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Legendary Worlds: Calcarata
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/13/2019 13:24:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Legendary Worlds-series, which highlights unique worlds found in the setting of the Legendary Planet AP, usable as complements or as a stand-alone supplement, clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 10 pages of content, which are, as always, chock-full with content.

I was a backer of the Legendary Planet AP, but I have not been involved in the creation of this supplement. My review is based on the Pathfinder-version of the supplement, since that was the original system for which the Legendary Planet AP was designed. Aethera or similar settings are also natural fits for this supplement.

All right, so, we begin with a well-written account of the final recording of Ouven the Mad Grinner, as he came upon Calcarata, the World That Dreams….and at first, one would not expect Calcarata to be a place anyone would want to visit: The surface of this planet is characterized best as a blighted wasteland, with an atmosphere that, while, breathable, is full of…things you don’t want to breathe. And yet, Calcarata is the home of a thriving and lush ecosystem – it’s just not in the material plane, for Calcarata’s nigh-human inhabitants, the Penthe (nice nomenclature there!) have a civilization focused in the plane of dreams!

That right there is a unique twist on the old Lotus-eater trope – Calcarata is a vibrant, shared, massive dreamscape, with the Penthe there characterized by an impressive vibrancy of their tones; in the dreamscape, the collective is surrounded by personal dreamspaces (frays, rules included), and then, the sheer raw untapped potential of possibility – unique in many ways: The massive wonder available, must, by necessity of collective civilization, be subject to some rules one usually does not have to conform to. Exploring this unique perspective most assuredly is a worthwhile and utterly amazing roleplaying angle!

Even before the horn-like progenitor-technology, before the dream-fauna, and the Penthe themselves, who can btw. exchange the skilled racial trait in favor of a +4 racial bonus to CL-checks to prevent magic and SPs from going haywire due to wild magic. Alternatively, they can opt for +1 to the DC of divinations and sleep effects, with sorcerers with sufficient Charisma gaining dream (not italicized properly) 1/day as a SP. Alternatively, they could also choose a +2 racial bonus to saving throws versus mind-affecting effects, or the ability to manifest dream-crafted weaponry ex nihilo…including weapons “conjured by impossible” – this is correct rules-verbiage, even though it might not look like it; it refers to the morphic plane characteristic, and not a feat. Figured I’d mention that and spare some less experienced people a bit of confusion. (And yes, the penthe get a bonus to atk here, and the weapons become magic at higher levels.)

4 feats are provided: Lucid Crafter lets you craft things in dream and take it to the material plane; Endless Arsenal adds to the weapons you can conjure ex nihilo per day; Fantastic Bullet lets you conjure ranged weapons, including ammunition, and Penthe Thoughtwalker nets you dream travel 1/day as a SP, with a personal range. In aforementioned frays, crystallized potential may be mined and refined into a drug called pink bliss, which allows you to perceive creatures both ethereal and in adjacent dreamspaces, which can be a super-interesting angle and validate the need to risk the threat of addiction – particularly in bleak Calcarata’s landscape. And yes, this obviously is nigh perfect for Dune-style plots revolving around spice…

Speaking of which: The supplement comes with not only a couple of exiting points of interest, but also a fully-depicted adventure location, one of the Wakepoint Stations – the primary (and very small) landing site. The map provided is full-color, really nice…but no player-friendly version is provided. Boo. On the plus-side, we do get adventure hooks, suggested encounters – and a new creature.

That massive beast on the cover? That’s a Havriveen – a draconic CR 12 apex predator that not only effortlessly manipulates dreamscapes, its plasma breath dissolves dream-equipment, it can tranverse dream and reality, and being killed by it in dream? Rather strenuous… Did I mention the aura that hampers your abilities in dreamscapes? NICE! And the nature of dreamscapes, their emphasis on creativity, the potentially thus decreased lethality of encounters with this CR 12 beast and the like – perfect reason to use it versus, say, level 3 characters and see how they can handle these beasts as looming threats.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, with only a very minor cosmetic glitch. Layout adheres to the series’ nice two-column full-color standard, and the artwork is great. The map is similarly awesome, I just wished a full-color version had been provided. The pdf comes with basic bookmarks, but doesn’t need more at this length.

Wren Roy delivers a cool twist on the Dune-style planet, save that she goes one step further, adding genuinely thought-provoking angles regarding the nature of dream and reality to the game. You don’t have to explore these, mind you, but the very set-up of Calcarata inspired me big time to contemplate how e.g. people forced to dream in unison with a shared reality will behave…and what they might do if they wake up. Sounds like a great villain-angle…or culture-clash to me! In short: This humble supplement delivers some genuinely inspiring angles, which is why my final verdict will be 5 stars, omitting my seal of approval only because I’d have loved to see more on the interaction of dream, culture and reality, and due to the lack of a player-friendly map. Still, highly recommended!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Worlds: Calcarata
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I Want To Be A WIZARD!
Publisher: Evil Robot Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/13/2019 13:23:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This game clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All right, one of the pages is the student sheet, which should give you a good idea what to expect – “I want to be a WIZARD!” is a rules-lite roleplaying focused about coming-of-age stories in the tradition of e.g. Harry Potter – as such, the introduction takes the form of a letter of acceptance into the Academy of Magic and Sorcery.

It should be noted that this pdf only contains the basics and player-facing components of the game; for some clarifications and details, you’ll need the Headmaster’s Guide as well, as this REALLY only provides the player-facing rules; the Headmaster’s Primer contains some indispensible FAQ-replies.

The process of character generation is depicted in steps, and neatly fits on one page: Step one lets you determine 3 attributes – Mental, Physical, Social. You distribute 14 points among them, minimum 2, maximum 12. Average score (5e) is noted as well.

In step 2, you determine Spell Power, Toughness and Charm. You determine these by adding +1 to each of the corresponding three attributes: Spell Power is Mental +1, and denotes the number of spells you can cast in an encounter. Physical +1 is Toughness – you can take this many hits before you’re knocked out. Charm is Social +1 – in an encounter, you can add one six-sided die to any roll for each point of Charm spent. You get Charm back at the start of an encounter.

After this, you determine your heritage – whether both your parents were magicians, one of them was, or whether they’re both mundane people. These net skill bonuses; Magician kids get +1 to ttwo of the following skills: Alchemy, Divination or Transportation. Mundane kids can select only one of two skills, but get +2; mixed heritage kids have the most choices available.

The character starts with 1 Marker in Courage, Wisdom, Loyalty, Cunning. The choice of the familiar (4 are provided) nets you a +1 to one of these. Then, you determine where you’re from. These influence both one of the Markers and a skill. HOW the childhood was spent, e.g. on the move, also provides such a bonus to Marker and skill. The type of child you were (sneaky, scrappy, friendly, etc.) also adds to the Marker. After this, we determine a driving motivation, which, you guessed it, nets an increase to a Marker and skill. After that, the headmaster determines the house, which nets a +2 to a Marker and a skill: Serpent’s Head e.g. nets +2 to Cunning and Magical Artifacts.

The character level equivalent is the school year – there we go, ready to play in a single page, and rules simple enough that even young kids can grasp them easily!

As for the game: Every encounter you overcome nets you 1-3 experience points, which can be used to buy skills and attributes; you may increase the values during the summer holidays or winter break. Increasing an attribute costs 10x the current attribute; increasing a Marker costs 5 times the current value. Skills cost 2 for the first point; after that, it’s always the double the current skill. The maximum values are 12.

In encounters, the students pick a brave leader, who rolls 2d6, adding the Physical attribute, Mental if they want to do something pertaining spellcasting, etc., and then go highest to lowest. Essentially, you decide whether you do something Physical or Mental and that affects your turn in the initiative order. One student is the Watchful Eye – they go last, but may once per encounter just Spring into Action, automatically causing an action to fail. For opponents, the Headmaster (the moniker for GM) uses Cunning, then Courage, then Wisdom, then Loyalty to tie; if all tie, a 2d6 roll determines who goes first. Additionally, the brave leader can grant any student except themselves +1 to initiative by spending 1 Courage to temporarily increase Physical or Mental. The Watchful Eye can undo 1 point of damage by spending 1 Cunning, or they can instead take damage by spending 1 Loyalty.

How are things done? The Headmaster determines a Task Number, TN – essentially a DC. Then, they determine which attribute applies, which skill, which marker. The student rolls 2d6, and adds the rest, optionally spending Charm for bonus d6s. Snake eyes (double 1s) denote a critical failure, double 6s a superb success. If you spend Charm, you need to have 1s on all 3 dice to fail, but still succeed superbly on 2 6s. If you meet or exceed the TN, you succeed.

The pdf then walks us through the 16 skills. Spells all cost one Spell Point, and you need a wand (though it can be another object!), a kind of focus, without which you add 6 to the TN of spellcasting attempts, and don’t get Markers added. Once per turn, the familiar gets to do something for you.

Damage is simple: You roll e.g. Dark magic and compare it to the defender’s Protection roll – defenders win ties. Successful hits cause 1 damage. At 0 Toughness, you are Knocked Out, and ned to see a physician, headmaster, etc. Valuables are named coins, and three sample items are included.

The final page provides rules for determining houses after year 1, houseless academies, different house types, and more familiars.

Conclusion: Editing is very good on a formal and rules-language level – the rules are clearly-presented and easy to grasp. Formatting is a bit inconsistent and uses a lot of italics. Imho, it’d make sense to both bold and italicize Spell Power, Toughness and Charm to set them apart; Toughness is later both bolded and in italics. Cosmetic glitch, though. Layout adheres to a horizontal 3-column standard, and presentation is clear and precise. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Jim Milligan’s little homage to Harry Potter etc. is a solid little rules-lite game. The game, as written, allows for some tactics, though more roles like Brave Leader and Watchful Eye would have been nice to see. I’d also have liked some sort of information regarding movement, but that may be me. As a whole, this is an easy to grasp, flavorful little game, and if you want to teach kids how to play, then this works rather well. All in all, a nice system; not a groundbreaking one, and it could offer a bit more in terms of long-term campaigns, but it does its niche well. My final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
I Want To Be A WIZARD!
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I Want To Be A WIZARD! - Headmaster's Primer
Publisher: Evil Robot Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/13/2019 13:21:47

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This is essentially the GM’s Guide for „I want to be a WIZARD!“, and it clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 12 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The base pdf provides all the player-facing rules; this book sports the GM’s rules, but assumes that you have read these rules as well; that being said, the game begins with a GM’s FAQ, which clarifies some things that are not relevant to the players, but very much relevant to the Headmaster, such as whether opponents have Charm points, etc.

The first section after this provides a table with 3 columns – an adventure baseline generator, with a hook, a line and a sinker, as well as 4 brief adventure outline sketches. After this, we learn about a model to classify encounters and progression pacing, as well as 4 archetypical opponents – bullies, bad professors, etc., and the supplement also talks about not making a total party knock out the end of the game, as well as about allies. No stats for allies and these opponents are provided – oddly, we instead get stats for fairy, hill ogres and cockatrice.

After this, we’re introduced to a sample setting – the Barrow-Mann Academy, which includes information on history, so iron-clad rules, 4 new houses, 4 new familiar choices, and brief overview-descriptions of 23 locales, which are also shown on a surprisingly nice full-color map. 3 sample NPCs with full stats are provided here as well. A rule for a magical game, Barriers, the sport of Atlantis, is provided, and we get rules to use the mirror network.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a horizontal 2-column b/w-standard, and the pdf has no interior artworks. The text-density is very high – particularly towards the end of the book, it does become a bit wall-of-text-y. The full-color cartography is great, but no player-friendly, key-less version is provided. On the plus-side, a keyed version you can insert-style print yourself? That’s here.

Jim Milligan’s Headmaster’s Primer is not a bad supplement, but it didn’t deliver what I wanted or needed from it; the book provides no guidance how to determine fair TNs, how to handle odd movement, and how to design fair adventures. The generator is nice, but I’d rather have had a proper framework. The book assumes a pretty high degree of GM expertise, which is odd for a rules-lite game that is obviously intended to work for new groups. Most groups will probably end up using Harry Potter as a baseline setting, so while I liked the default setting provided and some of its ideas, I did wish the space had instead been used for more guidance and help for the Headmaster. I can’t claim, for example, that I have any firm grasp on fair challenges from reading this book; sure, I am experienced enough to easily run this, but as a helpful guide for the Headmaster? In that capacity, general advice and a robust sample system to determine TNs would have made a lot of sense.

As written, only GMs with a moderate level of previous experience will have an easy time with the system – new GMs might end up being more puzzled than required when faced with this book. In essence, the book fills in details without first providing the general foundation underlying the material, making improvisation harder than it should be. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
I Want To Be A WIZARD! - Headmaster's Primer
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Stargates
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/13/2019 13:17:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of the front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 4 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

I was a backer of the Legendary Planet AP, but had no hand in the creation of this additional supplement, nor any other stake in it. I’m reviewing the Pathfinder-version, since that was the original system that Legendary Planet was designed for.

All right, so, Stargates, a crucial component of the Legendary Planet sword-and-planet setting, but similarly relevant for regular fantasy, for science-fiction, etc. – this pdf is about them. The introduction notes how the Ancients created them, but then does something helpful I personally enjoyed rather much – it talks about the theory behind Stargates, which is here represented by a base axiom – namely that energy can flow in a linear and non-linear manner. Energy traveling in straight lines, connecting points, would be considered to be part of the Weave, and while it is reliable, it only allows for relatively short-range transport. The Warp, on the other hand, is tapped into by non-linear energies: Stargates bend, ripple and fold energy, allowing for the crossing of the vast universe. The points in the warp, where an energy disparity is created, where surplus or deficit is created, can generate stargates. Transport is usually unidirectional, and manipulation of these gates requires more than just power and a set of coordinates, and as per the writing of the pdf, switching destinations is within the providence of the divine.

These basics out of the way, we take a look at gates in Legendary Planet: While they may differ greatly in aesthetics, they have a couple of common elements: They at least have to accommodate Large creatures, are almost exclusively found where humanoids once dwelled or still dwell (traderoute logic, obviously), and they may have singular or multiple connection points. Gates are circular, though they may be half-buried, round or oval, etc., and they operate in sync with the orbit of the world they’re on. They are treated as minor artifacts, making them nigh-indestructible, and while there is a way to sabotage them, it is a closely guarded secret privy only to the Bellianic Accord. Some gates are always on, some only activate at certain times, some are two-way, some one-way, some may be ignited by energy to stabilize them, etc.

After a couple of further angles for their flair, we begin with the creating a stargate-section: A stargate’s CR is equal to 1 + the sum of its modifiers. Weave stargates add +1, warp stargates +4; the longer the range, the higher the modifier: Solar gates get +0, planar ones +1, galactic gates +2, intergalactic ones +2, same as temporal ones, and intergalactic ones +3. Directions modify this, as does size, activation and the condition of the stargate: Extensive degradation makes activation harder, obviously. And yes, you read right – you can gate through time as well as space. All of these noted components not only are noted in a handy table, the respective entries also concisely codify them and explain the respective entries. Passing through a stargate may have complications – loss of memory regarding the world just left, limited number of passengers (awesome for PCs or BBEGs to escape!), etc. – a whole array of such special effects are available for customization of the gates. Of course, the individual manifestation also comes with a variety of cool effects – cacophonies, pure silence, modified gravitation, smells, etc. – cool!

Stargates may suffer malfunctions 1% base chance, though tables include further modifications for failure depending on degeneration, distance traveled, etc. – and yep, there is a table with 17 different sample malfunction effects included in the deal. From arcane backlash to mutations (10-entry subtable) to more, there, are some cool ones here. As a purely aesthetic nitpick, a couple of them do not have their header properly bolded. Odd: Something has SERIOUSLY gone wrong in the sample malfunction rules. The arcane backlash, for example, notes that arcane spellcasters are drained a certain amount of spells, but never specifies how many, and references “energy drain points”, which never are classified or properly explained. This does not work as written. The rules here also suddenly reference power score points for stargates, which are simply not there – not explained, don’t seem to exist. This, alas, compromises quite a few of the malfunctions.

Now, I already touched upon keyed stargates – the supplement differentiates between conditional keys, power keys and patron keys that can activate partially disabled stargates. Key subtypes are codified, including arcane, cosmic, psychic or technologic keys, to note a few, and the pdf provides rules for gate crashing keyed gates. The pdf also includes a total of 6 sample stargates that range in CR from 4 – 17, noting a kind of stargate statblock that lists all their components, a description and some flavorful text: From the twin pillars of Qa to the huge Pendulums, these are interesting.

The pdf includes two feats: Stargate Lore lets you use Knowledge (planes) to determine the details of a stargate, though e.g. divine gates may require Knowledge (religion) with this – the relevant skill for a stargate is the stargate lore skill. Gatecrasher, the second feat here, lets you use that skill to attempt to activate a locked stargate sans patron key. Beyond these, the pdf includes 4 spells that take the occult adventure classes into account: The 4th level massive-range detect stargate 4th level spell does what it says on the tin; divine destination, a 3rd level spell, grants limited information about the stargates’ destination. There also are the power stargates and greater power stargates spells that clock in at 4th and 6th level, respectively, with their effects evident from the title. The latter can be used to power dormant stargates. And no, neither mention afore noted nebulous power-mechanics. The pdf closes with 4 special abilities that may be used as replacement special abilities – while it is noted that they have mostly story purposes, all but one of them, which aligns a stargate with a patron or philosophy, the respective effects have actually been codified in a proper manner. As an aside: Personally, I think these would make for good roleplaying rewards.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a rules-language level – generally, it’s very good, but the malfunction-section totally falls apart, and there are components that are less precise; on a formal level I noticed a few minor glitches. Layout adheres to the beautiful two-column full-column standard of the Legendary Planet books. The pdf sports beautiful full-color artworks, some of which will be familiar to Legendary Games fans. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Tim Hitchcock, with additional design by Jason Nelson and Neil Spicer, delivers a handy little booklet that helps thinking about stargates as more than a wobbly blue energy through which SG 1 stumbles to the planet of the week; the theory behind the gates does not devolve into technobabble and does its job – explain a plausible basic functionality, without forcing GMs to subscribe to some underlying principle of physics or arcane theory. In fact, I really wanted to like this pdf, and for the most part, I do love it. However, the matter of fact remains that the whole malfunction section falls flat on its face; to me, it looks like it has been taken from another version of the system, from another iteration/take on the concept, and simply doesn’t work as intended. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Stargates
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Starfarer's Codex: Technomancy Manual
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/12/2019 13:21:36

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Starfarer’s Codex-series clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We begin with a brief recap of the spells herein, and then a selection of spell lists by class – with the Starfarer Companion-classes bard, cleric, magus and wizard, as well as the witch, being covered. I am not a big fan of any of these classes, but if you are, I guess it’s nice to have them here.

The spells in this pdf are btw. technomancy in flavor – this does not mean that they are technomancer-exclusives – plenty of spells are also found on the mystic spell list.

All righty, we begin with a level 1 spell, namely archive memory, and it is a spell I love conceptually – it lets you store your memory on modules, with the amount of memory required being contingent on the amount of information you want to store. Unfortunately, there is no real guideline provided regarding item levels or the like – could you store everything with sufficient modules? Another issue is that you get to decide whether you retain the information or not, and whether you can recover t by connecting to the module, or not. This is a spell that is oddly wibbly-wobbly for Starfinder – and one that has serious repercussions for the realities of a setting it is introduced into. If this spell exists, why would any secret agency ever not make tons of use of it? The lack of more nuanced examples for modules required/storage capacity required for various memories also makes this a puzzling spell to handle – a great concept, with an nonoperational implementation. Circuit lets you link batteries and share their charge pools. Deceive surveillance is a 4th-level variant of holographic image that explains why not everything is automated: Automated cameras and sensors receive no saving throw to disbelieve the illusion fed to them, though guardsmen and AIs etc. do! I like this one, as it does add to the plausibility of the world. Decompose does what it says on the tin;depressurize targets a space suit or armor and exposes the target to the full effects of the environment.

Disguise companion is a nice one that lets you disguise your drones, companions, familiars etc., and stow companion is great, in that it lets you stow them in a demiplane. Electrostatic attraction glues objects together, using bulk as a scaling metric (smart!), with breaking the attraction causing electricity damage. Glitching curse is a specialized curse that makes tech fail half the time – it’s temporary, btw. It is a bit akin to short circuit, which is an object-targeted malfunction curse; Hobble vehicle reduces vehicle speed and full speed, and makes it harder to handle, while supercharge vehicle enhances it.

Hormone jolt is an interesting bludgeoning-damage cause battle spell (the target takes damage from spasms), and this particular spell explicitly provokes no AoOs. Infuse shadows exists for all 6 spell levels, and each spell level does something different: The first-level iteration is a soft terrain control spell; the 6th-level version is a close-range attempt to strangle a target with their shadow – and in-between, we have skittering spider-like climb speed and the like. Minor nitpick: “Throw” and “Spell Resistance” are not bolded in the spell’s write-up. Cool: Make an impromptu spider harness from electro-junk via junk powered armor? Yes, please! Miniaturize lets you shrink items for prolonged periods of time, decreasing their Bulk. This one might warrant careful consideration on part of the GM. It is cool and useful, but it could break some plots. As an aside: I'd suggest instead using the fantastic Sizechanging Rules by Everybody Games. Phantom limb nets you a shadowstuff arm that allows you to hold an additional item at the ready – and explicitly just for that, but you may stack this spell with itself, controlling up to Intelligence modifier limbs at once. Subjective gravity is a variant of control gravity that does what it says on the tin.

Transport junkbot comes for levels 4 – 6, which makes junk into an impromptu, fully stated transport vehicle – and yes, stats for all three spell levels are provided. Ventilate cleans toxins and pollutants, which would be considered to be OP in SFRPG, were it not for the suitably high spell level – personally, I won’t use it, but that’s a matter of personal aesthetics, rather than a genuine gripe. Violent combustion, finally, is a level 4 variant of explosive blast., which might knock flyers to the ground – personally, I think the skill DC to remain airborne being fixed is a bit odd.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a rules-language and very good on a formal level. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf uses nice full-color stock artwork- The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks – kudos!

Matthew Morris’ technomancy spells were off to a bad start, but after the first spell made me dread the shape of things to come, the remainder of the pdf continued to deliver several interesting and worthwhile offerings. I e.g. am very much a fan of subjective gravity for the mind-boggling things you can do with it, and plenty of spells here are very much super-useful. While I am not blown away by all spells and won’t introduce all of them, I will certainly take a bunch of them on board. Considering the low price, my final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Starfarer's Codex: Technomancy Manual
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Legendary Planet: To Worlds Unknown (Pathfinder)
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/11/2019 07:33:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first „proper“ installment (if you do not count the optional introduction adventure „The Assimilation Strain“ clocks in at 98 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC,2 pages of introduction, 4 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 85 pages of content. HOWEVER, this is not all – the module also comes with a pretty darn massive art and map booklet that offers 27 (!!) pages of handout-ready artworks AND full-color maps. Oh, and suffice to say, the full-color maps do come with player-friendly, keyless iterations – kudos!

This adventure is intended for 2nd level characters, Medium advancement track, and they’ll be 5th level by the end of the adventure – if they haven’t been squashed, that is. Legendary Planet is a sword and planet AP intended for the discerning PFRPG-connoisseur, and as such, the difficulty is nothing to sneeze at. The module is not unfair, mind you, but it is an adventure that the PCs will not cakewalk through.

I actually was a backer of this massive AP back in the day, and while since then, SFRPG and 5e conversions have been made available, my reviews of the AP will be based on the PFRPG-iteration, since that was the original system this was intended for. Structurally, this will be very familiar to anyone who has ever seen an AP: The module takes up the main meat of the pdf, and after that, we have supplemental material, save that there is more. Yep, much like the amazing art & map folio (which should be industry standard), we get quite a bit more – Sean K. Reynolds, for example, has penned a whole planar pantheon write-up (with each deity getting their own symbol), Chris A. Jackson providing a bit of prose, and a pretty massive gazetteer that deals with Argosa, a hub-world of sorts, including Zel-Argose the gateway city. The module also includes 5 new exotic weapons and 5 magic items – 3 of which do get their own full-color artwork. These include projection periapts, essentially two-way mago-holographic communicators, a harness that reduces gravity for the wearer and a vine that enhances natural healing. Sword and planet vibes are hard to nail down, but this delivers.

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

… .. .

The bestiary section includes the playable bhagra dogfolk, who receive +2 Charisma and Strength, are Medium, get a 1d6 primary natural weapon bite, low-light vision, and a bonus teamwork feat. Beyond these, we have the peaceful CR 4 Elali, psychic shepherds of the Accord, and the jagladine – which are a serious threat. Think of these fellows as particularly nasty, smarter thri-kreen that can absorb diseases and poisons and excrete a liquefied version of the poison or disease. They also have created the Klaven-species, deadly shocktroops with an inherent, nanite-based status. They are essentially a conversion tool that bestows powers, but also quasi-undead characteristics on the target, and as such are represented by 2 statblocks (one for a foot-soldier, and one for a wolf-based war-beast) and a template.

Okay, so far so good, so what about the adventure? Well, we start off in medias res (as a linguistic aside – English “in the middle of things”, commonly expressed by “in media(s) res” as an idiom, unless my Latin deserts me, would actually be closer to “in medium rerum”), with the PCa awakening from a fugue state as abductees housed in an alien prison on the planet of Garsilt – not that they’d know that now. The vicious Jagladine have abducted the PCs to extracting special information encoded in the PCs’ genes. Good news here –a rogue meteorite contaminated with akata has smashed into the facility. The PCs thus awaken into chaos, as the prison riot-like release of them and others throw them right into an ongoing fray – the PCs will have to contend with the dog-like bhagra before recovering their gear. Of course, there will be an issue regarding communication – but this is circumvented in a smart manner without handwaving, with a friendly aasimar called Andretta offering her translation services.

Speaking of trouble-shooting – monster identification and means to handle it are also talked about, as the PCs try to best the deadly Klavek. The custom monsters and NPC guidelines certainly go above what we usually see in Paizo APs, with plenty of custom creatures – like a melancholic ooze swarm, mindslave mimics, and the like. The module also allows for more social problem-solving, in spite of its action focus – there is e.g. a comozant wyrd the PCs can ally with, and ultimately, the PC’s goal will become clear – reach the stargate, and escape the facility. A task that is btw. made easier if the PCs befriend the little robot BR-N3R. The whole action is intended to be pretty relentless, and the section offers several timed events – with a touch of horror, we have a tauslek matriarch as a first “boss”-like encounter; facility power will be compromised, with aforementioned wyrd as a unique ally that fills the PCs in on the chance of their imminent demise by being struck by meteorites – and in the end, the true boss? A frickin Klaven inquisitor! This boss fight is brutal at this point, and the PCs should be able to finally escape by the skin of their teeth.

The transition through the semi-malfunctioning artifact-level Stargate here will double as the justification for mythic ascension, granting the first tier – and it is assumed that the PCs gain the Morphic Nature feat that automatically adapts the players to the local environment of a planet – this does not allow them to exist in vacuum, but it gets rid of one crucial issue that the genre would otherwise face. The PCs will exit the gate in a fully-mapped lost temple, and also hear, for the first time in a while, the Common tongue. The PCs thus encounter friendly faces – individuals press-ganged into helping the Jagladine , who are seeking a way out of their deal with the Jagladine and their Klaven. The module thus changes gears from a pretty tech-themed dungeon to one that feels more relaxed, more classic fantasy – and after this one, the PCs are off to aforementioned city of Zel-Argose, faced with the vast amount of wonder the setting offers.

The city features guilds, water treatment plants, battle pits – and here, the so far linear story allows the PCs to bask in the wonder that is so central to the sword and planet genre: The PCs can fight in the arena, attempt to find the jagladine prison commander Lomrick, get involved in the city’s politics…and ultimately, Lomrick’s trail will lead them to a seedy (and dangerous) cantina…which can be rather challenging. Their target’s mansion, though, will be an even greater challenge – including a cerebric fungus sorcerer ally of their former jailer, and the means to save one of the elali Relstanna and defeat Lomrick – Relstanna also tells the PCs that Lomrick was a member of the Scions of the Celestial Helix, a sect of fanatics seeking to return an elder evil to the multiverse…it seems like the heroes have their work cut out for them!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ elegant 2-column full-color standard, with a LOT of text per page. The module is also decadent in its massive amount of original, top-notch artwork and full-color cartography. The map-support is excellent – full-blown, detailed full-color maps, with player-friendly versions included? Heck yeah! The module is fully bookmarked for your convenience, with nested bookmarks making navigation simple and painless. The art and map folio is superb and should be industry standard.

Jim Groves penned this adventure, with Thurston Hillman, Jeff Lee, Jonathan H. Keith and Andrew Christian, Sean K. Reynolds and Chris A. Jackson providing additional design and content – and this is genuinely one of my favorite modules from the author’s pen. Jim has managed to deliver a consistently-challenging, exciting action romp that does not let up; the first section of the module is challenging, brutal and simply amazing in how its timed encounters can help you add up the tension and maintain high pressure. After that, the change of pace to a more free-form and relaxed adventuring is very much perfect, as it allows the weirdness of the PC’s situation, the “fish out of water”-angle, to fully develop. Now, it is pretty important that the GM reads the gazetteer to make this section work, but f properly executed, it will elicit a sense of wonder reminiscent of the Outcast videogame, John Carter, etc. – in short, pitch-perfect sword and planet. Add to that the neat set-ups for the remainder of the campaign, the rather detailed notes for the NPCs, the creative builds and the well-tuned difficulty-curve, and we have a pitch-perfect starting point for the main part of the Legendary Planet AP. This is a thoroughly superb adventure, and I’m glad I waited for the AP to conclude, because I seriously would hate to wait for a continuation of this unique yarn. If you even remotely like Stargate, Flash Gordon and the good ole’ classics, check this out! 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Planet: To Worlds Unknown (Pathfinder)
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Occult Skill Guide: Dispelling Ritual
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/11/2019 07:29:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of one of my favorite series for Starfinder clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now, if this is your first Occult Skill Guide dealing with rituals, let me give you a very brief run-down: We all know that Starfinder is science-fantasy, right? Well, rituals emphasize the fantasy aspect in a crucial way – in making magic feel like more than just some sort of technology with another power-source; rituals are magic at its finest – they require symbolic components, careful preparation, research, and more participants – but for this amount of effort, they also allow you to do things beyond the ken of spellcasting. There is always a risk – of damage incurred, of ability drain, of death and worse, for this amount of power requires skill to pull off, and even then, it can be dangerous.

If that sounds complicated, it’s really not – if you’re familiar with PFRPG’s Incantations or Occult Ritual engines, you will be familiar with the basic premise of how these work. As all ritual-pdfs in the Occult Skill Guide series, you don’t need another book to use the material herein. Instead, the pdf not only concisely explains how rituals work in a step-by-step guide, it also comes with a detailed step-by-step guideline for the GM to create more rituals. And these rules are very tight. In fact, they are some of the smoothest I have seen, with ritual descriptors and component point budgets providing a framework for quick and easy ritual design based on a sensible framework: If your ritual has to do with [Meditation],, Sense Motive and/or Perception are key skills; for [Liturgy] rituals Culture will be key; for rituals that have the [Routine] descriptor, we’ll use Computers. And you won’t have to calculate costs – or much at all. In fact, you’ll get to consult a massive table, and rock them out.

I’ve tried it multiple times by now, and from hazy concept in the back of my head to finished ritual, properly spelled out? 5 to 10 minutes, tops, including writing all down.

As for the focus, we’ve seen quite a few cool examples so far, but this one deals with a very common issue in any gaming dealing with magic – dispelling. Using dispel magic can be SUPER anticlimactic – it might work for battle-buffs and the like, but more potent effects? In such cases, it might be lame to have an easy way to cancel them. Similarly, dispel magic is not available at 1st level. Well, enter this ritual, for it’s a level 1 abjuration [occult] ritual that takes 1 hour to perform. The primary ritualist must have a family-level bond with the target, and for reagents, we need soil from the target’s childhood home, blessed oil, expensive quartz sand and candles. The ritual must be performed under a full moon during a solstice or equinox on the target’s home planet.

The soil is mixed with the sand, and the ritual is drawn on the floor around the target, who may not be wearing or wielding equipment. Candles are then placed in certain directions, and blessed oil traces the seal, while the entity blessing the oil is invoked; at the conclusion of the prayers, the candles are lit in a specific order, and the primary ritualist prostrates until the candles are burned down. The DCs for the Mysticism checks are pretty high – but here’s the amazing thing: At every step, you can instead relate a story you share with the target – and use a skill in that story. Say, the target saved the ritualist when they were climbing in the mountains? That’d make Athletics a viable candidate! Each step must evoke a different memory. And yes, this does enhance the backlash (which, in this instance, is not fatal, but a long sleep, which, when interrupted, will see the characters severely sleep-deprived), but it is awesome. It rewards the players for weaving background stories that their characters share, for, you know, roleplaying. Awesome.

On a success, the power of the emotional bond and memories is converted into vibe points: For each skill check succeeded, the ritualist generates 1 vibe point, and if they surpassed the DC by 5 or more, that enhances further. If memories were evoked in the check, 1 vibe point per point the DC was beaten is instead generated! Relationships (as per the Advanced Skill Guide) also help here…and finally, there is the option of selfless sacrifice: You can take ability damage or drain, damage, lose mementos – or, you can sacrifice your youth, revert to adulthood (including total memory loss/becoming an NPC) – or make the ultimate sacrifice, losing your life. These last sacrifices, obviously, create vast amounts of vibe points. Depending on the vibe points accumulated, you get scaling dispel check bonuses and the maximum spell and ritual level you can best with the ritual increases. A level 1 spell effect only takes 6 vibe points; a level 1 ritual takes 30…

Of course, the pdf does feature a proper legend, and a suggested encounter – if a PC has, for example, been transformed into a skinsuit (still one of the most horrifying rituals, imho…), this ritual may well reverse that…

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are excellent on a rules-language level; on a formal level, I noticed e.g. an instance of “Generations” instead of “generates”, but nothing serious beyond typos. Layout adheres to the series’ neat two-column full-color standard, and the pdf comes with quite a few nice full-color artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn’t necessarily need them at this length (unless it’s your only ritual pdf, in which case that might be slightly annoying).

Alexander Augunas’ shatter spell ritual is amazing. It is hard enough to pull off to make spamming it not an option, even for optimized groups; it has rewards for proper roleplaying hardcoded into its rules, and the math checks out. This is how serious curse-breaking and magic should feel – it ties into emotions, connections, sympathetic resonances – and, as an aside, thus also perfectly aligns with the in-game explanation for why rituals work in the game. This is certainly a ritual that many a group of players will wish to perform at one point. Highly recommended, 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Occult Skill Guide: Dispelling Ritual
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Advanced Adventures #25: The Heart of Empire
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/11/2019 07:28:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 6 2/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This module is part of a series of reviews made possible by my patreon supporters, to be undertaken at my convenience. Like all adventures in the series, this module is penned for the OSRIC-rules system (based on 1e), and like all adventures in the series, rules-language formatting deviates from the standards of OSRIC, but is pretty consistent, so functionality is not impeded. Spells and magic items are bolded. The adventure is intended for 6-10 adventurers of levels 1 – 3. Wait, doesn’t the cover say otherwise? Yep, but the editorial page has the correct level-range stated, and the module’s actual text also confirms this – level 1 -3 it is. At levels 3-5 as the cover suggests, the adventurers, even considering the lesser degree of power-gain of old-school editions, curbstomp the opposition. Considering that the adventure isn’t that difficult as far as old-school games are concerned, I’d strongly suggest using it up to 2nd level, at the very highest – unless you really want to play it safe. The plus-side here would be that conversions to systems that assume a very low power-level is pretty easy.

The module provides functional cartography for its two levels, and no read-aloud text is included. The supplement includes a level 1 magic-user spell that is pretty interesting – blood servant, a means for low-level characters to cast animate dead at essentially the cost of permanent damage while the servant exists. I like this. It imposes a serious toll to offset the power-gain.

As far as setting is concerned, this one does something pretty nifty: It assumes a kind of second renaissance of a decadent late-Roman empire style place, one that went through a period of conflict, which saw parts of it squashed and sunken beneath the ground in a magical cataclysm: Picture e.g. Calligula’s reign being ended by a magocracy, with Rome rebuilt atop the old ruins, and you have a good idea of the theme here. The background provided, this notion of the graveyard of empires, is something that resonates with me – and indeed, the module does reflect this type of flavor in both keyed and random encounters. The module covers two levels, but only one of them features a random encounters table, which is a bit of a pity.

Indeed, I wholeheartedly suggest that, if anything, you should use this module in the context of a quasi-Greco-Roman civilization, mainly because it is the main draw of the module, or at least, it was for me. I have played through this adventure with my group, which finished it in ~7 hours, and it is one of the adventures that plays better than it reads. Do note that my players are very fast, experienced, and efficient at clearing dungeons at this point – no surprise there.

Okay, this out of the way, from here on out, the SPOILERS reign. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, bad news first: The first dungeon-level is actually a sewer-level. Moreover, it is a sewer-level without a distinct theme in multiple ways. The module offers several adventure hooks, which are not bad per se, and tie in with the various factions. In a way, the sewer-level consists of individual encounter-areas close to each other – the hidden base of the slaver, the failed necromancer’s laboratory, the exiled kobold tribe…these per se are not special, but they do mean that there are quite a bunch of things going on, including disgruntled gladiators. This is also where one of the new monsters, essentially a ball of tentacles with an (inefficient) mouth may be encountered – this monster was a better experience than it read, mainly by diverging from the expected “draw target to mouth”-angle. The sewer is, in essence, just a thoroughfare towards the second level, which is a decadent noble’s sunken villa, including a little arena.

Considering this, the sewers do a relatively neat job – but they, like many of the less successful sewer-levels, fail to capitalize on their environment. Where is the danger to contract diseases? How deep is the muck/waste if/when the PCs inevitably fall in? Is it a quick-flowing, pretty liquid stream? Is it more like quicksand? No idea. So yeah, as far as global terrain features influencing adventuring, the module doesn’t do a good job. (And never mind sewer gas or stuff like that…won’t find any of that here.)

The aforementioned second level is significantly more interesting, posing, among other things, an optional boss – an undead gladiator that needs to be solo’d to end his misery…and without honorable combat? Well, then the low-level group will learn the hard way that refusing the honorable duel will shore up its defenses. This dust centurion is certainly one of the toughest, perhaps the toughest encounter herein, but if the PCs triumph honorably, they will be rewarded duly. Ending the boredom of an undead senator? Also pretty interesting. These encounters are surprisingly compelling for the brief page-count, and they capitalize on the implied setting. They do lose some of their flavor if not run in the proper context, hence my recommendation above regarding the cultural backdrop. (I happen to be GMing currently in a quasi-late-Roman decadent city, so that worked rather well.) That being said, the module should have done a better job highlighting the height-differences between arena stands/lodge and arena, if any. It should be noted that it might make sense to use all adventure hooks, and not just one, for quite a few of them can actually be solved on the sewer level.

Anyhow, this notion of wrecked magical decadence is also reflected in e.g. an old garden, maintained by magic in the absence of light, which featured a variant of one of my favorite monsters of all time – the tri-flower-frond, which I used to almost TPK my very first group, traumatizing my players regarding plant monsters to this very day. Though, here, it’s an agave with similar abilities – the third new monster included here. I am aware that it is essentially a slight redesign and reskin, but it is one that perfectly hit one of the few mushy soft spots I have as a reviewer and GM. So yeah, that critter actually got a combination of dread and cheerful nostalgia at the table – something that very rarely happens.

IS there an overarching story? Not really. Instead, these are several disparate quests, tied together by proximity; and while none of them are truly remarkable, they gel together surprisingly well; better than they have any right to, considering the brevity of the adventure…or rather, encounter-selection, for that may be a better way of thinking about this module.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ no-frills b/w 2-column standard, and the pdf features no extra interior artwork beyond the one on the cover and the piece on the editorial page. Cartography is b/w and functional, though not exactly mind-blowing; much to my continued chagrin, no player-friendly versions are included. And yes, I will complain about the lack of player-friendly maps in every single module lacking them. On the plus-side, the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

This is Brenton Wilson’s freshman adventure (apologies to you, Sir, if your name is “Benton” instead; OBS has you listed thus, but I assumed the module to be correct here) as far as I could tell, and I seriously should hate it. For one, it’s a sewer-level, and it commits the deadly sin of not actually making its sewer feel, well, like a sewer. Its new monsters are anything but new, and rather fall more on the reskin side of things. It has no central leitmotif, and feels like a disjointed series of encounters, because that’s what it essentially is. It spends a third of a page of its sparse wordcount explaining the history of a city we don’t get to see or explore.

I should HATE this.

I really, really don’t. Not even remotely. Yes, it is a disjointed series of little stories and encounters, held together by being lumped into a small section of a vast setting’s sewers. Yes, the monsters are reskins and nothing to mechanically get excited about. But it is VERY evident that this WAS playtested by the author. The challenge is on par and fair; the little stories that are here all have this small edge that show that the author genuinely cared – whether by cultural components, by reskinning of familiar monsters, that make it feel and play much better than it has any right to. If anything, the module’s one downside is the very strict wordcount it indubitably had to operate with. These encounters, this backdrop, deserved more room to shine. Even considering its shortcomings, I can’t claim that this was not fun; I can’t claim that this was mediocre. It should, by all accounts, have been, but it’s not. It is surprisingly enjoyable, and I’d recommend it over the combined total of Alphonso Warden’s Advanced Adventures any day of the week – I had more fun with the slightly more than 6 pages here. I genuinely would like to see more on this setting from Brent Wilson’s pen.

That being said, much of this joy is mainly founded upon the implicit backdrop setting – if you seek an adventure for the context of a traditional, non Greco-Roman fantasy city, then this will lose much of its appeal; you could still run it, but it’d lose its soul. It’s also predicated on how much you enjoy having this living little sewer-section with its small quests; in a way, I wouldn’t recommend this as a stand-alone adventure; instead, I’d suggest using it as a supplement to your own city, as some small questlines you can introduce when your players ignore your carefully-woven plot for a brief stint in the sewers.

This leaves me in a tough spot as a reviewer. On one hand, I really don’t think this should be considered to be a module of its own; and yet, on the other hand, it works, like a dungeon-version of a mini-anthology of sidequests and surprisingly interesting places. Ultimately, whether or not this will be as fun to you as it was for me and my group, will depend on the cultural context of the setting: If you do have a quasi Greco-Roman backdrop that has seen at least one cataclysm that’d have made a villa sunken beneath the sewers plausible, then get this – I am pretty sure, you’ll enjoy it! If you’re instead playing in a more traditional medieval context, then this might be less compelling. I trust your discretion for rounding up or down; personally, since this seems to be the author’s first adventure, I’ll round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #25: The Heart of Empire
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Purple Mountain VIII: Bastion of Entropy
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/09/2019 14:04:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Purple Mountain mega-dungeon clocks in at 49 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 45 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This was moved up in my reviewing queue…because I wanted to. You see, Purple Mountain started of solid enough, but with the third installment? It really amped up the awesomeness. Not a single level since then has disappointed me. The dungeon also is much friendlier to non-mega-dungeon campaigns than comparable supplements – due to the high-concept nature of the installments, it’s rather easy to pick this dungeon apart, and just insert the levels you’re intrigued by. Indeed, the series seems to have picked up on this – while nominally, you can run this as part of the mega-dungeon, you could just as well drop the bastion on the surface in your game. The module offers guidance for use in conjunction with the mega-dungeon, as well as for stand-alone use.

Now, as you can see above, this is the first installment of the series that is penned for Porphyra RPG, but since the system is designed to offer the GM the option to run PFRPG materials with minimal hassle, it works just as well for PFRPG 1st edition. As an aside: The themes of this module fit perfectly within e.g. the context of Planescape, the City of 7 Seraphs or similar settings – I’ll elaborate why below!

The module also does not require that you flip books or the like – while the adventure makes extensive use of the criminally-underrated Monsters of Porphyra-bestiaries, all stats are provided: Between monsters and NPCs, this amounts to more than 25 stats! The module also comes with 5 new magic items, a new drug, two new poisons, and a new spell – so let’s start with discussing these, shall? We can find a horn here, which may be used to call yaksha – and add specific yaksha to the wielder’s summon monster/nature’s ally lists! Awesome! (As an aside: Kudos for italicizing spell-references here!) This design paradigm is also represented by the cube of seven sides, which causes lesser confusion to onlookers – but also can be used to answer three questions per week…with a 1 in 6 (or 1 in 7, if you have a d7!)-chance of the answer being false. It is not mechanically interesting as an item, but its execution, how it works and how it’s described? Makes it work for me. It feels MAGICAL. The shackles of compliance are missing the bolding for Aura, slots, etc., but are a nice manacle item – they make the wearer more susceptible to being cowed by intimidation, and the wearer may be commanded thrice per day, with a pretty brutal DC. There is an amulet that provides protection from outsiders (protean) and helps versus chaos blasts and e.g. the instability curse of chaos beasts. The item reads “has the added bonus of reducing 46 the number of times one must make a saving throw against a chaos beast’s corporeal instability curse.” Okay, how? By how much?

Thankfully, this remains the only such instance of an item being problematic. The pdf also offers magical tokens that can be used as a currency for planar ally favors – which makes so much sense to me! The book also offers, as noted, a new drug – and it’s one that is worth including, for its benefits and drawbacks are well-weighed. The poisons include a simple one and a complex one – the complex one being bloodwine, which actually is a potent buff for e.g. vampires – nice! The new spell is an exotic one, chakra stimulation, which nets a +2 enhancement bonus to Charisma, but at the cost of 1 Intelligence damage. Sounds boring? Well, it only has a somatic gesture and may be cast as a swift action! I was pleasantly surprised by this section – I am usually pretty opposed to spell-in-a-can items, but this module does execute them in a way that adds twists and interesting aspects to them, elevating them from the default snorefest quality they usually have, and making them feel special.

The module can be considered to be an old-school adventure in the good way – it is a dangerous adventures that demands player attention, and offers more than combat – and in the grand tradition of these modules, there is a solid chance that careless players may end up in a pretty massive free for all battle. We get read-aloud text that e.g. takes listening at doors and the like into account.

All right, and this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

Do you remember the old Planescape adventure from the “Well of the Worlds”-anthology, where the PCs deal with an illicit love-affair between a demon and devil? If so, you’ll probably share my sentiment that this was a cool idea that wasn’t executed too well. Well, guess what, this adventure is all about love in the outer planes – and in a way, it’s more scandalous! First of all, the massive introductory text/briefing of the group is HILARIOUSLY weird: We have two very regal and strange beings: One a fly-headed aristocrat, the other a lady…wait, a man…wait…yep, the second individual CONSTANTLY changes their appearance, gender, species, ethnicity…rather funny indeed. Both are agents for important outsider lords, know each other, and their banter suffusing the introduction put a wide smile on my face. As did the premise.

You see, an incubus and a bralani eloped – only to happen upon a yaksha (the pdf does have a one-page illustration of one type of yaksah, suitable as handout, and woven into the briefing), with this extra-planar ménage-à-trois eloping to the eponymous Bastion of Entropy – and the two outsiders? They decide that the PCs might be just the people to liberate the outsiders and return them to their partners. The emissaries open a gate for the PCs to pass through – and bam, adventure!

Note how I mentioned that the adventure has a lot going on? What about the very first hazard, a coruscating gate, which can be defused by proper Perform checks – provided the PCs realize what the gate is – the check must be attempted at a specific time. Just saying that you roll won’t suffice! That’s good news, as far as I’m concerned. This design paradigm also btw. extends to how secret doors are handled. As for the yaksha here, we have sample yaksha names and treasures, allowing the GM to create a plausible illusion of custom creatures. The old-school mentality is also on expert display with puzzle-portals: There is, for example, one that requires a bit of experimentation, and while it is dangerous, it is not debilitating: Smart parties will be able to deduce how it can be stabilized pretty smoothly, and yes, it may also be brute-forced, though I consider this to be the less interesting option. The PCs can recruit an arbiter inevitable, and in a really cool angle, by helping it, the party will gain an in-game version of the player map! I LOVE this! More modules should account for parties doing their proper legwork! Ogdoad (Porphyra’s kind-of-Slaadi) are encountered – and there is one pretty badass scene, where a super-potent yaksha bmanifests and fights for 3 rounds, before retreating to maintain cosmic balance – still, 3 rounds? The PCs will have to survive that long… (Round to round tactical breakdown provided, fyi)

The PCs will also find a pentagram, with a ghostly hand extended from it, and 5 figures on the ring encircling it – this is represented, once more, as a one-page full-color artwork. It’s awesome. Know rock-paper-scissors? Well, the PCs get to play that against the hand, only cooler: Each of the entities (angel, wizard, demon, ghost, tree) all have their own signs. And yes, demon is obviously the metal-head’s greeting – forefinger and pinkie up; 2nd and 3rd down, held by thumb. If you are bested, though, you will pay the price – a unique effect is provided for each of the signs. I LOVE this mini-game. It is awesome and something we get to see all too rarely in adventures for complex games. Big kudos! The entropy-angle can btw. also result in PCs getting limited-use rod of wonder effects. Smart players might also wish to save the prisoners here – that will result in some chaos and soften the potent yaksha forces here…

And ultimately, the party will have to venture into a demiplane inside the fortress, maintained by an artifact, the cyst of life. Smart players track it down and quickly destroy it, instead of facing the very powerful and deadly yakshini yaksha – if they do, they’ll witness her being dragged to the decadent place of opulence of her master – with her paramours left sobbing behind. How the party treats these…well, that’ll be left up to them. Either way, they have curried favor with azata and demons alike – but made a powerful foe of the mighty yaksha!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting re very good on a formal and rules-language level; I noticed a few typos and the like, but nothing that hampers gameplay. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ 2-column standard, with purple highlights. The pdf is easy to print, and the supplement features several neat full-color artworks, including two that act as essentially handouts. The module comes with full-color maps, and as noted, before, the player-friendly version can be attained in-game – awesome! Even better: The GM gets to decide whether the secret rooms are on the player map – or not – no deceptive “S”-indicators, no annoying numbers on it. I love that.

Perry Fehr’s crunch-design may not always be perfect, but his cultures and adventures? They are almost always pure AWESOME. The Bastion of Entropy plays actually better than it looks, and in many ways, its design-philosophy is more progressive and excellent than most ainstream offerings: It offers the tactical challenge we expect from games like Poprhyra RPG and Pathfinder, but also requires actual thinking. It BRIMS with creativity and is easily one of the coolest adventures I’ve seen this year. It does quote a Planescape classic without being a rehash, instead electing to go a different route. It is outrageous, at times funny, and does pretty much everything right: The complex is not linear, there are things to do beyond killing everything; smart players are rewarded, traps are not dumb “I walk across an invisible line and take damage/save or suck”, instead focusing on means for players to bypass them or handle them, combat is challenging… Regarding traps – there are invisible summon traps – but at this level, the party should have the means to detect them sans running into them, and the combat ensuing is part of the challenge, so there is no penalty.

In short, this adventure is meticulously-well DESIGNED. The fact that its themes make it perfect for e.g. the City of 7 Seraphs or Planescape adds a further plus to the impressive list it managed to accrue. Oh, and guess what? In all my years with PF1, I haven’t seen a module like it. This may well be the best adventure Perry Fehr has penned so far. If this is the level of quality we can expect from modules for Porphyra RPG, then we’re in for one awesome ride. 5 stars + seal of approval, and, because this hits so many of my own preferences so perfectly, this also gets a nomination for my Top Ten of 2019, in spite of a few typos. Highly recommended if you’re looking for a creative, challenging planar yarn!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Purple Mountain VIII: Bastion of Entropy
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Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and Their Modern Simulacra, The
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/09/2019 13:57:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The pdf for this book clocks in at 66 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 61 pages, which are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5).

This review was made possible by one of my patreon supporters, who made the purchase of this book when it was released possible, asking for a review at some time in the future. I figured that it was high time to get on it.

As you can see, the artwork on the cover features exposed breasts, which, if you look at this review on my homepage Endzeitgeist.com, will be hidden by a strategically-placed pen. The interior artwork also adheres to similar aesthetics, so if exposed breasts and gore offend you, then the artwork in this book will offend you. Personally, I considered the artworks to be gorgeous, particularly since they represent an evolution of previous editions’ artwork.

Before you start to swoon at the scope of the generator, I do have bad news – or good news, if you are so inclined: This being an anniversary edition, the book contains a new introduction, as well as all previous introductions – 6 pages are devoted to these. If you are interested in them, they might be worth reading, but personally, I got nothing out of them – I prefer proselytizing and calls to arms for specific playstyles to be left out of my gaming books, but yeah. I did like the inclusion of all artwork featured in previous iterations – these artworks take up 16 pages in the back; add to that the new stunning full-color full- and half-page artworks, and we have somewhat less content in this book than you’d expect from a book of this size. That’s no problem for me, but thinking of this more as 39-page supplement might be prudent.

If you look at that version on my homepage, you’ll also see that I own the original, first printing version of this anniversary edition –a decadent hardcover in a faux-leather slipcase, with foil stamped on the cover. The foil stamp for the “R” and “E” of “Creature” of my version of the book is not perfect, lifting slightly from the surface, but apart from that, the hardcover is a stunning, decadent tome regarding its production values, with sturdy binding etc.

Now, unlike most Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) supplements, this does not exactly subscribe to the system’s conventions, primarily because it was originally released before the system was penned. The book thus attempts to present a creature generator that works in the context of pretty much any OSR-game….and in many ways, one could argue that the book’s monster-creation method could be applied to more complex systems as well – you’d just have to fill out the stats, convert conditions and damage types and the like, but the validity of the themes and general ideas remains intact. This system-agnostic approach to creatures is explained in detail – the book spells out that improvements to AC are supposed to make the creature harder to ht, preventing misinterpretations in systems that employ descending AC. The default AC one should assume, is that of an unarmored human as a standard. The generator assumes that its intent is to create unnatural killing machines, and as such, Intelligence, culture and the like are less of a concern here.

The base damage assumed would be d6; decreased in die-size would make that d4; increases in die size d8 – and so on increasing the number of dice would make that 2d4, 2d6, 2d8, etc. – and after that 3d4, 3d6, etc. – increasing die-size and die-numbers are two separate operations. If your system uses morale, roll 1d8+4; movement per default is that of an unencumbered human, with stationary monsters requiring an ability to lure prey. Each creature generated is expected to be unique (which, funnily enough, contradicts one of my favorite artworks herein, which clearly shows more than one creature of the same type…); saving throw defaults are assumed to be based on the warrior/fighter, or, at the referee’s discretion, that of a more suitable type. Psychic ability is also mentioned. What does the book say about it? Two words: “Oh please.” I really wish I’d be kidding here – so yeah, even back then, the opinionated writing does get a bit in the way and/or might annoy you. Some people like psionics and psychic abilities; they make sense for chthonic monstrosities and unique aberrations of nature. Pity that none were included – I’d genuinely have enjoyed seeing a LotFP-spin on them.

Okay, so how does this generator work? First, we roll 2d10 to determine the monster’s basic shape: These range from being flat or amoeba-shaped to being polyhedral, with 7 entries in the table, one of which is a combination of two shapes; the polyhedral entry has 7 sub-entries, ranging from icosahedron to dodecahedron, with once more 2d10 used to determine the shape.

After this, we roll 2d10 once more to determine basic characteristics, with this time 8 different entries featured. These include fish, avian, plant, reptile, crustacean…you get the idea. Cephalopods are not their own category, if you were wondering, but we once more have the combination entry here as well. These shapes provide various benefits or traits – such as being cold-or warm-blooded, AC-bonuses, minimum number of limbs or, in the instance of crustaceans, at least one claw attack.

Once you’ve determined this general type, you roll again – with the dice involved depending on the type: Crustaceans get 6 entries, as do reptiles, while avian creatures and fish get a d20; mammals roll 1d30, here simulated by rolling1d3 and then 1d10. These do not have mechanical impacts on the stats of the creature. With 2d10, you determine the creature’s size – Tiny and Small creatures appear in numbers (2d10 and 1d8, respectively); human-sized critters are not modified – and above that, we have 4 size categories, ranging from Large (+1 HD, +1 damage die increase) to “Run! It’s Godzilla!” (triple HD, two die type damage increases, and doubled) – that did get a chuckle out of me.

Next up, you determine movement with 2d10, with 10 entries provided – these can include phasing, jumping, levitating and the like, and the entries are presented in a concise manner. For attack method, we roll 1d10, with 7 entries, one of which is “multiple” – bash, spikes, etc. Some of these decrease damage die size, some enhance it, and projectiles are possible. After this, we come to the first half of what can be considered to be the “heart” of this book: The massive 1d100-tabke of distinctive features, quite a few of which do have game effects and sub-entries. Unless I have miscounted, a total of 54 entries are included in the table, though e.g. distinctive markings has its own 8-entry subcategory, while the 100th entry has 6 sub-entries, one of which could e.g. result in damage dealt to the creature exchanging souls with it. You roll on this table until the creature feels complete according to your own aesthetics.

If this is the flavor’s heart, then the next component up would be the heart of the book’s mechanics: A massive 2d100 table with indeed 199 distinct entries that include ability score drain of various degrees, immunities to damage types, abilities to animate rock, plants, camouflage, defenses, better attacks – it’s a mighty table. To randomly determine how often you roll here, multiply the creature’s HD with 10%, then roll 1d100; for every 10% under its chance, it gets one roll on this table. For every attack, you roll on the 2d10-table to determine the delivery method. This table sports 9 entries that include sight, voice, spores, rays – you get the idea. With a d10, you can then determine rudimentary combat tactics, with e.g. entries like: “”Least Armored: The creature will always attack the least armored foe in combat.” There is one final roll – motivation. This table requires a 1d10-roll and has 7 entries, and focuses on the horrific – subsistence on fear, mating, hunger – suitable.

After another one-page artwork, we have a series of design-essays that help you put the creature together. These cover means of effective presentation, the power of surprise and summoning, not naming terrors, and how racism can be used potentially as a theme in elfgames suffused with the wondrous. These might be helpful to novice GMs, but to me, all information here was old news – if you’ve been running horror and dark fantasy games for a while, don’t expect to be have an epiphany here.

If you strip away these essays, you’ll be left with 27 pages of monster generator – it is an impressive beast, but it is also only about half of the book.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting re very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard for text, and uses what seems most suitable for the tables; big tables might take up the whole page, smaller tables might be all on one page. The pdf does try to minimize page-flipping from step to step, which makes the book easy to use. Artworks are stunning, full-color, and littered throughout – from the cover to the interior artworks, they tend to be evolutions of the artwork of previous editions, which is a nice touch. The pdf comes with excessive, nested bookmarks, making navigation comfortable. The hardcover edition, as noted, is decadent – from the slipcase to the binding, to the thick, glossy paper, it is a pretty impressive tome.

After finally reading and using this generator, I do understand why James Edward Raggi IV’s massive generator is begrudgingly acknowledged as an impressive tool, even by people who hate him and/or his company. If you’re a designer, bristling with creativity, then this might not necessarily be a book you need – or it well might be. This generator is a surprisingly mighty tool that delivers a lot of unique and interesting creatures in a swift and painless manner – and the results are good enough to provide a sufficiently detailed framework to structure adventures and encounters around them.

No matter where you stand regarding the company, this is an impressive tool, and one that does have value for more complex systems as well – provided your designer chops are well-developed enough to provide the mechanics. If this book has a single structural Achilles’ heel in the design, it’s the insistence on being system-agnostic, requiring adaption, no matter what OSR-game (or other game) you actually play in. Not much, granted – but it could be a tad bit more comfortable. But that is a nitpick.

An important notion would be the cost-value proposition here – the hardcover cost €33 when it was still available, and for 27 pages of generator, that is more than I’d personally would have paid – it’s a collector’s item and one I am glad that I own…but it’s, when taken for the pure content alone, an expensive one. And before you ask: Yes, I usually do not comment on the like, primarily because I think that EVERYBODY in the RPG-industry is criminally underpaid. But if you have to pinch pennies, the bang-for-buck-ratio of this book is a factor to consider, particularly if you’re contemplating getting the hardcover via ebay etc. at an even higher price. That being said, the softcover version that has been released since? It makes sense, as does the pdf. In the end, I could have lived without the introductions and artwork, and would have preferred more content, but then again, I’m a weirdo who is more impressed by content than awesome artwork. If you’re looking for a decadent book you can brag about, with artworks you can shock prude/sensitive people with? This delivers.

All in all, as a person, I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I can’t help but think that a table of…psychic abilities, for example, instead of the introductions? That’d have been cool. Or, what about sentient monsters? Culture-tables? More base shapes? Similarly, having the book adapted to full LotFP-rules? That’d have made it a) easier to use and b) finally filled the void of the absence of a bestiary. Just sayin’…

That being said, as a reviewer, I have a commitment to not just reflecting my own taste and what I’d want or have done, but to review a book for what it is. And this is a powerful generator that can enrich your game for years. It’s not a generator for everything you’d want to do, but if you want to make a weird killing machine? Then this delivers in spades. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and Their Modern Simulacra, The
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Fearsome Foes: Black Hounds
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/09/2019 13:54:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Fearsome Foes-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The story of the Black Hounds begins with Belik Hammerfist, born to loving half-orc parents, and subsequently orphaned at the tender age of 7 in peacekeeping riots that, including arcane police fireballing buildings, seems surprisingly topical when thinking about the world in general. Anyway, this incident did spawn a massive riot that burned half the city down, but Bellik? He survived the next 10 years on the streets, going through the school of hard knocks, if you will. With his renown growing, he struck a deal with the local magic shop proprietor Audrey Vim – she’d be the grey eminence, he’d be the face of the new mercenary outfit. And thus, the Black Hounds were born – a mercenary company not concerned with the ethics of their employers, with one exception – no killing if possible, even when a reward of securing target dead is worth just as much as a target that’s alive.

The narrative was surprisingly compelling here, and this extends to the adventure hooks, which are MUCH more detailed than usual – and more interesting. They do contain rules-relevant components, including DCs, and some can be considered to be closer to adventure outlines than simple hooks. The Black Hounds themselves are not simply background flavor – instead, they are depicted as a full-blown organization, including a logo, notes on good and challenging classes, headquarters, and resources! Yep, full-blown organization rules! For 1 TPA, you can e.g. get a tattoo or brand that nets you a +2 circumstance bonus to Diplomacy with other Black Hounds members. Discounts, retraining, hired specialists, merciful (not italicized properly) weapons at a discount and more – huge kudos here!

The pdf, obviously, also contains stats – the rank-and file member is a level 6 bounty hunter slayer (including bolas etc.!), and Ms. Vim? She is a capable occultist, with focus allocated etc. – minor nitpick: Spell-references in her tactics are not italicized. Belik himself is a capable barbarian/slayer multiclass, and surprisingly not as straight-forward a build as I expected. The pdf also provides prefabricated encounter-information, with individual teams for CRs ranging from 5 to 11. Cool here: One of these ties in with the adventure hooks, namely Audrey’s vindictive ex-girlfriend – the stats of that lady and her bodyguard are from the NPC Codex, but personally? Loved this extra touch.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level, and almost as good on a formal level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, with multiple full-color artworks – one for the named NPCs each, and one for the rank and file bounty hunter. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Vanessa Hoskins is a trooper of a designer, and she knows how to write compelling characters. The concept of the Black Hounds should not elicit as much excitement from me as it does; the angle of the professional “bring ‘em back alive”-group is not new; and yet, its implementation made me smile time and again; it’s the little tidbits that render this compelling, both mechanically and from a narrative point of view: The “loving” parents, the tragedy, the inclusion of organization information, the Ex-girlfriend-angle – this feels like a book the designer obviously CARED about. Considering this and the low price-point, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fearsome Foes: Black Hounds
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The Corwyn Catacombs
Publisher: Magnificent Creations
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/09/2019 13:46:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

The freshman offering by Magnificent Creations clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy of the adventure; the print copy is saddle-stitched, uses matter paper for the cover and thick, glossy paper inside, and generally feels professional in its presentation. I have also consulted the pdf-version for this review. This review pertains to the revised edition 1.02 – if in doubt which evrsion you have, if you have two handouts as jpgs, you’ll have the correct iteration.

Okay, so the module is nominally set on the continent of Tyllia – a part of the continent’s map is included in the appendix, including a table that lists the respective deities, their alignment, symbol and domains; species like dragonborn etc. are also contextualized, noting the most likely geographical origin, as well as “Your character might be from…” The implied setting has a couple of interesting notions, such as a Witcher-esque “humans are relatively new” angle or the Warhammer-like notion of orcs (called “Aurx” here) being able to subsist on photosynthesis and being pretty civilized. Nothing I haven’t seen before, but a promising step away from the defaults.

Cool: The module does not only adhere to 5e-formatting conventions properly, it also explains them to the reader/GM. Indeed, this does extend to the presentation of the two new monsters herein – apart from a blank space missing consistently between e.g. “60” and “ft.”, a true nitpick, granted. However, the statblocks do sport a couple of peculiarities that bear mentioning: For one, proficiency bonus is explicitly listed, which is not usually something you do; this might be chalked up to the nature of these monsters, though – as we’ll see below, there could be a justification at play here based on narrative, one that explains why they have a higher proficiency bonus than usual for their challenge rating. Thankfully, the errors that haunted the statblocks have been rectified – saves, spell saves, and skills now check out. I am not 100% happy with an attack being called “chill touch”, when it has a range of 120 ft. That’s a bad ability name, as it sounds like the spell – and I assume that that’s what it’s supposed to be, but I’m not sure. When one looks at the default stats, spells are usually not formatted this way. That being said, it is very much possible to format attack options this way, so assuming indefinite uses, this is correct.

The 4 new magic items included are nice, and include one particular item that grants additional powers when more items of its set are found; the capstone ability for this set is artifact-plus-level strong, and obviously is intended more for story/capstone purposes – while it does not feature in this module, it is nice to have as an idea. The book also features a nice “Wanted!”-poster (no mugshot)-style handout, which is presented as a nice jpg as well in the print version. As hinted at before, there is a diary page that the PCs can find, and this page is now presented as the second handout – nice.

The adventure per se is a pretty straightforward exploration of a linear dungeon, but it does sport more than one theme and has more to offer than just combat. Difficulty-wise, this probably won’t result in TPKs if your players are halfway smart. The module is intended for 4 to 5 4th level characters, and can be completed in one session, as advertized. The map of the complex explored herein is functional, focusing on room-dimensions and not including statues or specific features. There unfortunately is no player-friendly map to copy, cut up, and hand out as the party explores, or for use in Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, etc. That’s a bummer for me, as I do hate drawing maps and REALLY suck at it. Plus, being able to hand out the map just speeds up the game so much. Finally, it should be noted that the adventure does come with read-aloud text, and a big plus would be that NPCs like smiths, bartenders, etc. get sections mentioning their appearance, mannerisms & personality and motivation – kudos there! Information design is also above average, with bullet-pointed lists allowing the GM to precisely and quickly get a grasp on treasure etc.

All right, and this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the plot of this adventure is a basic “Timmy fell down the well”-scenario – the party is asked to save the boy Hector on behalf of his cartwright mother, as he is prone to wandering too close to the taboo catacombs. Another party has recently vanished there, and once the party arrives, things seem to be pretty straightforward: The first couple of rooms depict the squalid and impromptu home of a small goblin tribe in exile, including their bugbear chief – here, the revision has added a significant comfort plus, making it easier to parse the number of goblinoids actually present – kudos! While hostile, the goblins may be cowed into providing information – which is another somewhat odd aspect: The module goes to above-average lengths to portray them as more then just foes to slaughter, and in the revised version, there are more ways than Intimidation to make them not resort to violence, which is a good call – kudos for allowing heroes to behave, as, you know, heroes.

Ultimately, the goblins have dug into an old complex, which includes a riddle door: The riddle here deserves special mention, as it feels classic, is clever, and is not based on a pun – that means I could actually translate it into German, French, Norwegian, etc.! Another plus: The riddle’s references make sense within the gaming world’s context. So yeah, kudos there! The module does include means to brute-force the door, if required, just fyi.

The party’s investigation into the complex will yield the remains of former adventurers, as well as things activated by accident – one of the new monsters, the chiran servitor, who is pretty nasty. Ultimately, the party can find Hector, who has one of two mysterious orbs: These act as keys for the final (and completely optional) room, wherein the gorgeous fellow on the cover awaits – that’d be a Chiran, a very powerful progenitor race who escaped a cataclysm via stasis. This master of necromancy essentially is the secret boss of this adventure, and constitutes the second new creature. As noted above, the nature of Chiran and servitor as antediluvian progenitor-race beings might account for the irregular proficiency bonus. The revised edition has made the orb-aspect easier for the GM – they are now properly bolded in the text, making impromptu running of the module much more convenient.

Conclusion: The revised edition of this book has polished its information design, with bolded key items and creatures, to excellent levels; on a rules-language level, the supplement now also lives up to the formal aspect, eliminating my main gripe with the adventure. Layout deserves special mention: The NPC-depiction, the bullet pointed rooms – they really help render the module easy to use, and look professional and well-crafted – kudos! In the revised edition, it is very much possible for an experienced GM to run this module sans preparation, just by skimming text while running the module. The artworks by Izzy Collins are similarly a component of this module that pleasantly surprised me; they are full-color, high-quality pieces, and e.g. the aurx mayor gets their own artwork. Kudos! The pdf version comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks, and, as mentioned above, the print version I have received is rather nice indeed – certainly more impressive than many comparable adventures I own. Cartography, as noted, is functional, but not very detailed, and I’d have loved to see a player-friendly map, particularly since interacting with the goblins in a non-combat manner would provide justification for the players having this knowledge.

Jake Bhattacharyya’s freshman offering is promising in many, many ways, and the revised edition shows a willingness to improve that I very much welcome and applaud: While structurally, the adventure is nothing special, it does a lot of things right from the get-go that many comparable publications botch: The information design is better than usual, though e.g. the keys could use some highlighting in the text. The NPCs getting notes on mannerisms, motivation, etc. is a great angle as well. And while the dungeon itself is not exactly a jamais-vu-experience, it does manage to cover two distinct themes, and the notion of the new creatures is intriguing as well. The revised edition is a straight improvement of the original version, getting rid of pretty much all formal hiccups, elevating this to an inexpensive, if slightly linear one-session dungeon module that I can recommend. My final verdict for the revised edition will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Corwyn Catacombs
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Creator Reply:
Hi Thilo, thanks for such an indepth and fair review! The adventure has now been updated with changes made in light of your comments. The statblock problems were due to an error going from the main manuscript to the layout — I'm not sure how I missed it at the time but the Preserved Chiran's stats have been updated to their true values, and the maths should all add up now. Apologies to you and anyone else who had trouble with the stats — every care will be taken in the future to make sure something like that doesn't happen again. Other smaller tweaks and corrections have been made also — the number of goblins present in the goblin encounter is listed in the room description section, but this has been bolded and reiterated in the encounter itself to minimise ambiguity and confusion. A scale has also been added to the map. References to the orbs have also been bolded to aid readers, and the diary entry is also available as a handout. To quickly address some other points you brought up, there is some slight deviation from the official statblock format as I believe the changes I've made can aid GMs. I choose to list proficiency bonuses in my statblocks as I find it helpful to be able to see at a glance where the maths behind skills and saving throws is derived. If a prospective GM of the adventure feels their Chirans ought to be proficient in Athletics, Survival, etc etc, listing the proficiency bonus means they don't have to reverse engineer the statblock to determine the bonus. That's largely a personal preference on my part and I'll be monitoring feedback to see whether it's a worthwhile addition or not. The Chiran does also have his cantrips listed as Actions, which is a slight deviation from the WotC style but something I've seen other 3rd party publishers do and personally found useful when reading or running those monsters. In my experience it's useful to have the key text of simple spells like cantrips listed in the statblock itself so that the GM doesn't need to flip through the spells to check simple things like damage or damage effects. Again, I'll monitor feedback on this and make changes if required. With regards to the Servitor, the multiattack option is largely there for A) choosing to deal more total damage (4 on average) when an opponent is low on health and might be finished in one blow, B) splitting attacks between two opponents, or C) use against high AC opponents where rolls have a lower chance to hit and so making two rolls is more likely to result in damage than only one roll. During playtesting I did find that choosing to multiattack instead of using Touch of Death was more beneficial in certain situations, but again, I'll monitor feedback and make changes as necessary. I'd agree that a player handout map would be a worthwhile inclusion and I'll be working to get one made and have another update put out with it as soon as possible. The statblock issues you pointed out felt too important for me to delay fixing them to add a player handout map, hence why it's not present in the current version of the adventure. Thanks again for your review — it's clear a lot of thought and effort went into it and it's pointed out some very constructive changes for me to make! - Jake
Starfarer's Arsenal: Laser Grenades
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/06/2019 05:02:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Starfarer’s Arsenal-series clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

What’s more awesome than blowing foes up with grenades? Laser grenades!

This pdf introduces 4 types of laser grenade: Excimer laser grenades cause targets that fail their saving throw vs. explode to also burn; discs are easier to throw; x-ray grenade ignore cover from objects with hardness 21 or more or force effects, and also cause burn – but pay for that by causing less damage. Pulse grenades have the new pulse weapon feature – which must always be paired with explode. It does damage immediately, and again at the end of your next turn – you can turn the second pulse off, if you choose to…and picking it up might allow capable Engineering-savvy characters to prevent the secondary pulse.

There is one grenade for every one of the 20 item levels, with three types of x-ray laser grenades, 4 types of excimer and pulse grenades, and 5 regular types of laser grenade.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres toRogue Genius Games’ two-column full-color standard for the series, and the artwork depicting the laser grenade? Love it. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none.

Owen K.C. Stephens delivers big time here – I mean, come on, the concept of laser grenades might not be scientifically-viable, but for a science-fantasy game like Starfinder? For that, it’s pitch-perfect and oozes coolness. The design of the grenades regarding prices, damage caused, etc. is meticulous, and pulsing grenades? Great addition that can really lead to tense scenes. Considering the low price point, this pdf delivers more than I dared hope for from it. 5 stars + seal of approval – highly recommended for any Starfinder game!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Starfarer's Arsenal: Laser Grenades
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Marathon of Heroes 5E
Publisher: Fail Squad Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/06/2019 04:59:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 36 pages of content, sans front cover, editorial, etc. My review of the module is based on the softcover; I don’t own the pdf and thus can’t comment on its virtues or lack thereof.

This review was requested by one of my patreon supporters, who sent me the print version, to be undertaken at my convenience.

This is an adventure for 4-6 5th level characters, and it makes use of the concepts presented in the Lands of Lunacy Campaign Guide. The supplement includes a character sheet, but it should be noted that the skills and the lines to write them down aren’t properly aligned.

Okay, here a word of warning: I am starting with a dissection of the formal criteria – please do read the entire review.

The supplement introduces a new playable race, the Murine, which are mouse-like natives of the Lands of Lunacy, who receive +2 to their Dexterity, optionally, subject to GM discreation a “penalty of -1 STR”, are Small (size not properly formatted) and have a speed of 30 feet. Murine have a nonstandard darkvision range of 40 ft. Proficiency in “perception” and advantage on it as well. They only need 4 hours of sleep and get +2 to Stealth checks, which struck me as odd. They also get +1 to all “climbing rolls” and are proficient in Athletics. They are immune to the effects of the Lands of Lunacy -. Okay, does this include the drexol’s drain? No idea. The write-up is littered with formatting discrepancies, and quite a few rules-components look more like a 3.X or PFRPG-race than like one for 5e.

While we’re on the subject of formal issues, let me get that out of the way right now: The statblocks and their presentation are more in line with 5e’s standards than the ill-fated Lands of Lunacy 5e-conversion; they also, alas, sport a lot of errors regarding, but not limited to, lightning damage being called electrical, incorrect attack values, incorrect HD, incorrect damage values, serious deviations from formatting conventions and rules-syntax, incorrect proficiency bonus values, incorrect saving throw values, “ft.” missing, nonsensical/unusable grapple notes, missing and/or incorrect formatting, etc. Alas, this aspect not only haunts the statblocks in the back, but also severely impedes the functionality of the adventure. 3 magic items are included, and they feel more like items from the 3.0 days. Yep, 3.0 – why? Because 3.X and PFRPG tend to do more interesting things with magic items.

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

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the great dragon Vatrastrom must be stopped – thus, the PCs are hired to do just that. They set sail towards isles and are beset by Cephalugia, strange octopus beings, and giant electric eels – which is per se cool, but with the issues in the rules language + the lack of a map for the ship, the combat falls flat.

On the mist-shrouded isles, the proper “marathon” begins – there is this stone-circle with 5 stones – touching one transports the PCs to the respective “test.” There is a fighter’s section, one devoted to clerics, one devoted to wizards and one devoted to “thieves” – that should probably be rogues… Anyhow, each of these tests sports a serious of tasks that actually are really creative and far-out, as befitting of the Lands of Lunacy. In the fighter’s challenge, we for example have a scene where a berserking kobold attacks – if it’s slain, it spawns two new ones! This would be interesting, were it not so simple to, you know, not kill in 5e. There is a warrior that can’t be hurt by anything outside of a salt circle. There is a giant (stats not included) and the means to contract a disease that clearly fails to grasp how 5e’s exhaustion mechanics work, and in the end, a combat with hobgoblins to save a damsel – who turns out to be a friendly medusa, who can revert petrification. Okay, what happens with her? I assume that she might accompany the PCs, but I’m not sure.

The cleric’s challenge doesn’t work particularly well RAW: The global effects are even more messy than that of the fighter’s challenge (which btw. entail penalties to spell damage dice and healing dice - including HD? If so, why? Also: 20% spell failure chance…more 3.Xish aesthetics); here, we operate with reductions of HP, and there are basically pyramids in a forested region swarming with undead – these beacons are supposed to keep the horde at bay. Damage can be used to power them, but no indication is provided how close you need to be for the damage to register. The idea here is pretty awesome, and I really like it, but its implementation is so confused, I basically had to guess the author’s intentions regarding how the whole thing was supposed to work within the confines of 5e’s rules. The supplement also denotes here things that should clearly be a saving throw as a check instead, etc. – in short: Not operational.

The wizard’s challenge, in contrast, while flawed as well, does work better – because it doesn’t try to do anything too fancy. Still, credit where credit is due – a magic carpet ride with aerial combat? Cool! The rogue’s test similarly has a rather neat angle – it’s basically a flight from a frickin’ Clay golem through a vast canyon, Apart from damage types not codified, the whole section doesn’t really account for how much the discrepancies in speed actually matter – while it could be excused as handwaving (“The golem is just behind you…”) in an odd decision, it’s not the rogue’s forte that tracks escape speed, but rather, correctly, Athletics. Making the canyon, you know, actually challenge roguish skillsets would have made sense there. Plus, it’s very much possible to do the math and calculate obstacles that would require e.g. being 1 minute in advance of the golem and maintain the excitement of the scenario. Ultimately, this is a great idea that has been implemented in a borderline broken manner. Traps are incorrectly presented regarding formal criteria, damage types, etc.. Again, non-functional.

Oh and here’s the thing: RAW, each of the challenges is supposed to grant the PCs some sort of advantage, but in the end, none of them truly matter. They can all be skipped and don’t influence the finale at all. The PCs can theoretically, as written, skip to the dragon by just touching its rock, which brings them directly to the climax of the module. In the beginning the adventure notes that there are supposed to be benefits for completing the challenges, but apart from a few minor magic items that can help a bit (which include stars like an improperly formatted scroll of fire bolt…a frickin’ CANTRIP-scroll….), the ultimate joke of this module is that there is no reason to actually finish the entire adventure. NONE. Aforementioned medusa? She just fades into the background. Oh, and the big bad dragon? No legendary actions, no lair actions, no strategy – it’s just a fire-spewing lizard that waits at the end of lava tunnels. Also: “a character with a weakness to heat (whatever that’s supposed to mean) risks being “exhausted” until leaving the tunnels. This displays a blatant disregard and lack of knowledge of how this works. Having a barbed DEVIL guard two succubi also showcases a lack of understanding regarding planar cosmology. sigh

And if the PCs triumph and return, murine will ask for the treasure to rebuild stuff – where was the population before? Also: Upon their return to their ship, all but one NPC will be dead – said NPC will try to kill the characters. Okay, I can get behind a good denouement à la “It’s not over yet!” – but guess what? The guy has no stats. NONE. No idea. If he’s supposed to reference default stats, he doesn’t mention as such or have the formatting to indicate it.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting on a formal and rules-language level are a train-wreck. If there’s something to do wrong, this module will do just that. It’s not even consistent in its own errors. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, with Lloyd Metcalf’s amazing artworks being the one good thing about this adventure apart from its ideas. Cartography is b/w and ranged from “okay” to “it exists”; no player-friendly versions are included. As noted before, the character sheet has issues. I can’t comment on the electronic version.

This is heart-breaking to me, it really is. I genuinely like the Lands of Lunacy; I also genuinely enjoy the ideas behind many encounters, and this module has heart; it’s not phoned in, it’s not bland, and the ideas underlying every little aspect of Lloyd Metcalf’s and Ric Marten’s “Marathon of Heroes” are genuinely cool. They deserved better.

It is painfully evident that, from rules-language to basic formatting and balancing to everything else, the authors had no idea how 5e operates; it’s what I’ve come to call the “old-school-trap”; 5e looks, in many ways, like an old-school system, when it really, really is not. Sure you can ignore a ton of the rules and play a handwaving pseudo-old-school game with it, but then you’re ignoring 90% of the rules of the system – and you’re not designing for the system, but for your homebrew hacked version. This is evident here. This has obviously been written (I will not demean the term “design” by using it in this context) by well-meaning and creative individuals that don’t play the game, or if they do, they choose to ignore even the most basic first-readthrough evident conventions of the system that you can think of. There is no understanding regarding the aesthetics, the math or the functionality of 5e beyond a most cursory familiarity here, resulting in a weird mishmash of old-school and 3.X-y rules grafted onto a rules-chassis without an understanding why that doesn’t work. AT ALL.

From the statblocks to the traps to components that are frankly required to run the adventure properly, this only works if you are exceedingly tolerant of a nigh-constant and blatant disregard for crucial components of the game system, if you’re willing to handwave almost every mechanical component anyways. This is the most broken attempt to write a module for a system that I’ve seen in quite a while, with rules-issues bleeding into the very fabric of the plot, requiring copious amounts of GM calls to make this work as intended, even if you are willing to ignore the HUGE amount of formal glitches, formatting deviations and other issues.

It is horrible, really, and one of the instances where I genuinely would love to state that this has saving graces beyond art and ideas, but it really doesn’t. I try hard to stay positive, particularly when it comes to per se good ideas, but the issues here are so darn pronounced, I can’t justify rounding up from my final verdict of 1.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Marathon of Heroes 5E
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Sinner's Manor
Publisher: Mind Weave RPG
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/05/2019 04:53:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This brief adventure module clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 17 pages of content. No SRD is included, which is odd.

This module is a mansion-crawl and comes with player-friendly versions of the manor’s map, which note their grids, but no scale; the usual 5 x 5 feet would make it very cramped indeed. The module also contains paper-minis – both in full-color and as b/w-drawings. The b/w-drawings are vastly superior; while it shows that the author is no accomplished illustrator, they work. The garish full-color versions…don’t. Still, kudos for the inclusion of, in particular, the b/w-versions. The pdf comes with internal hyperlinks, which is helpful – character notices an item? One click, and you’re there

This module is intended to be run with D&D 5e-rules, and is intended for a 1st level party as a deadly adventure; the module does have a section that walks the GM through some of the design decisions – and if your players think they’re smart, they will learn the hard way that, not only are the opponents all bosses, the module needs to be cleared in one day. I liked this decision – it prevents long rest-scumming.

5 magic items are included; one would be a lesser healing item. Another is a mirror with limited daily uses of flesh to stone; another nets you Expertise (double proficiency bonus) in Stealth and Slight[sic! – the pdf gets that consistently wrong throughout] of Hand; there is a ring for a 1/day barbarian rage, and a gold-only locate object at will item. I liked none of these, and they would imho be serious overkill for first level; that being said, the useful items have curses that act as serious detriments. The items or curses are not as interesting as some in “A Blessing and a Curse”, and much to my chagrin, no removal conditions are included, but yeah. Okay. The pdf sports no read-aloud text, and formatting-wise, it should be noted that the pdf tends to use the proper skills and formatting in most, but not all cases (e.g. tools). Classes are, oddly enough, capitalized, and monster names are printed in italics throughout, which strikes me as a weird decision, as it can be kinda confusing.

The following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great!

So, there’s this manor, ostensibly haunted or occupied – 7 grandchildren of Henri Sumner, each aligned with one of the deadly sins, used to throw parties. Something horrible happened, and ever since then, people have been disappearing there – including a team of adventurers. Davis O’Chuul hires the party to clear out the manor and provides some healing bulbs, aforementioned minor healing items. Oh boy, the party will need them.

There is another thing you need to know: The rather lame “Seven Dead Sinners”-pdf of sin-themed undead? They are in this pdf as well. Only, they kinda aren’t – at least not in their nigh-useless original iteration. You see, where previously, they had next to no value due to their concepts (one undead for every one of the seven deadly sins) being tired and bland, there now is something that even jaded ole’ me can appreciate about them: They get proper 5e-stats. And I don’t mean sucky ones, but actually pretty tough cookie stats; all of these undead are essentially bosses, with some approaching even 100 hit points, with 95; these are offset by a pitiful AC of 7 and atrocious 5 ft. movement, granted, but you get the idea – if you’re not smart, you will die. Heck, you might still die when faced with the boss. The module is not playing when it states that it is deadly. Much to my pleasant surprise, I noticed no glitches in the statblocks or ability-formatting. Kudos for getting these right. So yeah, while I still maintain that the concept is boring (compared to all those delightful sin-themed monsters out there), the array of well-crafted, genuinely tough low-level stats? That’s a reason to download the pdf. It should be noted that there is implied incest going on between the undead representing lust and the one representing wrath, though only the GM needs to know about this.

The manor provides quite a few nice details – but I couldn’t help but notice that there is a good chance that the party will run into potentially more than one of these bosses at once. Since the map sports no scale, and since it can be rather cramped, this can easily result in the party being trapped. Sure, this is a horror-module, but yeah – a GM might wish to be careful with the undead. Anyhow, my main gripe with the presentation of the module is two-fold – the rules-relevant components tend to blend in with the text describing the places, making quick information-parsing tough…and then there is the fact that I can generate a more interesting manor in 30 minutes with Zzarchov Kowolski’s “The Price of Evil.”

Conclusion: Editing and formatting is very good on a rules-language level; on a formal level, I noticed a few more hiccups. Layout adheres to Mind Weave RPG’s two-column b/w-standard with golden headers, and the artworks presented for the undead are charming b/w hand-drawn pieces; if you can appreciate the cover-art, you can also like these. I liked the inclusion of internal hyperlinks and paper-minis, and the player-friendly maps would have been nice, had they a) more details (e.g. tables etc.) and b) a scale. The pdf, unfortunately, sports no bookmarks, making navigation a pain – not cool. The pdf comes with an archive of the images for Roll20 etc.

James Eck’s Sinners’ Manor is interesting in many ways; the module plays better than it reads; the manor may be barebones, but much to my absolute surprise, the focus on extremely tough boss monsters that often may be tackled in safer means by smart parties rendered this much more compelling that it honestly has any right to be; it’s a perfect example of good creature design elevating a per se painfully mediocre concept underlying them. Indeed, I think that the 5e-stats of creatures I considered to be super-boring in their system neutral iterations actually make for the main draw of this one. The manor may not be the most interesting out there, but all in all, you can do worse – for PWYW, this might well be worth checking out, particularly if you want some sin-themed low-level bosses to scavenge. As such, my final verdict for this pdf, in spite of its shortcomings, will be 2.5 stars, rounded up due to its PWYW status. I still think that Zzarchov Kowolski’s “The Price of Evil” is the better choice, though – while it has no 5e stats, if you’re even remotely interested in making a compelling mansion-crawl, you can’t do better than that one – add in hazards and critters, it’ll deliver a stand-out mansion-crawling experience.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Sinner's Manor
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