterpiece not only on a formal level, but also is one of the scant few modules that dares to try to leave its audience better off for having played it; it is one of the very few incarnations of our favorite medium that tries to do more than entertain, without losing sight of entertainment being the primary purpose.

Stephen Rowe has surpassed himself with this module and catapulted himself into a level of adventure-writing excellence that is rarefied indeed, that is a very small class of its own.

With all my heart, I encourage you to get Pixies and this, the sequel. We need authors that dare to do more than just entertain (though it certainly does excel here as well!); it is my firm conviction that roleplaying games already are a great way of helping people, regardless of age, connect, develop and improve in numerous aspects of life. This, however, takes everything one step further - it can actually be seen as a module that could be canon as something that truly benefits everyone involved, that helps form personalities and strengthen positive character traits. This is Bildung given the form of an exceedingly fun and modular adventure. This humble masterpiece is worth 5 stars + seal of approval and the 5e-version loses, thankfully, nothing of the splendor of the original, making this on par with my #1 of my Top Ten of 2016!

If you share my firm belief that roleplaying games can make us all better people...then take a look. This module, frankly, is art in the most unpretentious manner you can define it; it leaves you better for having witnessed it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
5E: Nightmares on Parade
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Creature Components - Tome of Beasts
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/27/2018 03:52:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Playground Adventure’s so far absolutely fantastic Creature Components-series clocks in at 54 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 46 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

Now, before we dive in, let me state the obvious: This book is about the concept of harvesting parts from defeated monsters for use with magic; conceptually, this is a development of the idea of power-components, i.e. optional material components that can change the casting of spells, function of other magic, etc. Secondly, it should be noted that the book, after the first installment for 5e took a look at the basic Monster Manual, covers the massive Tome of Beasts by Kobold Press. In case you do not yet have this phenomenal tome, you should definitely get it: The Kobold crew has delivered a truly fantastic tome of unique critters that is pretty much a must-own book for a 5e-campaign. To use this book, you need Tome of Beasts and the first Creature Component-book.

It should be noted that, aesthetically, the book adheres (if the cover was not ample indicator) to the same sentiments as the Tome of Beasts, mirroring layout and presentation-aesthetics as well as some artworks from the ToB, which is a nice touch here, though personally, I preferred the somewhat travelogue/catalogue-style aesthetics championed previously. The frame narrative of the book is retained via a nice piece of introductory prose. It should be noted that this book does not explain the basic mechanics of harvesting creature components in detail – for that, you will need to reference the stellar “Creature Components Vol. I”; since that book is simply phenomenal and covers the basic creatures, I wholeheartedly recommend getting it asap if you haven’t already.

Making use of Tome of Beast’s components, the book also inherits synergy with the Deep Magic-series of spellcasting-themed pdfs released by Kobold Press. While many of these have in the meanwhile been collected and expanded in the Midgard Heroes Handbook, the GM-centric “forbidden” magics covered in the series are not included in that tome.

Deep Magic, as a series, has been somewhat hit and miss for me, and the revision in the MHH has improved most components to the point where I consider them valid. That being said, since the Midgard Heroes Handbook does not contain the Void Magic and Blood & Doom installments (former is stellar, latter is super problematic), this Creature Component installment has elected to reference spells from the series with the unified, superscript “DM”-tag. You will be able to use the majority of the material herein sans owning the Midgard Heroes Handbook or the Deep Magic-installments not included in it, but I considered it still important to note. If you absolutely want to use absolutely every component herein, you’ll need aforementioned files. (Links collated at the bottom of the review.)

That being said, in this review’s rating, I am not going to penalize this pdf for its internal consistency regarding these spells, nor am I making any judgment on the spells the components build upon. I endeavor to focus on the content of this book, i.e. the way in which the components enhance the respective magics and the game itself.

That being said, the content of this second Creature Component-installment begins with a bang and a modification to the component harvesting engine that is absolutely phenomenal. It’s an optional rule, and one that, in hindsight, is one that I should have expected from the base engine: Harvesting complications. It makes sense once you think about it: You’re tinkering with potentially volatile and highly magical creatures, and as such, it makes sense that exposure to acid, toxins, etc. could happen. As such, the book opens with concise rules that codify potential hazards when harvesting components. You can handcraft these, or refer to a simple percentile roll and consult a table: Here, you take a look at component potency and immediately see the hazard category. In a nice analogue to the basic system, the hazards are grouped in three types: Lesser, moderate and greater hazards. Identifying and mitigating them, DC-wise, is concisely-presented, and the book also suggests skills by type to identify them.

DCs of harvested materials are contingent of the vanquished creature’s proficiency bonus, as well as an ability modifier of the defeated foe. This renders the harvesting process much more engrossing and captivating.

But you’re interested in the main meat of this massive book, right? Well, the majority of this book is devoted to a metric ton of diverse components sourced from a variety of creatures. Each component notes what type of component it is (like cerebral fluid, voice box, claws, etc.), the potency and the spells that can be augmented by them. Each component notes a price and a cost as well. Some of these can only enhance a very specific spell, while others can affect a variety of different magical effects. Take the first component, a nihileth aboleth’s cerebral fluid: It can augment crown of madness, detect thoughts, dominate person or similar enchantments: The fluid is rubbed on the spot where the “third eye” of the caster usually is, and once the spell enhanced thus has run its course (by broken concentration or elapsed duration), the target must succeed a Constitution save or fall prey to a disease that renders skin translucent and slimy, causing acid damage when not fully submerged every 10 minutes and prevents the regaining of hit points – basically, a skum-transformation light, which you can add as insult to injury or lace into a less openly hostile spell for a nasty surprise. You will also note that the component use here actually sports a description on how it is incorporated into spellcasting. This may seem like a small thing, but it is a component that enhances immersion: Instead of an abstract casting process, the use of the components becomes relatable: We can imagine the act of casting this way. To me, that is a big plus, and one aspect of the book that most assuredly enhances my enjoyment of it.

Ala essence can be employed to enhance spells dealing lightning damage, imposing disadvantage on the respective save. Andrenjinyi esophageal fluid can render polymorphs permanent; using an angler worm webbing strand can render web-spells harder to discern. You can enhance your climbing speed granted by spider climb…and there are some truly distinct changes: When using, for example, a hair braid of Baba Yaga’s horsemen in conjunction with conjure fey, you tap into a central concept of magical thinking, namely the use of a component acting as a sympathetic link to the whole- you can call forth an aspect of said Horsemen, with proper stats provided. Some of these components actually radically change how a spell can be employed: When you incorporate a Bereginyas essence in your fog cloud, to give you an example, allows you to attempt to smother one creature inside per round you maintain concentration, adding a whole new aspect to the spell.

Employing blemmyes intraocular fluid can make your compulsions carry a desperate craving for meat. There are also components that extend the duration or reach of spells – with the right components, you can, for example, enhance the amount of targets affected by water walk or increase the duration of the spell. Using a buraq feather while casting blade of wrath, for example, provides a shining, radiant blade that only slowly fades once your concentration’s been broken. There also are instances, where a component’s use taps into the cultural perspective of a being: Using a chernomoi amygdale when casting fear taps into the evolved fear of wyverns and channels that into the way in which the spell manifests itself. Chronamental effects, predictably, can be employed to enhance time-manipulation spells, but show a keen insight regarding balance, opting to extend the range of the slow spell instead of the already very potent benefits granted. There are also components that have multiple uses: Employing a dragon eel heart when casting fire shield switches the energy damage caused to lightning, for example; alternatively, spells that inflict lightning damage can enhance the damage caused by lightning-based spells – and in a smart way, the amount of possible augmentations thus is contingent on spell levels.

As an aside, the annotations provided throughout add interesting notions: The prevalence of some exotic beings from the outer planes in Midgard, for example, is mentioned as a phenomenon, acknowledged within the context of the multiverse – a nice note that is, should you choose to, easily ignored…or that may end up being truly inspiring. Notes on how drake hide breaks your quills most of the time also made me smile. These notes, in concordance with the physicality implied by the components, significantly improves the sense of tangibility that is associated with the spells – an arcane eye becomes just so much cooler once you take an incorporeal creature’s eye and make that the magical facsimile eye, enhancing the efficiency greatly.

The book closes with a section on new magic items: Here, we can find the lightning arrow, which may leap to nearby, metal-wearing beings; wing blades made with eala feathers can alter their composition based on the eala from which they were sourced, and also burst into flames; darts made from spire walkers, the legendary ghostwalk leather (rendered with a fantastic artwork) and bota pouches are in here: The latter can contain liquids and transport them rather stealthily. Super stylish (I’d wear them as depicted in the artwork!) red boots of the fey can execute devastating stomp-shockwaves. Shadhavar flutes enhance inspiration dice granted and lenses of the lynx allow you to peer through fog. 4 neat magical item variants and mithril dragon hide as a new material finish the crunch-section, before the book ends with the well-written framing narrative.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious glitches on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to Tome of Beast’s elegant two-column, full-color standard with classic full-color artworks that fans of Kobold Press will recognize. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Daniel Marshall & BJ Hensley, with development by Stephen Rowe and Dan Dillon, provides a massive expansion to the Creature Component formula, one that I consider to be more than worth the asking price. Since I assume you’re already familiar with the previous book, let me talk a bit about a subtle aspect of this series that you may have missed. Do you recall my example given above, where a creature’s eye becomes the arcane eye, enhanced properly?

This example highlights a couple of aspects that explain the lasting appeal that this supplement and its predecessor have: One, it emphasizes the aspect of magic as a kind of technology-substitute, a crutch, if you will – magic is, much like modern, real life technology, a superb way to extend your senses, your power; but if Marshal McLuhan’s extension of Freud’s notion of the prosthetics god is to be believed, such tools also limit the individual.

Tellingly, in German, “watching TV” is called “fernsehen” – literally, “far seeing,” implying that you can see what’s far away…but not necessarily what’s nearby. Secondly, much like modern technology, magic in RPGs seems to conjure things ex nihilo; we are not cognizant of electricity flowing through our smart phones, conjuring images of our friends. Magic in RPGs, system-immanently, works along those lines – we don’t have the years of study or raw power our characters have. We do not understand magic in-game, just the sketch of the magical effects.

Modern magic in RPGs, as such, often by requirement of convenience, follows a design paradigm of simplicity that is hard to argue with: We don’t have the time or inclination to track minutiae of spell formulae, long strings of syllables to recite at the table or to track a huge amount of diverse components. Yet, this complexity is exactly what characterized historical approaches to magic. Even the process of thinking did ostensibly require purification, meditation, etc., as seen in the various mystic traditions inspired by religions, as well as the religions we have in real life themselves. Add to that the requirement for a variety of esoteric components, and we have something that is extremely arcane, in the classic sense of the word, hard to pull off. It has to be. After all, magic doesn’t work in real life.

There is, traditionally, effort required for magic to account for its scarcity, for its unreliability– phenomenal effort, in fact. We think of magic as rare and hard to master, even though, in the games we play, it’s anything but that, courtesy of the demands of the game.

Now, while a more “real”, a more “realistic” approach to magic would be unplayable and violate the design-tenets of actual usefulness at the table, creature components can provide a thematic bridge between the two extremes. Magic will still retain its functionality, its ease of use, the sheer accessibility that highlights it as a component of a game. However, at the same time, the use of these structurally-earned resources adds a sense of consequence, sequence and immediacy, of the real to magic – the benefits conveyed by the components, ultimately, make the magic that uses them feel more plausible. After all, the PCs know where and how they earned these powers, these extensions of magic beyond the functional default facsimile of narrative structures they usually represent. In a way, creature components allow for a dash of “real” magical feeling added to the convenience of the default spellcasting engine, and it does so without bogging down the game.

Or, you know, you could just be thinking “This is cool/like in some book I’ve read”; or you like the direct correlation of critter and reward, which makes it a rather easy and more interesting way to reward players without having critters carry gold that should not care for shiny metal.

Either way, the concept of Creature Components is amazing, and the notion of the harvesting being potentially hazardous adds a concise risk-reward ratio to the proceedings that I absolutely adore. In short, this is a great supplement, well worth getting. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and it is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Creature Components - Tome of Beasts
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Creature Components Vol 1 5E
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/11/2018 04:16:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 5e-version of the massive Creature Components tome clocks in at 60 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 51 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested as a prioritized review and has been moved up in my reviewing queue accordingly.

There is a further disclaimer to note here: While Playground Adventures generally focuses on child-friendly supplements, this one is aimed at a slightly more mature audience. The idea of this book is to use parts of vanquished creatures for magic, taking a cue from pretty much all real life mystical traditions and those depicted in fiction. While e.g. spell components already feature this theme, I figured it’d be worth mentioning. If young ones are really young and/or super-sensitive, this may not be for them. That being said, this is, as far as I’m concerned, really harmless. If you’re like me and have grown up in the country, of if you’re raising your family there, you should have no issues.

The first thing you’ll notice upon opening this book, is that it is GORGEOUS. I mean it. With runes on the border and an elegant full-color presentation, the tome looks amazing. Furthermore, the books’ aesthetics are wholly in service to the conceit this presents: Basically, we begin with an in-character framing narrative, and then move on through the tome, with copious amounts of artworks in pencil-drawn style, lavishly-created by Jocelyn Sarvida, generating a sense of holistic integrity, and illusion of flipping through the pages of a xenobiololgist’s field journal. In-character parchment addendums add to this visually concise presentation. I love this.

Now, as noted before, the basic idea of these components is tied to the innovation of power components: Basically, we’re talking about optional spell components that can alter the ways in which spells behave, harvested from defeated creatures. This simple idea is amazing, and frankly makes sense on so many levels. It is a nice reason to start adventuring; it allows the GM to reward the PCs for defeating certain foes, and it makes magic feel…well, more magical. I’m a huge fan of the concept. The harvesting process is btw. as simple as we want from 5e: You basically check Intelligence (Arcana) or (Religion), determining what parts of a creature can be used, with the DC ranging from 15 to 30. While this base DC is relatively high for a bottom DC, it makes sense – not everyone should be able to harvest these components, and it should not be too reliable. The DCs are btw. based on creature frequency – the rarer in a setting the creatures are, the harder harvesting gets, as a baseline. It makes sense: Knowledge and exposure on how to deal with a hunter/gatherer-resource generate a more broadly-spread knowledge regarding how to prepare the materials. I mean, many folks can prepare fish, but fugu? Beyond difficulty, it’s a rare craft there – I’d have no idea on how to prepare that properly.

The harvesting process employs the Survival and Medicine skills, and similarly ranges in skill DCs ranging from DC 15 to higher; a harvesting attempt takes 1d6 x 10 minutes, and the check may be retried on a failure, but only if it wasn’t botched by 5 or more. The character gains a single component on a success, with another component gained for every 5 points by which he exceeds the DC. It is important to note that the pdf explicitly states that anatomical limitations cap this – a creature with two eyes can’t yield three doses from eyes, for example. On the other hand, some components can definitely yield more uses: Powdered claws, for example.

A general guideline of challenge, ability DC and suggested market value is presented, and the book also provides precisely-codified rules for attempting to, at the GM’s discretion harvest components sans killing a creature. While nominally, even a successful attempt deals necrotic damage, this damage can by no means be mitigated, which is important regarding undead. Furthermore, the damage this inflicted reduces maximum hit points, not unlike a vampire’s blood drain, representing the significant potential damage. While this can be regained by a long rest, organs removed are gone and remain so. Now, if this aspect strikes you as a bit problematic, fret not, for the book explicitly denotes this as optional. The idea here is, for example, to allow a noble unicorn to sacrifice her horn to save a king, for a stalwart griffon to help the rider – you get the idea. (That aside, if you’re playing in a mature group, you can play this up as gory as you’d like – the presentation here is very much PG 13, but the content and mechanics here can easily be tweaked to account for a variety of tastes.) Similarly, thematic appropriateness of the use of a component remains, as a whole, firmly where it belongs, in the hands of the GM, and the pdf provides a rather helpful section that provides guidance when implementing this system.

But what about e.g. ghosts and air elementals of different beings that lack a physical body? Well, the pdf introduces the essence vial, an uncommon magic item that allows the character to collect the essences of such beings. The pdf smartly discusses the consequences of introducing these components regarding gold value and risk and reward. Particularly in 5e, with pretty low spell-durations, it should come as no surprise that harvesting, due to its duration, can be a pretty strenuous activity regarding PC resources. Still, for GMs favoring grittier games, the pdf alternatively suggests subtracting the value of these from the rewards otherwise granted. Since 5e is less contingent on WBL-assumptions than PFRPG, this should generally not yield issues, and the solutions suggested are solid.

Now, how does the enhancing of spells work? Well, only a single creature component can be used in conjunction with a given spell; however, and this is very important, maintaining such a spell becomes tougher due to the magic unleashed from the components. Constitution saving throws made to maintain the spell are increased by 5. Additionally, the pdf does not just provide means for the GM to use the components herein; instead, we get concise guidelines to determine effects for creature components, as they’re grouped in three categories: Lesser, moderate and greater. These categories are assigned effects, some of which are rather intriguing, for example featuring the extension of a spell’s effects for 1 round after concentration ceases. Limited damage type changes, slightly increased spell save DCs – the modifications to the spell-chassis are solid and take the peculiarities of 5e’s spellcasting engine into account. Nice: The supplement also discusses potential downsides for particularly potent components.

Such creature components, obviously, also make sense for use in conjunction with magic items, with a table by rarity denoting DCs; the book also discusses the use of such components in conjunction with item creation for non-charge-based and permanent items, providing a brief array of rules for formula research – considering 5e’s barebones means for item creation, I enjoyed this brief section, even though it remains, by design, rather basic. Cost reduction in such a context is also noted, just fyi. It should also be noted that the pdf similarly codifies the means to make magic permanent, though, once more, the means to do so remain in line with the rather easy to grasp 5e-mechanics.

Now, I’ve delayed this long enough, so how do these components work? A component is presented with an easy to read statblock of sorts: The entries list the most commonly-used components, and some creatures may yield multiple, different components. The entries also list their potency (lesser, moderate, greater) and then proceeds to note the spells that can be affected. Important: When a spell can be enhanced, so can its derivatives: If you can, for example, enhance restoration, then you can also use it to enhance greater restoration. Beyond those aspects, we have costs and descriptions noted.

It should also be noted that sub-species are taken into account: You can, for example, harvest devil’s blood from all types of devils, but obviously, you can only harvest barbed devil barbs from, well, a barbed devil. Speaking of which: These illustrate rather well the power and coolness of these options: Said barbs can be used to enhance any spell that enhances AC, and when used thus, creatures within 5 ft. of the caster successfully hitting with a melee or spell attack take 1d8 piercing damage per 2 spell levels above 1st. Vrock spores enhance spells that inflict the poisoned condition and add minor poison damage to the effect…and before you think about abuse, even if the poisoned condition does not allow for a save to end it, the ongoing poison damage bestowed by the component does explicitly allow for a save to end it.

Cool: Dragon turtle glands transform fire-damage causing effects into steam, making the spells functional underwater, and mitigating resistance gained due to immersion in water, but ONLY this resistance. Adding a gibbering mouther’s saliva to an acid-based spell can make it blind foes on a failed save…and here, just fyi, a default save for save-less effects is noted. The potency of components also hinges on the power of the spell they supplement, which is a clever trick: Gorgon horns, for example, partially can calcify victims of spells resisted with a Dexterity save. While nominally, this effect causes necrotic damage, it scales with spell potency, and when used in conjunction with 7th level and higher spells, it can petrify targets! It should also be noted, that, while classified as necrotic, the special damage inflicted does affected undead and instead is ignored by beings immune to petrification. Also interesting: The damage thus inflicted does only heal by magical means. A Hippogriff’s feathers can increase the speed of a fly spell to 80 ft., highlighting another component I very much enjoyed here: Instead of competing/superseding the enhancements available via 5e’s spellcasting options at higher levels, the pdf instead focuses on alternate augmentations, adding another level of resource-bound flexibility to the spellcasting engine.

I mean, come on, how cool is it to have your sorcerer draw forth that lycanthrope’s blood, powering enhance ability…but also risking lycanthropy? Wait, what? Yeah, not all of the components herein are safe to use: PCs that don’t exert the right amount of care may, for example, find themselves with a dangerous addiction to nalfeshnee vertebral fluid. (Ew!) Harsh? Maybe. But, you know, using a greater demon’s brain juice? Yeah, that SHOULD carry a risk! Depending on creature scarcity, there are some rather potent tricks here: When using, for example, an oni’s horn in conjunction with alter self, you also get a whopping +4 to Strength and Constitution and a size-increase to Large! Adding a stirge proboscis to a spell imposes a penalty on death saving throws when reduced by one to 0 hit points. Nice, btw.: The book takes care to account for some of the more subtle distinctions of 5e: While in PFRPG, a succubus is a demon, 5e assumes them to be their own type of fiend, and as such, the listing of the creature component also mirrors this decision in 5e – this is relevant due to the general components like demon’s blood, which can, correctly, I might add, not be harvested from succubi.

I should also mention that specific components have different effects: Skeleton dust can, for example, be used to enhance animate dead…or it can be laced into a magic circle versus the undead. The book covers a ton of well-crafted components, though it should be noted that closed IP-creatures could not be tackled. This is no fault of the supplement, but the consequence of how IP works. Beyond the massive array of components, we have 6 new feats. 4 of these represent having angel, demon, infernal or dragon blood in your veins, enhancing an ability score, helping harvesting, and the options to safely harvest certain types of blood. Beyond these 4, we have Component Caster, which increases a mental ability score of your choice by 1 and eliminates the concentration DC-increase for incorporating components. Component Crafter enhances harvesting and, surprise, crafting. All of these feats, power-wise, are in line with 5e’s aesthetics.

The final section of the pdf provides 12 magic items: 2 of these would be improved variants of the aforementioned essence vial, and elixirs that help control specific creatures can also be found. There is a very rare cloak made from blue dragon hide and the means to create a legendary remorhaz forge! A quill that seals objects with a riddle, a super aerodynamic manticore spike dagger, a powerful armor made of the wrappings of a vanquished mummy lord –pretty damn cool selection here! The pdf closes with 4 variant magic items and ends with a nice piece of in-character prose.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a rules-language level and a formal level. Layout is absolutely gorgeous and adheres, as noted, to a beautiful two-column full-color standard. The artworks, similarly, are mind-blowing, with one single exception: A chapter-introduction artwork depicts, oddly, a solid CGI-type artwork that deviates in style from the others and sticks out like a sore thumb; that being said, the only reason I mentioned this, is that the pdf otherwise adheres to a uniform and tremendously beautiful style. The pdf comes with detailed, nested bookmarks that render navigation of the file comfortable and smooth, sporting bookmarks for the individual creatures.

Now, if you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ll have noticed that I loved the original PFRPG-version of Creature Components Vol. 1 – it is a phenomenal book, and made my Top Ten of its release-year in 2016. It should come as no surprise, then, that I did somewhat dread this conversion. The systems are different in many key components, and I really hoped that Daniel Marshall’s inspired book would properly survive the transition to 5e. It is my utmost pleasure to note that the 5e-version does not lose the magic and inspired aspects of the original. Indeed, supporting authors/devs Dan Dillon and Stephen Rowe, two authors that are often synonymous with being fantastic authors, have done an excellent job here. To the point where I’d hesitate calling this a conversion – this is a redesign from the ground up, made lovingly to account for 5e’s needs. All imperfections I found ultimately boil down to be truly minor and can’t, in any way, compromise how awesome this supplement is.

Creature Components render magic more magical; they add to the immersion into the fantastic world. Beyond adding tactical depth and a rewarding component to resource management, beyond making previous victories of the PCs matter more, the book succeeds in improving further differentiating the impact of the creatures themselves on a fantasy setting. While, having already qualified in one of its previous iterations as a Top Ten candidate, this supplement is thus disqualified from qualifying again, I consider this to be a truly excellent and highly recommended supplement for your 5e-games, and as such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. This should be considered to be on par with a Top Ten-winner, and a must-own offering for 5e, earning this my EZG Essentials-tag, a must have, inspiring, game-enhancing supplement.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Creature Components Vol 1 5E
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Creature Components Vol 1 5E
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/03/2018 02:59:25

Interesting take. The ideas are well thought out and fairly well implemented. The art is decent, but sparingly used. The magic system referred to in the material is more implied than spelled out. I will take a star off for that as the crafting system for magic in 5e is too basic to be of any real use. With a subtle hand this could easily merge with the system presented in the comprehensive equipment guide. Overall useful enough to just justify the price, for those who seriously intend to use it.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
ASA: Alice in Wonderland #4 PF
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/21/2017 05:11:29

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth part of the adventure series for the youngest of players (I’d recommend the series for ages 4 – 6, 8 at most) clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, ½ page advertisement, leaving us with 11.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This adventure is designed for 2nd level characters and was moved up in my review-queue at the request of my patreons as a prioritized review.

..

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The White Rabbit is up to his usual shenanigans – while being late, he panics and inadvertently locks the Duchess out of her own castle! It’ll be up to the players to provide the proper means for the distressed Duchess – who promptly and hilariously collapses into a chair while mumbling about rewards. The PCs have to open the door on the front and may encounter their first trap here – as a minor aside, damage type is not specified for triggering the trap. This, however, remains a minor glitch and the exploration is pretty cool:

From a bouncy step stairs to the gigantic ball pit that hides baby mimics (lavishly rendered in a neat piece of artwork!) and acts as an easy way to teach difficult terrain to players, to a tunnel maze, where you can hone the listening skills of the kids, the challenges are proper and pretty cool for kids. What about a room with teleporting tiles and mirror rays, flying hammerhead-shark like things with reflective skin. The absolute highlight of this evocative dungeon-crawl, though, would be a fun puzzle about tapping bunnies, providing a simple, color-coded puzzle. …too simple? Well, here is what sets this apart from lesser offerings. Perhaps you are one of the fortunate parents whose kids are really far advanced, gifted, interested in math, etc. – an alternate, pretty tough (for a kid’s module) math-based version is included for you! This really, really made me smile! And yes, hints and means to help solving the puzzles are provided.

Oh, and the pdf closes with a cool magic item: An enchanted stuffed teddy-bear that you can put down to attack nearby foes! And yes, its rules have been covered in a concise manner.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting is top-notch, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to a GORGEOUS two-column full-color standard with the rabbit and Cheshire cat included as part of the layout. The pdf comes with neat, original full-color artworks and fully bookmarked for your convenience. The dungeon-complex map comes as a cool one-page print-out version that is player-friendly –not even the secret door is spoiled when you use it.

It’s been a while since I reviewed one of these and the waiting has really helped here. This is, by FAR, the best of the modules in this series: Each encounter is diverse, creative and perfect for younger audiences; each encounter has something interesting to offer. J Gray’s puzzle difficulties, hints and challenges herein really work well and each room sports another creative challenge, testing brains and brawns. The optional challenge-increase for truly gifted kids just adds icing to the awesome-cake. This is well worth getting and even if you’re mostly sitting out the series in favor of Playground Adventures’ other modules, contemplate getting this –with a bit of tweaking, this may well work for older kids as well. (Oh, and yes, you can make it a creepy module for adults, though it’ll require being upgraded regarding its difficulty.) This is really, really good – my final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ASA: Alice in Wonderland #4 PF
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A Friend in Need 5E
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/18/2017 06:02:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved forward on my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

First of all, before I go into details: This module is intended for a younger audience - basically, this is intended to be a very kid-friendly module. To be more precise, for the age-range of about ~ 6 years. I ran the module in my playtest with a mixed group spanning the ages of 4 - 11 and the players that had most fun were those in the lower ages, so personally, I'd suggest this approximately for ages 4 - 8.

The adventure does take into account the changed requirements of the target demographic - namely by calling out when a good time for a break would be, when to guide them by incorporating suggestions into your "What do you do?"-questions, when to explain the discrepancy between character and player-knowledge...the like.

For parents not sure whether their kids can handle "killing" adversaries, an alternate wording is provided as well, with the defeated "returning home." The copious amounts of advice provided are generally not only welcome additions, they tend to be very sound.

Distribution of candy/gummibears used as monster-substitutes on the map is a pretty sound advice, since it prevents instances of jealousy and kill steals, while still providing immediate gratification. Puzzles, where included, do mention less complex alternatives for younger audiences and means for the GM to make how items work immediately evident-

All right! Children/players, in case you're reading this, please jump to the conclusion. No one likes a cheater and I'm going to explain the adventure now. If you continue reading, you'll only make the adventure boring for yourselves and have an unfair advantage that will be noticed by your GM. Please do what's right and jump to the conclusion.

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The monastery of the monks of the kneeling wind is a tribute to the elements and, visually inspired by Japanese aesthetics, well-represented by a truly beautiful full-color map. Alas, all things must end, and so did the time of the monks - and after they were gone, the crystal dragon Azhuryx chose this place to rear her precious wyrmling Kurisutaru. Alas, once again, trouble brewed and the mother dragon did not return from a hunt, leaving Kurisutaru terribly bored with only the companion soulbound doll left for him, yet cautious of strangers. One day, Kurisutaru saw a child folding origami and was left overjoyed when he saw dragons among the figures crafted - he thus swooped down to talk with the magical prodigy Azumi, who, in a panic, conjured forth an origami crane (made possible via the new spell, which has been properly converted to 5e) and sent it forth - said crane is what jumpstarts the module in earnest, as the PCs happen to find the origami swan and read the cry for help on it.

In order to reach the monastery, the PCs have to start climbing the mountain (a great way to btw. use the exhaustion mechanics) and on site, the exploration can commence - the PCs can for example brave the most huggable earth elemental I can imagine. It should also be noted that the research and prior knowledge, when player and PC-knowledge diverge, can allow for an easy and painless teaching of 5e’s relatively simple skill rules-

A Wisteria tree whispers to the PCs that the key to Azumi's location is hidden in the koi pond and indeed, swimming in can yield it. Underwater, the PCs encounter a friendly, awakened koi who breathes bubbles on them and wants to talk to them: He'll give them the key, if they answer a simple riddle. This would be as good a place as any to note that the statblocks of the wondrous creatures encountered have been converted rather well to 5e’s mechanics.

Beyond the moon-viewing tower, there are animated dog statuettes that may attack. In PF, these statuettes were pretty strong, but in 5e, they, at least to me, represent a missed chance. You see, 5e very much focuses on a sensible rock-paper-scissors-type of gameplay with the variant damage-types, resistances and vulnerabilities: Making the dogs resistant to e.g. slashing and piercing weapons would have been a nice way to teach the kids about these mechanics. It’d also make sense and is something most groups would get right from the get-go: Back in the day, my PCs simply assumed that skeletons would not be susceptible to piercing, for example – it makes sense. Alternatively, a vulnerability would have made sense…but that is me nitpicking.

The PCs will also have a chance to test their mettle against the spirit of a non-evil undead weapon master of the monks in honorable combat. In the lavishly-rendered map of the complex beneath the monastery, a Sudoku-puzzle beckons alongside a friendly test of the PCs, focused on whether they can distinguish reality from illusion, while another requires balancing on a rope to swing a bell...in an interesting twist, the spectral teachers of the monks may provide guidance in-game to stumped players. This is btw. also where disadvantage and the like come into play more.

Combat-challenges include dealing with the dragon's overprotective soulbound doll and some animated objects – here, we do have the resistances, but they apply to all physical damage types – and PCs of level 1 are really limited regarding their magical arsenal, so this section can take a bit longer. A centipede whose poison can cause paralysis upon reducing a PC to 0 hp is another minor snag…or rather, something that could have been solved a bit more smoothly: You see, the pdf does contain a logo-less version of the cover artwork in b/w- yep, like in a coloring book. So, one way to help a player pass the time while the PC is paralyzed would be: “Color this page, when you’re done, you’re fully healed!” – unless, of course, the other PCs heal their comrade first.

When the PCs finally happen upon the dragon, they'll think they have a deadly fight on their hands...but Azumi intervenes and the PCs have a chance to make friends with the dragon, the positive modifiers of which btw. also entail playing a game of hide and seek with the dragon...and hopefully convey to him that kidnapping others, no matter how well-intentioned, is not a good way to make friends. In the end, though, capable PCs will probably leave on Azumi's origami riding cranes, with Kurisutaru's friendship bracelet for a fine, tasty dinner at Azumi's house - who now has a friend most unique. As a minor complaint, the rules-language of the crane mentions maneuverability, which does not exist in 5e.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a Japanese-looking, beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The book provides ample of child-friendly artwork from the pen by Jacob Blackmon -more so than in many modules of this size, rendering it a nice, visual treat. The unified and beautiful style also extends to the gorgeous cartography by Travis Hanson, which also features player-friendly versions that you can print out, cut up and hand out to them as they go! Extra kudos for including those!!

Jenny Jarzabski and BJ Hensley have already proven that they can make good crunch; however, as it turns out, they can also write captivating modules. "A Friend in Need" is a great first module for the small ones, breathing a bit of the spirit of Hayao Miyazaki's movies and the innocence conveyed therein. It is not perfect in the 5e-version, but Dan Dillon, being the expert that he is at 5e content, has translated the module very well to the system, ironing out some of the hiccups in the original. At the same time, I do feel that it is, system-immanently evident that the original design was for PFRPG – there are a couple of 5e-rules that could, didactically, be highlighted better. This does not mean that the conversion’s bad, mind you – it’s really good! But it comes close to transcending the original iteration sans making the leap.

Let me state that clearly: The module does a lot things right: The flavor is child-friendly. Even the spirits of the monks, which may evoke a slight sense of creepiness (in a good way), still provide more aid than hindrance. The challenges are diverse and the inclusion of social encounters, riddles and puzzles make sure that the players actually are challenged in more than one way, which is a good thing in any module, particularly so in one intended for kids.

Now personally, I do believe that even small kids can handle a bit more threat and danger than this module featured (see e.g. the pretty serious themes of fear of loss and reorientation in "My Neighbor Totoro", for comparison), but I will not hold that against the pdf. It should be noted that I ran the original version with a 4-year-old among the players and the module proved fitting for children this young as well, while the kids in the age-range of 8 and beyond would have liked a bit more grit.

Now the good thing here is that, should you not endeavor to cater to a crowd as diverse as I did in my playtest, you'll have no issue slightly increasing the creepy-factor of the benevolent monk-spirits. In my playtest, I added some minor creepy-dressing to them and thus managed to engage the kids even more - if you heed this advice, though, please make sure you know what your players are comfortable with - a tiny scare is okay, but not more.

How to rate this, then? Now that's the tricky part: You see, I very much believe that we need more modules like this and Dan Dillon delivers in the conversion.

I have vastly benefited from my roleplaying in both terms of foreign languages, vocabulary, problem-solving and social skills and the sooner we can get such a positive development going, the better. At the same time, I am somewhat hesitant of awarding this per se very good module my highest accolades – I think somewhat more pronounced tweaks to account for and teach system-peculiarities (backgrounds, for example!) could have heaved this to the levels of excellence.

In the end, we are left with one well-crafted module for young children that does not lose any aspect of its appeal in 5e. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars for this. While the original version was rounded up due to being Playground Adventures freshman offering, I, alas, cannot extend this courtesy to this version.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Friend in Need 5E
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Creature Components Vol 1
by sean m. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/19/2017 03:29:52

Cool little book,thought it might be fun to give players another reason to kill monsters and I was right.Recommend.Lots of interesting little tidbits of usefulness for monster parts.Maybe make a part 2 with more mundane monsters like the Kobold,must admit I was looking forward to seeing him here.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Creature Components Vol 1
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ASA: Alice in Wonderland #3 5E
by Paul E. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/27/2016 15:59:31

SPOILERS - NOT FOR PLAYERS TO READ

The Dodo's Race is a fun five-part challenge for the AIW adventure path. I suppose you can use this as a drop-in challenge for when the characters need to get from point A to point B. For example, replace a troll bridge with this Dodo Race challenge. But it really is designed specifically to get the players from their initial entrance into Wonderland to the next stage (#4 A Message for the Duchess). The problem is that #4 is not yet available to purchase from the publishers (Playground Adventures) web site for from Drive Thru RPG.

While I highly recommend #1 in this series to introduce children to the mechanics of DnD, you might want to wait until the entire series is complete before bying #2 and #3. Also, keep in mind that for the price you are given one challenge and no printable game aids.

As a stand-along challenge, however the DoDo's Race is very fun to play through and so I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

One thing to watch out for when playing with kids—the DoDo may just be a "monster" to them. Even though I played it as a friendly talking bird, my older son insisted on a attacking it, winning a strength challenge against my younger son's character, who tried to prevent it. So he show an arrow into the DoDo, which I had run away.

So, they had to complete the challenge without the benefit of knowing the rules, which actually made it more challenging and fun.

Similar to #1 in the series, the DoDo's race also does a good job giving each character a moment to shine. There are different skill challenges, requiring strength, dexterity, fighting (if you want, but you can play this with no violence), arcana, etc. Also, each challenge in the race can only be completed by one character at a time, with the rest of the party teleported to the next section of race once the one character defeats the present challenge.

Over all, very fun but I really wish that Playground Adventures completed the entire series and sold them as a single PDF/book before selling these modules.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
ASA: Alice in Wonderland #3 5E
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ASA: Alice in Wonderland #2 5E
by Paul E. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/27/2016 15:42:46

SPOILERS - NOT TO BE READ BY PLAYERS

I like the publisher and the series overall, so I hesitate to give only three stars, but this really should have been combined with #3 for the price. I understand that they are trying to break these up by time to play, but the amount of content is light. Most of this adventure is comping up with words based on the first letter of the word and number of sylables to feed a magic dictionary that will allow you to slowly levitate to the bottom of the rabit hole. This can take about 30 minutes with young children and much much quicker with older or more language-gifted kids.

The door challenge at the bottom was fun.

My biggest disappointment is that I bought all three of the ASA:AIW adventures, not realizing that that they have not completed the adventure path. So if you want to run this as an adventure path you can't and they are designed to flow one into the other, they are not really "drop-in" adventures. Unlike the #1, this module (#2) really doesn't fit as a drop-in. It's sole purpose is to roleplay falling down the rabbit hole and finding a way to open and get through the door into Wonderladn.

This "adventure" module is really two challenges. They are fun for kids and, unlike #1, do give opportunities for role play. But I feel that I'm paying too much for just two challenges. Unlike #1 there are no playing aids like maps and tiles. It feels overpriced. When the entire adventure path is done and, hopefully, available as one book/pdf, these will be fun challenges are part of it, but I'm not sure they deserve to sold as an adventure module.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
ASA: Alice in Wonderland #2 5E
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Creator Reply:
Thank you for your review! The fault on that belongs with me. We had initially planned to release them every week/two weeks until completed, but I became deathly ill and the entire production schedule fell apart. In future mini paths we will be releasing vol. one for free and then the rest in a PDF together to prevent just such a thing from happening! BJ
ASA: Alice in Wonderland #1 5E
by Paul E. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/27/2016 15:31:03

As an introduction on how to play D&D, I give this 5 stars.

I played through it last night with my 7 and 10 year old sons.

Both have played a lot of Hero Kids, but they—especially the older one—are ready and have expressed a lot of interest in graduating to D&D. My older son just got the Starter Set of D&D for his birthday, and is eager to dive in and wants to DM, but he still needs to learn the mechanics of the game.

I ran one ad hoc D&D aventure with them that a created on the fly and they enjoyed it but much of the game remained a mystery and trying to explain even the basics can try a young person's patience.

THAT is the genious of this module. It comes with tiles you can print and set up like a board game. As you progress you will be given different types of challenges. Some require perception checks, some are skill challenges, others are combat challenges. By the time you reach the end, you will have gone through most of the major mechanics for low-level characters.

The combat is optional and avoidable and need not be to the death. Very easy to adjust the level of violence in this module from none to light.

Now, note, this is very railroady and light on opportunities for role playing. Think of this like the tutorial section of a video game. If you want a great way to introduce young children to role playing and teach them the basic mechanics of D&D, I highly recommend this.

My one disappointment is that I bought all three of the ASA:AIW adventures, not realizing that that they have not completed the adventure path. So if you want to run this as an adventure path you can't and they are designed to flow one into the other, they are not really "drop-in" adventures. This first one, however, unlike #2 and #3 is more easy to use as a drop in. It ends with jump down the hole. It need not lead to Wonderland. So as a stand-alone intro-do-DnD for kids, I rate this 5/5.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ASA: Alice in Wonderland #1 5E
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Nightmares on Parade
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/20/2016 11:16:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 35 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This review was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons....ah, who am I kidding? After the absolutely super Pixies on Parade, I would have covered this as fast as possible even without that.

Speaking of which - I strongly suggest playing Pixies on Parade before this one. While it can stand alone easily, I do believe that it has an added sense of gravitas when played as a kind of sequel - the pdf makes use of the concept of imagination magic and the inclusion of the dream-subtype should make pretty clear that yes, this will have an excellent reason for championing a thus more mutable reality.

...and this is as far as I can go without SPOILING anything. Potential players SHOULD jump to the conclusion. This also includes some SPOILERS for Pixies, so please don't read on if you want to play them. They're worth it.

...

..

.

In pixies on parade, the PCs have managed to save Edwin from the clutches and malign influence exerted over him by the Nightmare King. He may not be escaping anytime soon...but he does not sit idly by, instead using his considerable power to draw the picturesque village of Glavost right into his nightmare realm! Uniquely empowered by their experiences in Pixies on Parade, the PCs thus receive the ability to manipulate reality - wishing for a unicorn, for example, may actually manifest one - though the created dreams generated do not feature the abilities of the things they're modeled after, instead employing the lesser dream creature's statblock. Indeed, the somewhat parasitic/dependent nature of these dreams allows people tied to them to shape them.

Anyways, the module begins with an ominous darkening sky, a quake and mists drawing in - if your PCs have gone through the gauntlet of Ravenloft at one point, that alone will make them paranoid as all hell. Aforementioned dreams seek out the PCs and bond with them. As the PCs walk outside, they will notice Belle Leaflower walking the streets, unable o communicate or, well, perceive anybody - creative problem solution is the name of the game, as her anxieties manifest themselves and thus influence the next encounter, namely saving the ancient Elas Leaflower, who is obsessively trying to read as many books as possible at once, fearing that he is running out of time - and if the long beard and constantly multiplying books are any indicator, he'd be right. The PCs will have to contend with falling bookshelves, book swarms and find a way to convince Elas that his quest his futile, his books, as they are wont in dreams, gibberish.

This would be a kind of leitmotif to be found here - the Nightmare King has provided some delightfully twisted (and goofy) nightmares for the folks of Glavost: Dwarven chef Rus Ulden is hunted by jello-oozing killer cupcakes. And yes, you can actually eat these...which makes for a cool prop when fighting them...just as a note... Beyond these detailed encounters, however, there are also more simple, optional ones provided for your convenience: The more invested the PCs are in Glavost, the better. The fight for the minds and imagination of Glavost takes the PCs, ultimately, to the major's house, where a semi-solid sheathe of darkness covers everything and Edwin needs to be saved from what seems to be the nightmare king...though it is, in fact, "only" the most powerful dream plaguing Glavost. Having defeated this threat, the PCs now will have the proper power of a town's imagination backing them up, namely in the ability to duplicate mirage arcana as an SP...

But the Nightmare King is not just going to throw in the towel because he's been foiled here - instead, he figures he might as well go big or go home...and sends a friggin' army in the direction of the PCs. And this is where the plot thickens and parents and adults alike should take a good, long look: The kids of Glavost, while considered to be "heroes", were basically treated with condescension by the adults; as kids all across the globe are wont to be; one crucial and important lesson anyone can draw from this book and project to the real world is that kids deserve respect. In real life, kids may not create phantom armies...but that doesn't mean that they can't save the lives of others, that they may not be the triumphant factor in the battle for the hearts and minds of the adults around them. Just something to figure - kids are not property, they are people we accompany for some time along the way, that we try to help prosper and hopefully leave the world a better place for them...but I digress.

The PCs have saved the adults and so, they may shore up the defenses and use their imagination to save the town with offenses and defenses created. There may a saboteur in their midst - the teenage night hag Isabeth, who proceeds to trap the PCs and request them doing horrible, annoying chores - but they will have to do them, if they are to escape...and there's a way to befriend Isabeth in the process...which may well be used as a means to teach kids to deal with folks in puberty...but that just as an aside.

The module continues to "teach", if you will, life lessons while being played - there is a detention scenario next, where the PCs are targeted by suggestions and the gremlins running the show try to get them to acknowledge that they should not be brave etc. - the idea here is simple, yet brilliant: It is mathematically unlikely that all PCs fail the save (though such a scenario is accounted for as well), and thus, the PCs will have the chance to rebuttal the theses thrown at them, with grudging acknowledgement from the gremlins....but, of course, the more PCs fail, the more will they be forced to reply as per the wishes of the "teacher". This is something that the current generations definitely should take to heart: My experience with the younger kids is that, more often than not, they are taught to cave to peer pressure, to maintain a "pleasant" environment with their comrades, even if goes against their beliefs and convictions - when I compare my cousin's school experience to mine, for example, we have been horribly rowdies and rebels who stood up for what we believed in. I think that kids should be taught, as soon as possible, that their convictions have value and that the majority is not always right. This encounter does just that, without jamming its message down one's throat. It's also creative, so yeah - amazing!

Next up would be yet another interesting one - a satyr skald offers the PCs a fair deal: He was tasked to delay them, but finds this strategy distasteful and thus offers to fill the PCs in one the background story of the Nightmare King, which is provided in lavish detail - it is here that the old truism of knowledge equaling power may be taught...and the respectful demeanor and no-strings, straightforward and respectful attitude of the satyr progresses the thematic sequence of being show proper respect for one's achievements...and once the PCs have heard the story (or left or their own free will), it will be time for the army of Glavost's dreams to duke it out with the servants of the Nightmare King! Here, things become once again amazing, as, while the module recommends a descriptive and flavor-centric take on the battle of the armies, groups that enjoy rules-intense scenarios can employ the mass combat rules! Yup, army stats provided. I intentionally did not write "kids will use descriptive, adults the rules", mind you - I certainly know enough young ones that are REALLY into the nit and grit of rules! The amazing thing here is that the PCs may use their imagination to greatly influence the way the battle works: Mass imagination magic, flexible benefits - if properly employed, this is frickin' amazing indeed!

Speaking of the theme of respect - as the nightmare armies crumble, Behast, the Nightmare King waltzes to the PCs and actually offers an imagination duel; a scenario wherein he creates obstacles with his power for the PCs to overcome...and usually a respectful way of solving conflict sans violence amidst otherwise immortal beings. Having even the BBEG actually treat the PCs with respect is a truly amazing progression of the themes employed in this book. Speaking of amazing: The PC's actions throughout the module have direct consequences here - Behast may not enter the fray directly, but his champion has several abilities, each of which is tied to one specific type of action the PCs may have done...the better they treated their fellows, the more they helped them, the bigger are their chances against Behast's champion! Know, how in those cool 80s/90s kid's movies at one point, the kids would combine their powers, reap the benefits of the good deeds they have sown previously? It may be a bit cheesy, but it always put a good kind of shiver down my spine.

Oh, and don't tell anyone, since the PCs have to find out the hard way...but don't worry about player frustration in this book - a sidebar's got you covered.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good - with the exception of one purely cosmetic formatting hiccup (an ability indented one step too much), the book is pretty flawless. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard with a turquoise background. This may not make t too printer-friendly, but I'd suggest getting this in print anyway. The artwork adheres to Jacob Blackmon's style and is nice and internally consistent. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Apart from a darker map of Glavost, the pdf lacks precise maps, but considering the morphic theme and the set-up of every encounter, it does not need them; I was a bit skeptical regarding this component, but actual playtest did affirm that the module works smoothly.

Stephen Rowe has been a kind of anomaly among RPG-designers in that he's equally at home in the writing of crunch and fluff. Additionally, his modules so far have not failed to impress me, with both Pixies on Parade and Directive Infinity X being examples of excellence.

Nightmares on Parade is a whole different level. Let me elaborate a bit: Playground Adventures generally provides modules that can help educate kids, teach concepts and knowledge in a manner that is not obtrusive. Pixies on Parade was a pretty much perfect homage to 80s' kid's movies - you know, when we still treated kids as proper beings, not as second-class citizens to be sheltered to the point of generating narcissists, to the point where they're not ready facing a reality that does not cuddle them all the way. Pixies was brilliant in that it provided a scenario that dipped into creepy themes, but at the same time maintained a child-friendly levity in theme and execution. Oh, and in the hands of an even remotely capable GM, you could run it as a balls-to-the-wall horror/dark fantasy module. Think of a certain Goblin King's labyrinth, think of the last member of an equine, horned species and you'll see what I mean: Watching these movies as a child delighted me; watching them as an adult provided a wholly different context for both. Pixies did that and did it perfectly. Age-wise, all but the most sensitive of kids should be good with it and I ran it for a then-4-year-old sans issues. The target demographic, though, should be about ages 6+, for really, really sensitive kids probably 8+. It always depends on the kid in question.

"Nightmares on Parade" is the successor in that theme in more ways than one, maintaining the leitmotifs...but also presenting a dimension that far exceeds what regular modules offer, what you can witness in any of its predecessors. What do I mean by this? I have to wax poetically a bit here: The German concept of "Bildung" denotes the collective process of education and personality-formation, including a development of one's own personal ideology, convictions, etc. - the very word generates an association with building one's self as an eternal process, of describing the totality of construction work of your own personality and accumulated knowledge in all fields of life. There is exactly one other module, Richard Develyn's brilliant "Seven Sinful Tales" (That one's review is here!), which has ever made me employ this word in the context of adventures you can run. You see, the structure of this adventure teaches not precise information in a traditional sense; it goes beyond that. By virtue of its meticulously structured encounters and their diverse themes, it imparts genuine Wisdom upon the players, life lessons if you will. The module shows, rather than tells, what happens if you let fears (like not having enough time) define you; what happens if you're consumed by work (with a kid-friendly, literal analogue); to stand up for your convictions and what's right in the face of authorities and peer-pressure...and to never underestimate the power of imagination that so many adults have lost. (Though roleplayers tend to be safer there...)

There is not a single encounter in this module that does not provide, in unobtrusive subtext, a truly valuable, morally and ethically valuable lesson. And this does not only extend to kids: Parents running this module for their kids should carefully read this module and analyze it, for the aforementioned leitmotif of respecting your child, the importance of that aspect for the development of adults and the way in which this module treats kids can, in my most deeply-held convictions, potentially improve the horizon of parents alike. The theme of respect that ultimately is awarded to the PCs and their players by the BBEG culminates in a glorious experience that may well, in some cases, end night troubles...after all, the nightmare king has conceded defeat. But that as just an aside.

Beyond these psychologically relevant aspects and the wonderful, respectful way this book treats its audience, regardless of age, one should not be remiss to emphasize the downright amazing use of imagination magic throughout the book and the fact that, beyond the glorious lessons imparted herein, it ALSO is a truly amazing module. Whether or not you go mass combat, whether or not you play this as horror (Concerned parents, rest assured that this module, as written, is as wholesome as it gets...but any only semi-decent GM can make this very dark very easily and basically transform it on the fly into a horror-module just by adding non-kid-friendly dressing!) for adults, as a kid-friendly adventure as written, as emphasizing the crunchy aspects or de-emphasizing them via Imagination Magic, you retain maximum flexibility in the module. I've run this twice and both times in radically different manners - and in both cases, the structure held up: The kid-friendly run worked as amazing as expected, replacing Pixies as their favorite module. The experience of running this as an adult module with my own trademark tweaks went over just as well.

Ultimately, "Nightmares of Parade" may be a glorious module on its own...but its value lies beyond that. It is a module that not only dares to teach in a didactically unobtrusive manner, it is one tailor made, carefully and in a truly intelligent way, to leave particularly kids and parents as better persons for having played it. If you think I'm overanalyzing this, btw., then I'd point you straight towards the fact that this obviously is intended to achieve said stated goal; each and every facet of the module is devoted towards cultivating a respectful and benevolent development, a component of "Bildung" not only between the players, but also in their interaction with others and among themselves. It teaches spine and courage in the face of adversity and the value of behaving in an upstanding, honorable manner while still being kids. In short: Nightmares on parade is a masterpiece not only on a formal level, but also is one of the scant few modules that dares to try to leave its audience better off for having played it; it is one of the very few incarnations of our favorite medium that tries to do more than entertain without losing sight of entertainment being the primary purpose. Stephen Rowe has surpassed himself with this module and catapulted himself into a level of adventure-writing excellence that is rarefied indeed, that is a very small class of its own.

With all my heart, I encourage you to get Pixies and this, the sequel. We need authors that dare to do more than just entertain (though it certainly does excel here as well!); it is my firm conviction that roleplaying games already are a great way of helping people, regardless of age, connect, develop and improve in numerous aspects of life. This, however, takes everything one step further - it can actually be seen as a module that could be canon as something that truly benefits everyone involved, that helps form personalities and strengthen positive character traits. This is Bildung given the form of an exceedingly fun and modular adventure. This humble masterpiece is worth 5 stars + seal of approval and, unsurprisingly, a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016. If you share my firm belief that roleplaying games can make us all better people...then take a look. This module, frankly, is art in the most unpretentious manner you can define it; it leaves you better for having witnessed it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Nightmares on Parade
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ASA: Alice in Wonderland #3 5E
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/17/2016 06:10:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 5e-version of the third installment of the kid-friendly adventure-sequence intended to be played in a single session after school clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!

After #2, the players should have reached 2nd level.

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

...

..

.

All right! Having passed the door, the PCs meet the dodo, whose speech patterns in the read-aloud text contain numerous malapropisms, i.e. wrong uses of "big" words - which can make for a fun mini-game, if the kids are so inclined...but anyways, the dodo enlists the PCs in partaking in his "Combat and Obstacle Race of Amusement and Doom." There are a couple of rules: once the race is begun, you can't leave the track; if you do, you're disqualified. Only one member of each team has to overcome an obstacle for the team to proceed and the team has three tries to complete the race - on each failure, they are teleported back to the start and lose one mark. As a minor inconsistency, the pdf mentions 5 such tries once, 3 at another time - I think 5 is correct, but ultimately, it doesn't matter since the challenges are pretty easy to overcome.

The first potential combat obstacle would be a red gelatin cube - if defeated and eaten, the PCs can thereafter swim through the lava pit via Strength (Athletics) that represents the first challenge. Otherwise, it's Dexterity (Acrobatics) to get past it. This is pretty much the leitmotif here - the next obstacles, a loop de loop, requires climbing (in 5e, unfortunately, once again Strength (Athletics), where PFRPG had two different skills here), and defeating an optional black cube may net the PCs a similar angle here. The final obstacle also features an optional blue cube, which may be eaten to gain electricity resistance, for the final obstacle is a jelly fish tank, where some are electrifying, while others aren't. The truth can be analyzed via detect magic and Intelligence (Arcana) or Wisdom (Perception).

Whether or not the PCs succeed, the dodo'll be happy and reward them, though victors obviously gain more.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good. Layout adheres to Playground Adventure's beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the full-color artworks provided are kid-friendly and nice. the pdf comes with basic bookmarks, in spite of its brevity.

J Gray's Dodo Race is a bit of a misnomer - it is less a race, more of an obstacle course, considering that there are no contestants but the PCs. If you actually make jello-cubes and hand them out when the PCs defeat them, it'll certainly generate some fond memories. From a design perspective, this one feels a bit trivial, even considering the target demographic - during my test-run, the PCs pretty much aced the module without needing to partake in the combats at all. Sure, this is intended as an alternate solution...but still. I don't know, it's perhaps due to the title that I expected some competitive aspect. And indeed, the set-up would carry a full-sized adventure: More obstacles, competing teams, the like - the idea's great! While I hence entered this module with the wrong mindset and ended up being slightly disappointed, the players enjoyed it, though less so than #2.

If you have the luxury of choosing whether to play the PFRPG or D&D 5e-version, I consider the PFRPG version to be slightly better this time around, mainly due to the skills employed being a bit more diverse.

Since it would not be fair to penalize the little book for my expectations, my final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ASA: Alice in Wonderland #3 5E
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ASA: Alice in Wonderland #3 PF
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/17/2016 06:06:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third installment of the kid-friendly adventure-sequence intended to be played in a single session after school clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!

After #2, the players should have reached 2nd level. This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

...

..

.

All right! Having passed the door, the PCs meet the dodo, whose speech patterns in the read-aloud text contain numerous malapropisms, i.e. wrong uses of "big" words - which can make for a fun mini-game, if the kids are so inclined...but anyways, the dodo enlists the PCs in partaking in his "Combat and Obstacle Race of Amusement and Doom." There are a couple of rules: once the race is begun, you can't leave the track; if you do, you're disqualified. Only one member of each team has to overcome an obstacle for the team to proceed and the team has three tries to complete the race - on each failure, they are teleported back to the start and lose one mark. As a minor inconsistency, the pdf mentions 5 such tries once, 3 at another time - I think 5 is correct, but ultimately, it doesn't matter since the challenges are pretty easy to overcome.

The first potential combat obstacle would be a red gelatin cube - if defeated and eaten, the PCs can thereafter swim through the lava pit that represents the first challenge. This is pretty much the leitmotif here - the next obstacles, a loop de loop, requires climbing and defeating an optional black cube may net the PCs a similar angle here. The final obstacle also features an optional blue cube, which may be eaten to gain electricity resistance, for the final obstacle is a jelly fish tank, where some are electrifying, while others aren't. The truth can be analyzed via detect magic or Perception.

Whether or not the PCs succeed, the dodo'll be happy and reward them, though victors obviously gain more.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good. Layout adheres to Playground Adventure's beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the full-color artworks provided are kid-friendly and nice. the pdf comes with basic bookmarks, in spite of its brevity.

J Gray's Dodo Race is a bit of a misnomer - it is less a race, more of an obstacle course, considering that there are no contestants but the PCs. If you actually make jello-cubes and hand them out when the PCs defeat them, it'll certainly generate some fond memories. From a design perspective, this one feels a bit trivial, even considering the target demographic - during my test-run, the PCs pretty much aced the module without needing to partake in the combats at all. Sure, this is intended as an alternate solution...but still. I don't know, it's perhaps due to the title that I expected some competitive aspect. And indeed, the set-up would carry a full-sized adventure: More obstacles, competing teams, the like - the idea's great! While I hence entered this module with the wrong mindset and ended up being slightly disappointed, the players enjoyed it, though less so than #2. Since it would not be fair to penalize the little book for my expectations, my final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ASA: Alice in Wonderland #3 PF
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ASA: Alice in Wonderland #2 5E
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/21/2016 12:23:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second module in the Wonderland-inspired series of mini-modules for the youngest gamers clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This being an adventure-module, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. Young 'uns - sneaking a peek here can spoil your fun - don't do it, okay?

...

..

.

All right, so the PCs have chased the white rabbit through the forest in #1 and this module begins as the players fall down the rabbit hole...wait, no, they are not...they basically are floating, with no means of propulsion and the sides of the tunnel too far away to reach. As the PCs ponder their predicament, a blue dictionary will float over...you know, it's hungry and wants to be fed with words from A - Z. This little vocab test, including an Intelligence or Wisdom check to help them for the more difficult words, is a fun start. Then, things get more difficult with the letter "I": The next array of words needs to have the letter AND two syllables. Once the PCs reach "R", they will have to work backwards from Z to S. Oh, and the read-aloud text of the dictionary is intended to be sung to "Pop goes the Weasel" and rhymes appropriately. And yes, I had to look the tune up. XD

As the party finally floats down, they will reach a table with a drink and a cake...and we all know what these do, right? But there's a twist: A) If the PCs are itching for a fight, the table will happily oblige. And B), the doors open to show the peek-a-boo - a unique monster that has the proper key to pass...and it teleports to other doors when the PCs try to take it from its mouth. Here, multiple strategies help: Making the creature laugh, guarding doors, using logic, making it cry - oh, and the module does use this chance to teach the players about using attribute checks to determine information about creatures - which, however, sports a minor hiccup - it refers to Intelligence (Lore), which should probably be (History) or (Nature) instead.

Bypassing the friendly creature in this game concludes the adventure for now and should see the PCs reach level 2.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no issues apart from aforementioned little hiccup. Layout adheres to Playground Adventures' beautiful two-column full-color standard with Cheshire Cat on top and all. The pdf's art is sparse, but similarly child-friendly. Spells etc. are hyperlinked to the PRD for your convenience. In spite of the module's brevity, it features bookmarks - nice. This time around, the module has no cartography, but it doesn't really need maps for the encounters herein.

J Gray's second Adventures in Wonderland-module is more rewarding than the first: Where the first module focused its efforts via a boardgame-like playing field on teaching the very basics of roleplaying, this one focuses a bit more on the actual roleplaying aspect and problem-solving skills of the kids that play it. This renders the module more palatable for older kids as well. The content herein is btw. appropriate for kids ages 4 and up (with my suggestion being that players ages 8+ will probably start having less fun with this due to its cute tone) and even the most scaredycat, sensitive child will not be frightened by this one; this is pretty much the definition of wholesome and harmless, with literally each encounter focusing on unobtrusive engagement of the mental faculties of kids rather than just rolling the dice and defeating foes. Even the optional combat is not something anyone would consider problematic.

So yes, this very much achieves its goal; it has versatile challenges, nice visuals and is a fun romp. My one complaint would be that a hard-mode version for the challenges would have been nice for particularly smart kids, but then again, one can easily improvise the like on the fly, based on the material that is provided here. (The syllable angle can be easily expanded; I had them actually spell the words...but only do that if the kids are already reading a lot and capable of spelling...you know your audience best, GM!)

So, how to rate this? As mentioned, I consider this to be better than the first module and while older kids won't have as much fun with this as the young ones, for the target demographic, this is awesome indeed. The unobtrusive educational angle's here and the locations are unique. The small hiccup and the fact that the conversion of the creatures is a bit more conservative than I like is all that costs this version the seal of approval, leaving me with still a final verdict of 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
ASA: Alice in Wonderland #2 5E
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Creature Components Vol 1
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/05/2016 21:11:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 58 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page inside of front cover, 3 pages of detailed ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with an impressive 50 pages of raw content, so let’s take a look!

This book has been moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review. I actually have had quite some time to digest the pre-release version (with only layout missing) and tried to get the review done before my trip. Alas, there were some delays and thus, the final version only hit sites after my departure. I do have a policy to cover only finalized books with proper reviews, though, and thus, I did the only thing I could – sit down and type away at this review whenever I had the chance – in the evenings, after a long drive; in the breaks; when my lady was at the wheel. I don’t have my laptop with me, so please bear with me regarding any glitches/typos. This is pretty much the raw on-the-road edition of reviewing. ;)

All right, that out oft he way, this begins with a flavortext in character that renders the book a nice read – and the flavortext, at least form e, has a touching component, but let me elaborate. Once in a while, Rite Publishing’s late mastermind Steven D. Russell would go one step above and beyond in his 101-series. Sometimes, he would deliver a book of raw creative potency that blew even the generally very high standard oft he series away – this book is, in dedication and also in flavortext, a nod to his creativity and person, as it employs the proper appellations and nomenclature; in a way, this book is a take on his concept of power components and special materials, a book he never had the time to write, but always wanted to.

So what are these components? Well, there is a disjunction in d20-based roleplaying I never was too comfortable with – said disjunction would exist between the huge diversity of critters that exist fort he game we all love and cherish and the non-information; nay, the sheer mundane nature of how their vanquishing is handled. Think of Sigfried/Sigurðr – bathing in dragon’s blood rendered him nigh-unstoppable. Think of Hercules and his golden fleece; of the medusa’s head; oft he basilisk’s blood and the manticore‘s stinger; think of a wyvern’s poison…think of all the hundreds of glorious remnanty of fantastical creatures our own mythology has bequeathed upon us…so why in all hell is defeating such foes so mundane in Pathfinder and similar systems? Where is the gravitas, the „realism“, the magic? The components used herein elevate defeated foes from being simply collections of XP with a mechanical coating. The pdf does this in a variety of ways, so let’s examine them.

Number one would be the use as optional power components – using a component to enhance a spell. Number two would be to aid the creation of magical items…but before the components can be used in any way, they have to be harvested. A simple table and guidelines, with CR as guideline and associated prices provided, does offer a massive help for any prospective GM who wants to add a slew of Geralt of Riva’s fantasy aesthetics to the game. Beyond even that, essence vials for capturing parts of ephemeral creatures and the willing gift of components is covered herein as well. Concise guidelines are provided to help the GM handling creature components in a given game.

For purposes of spellcasting enhancement, the pdf provides several broad categories that help classifying the components and their effects on spellcasting – and yes, they do take into account the variety of prepared vs. Spontaneous spellcasting, as just one example; optional, GM-controlled downsides for grittier games are mentioned as well and using items to modify magic items or reduce the cost of creation provide a truly concise and comprehensive framework to make the process as smooth as possible: A GM who wants to steer his group towards a certain module that features foes the PCs are reluctant to engage can thus easily employ these components a spart oft he treasure of even main objective: In order to break through defensive dweomer XYZ, you will need that ettercap’s silk-spinnerts…

So, this would be the basic framework the pdf offers – sufficient to generate a ton of material and ideas for adventures, for whole campaigns, even. However, the main meat oft he book does not lie within the general, but nevertheless interesting guidelines presented thus far – no, it lies in the massive catalog of components featured thereafter: we basically take the first Pathfinder bestiary and its creatures and provide components for them. Andy es, aasimars are included; and no, you can’t „milk“ these fellows- the non-abuse/GM-control clauses in the general section make sure of that and even provide a reasonable justification in the spiritual component required for these items to work. Trust me, it makes sense as featured in this book.

Anyways, we begin with aasimar blood, which can add Flaring Spell’s effects to any spell with a light-descriptor. If you’d expect now a one creature, one component breakdown oft he material herein, you’d be surprised to realize that there is often more than one component provided – aboleth mucus and cerebral fluid are included as two components, for example; similarly, while angel blood does have general properties, the individual creatures and their vital fluids actually offer different tricks fort he discerning user. The modifications often feature metamagic effects or a cost reduction; however, it would be a gross and unjust miss-characterization of this book to only expect cookie-cutting effects; quite the contrary, actually.

Let’s stay with „A“ for a second and talk about the ankhegs, some of my favorite critters; Their saliva, when used to cast a spell with an acid-descriptor, increases the damage-die type by one step (max 1d12); however, when used to enhance a spell of 3rd level or lower, the user also becomes immune to acid damage for 1 round upon casting the spell, adding a brand new tactical dimension to the casting. How is such a component presented? Well, we have an alphabetical listing, with the general potency (as introduced before), component class (think oft hat as the type oft he component) and spell that can be augmented noted; similarly, prices have been provided. Whether you employ balor essence or horn makes a significant difference in use, for example, though both are components with a potency of greater. Want to enhance a spell or effect that causes the nauseated or sickened condition? Hezrou sweat is the way to go! Replacing caused diseases with devil’s chills? Possible. If you add mimic spittle to spells that grant DR or an increase to touch AC, you may also increase the CMB for grapple purposes…well, I could go on like this forever. Basically, this book takes the essences of creatures and codifies them in a quasi-alchemical component system that makes the creatures feel more…well, alive. Believable.

Speaking of which, notice how I mentioned that the x-blooded races would be kept in check to avoid the abuse of harvesting components? Beyond feats that build on the system presented herein, there also are feats that allow a character with a certain bloodline to properly harvest his own blood, but thankfully with a proper cap.

This is, however, not even close to the totality of what this book offers – in the spirit of „waste not what you’ve killed“, the book also features a significant plethora of magic items based on components as well as variants of existing ones reimagined within the framework of this book; suddenly, the cloak of resistance is no longer the most boring magic item ever, but „the item we made from that owlbear that almost killed Yorvan“ – but beyond that, e.g. a remorhaz forge deserves special mention…sans fuel, fantastic…and absolutely stunning to look at. Look at? Well, guess what? This is the first Playground Adventures book not specifically targeted at a younger audience and oh boy, it is BEAUTIFUL. As in „Usually, we only see that in Kickstarters“ level of beautiful. The component section features several quasi-anatomical renditions that evoke the spirit oft he classic Vetruvian man and real life bestiaries. (In case you didn’t know – in less enlightened times and long before even daguerreotypes were a thing, cataloging of creatures both mundane and fantastical was done in such tomes.) In the item-section, the artistic style is deliberately changed to provide renditions of many oft he items included in stunning full-color; and we’re talking about the same quality as the cover. Yeah. This book is BEAUTIFUL.

But I digress – note how I mentioned the famous Sigfried myth? Well, in the end, even some special properties may be modified…so yes, actually using dragon’s blood to enhance your armor will yield results…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant hiccups and, considering the length of this book, that is quite a feat. Layout adheres to a gorgeous 2-column full-color standard that blends well with the aforementioned glorious art-direction of this book: Jocelyn Sarvida’s art complements BJ Hensley’s layout really well. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience with individual bookmarks for all critters, making navigation really comfortable.

Daniel Marshall’s books so far have always had the right creative spark, but stumbled somewhere along the line; I’m not sure if the development by Stephen Rowe or just a natural growth as a designer or both are responsible…but guess what?

THIS IS AMAZING. Congratulations are in order!

Know how I always complain about fantasy feeling mundane? About the fact that we have these tropes of requiring some unique components, but no mechanical representation? Well, this is it. This is the book fort he GMs who are tired of monsters that just feel like mechanics; the book fort he groups that want to craft their own equipment; the groups that want it to matter what kind of foes they defeated; this is the book fort he Geralt of Riva fans; this is the book for all the groups who want to play rare/low magic and make the defeat of those mighty foes matter. The book fort he collectors, the scavengers, the groups that want an unicorn’s gift horn and self-sacrifice matter; that want devil’s blood to have repercussions; that want a touch of our myths, our fantastic tropes in the game. This is a book fort he fans oft he occult that want their fantasy to feel real. While feasible for any system, particularly fans of darker fantasy will consider this book a must own purchase.

In case you were wondering - the above all, in some extent or another, holds true for me. This book is a touching monument, a great tribute and beyond that, it frankly is one inspiring tome. Honestly, even before all the „OMG, it is so beautiful“-artwork and layout, I read the plain ole‘ doc and was grinning from ear to ear; to be honest, it’s one reason I managed to sit down after hundreds of miles at the wheel, dead tired and write this.

I wanted to draw attention to this gem. Immediately. This book is a fantastic resource for groups of all ages, for various games; it is an exceptional resource that very much will become a default staple in pretty much all of my games once I return home. There is a chance you just want to kill things and their names and flavor don’t matter to you; perhaps you’re fine with just nameless, mass-produced cloaks of resistance – that’s fine, I don’t judge. But you’re missing out on something wonderful.

I will always prefer the item with the story, the personal attachment. I will always adore the smart caster from our novels, the one who has the component tool to modify his spell in unique ways. This book provides all of that. It may be a crunch book, but it, like the late scribe Russell’s offerings, is a great read and manages to inspire.

So please, please, please – if what I mentioned above even slightly resonates with you, take a look at this, buy this and support Playground Adventures so weg et more. I know that I can’t wait for Vol. II and hopefully a lot, lot more – this is very much the innovative,game-enhancing crunch book we need. To paraphrase Saint-Exupéry, this book is very much the spirit breathing upon the clay oft he mechanics to create more soul for both items, magic and creatures. There is narrative potential for years in the system presented here and I absolutely love it to bits. This book is stellar and deserves a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval, is a candidate for my top ten of 2016 and receives the EZG Essentials-tag.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Creature Components Vol 1
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