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Dungeon Crawl Classics #69: The Emerald Enchanter
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/14/2018 08:43:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 24 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

All righty, first things first: This review is based on the 2nd printing that features a bonus scenario. I will analyze that as well. The adventure is intended for 2nd level characters, and the presence of spellcasters is recommended, as there are some scenes where items may be activated via spell checks. If you happen to have no spellcasters, DCC’s rules still allow for spell checks for non-casters, but yeah – I’d recommend, as pretty much always, a well-rounded group. This adventure can be rather deadly, and certainly counts as one of the modules that not everybody will survive – particularly since the focus here is pretty classic: There are several rather tough encounters that can’t be skipped, so your group should definitely have some combat skills – more so than in “Doom of the Savage Kings” and “People of the Pit”, we have a more pronounced emphasis on combat. If you happen to love the modules, but not the rules, you should know that the module doesn’t utilize many of the more intricate and unique components of DCC, which makes conversion pretty simple.

Speaking of which: The inside of the front cover features a STUNNING full-page b/w-artwork of the location of the final showdown of the main module, which is AWESOME. Seriously, this one picture sets the stage perfectly.

As always, the module does provide well-written read-aloud text to help you navigate and run the adventure. The main module does not require more prep work than usual for a dungeon; however, the bonus adventure is pretty free-form and either requires some experience in that regard or improvisation skills. The adventure does come with the encounter table listing the adversaries encountered.

Now, and this may just be me, but since it’s what I experienced, here goes: Look at this cover. It may just be me; it may just be an odd peculiarity of my brain and the myriad connotations accumulated over my life. But…I honestly expected some serious Oz-references here. You know, due to the whole green/emerald-aspect. This is not really the case. This is not a happy-go-lucky adventure, nor a dark twist on Oz-themes. Instead, it is a crawl into the fortress of a seriously demented wizard. I’m obviously not penalizing the module for that, but I figured that it would be useful to some to state this clearly.

All right, as always, this’ll be the place where I pronounce a big SPOILER WARNING. I’m going to thoroughly spoil the adventure below, so potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . All right, only judges around? Great! Villagers have been disappearing, and the brooding citadel of the emerald enchanter seems like a good place to investigate – the mad mage seems to have once more emerged from his studies…and indeed, upon arriving at the citadel, there will be no doubt as to the grisly fate of those taken: The emerald guard constructs (emerald eidolons) seem to come in two variations: One that represents genuine constructs, while the other such guards are the result of living beings dumped into the sorcerous vats of the enchanter. The latter revert to their erstwhile shape upon being slain, and indeed, the first such man encountered will provide a clue for a latter part of the adventure with his dying breath. He stated that Thesdipedes knows the word, and this clue will allow the PCs to later save the transmogrified humans…provided they know how to ask the mummy that is a part of the Emerald Enchanter’s consultorium. Alongside a brain in a jar and a talking skull. The PCs can’t cast speak with dead? Luckily, there is a scroll that would allow any spellcaster to cast it, though that requires lip service to a patron, which could have interesting long-term ramifications and further adventure options. The reversal of the process btw. is based on a low DC spell check and a blood sacrifice of 1 point of spellburn. Nice to see that smart PCs can be heroic and do something “better” than murder-hoboing everything.

But I digress. The first room of the actual citadel holds massive mosaics that form into a tile golem, which makes for a thoroughly enjoyable, if potentially very lethal combat: The entity can replenish its powers by drawing upon the environment, create beasts from tiles, etc. The mechanics here are amazing, and the options available to the golem are cool and consistent in their application. The golem’s tile absorption may actually reveal a hidden door, for example. Many modules would handwave this; this one provides mechanics. If I had one complaint here, it’d be that there is no real reward for being smart: The golem has Act 1d20 and gets a free tile draw (to blast, heal, create tile critters) in addition to 50 hit points. It basically represents a potent bottleneck right at the start of the module, and could be overwhelming to less experienced groups. If you have AoE-damage, this is the time to whip it out and destroy as many tiled sections as you can. Without AoE, though, you should get ready for a war of attrition that the PCs may well lose.

If you haven’t noticed it by now – this module is pretty damn dark, and while it does feature things that may seem goofy or gonzo, they’re not goofy, and even the gonzo components don’t feel funny. There is, for example, a hallway of blackened rock, with spirits of the slain trapped in the wall. These are hard to kill, attempting to hit them may result in broken weaponry, and they represent an important notice: Bypassing these is much easier than besting them, and indeed, this module is not necessarily intended to be cleared. Or, well, if you try, get ready to have the difficulty increase…

The eponymous Emerald Enchanter is a good example of a BBEG that has a presence before the final encounter: With emeralds acting as teleport foci and flying skulls tracking the PC’s every move, the evil wizard feels like a constant, threatening presence, and e.g. the lack of means to simply bypass many obstacles like the golem make sense from the perspective of this evil mastermind. These flying skulls btw. also represent a nasty trick: For a lot of the dungeon, these respawning surveillance mechanisms are pretty much a creepy paranoia-inducing dressing in creature form…until they’re not. There are instances where these skulls become capable of blasting the PCs with rays!

PCs doing their homework can also find the source of power of the emerald enchanter’s transmogrification vats, a captured moon-devil that clever PCs can free to gain a boon. An enterprising judge certainly should take this as a long-term angle to connect this section to adventures of the moon etc. in the future. Said entity is contained in a sublevel of the dungeon that is pretty much skippable – level 2 and 3 are both pretty brief and, together, constitute roughly the equivalent of a dungeon level that is slightly shorter than level 1 of the citadel. Minor complaint: The story notes that this thing is responsible for the transmogrification vats, but while releasing it does come with a potent reward, this has no direct impact of the finale, when it, logic-wise, probably should.

It should come as no surprise that, ultimately, the dungeon contains plenty of odd and weird guardians and magic tools – trapped protoplasmic demons, odd laboratories, ruby cats and topaz serpents – there is a clear leitmotif at work here, and a clear method to the enchanter’s madness.

It should also be noted that we do get a buff suite for said enchanter – and aforementioned demon? Well, freeing him does reward the PCs by making progress smoother. The showdown, which, as mentioned before, is lavishly-illustrated in a one-page, massive handout, features the emerald enchanter and his creatures – and a massive, factory-style mechanism that acts as a timer of sorts. Dawdling PCs will witness transformations of innocents. …but on the other hand, smart players will have a means to reverse the process by now, which can make the emerald enchanter trying to goad the PCs into rash actions less effective. Interesting choice!

This was where the main module used to stop. In this iteration of the adventure, though, the sequel “The Emerald Enchanter Strikes Back” (yes, with title printed in Star Wars font…) delivers the full-blown, unrepentant gonzo I expected from the module. This module was, to my knowledge, originally released as part of Goodman Games’ Gencon program booklet in 2014. Where the main adventure was an exploration through a mad scientist-style gonzo wizard, with some seriously dark tones, this bonus adventure penned by Jobe Bittman delivers the gonzo. It also radically deviates from the main module in structure, as it’s basically a hexcrawl. The overland map provided is separated in multiple zones, and from random encounters to a couple of keyed locations, this aspect is pretty free-form: Basically, the map is separated into two distinct zones. You see, the emerald enchanter the PCs have just slain? That was a simulacrum. Now, a gigantic robot…ähem…golem, with classic glass-bubble head and radiant emerald power-core in the middle is wrecking the landscape, and the module is about the PCs exploring the region and attempting to pin down the emerald enchanter’s engine of destruction. This is pretty amazing and a premise that could have covered much more than a brief epilogue.

I can’t say enough good things about this bonus adventure, but at the same time, it has one weakness that is somewhat grating. While the PCs theoretically can destroy the titan, it’s not the intended course of action. Instead, the PCs are expected to get inside the titan and make their way up. Wait…sounds familiar? Yeah, this premise was already used in the second of Goodman Games’ classic 3.X Wicked Fantasy adventures. That being said, the exploration of the emerald titan’s interior is much briefer and less complex, and emphasizes some goofy things. The colossus is not water tight, for example, so PCs in the feet may see the titan attempt to drown them by holding a foot under water. The colossus also will squeeze beehives inside, try to poke at players with treestumps, poking inside it – you get the idea. This very much embraces the ridiculous nature of the set-up. Sounds amazing, and frankly, it is. On the down-side, we get no descriptive text for the interior regions of the emerald titan, and indeed, scale and movement within the titan are not really covered, requiring pretty much that the judge wings these aspects. This feels doubly odd, since the aforementioned actions of the titan all get proper mechanical representations. The glass dome at the top houses the emerald enchanter, who proceeds to initiate evacuation protocols – 10 seconds, then the glass dome will detach and fly…wherever the judge desires. Nice way to segue into a new adventure!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect. I noticed a couple of typo-level glitches. Layout adheres to the 2-column b/w-standard of these adventures, meaning that we get quite a lot of content per page. The artworks in b/w are amazing, and the handout of the final showdown is particularly glorious. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I can’t comment on the merits of the print version, since I do not own it. The cartography is, as always, awesome and beautiful – but there are no unlabeled versions of the maps, which means that VTT-appeal is slightly decreased…and that the players won’t get to see them. This is particularly grating regarding the bonus scenario’s hexmap. There is no justification for not at least getting a proper player-friendly version for the overland section. The bookmarks are pretty basic –no individual rooms are marked.

Joseph Goodman’s “The Emerald Enchanter” is an adventure that truly feels distinct in tone. The notion of a dark fantasy module that makes things that should by all accounts feel gonzo, actually managing to make them…disquieting? Horrific? Is quite a feat. There is no question as to the Emerald Enchanter’s vileness and insanity once the PCs get into this. Jobe Bittman’s bonus adventure adds a seriously fun over-the-top climax to the proceedings and represents a great change of pace. This adventure has a lot to offer, and I love its total commitment to its dark fantasy vibe and how it makes things that should be goofy disquieting. At the same time, it did not connect as well with me as the previous adventures in the main DCC-line. Perhaps it’s small inconsistencies like the one in the bonus adventure, or the fact that I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that the Emerald Enchanter’s presence throughout the module, his active counter-measures and the like, could have been more pronounced. The constant PC surveillance ultimately doesn’t amount to much, and feels like a bit of a lost chance. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #69: The Emerald Enchanter
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Star Log Deluxe: Armored Solarian Options
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/14/2018 08:40:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This extended Star Log clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so this pdf introduces a new item type that should have been in the core book. Know how the solarian weapon is kinda more interesting than the armor? Well, this pdf allows you to customize solarian armor akin to what you do with weapons, via solarian armor crystals. These are hybrid items that can be placed in the solar mote as a standard action. While thus equipped, the crystal provides the AC bonus and attunement benefit when the mote is in solar armor mode. It can’t be interacted with in that form, other than via abilities specifically targeting the mote. Note, that item level=class level +2 is the maximum a solarian can use, and they don’t allow solarians that can’t manifest an armor to do so. (Minor nitpick: there is a “higher” missing in the sentence, but the rules are not compromised by this glitch.) If a solarian has level 5+, inserting such a crystal nets a +1 insight bonus to AC. Below 4th level, the solarian needs to choose between the attunement benefits granted by the crystal and the AC normally provided.

A total of 12 such crystals are provided, and they include a lot of really helpful tricks: We get energy resistance, a heat sink like effect that lets you inflict scaling cold damage, a shield that can prevent limited amounts of damage, short-range standard action dimension door, mirror image with a cooldown…and there is a crystal that doesn’t replace energy resistances, instead allowing you to switch between fire and cold, including short increases when being subjected to the energy. Help versus afflictions and traps is also included. A handy table lists crystal prices by level… …and just that. And here is the one HUGE issue with this otherwise inspired section: Neither the table, nor the crystals themselves note an item level. While an experienced GM may be able to approximate item levels, this does not change the fact that, RAW, this otherwise amazing section is inoperable as presented.

The second part of the pdf deals with new stellar revelations. 5 new 2nd level revelations are provided. The 2 photon revelations are Celestial Guardian, which nets you wisp ally-like effect whenever you gain photon attunement, and these may be fired when fully attuned. Electromagnetic Lash nets a bonus to damage that can’t be applied to solar weapons, and when fully attuned, you may spend 1 Resolve Point as a reaction after hitting in melee to make a technological item, cybertech augmentation, etc. cease working for a couple of rounds. Good catch: This can’t disrupt items that would end off killing the target. Critical effects may be added to this. Very unfortunate regarding the name: Gravity Barrier. This graviton revelation nets Barricade, made from graviton particles, and thus is not reliant on environment. When fully attuned, you can make a tougher barrier. I per se like it – but why, for f**’s sake, does it have the same name as the Zenith revelation released in Star Log.EM: Solarian Zenith Revelations?? sigh*

Gravity Field lets you move opponents that attempt to move through the threatened area on a failed save. Those were 4 – the 5th is an unattuned stellar revelation, which may be used in either mode and do not count towards determining whether you’ve taken a disproportionate amount of revelations for either. This shield nets you replenishing temporary hit points. Interesting: here, the pdf gets the mode-descriptor right. In a puzzling editing glitch that should have been caught, the pdf tends to refer to the “proton” mode, which does not exist – it’s “photon”.

At 6th level, the unattuned revelation for that range further builds on aforementioned shield, providing different benefits while attuned to photon or graviton mode. For Photon mode, we get photon barrier, which lets you use aforementioned Gravity Barrier in photon mode as well. The one from this book. Not the zenith revelation. The barrier in photon mode does not generate difficult terrain, and instead may be moved around. Retributive Flare makes a creature that hits you in melee take electricity and fire damage equal to your Charisma modifier. I assume that this refers to “E & F” as damage type, but it could be read as dealing Charisma modifier electricity damage AND Charisma modifier fire damage. Minor clarification would be helpful.

When fully attuned, you can use the reaction to being hit to scorch foes with more damage, which scales at higher levels. For graviton mode, we get Rebuke Kinesis, which nets you 1 kinetic point for every 5 points of kinetic damage (the physical damage types) you take, with the pool having a maximum size of your solarian level. This is calculated before DR and hardness are applied. You can unleash this energy as concussive blasts, and you can spend all energy as a standard action, dealing 1d4 force damage to all enemies within 10 ft. per kinetic point spent. For every 5 points spent, this also pushes opponents away, provoking AoOs from other creatures, but not the solarian. Really botched Ref-saves can also render the target prone.

Finally, there are two stellar revelations for 10th level+: For graviton mode, we get Gravity Implosion, which builds on Gravity Surge, and allows you to sunder items, reducing energy resistance and DR when fully attuned. Cool! For photon mode, we get Vengeful Corona, which builds on Corona and provides synergy between armor and Corona. Additionally, when photon-attuned, melee or ranged attacks can cause the attacker to suffer the burning condition (1d6 F); fully attuned solarians add their Cha-mod to this damage, but when doing so, become unattuned. Note that this RAW does neither have an activation action, nor limit of uses per round. While the damage is sufficiently low to make this balanced, I am still a bit weary of it.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting re top-notch on a formal level. The same, alas, can’t be said about the rules-language level – the lack of item levels for the armor crystals compromises the whole section, and glitches like “proton” instead of “photon” mode speak of a product that was, alas, slightly rushed. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard of the series with a white background, and the full-color artwork is nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

I wanted to love Alexander Augunas’ armored solarian options. They are something the class really needs, allowing for defense and some soft crowd control. Indeed, in spite of the flaws herein, I found myself really enjoying quite a lot of the options within – the armor crystals are a concept that needs to be expanded. However, as a reviewer, I cannot ignore that about half of the book requires GMs to assign item levels to work. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, and though the pdf doesn’t deserve rounding down…if you can live with its flaws, it’s an inspired little book, one that is easy to fix with a bit of work and price-comparisons. Hence, my final verdict will round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Star Log Deluxe: Armored Solarian Options
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Aberrant Codex: Aberrant Allies
Publisher: Cobalt Sages Creations
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/13/2018 12:02:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The freshman offering of Cobalt Sages Creations clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

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

We begin this supplement with a brief categorization of types of aberration – not in the mechanical context, mind you, but in the context of what constitutes a classification as “aberration” – alien biology, reality-warping and artificially (or oddly- created) creatures are identified as leitmotifs present here.

Now, aberrations are much-beloved as antagonists for obvious reasons, but this book is thoroughly devoted to aberrations as allies, a venue only rarely explored beyond the realms of evil or insane PCs, and as such, represents an interesting deviation from the expectations and preconceptions inherent in the type.

The most obvious forms of aberrations as companions would, of course, be animal companions and familiars – and a quick glance at the aberration type should yield the fact that these creatures usually are intelligent, and that they have darkvision. Other than that, the type itself does not necessarily provide any game-breaking components to be weary of. However, intelligent companions do change the game in a rather distinct way. The pdf, cleverly, I might add, notes that just because an aberration could theoretically wield a dagger, does not mean that it is actually biologically capable of doing so. Similarly, intelligence also means that a creature can choose to not learn a feat, wear armor, etc. The pdf discusses the ramifications of this level of intelligence in a commendable manner:

Aberrant companions with Intelligence greater than 2 receive +3 tricks per point of Intelligence above 2, but thankfully still require training. Sentient companions can generally, as noted, execute more complex tasks, and they learn to understand a language, but not speak it. Recommendations for armor and feats, and for Use Magic Item as a trick, which allows for the activation of one specific magic item, provided anatomy and activation allow for it, are discussed. Familiars are an easier choice, and have the Improved Familiar feat (not properly capitalized) as a prerequisite. Speaking of which – the feat is obviously reproduced here, noting the prerequisite levels for the respective aberrations.

Speaking of which: Aberrant Animal Companions end up as balanced, thanks to the Aberrant Animal Companion feat introduced within, which serves as a feat tax, while also noting minimum level requirements for the respective aberrations. The feat also nets you unnatural aura, which, particularly at low levels, can be both boon and bane. As a whole, the decision to take an aberrant companion ultimately means that you get a more unique and versatile companion that is, particularly in the ROLEplaying context, rather cool. Beyond these basic gate-way feats, there is a new feat type introduced within this pdf – (Deep Bonding) feats. These feats are associated with specific aberrant companions, and as such, I will discuss them alongside the respective companion creatures. One note regarding the deep bonding feats: When the companion falls, you replace one deep bonding feat with Broken Bond, which nets you +1 to Will saves, +2 to Sense Motive versus creatures of the same type as the companion or familiar, and +2 on Charisma checks made versus creatures of the same type as your familiar/companion…and you count as that creature type for the purpose of prerequisites and effects. This can be rather interesting, as it is NOT limited to aberrations, and basically overrides RAW your creature type, which does allow a degree of fortification versus humanoids-targeting spells, but also potentially can be a bane due to specialized effects. This can have pretty serious implications, but it also can represent a nice roleplaying angle – thus, while I do advise caution regarding the intricate interaction options this can unlock, I also consider it to be rather rewarding.

Now, as for the creatures: We get a total of 8 of these critters, plus two variations of sorts. In an impressive manner I did not expect to see in this pdf, we actually do get really impressive full-color artworks for all critters featured herein – and no, I haven’t seen them before! Aesthetically, this is pretty damn impressive. The first of these would also be the highest CR creature featured within – the Argoschwere – a floating mollusk that looks a bit like a beetle with tentacles dangling from it. If your German is up to snuff, you might have guessed the leitmotif here: the creature’s “Schwere” (=heaviness) translates to some control over gravity: In a cool twist, their strikes can force foes to levitate, which can make for an interesting debuff. For a more straightforward attack option, reversal of gravity for the target is possible, and the third option allows for a perfect fly speed. Beyond these gravity-based tricks, the argoschwere is a lightning rod – they are healed by electricity damage, and, in fact, gain an additional move action for 1 minute after being hit by electricity…but they also do not gain any saves versus electricity effects, which is a cool Achilles’ heel to exploit...for the monster.

Here, the pdf is clever: The fully and properly presented companion stats extract the abilities that would be OP, namely the gravity reversal and the lightning-based healing cheese. Even the flight speed, considering its perfect maneuverability, is properly balanced in the advancement provided. And they do retain the abilities that made them unique, namely the forced levitation – so yeah, these fellows will be pretty good controllers. The decision to omit the electricity healing, but also the no-save caveat means that the companions ultimately are player-friendly, more fun to play, and fun. They also get a couple of notes on how their shells may be treated their behavior in the wild, etc.

The deep bonding feats associated with the Argoschwere would be Gravity Assist, which allows the argoschwere to use the master as a kind of point of gravity for pounce-like charges with increased speed – and a massive penalty to AC. The feat, in spite of its complexity, is actually crafted in a rather impressive manner. There are a few typos here, though: “You suffers[sic!]..”, “the you gain” etc. These do not compromise rules-integrity, but proved slightly irritating. The second feat for the argoschwere represents the resurfacing of a concept from the end of the 3.X days of old, namely the (Tactical) feat, which provides a series of situational, but interesting tricks. In the context of this pdf, we have the ability to float trinkets in the air (scaling maximum weight and duration), the option to enhance withdraws slightly and to reverse the gravity on small objects.

Fauchmaws, at CR 4, ostensibly originate from the dream realms, and are predators of dreamers that can breathe 30 ft- cones of mist. (Minor complaint: Gust of wind reference not italicized in the ability’s verbiage), and these guys can dimension door within a vast range, but only step out of the mist. It’s also self-only, so no riding cheeses. Cool: We get an in-character prose excerpt adding a bit of color to the critter, and the fog breath instead functions as a radius centered on the fauchmaw at low levels; similarly, range for the mist-jump is limited appropriately until the 7th level advancement: You get the signature abilities from the get-go, but their full utility is expanded later – love this design paradigm. Coincidentally, you can explain this rather neatly by explaining advancement bestowing more control. Like it! The deep bonding feats are pretty cool as well: Bloody Mist adds 1d4 bleed damage to the mist, (only 1/round damage), and magical healing has a harder time stopping the bleeding. Minor complaint: To differentiate the low-level mistbreath and the 7th level+ breath version, the latter is called fog breath by the creature entry. Alas, the feat only references mistbreath, which means that it RAW would cease functioning at 7th level. This is obviously not intended and should not yield issues at the table, but it bears mentioning. Mistsight does pretty much what it says on the tin, and is much more useful when you have a Fauchmaw companion…

Next up would be the CR ½ Ferrovore: A Fine rust monster-like critter that can attach to targets stealthily, thanks to numbing agents, and slowly drains the blood of those it latches on to. They can also “filter” impurities from liquefied metals and make, obviously, for familiar choices. They come with a CR 3 ferrovore nymph swarm as a bonus critter of sorts – this one, though, is a more straightforward bleed-inflicting swarm. Casters with a ferrovore familiar and the Acid Armor deep bonding feat can, up to 2/day as an immediate action when casting an acid spell or taking 5+ acid damage, generate a sheet of alchemical metal that nets +2 to AC, stacks with itself, and lasts 4 hours. Really cool representation of the ferrovore’s unique metabolism! The Mercury-Fed deep bonding feat is taken by the familiar, and allows the critter to purify food and drink (spell reference not italicized), and the antennae can help willing or helpless creatures stave off diseases. (This feat may be swapped with a familiar’s existing feats.) Another winner here!

The CR ¼ Inkblood is another familiar-candidate, which clocks in at CR ¼. Artificially-created, these Tiny fellows can, as a full-round action, assimilate 2 pages of writing or images, reproducing the content of the folded membranes of the critter. Magical writing is automatically consumed (excluding items and illusory script et al.), but, to nitpick, the spell-references here are once more not concisely italicized. The inkblood can also fire quills (of course – kudos for the pun!) once per round. As for visuals: Think of something between a centipede or necrophidius, save that the ribs/legs are stretched out, holding membranes – my association was that it looks like a moth/ray/snake hybrid. This creature also comes with a CR 5 version, the Large, ancient inkblood, who can flash confusing pulses and constrict targets. The potential adventuring potential of these creatures and their narrative impact can be vast, and it is great to see that the pdf acknowledges this and notes some ideas for combining spell pages to create/collect spells. As a personal advice for GMs: if you have a slightly more potent or oddball spell, these creatures make for a great reason why not every caster has said spell – it just, you know, kinda came together! As far as deep bonding is concerned, we have the option to take Aberrant Symbol, which is a familiar feat that lets the inkblood fascinate adjacent targets. Page Eater enhances your Linguistics and language-dependent spells by eating pages. Love the visuals here!

The Perdentate Sarcoid clocks in at CR 5, and is something for all players that love to creep out NPCs: An undifferentiated mass of raw flesh studded with teeth on pseudopods, these guys made me flash back to Dalvehr-Nahr. Indeed, the signature ability of this fellow makes integration of that piece of obscure in-game lore easy: When they strike a foe, they absorb teeth, which is represented by Constitution damage that caps at 5. Creatures suffering from teeth extraction has a harder time enunciating the precise syllables required for verbal spellcasting, and the creatures can combine this ability with coup de graces for visuals that are nightmare fodder. The companion stats scale the critter in two steps, providing 4th and 7th level advancement notes, and also provide scaling for this ability. Reactive Denticles as a deep bonding feat may require a bit of clarification: It states: “Whenever you take damage, you can make an attack of opportunity against the source of the damage if it’s within reach.“ This could be read as either applying on all attacks (delimiting AoOs per round) or to mean that the the perdentate sarcoid can use the AoO (or array thereof via e.g. Combat Reflexes, if available) when attacked – it depends on how you read the sentence, and where you put your emphasis. I think the latter reading is intended here. Tooth Eater lets you swallow up to 4 specially prepared teeth, which correlate to types and subtypes, which net you a bonus to Knowledge checks. More interesting: Bones of that creature type/subtype glow, which opens venues for interesting investigations – and yes, the pdf properly codifies the rules of said glow.

Ruin drakes look like Medium drakes, sporting crystalline growths They are not actually dragons, though – instead, they are basically a dragon’s remains, a husk, controlled by the pox aberrantia (which are properly codified) – think of these as an intelligent, non-suicidal form of cordyceps – and as such, they are infectious, carrying this lethal parasite! The companion advancement is more linear here. With Aggressive Parasites, companions with Con 13+ can exhibit this as a short-range aura that inflicts damage. The master, on the other hand, may opt to become a Pox Aberrantia Carrier, which makes you immune against it and allows you to lace the parasites into your natural attack. Minor complaint: Unarmed strikes should probably also qualify as means to deliver the disease. Parasite-spreading mystic monks, perhaps with an agenda to purge dragonkind from the face of the planet? Come on, that’s cool!

The skyscourge, at CR 6, represents a flying arachnid with membranous wings…and tentacles. These tentacles can grasp targets and lift the grappled sods…and combine that with Flyby trickery. Oh, and not just one tentacle, mind you – all of them. If the critter maintains a grapple, its feasting causes Dex damage! The base companion advancement does not get these unique tricks, instead providing just the standard grab. The deep bonding feats provided are Assist Grapple, which lets the master assist by expending an AoO. Deranged Feeding nets the skyscourge frightful presence when feeding.

At CR 1, the diminutive sonophage, at CR 1, eats sound. It dampens sound in an area around it (and the master is immune to this ability). In melee, these winged, mottled blots can cause sonic damage and mute targets temporarily on a failed save. They also are healed by sonic damage (again, at the cost of not getting saves). This critter is easily one of the most outré and cool ones within this book. Delayed Auditory Feedback can affect a target within 90 feet and hamper their ability to cast verbal spells; The deep-bonding feat for the master also doubles as a metamagic feat: Muting Spells use a spell slot two levels higher and, bingo, mute targets affected by the spell. The verbiage gets AoE interaction etc. done right. There is a second artwork beyond the creature artwork –a classic piece, with them inserted – it made me smile. It’s a use of stock art that is creative and shows this extra commitment to making the book more fun, also on a visual level.

Finally, there would be the Springroot: At CR 5: It looks a bit puya-plant like, utterly alien, and moves by compressing. Its needles have eye-like organs that it can reveal to grappled targets that flood the victim with alien sensations and impulses, stunning them. These critters can fire their needles sans AoOs…and their needles carry a poison that generates pleasant visions that do not impede the functionality of the target…but that do render the Springroot invisible to the affected creature! I can so see this as the core-aspect of a truly disturbing utopian cult… The companion stats provide a solid progression here. The deep bonding feats allow the master to be part of the poison-induced phantasm (spell reference not italicized), and Twin Gaze lets you coordinate your gaze with that of the springroot, enhancing the psychedelic stunning effect.

Conclusion: Editing is generally very good on a rules-language level. On a formal level, there are a few typos that could have been caught. Formatting did not see the same attention to detail as the rest of the pdf: There are plenty of instances where spells have not been properly italicized. Layout is impressive: A nice and painless pastel-blue, supported by plenty of original full-color artworks make the interior of the book more impressive than the cover. This looks very professional and aesthetically-pleasing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, though oddly, the Ferrovore and all subsequent critters are nestled in the fauchmaw bookmarks, which is itself nestled in the Argoschwere bookmark. They’re here, though, and that counts!

Jeff “The Green” Collins, Hal Kenette, Jennifer R. Povey, Maria Smolina and Amber Underwood deliver an impressive freshman offering for the company. And I don’t say that lightly. Not a single one of the creatures within this book is boring or mediocre – there is something cool about all of them, and they all attempt to do something conceptually and mechanics-wise interesting. That deserves to be applauded!

Moreover, a sense of fantastic plausibility suffuses these pages – in a way, all of these creatures make sense, feel like they belong, like they’re not simply a collection of stats. As you could glean from the review-text above, pretty much all of them kickstarted my imagination in some form or another. They have implications, they have niches that make you actually want to implement them. Even on the basis of just the merit of the monsters, this book should be applauded.

My ventures into the OSR-circles and into DCC; Legendary Games’ mythic monsters – they showed me something: Namely, that creatures, to be captivating, to be engaging, should be more than their stats. The critters within this book achieve just that.

This is even more important due to the fact that they are intended as player-options. Sure, it’s nice to have a couple of weirdo-creatures that don’t all want to kill off the PCs, but here, the emphasis placed on giving players some truly distinct, unique and fantastic companions is amazing. Playing the master of a fauchmaw will be more rewarding for experienced players than choosing a standard animal. And, in a sneaky manner, the unique quirks and kinks of the creatures will make them matter more – both mechanically, and within the stories you tell. This has both mechanical and narrative impact. Inkbloods could jumpstart whole campaign ideas and present a means to make magic feel more magical; Argoschwere are just delightful in their sheer weirdness, and pox aberrantia is basically an adventure hook/campaign seed waiting to happen…and a great reason for hostile dragons to go into full-blown Dalek-style “EXTERMINATE!”-mode! The critters are potent and the feat tax alleviates that; the deep bonding feats are a cool idea and deserve further expansion.

Now, granted, there are a few instances herein where minor aspects of the rules could be a bit more precise…and the number of formatting snafus, particularly among spell-references, is utterly avoidable. But know what? Reading and reviewing this book was significantly more engaging and compelling, dare I say, inspiring, than I ever expected or dared to hope it’d be. I’d rather take this supplement with its few formal flaws over a book of bland, clinical and soulless stats any day of the week. This oozes passion. It shows that the authors, all of them, genuinely cared about their contributions. You can feel it, see it in the small design-tweaks, in the instances where they could have said “that’ll do” – and didn’t.

The aberrant codex may not be perfect, but it’s an inspiring reading experience, with creatures that manage to encapsulate high-concept designs that you very rarely see in concise rules.

In short, this is one amazing little supplement. Were it not for the editing and formatting snafus, this’d be a clear 5 stars + seal of approval supplement. Considering their presence, I have to detract a star from my final verdict. However, freshman offerings always get a little bonus, and this is one such file. As such, the final verdict will be 4.5 stars, which will be rounded up due to in dubio pro reo. Oh, and since I really adored all of the creatures herein due to one facet or another, this also gets my seal of approval. If you’re bored by standard companions or just want some weird critters, this delivers in spades.

If this level of quality and cool designs is what we can expect from the Cobalt Sages, keep your eyes peeled for more!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Aberrant Codex: Aberrant Allies
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The Genius Guide to Vampire Magic
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/13/2018 11:58:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little supplement clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This supplement begins with 9 different magic items for vampires: Biteless bite is a glass bottle that contains liquid distilled from vampire blood, which nets a +4 bonus to Dex and Str, darkvision, and blood drain, but also a vampires susceptibility to holy symbols, which may hold the characters at bay, and they are dazzled and sickened by direct sunlight. However, after 24 hours, blood thirst kicks in, requiring a save – the DC increases by +2 for every 24 hours thereafter, and on a failure, the character goes berserk. Having fed, the character becomes a vampire under the control of the vampire that made this elixir. Slaying the creator dispels the effect. Claws of the lycanthrope are gloves that net claw attacks (differentiating between Small and Medium size), and they are properly codified regarding natural attack type – kudos. The wearer gets Multiattack and living humanoids donning them risk becoming temporarily werebats under the control of the creator. The wearer may end up with these acting as cursed items.

Cloaks of the daywalker do pretty much what you’d expect, and the greater variant can turn itself invisible, which can be a pretty cool option to bluff vampire hunters. False smile occupies the face slot and grants the vampire massive boosts to Disguise themselves as undead…and the item can block detect undead. Life leech is basically a leech that can hold blood and keep it fresh. Progenitor tracker is a bowl that lets you track the general distance of a progenitor. Thrall charm lets you 1/day as a standard action dominate a creature already under the control of another vampire. Cool: addle-minded template notes. Unholy aegis protects against holy water, and provides basically an evasion-like effect versus spells and abilities that deal damage sourced from the divine, like holy smite, provided these do allow for a save for half damage. Confusingly, this damage is lumped in with channel energy, which makes it hard to properly determine where the effect should apply and where it shouldn’t.

The pdf also includes a new artifact, the Remains of the First, a relic of either a bloodline’s source or otherwise epic, ancient vampire. This eliminates all vampire weaknesses while worn or swallowed. The DR is upgraded to DR 10/- and stakes can’t kill the vampire. Finally, there is a new occult ritual, the level 6 canopic relocation, which represents the vampire removing their heart and placing it in a jar, providing immunity to being staked.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and the artworks within are stock. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jeff Lee’s items for vampires are an interesting little supplement. The items per se cover the classic tricks and tropes and should be enjoyable for GMs and players alike – particularly if e.g. potentially combined with rite Publishing’s “In the Company of Vampires” and similar supplements. All in all, an enjoyable offering. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Genius Guide to Vampire Magic
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Advanced Skill Guide
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/12/2018 10:04:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive supplement clocks in at 151 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 4 pages of handy index, 1 page KS-thanks, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 140 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

…who am I kidding, I’d have moved this one up in my queue, even if it hadn’t been for that request.

Why? Because this is the book that translates easily my favorite PFRPG-crunch book EVER to SFRPG. I am, of course, talking about the winner of my Top Ten of 2017, the “Skill Challenge Handbook”.

You know, the book that, like no other before or since, should have been part of the core rules.

Yeah, if you’re like me, you probably have started smiling just a bit right then and there.

However, and this must be made abundantly clear by even a cursory glance at the page-count, this is obviously not all there is to it. We do not have a simple translation of a book to another system here – oh no. This book begins with a chapter on Leadership. Yep, you guessed it. This also is the Starfinder-equivalent of Ultimate Charisma, yet another masterpiece of a book.

But, once more, there is more to it, so let’s take a look at the nit and grit, shall we? After a brief piece of introductory prose, we begin with a glossary of terms: In case you’re not familiar with the terms “cohort” and “follower”, the pdf clearly and concisely defines them. Same goes for the basic mechanics: A Leadership check is a d20 roll, to which total level and Charisma modifier are added, and Leadership checks are treated as either Diplomacy or Intimidate, depending on the style of leadership employed. Leadership modifiers are determined by the GM, and are the result of your playstyle.

There also would be the Leadership score, which is the sum of character level + Charisma modifier, + a bonus to indicate fame. Further modifiers can apply, and concise tables provide sample check DCs by difficulty, as well as a selection of suggested modifiers. If you need a representation of a group effort, there would be PLS – Party Leadership Score, which is calculated and explained in similar and easy to comprehend terms.

Things become a bit more detailed when we take a look at cohort creation – here, the book deviates strongly from previous iteration, in that it employs (gainfully, I might add), the Alien Archive’s NPC-creation guidelines with minor tweaks to allow for an overall very smooth and painless creature creation. Different methods of cohort creation, from promotion to recruitment (including costs to hire) are presented and the book does present different degrees of simulation depth for cohort progression: If you, for example, don’t have the inclination of tracking cohort XP in the traditional sense, you can check out the option presented for one-roll adventuring abstraction, which does not bog down the game. (Of course, you could play cohort-only sidetrek adventures as well…) If that is still too intrusive, you can resort to the autoleveling guidelines, and if that sounds like a hassle – rest assured that tips for players and GMs alike are included to make the process of adding cohorts to the game simple and smooth.

Followers, then, are more akin to redshirts with names and personalities – once your players have a massive space ship with a huge crew, you may well want to have example followers – and indeed, the pdf provides; once more, in an organic manner: The concept of good and master skills is used in abbreviated form for the different roles these fellows may have, once more allowing for a super smooth integration that distinctly can be identified as a Starfinder-centric solution.

The book goes further. In the next chapter, we take a gander at reputation. Fame is a representation of how well you’re liked and known within an organization or region. On the flipside, there would be infamy, of course. These two are collectively known as reputation. “Deeds” would be the term assigned for things you are famous or infamous for, and as a whole, the rules use Starfinder’s “significant threat” rule and transpose it to organizations – in short, reputation only matters and should come into play with significant organizations. I am not kidding when I am, time and again, emphasizing how Starfinder-centric these concepts have been realigned: The reputation section, for example, takes theme-choices into account.

While reputation, as a whole, is a more narrative system, it is not one that leaves the GM or player hanging or in doubt regarding precise implementation. Instead, we receive detailed and precise guidance pertaining reputation shifts, sample fame rewards for certain thresholds…and favor. Favor goes hand in hand with fame and represents basically your ability to call in favors, a kind of social currency. Both favor purchases and deeds, just fyi, have been supplemented with handy tables that provide amply guidelines to run the system or smoothly expand upon it.

But perhaps you and your group are less interested in empire-building and the grand game, and rather would develop the way in which the PCs interact with NPCs and one another? Fret not, for if you’ve been dissatisfied with “I roll once and change the attitude” type of scenarios, if you enjoy the more personal takes and exploration of bonds, whether they be among rivals and enemies, families or lovers, then you’ll very much enjoy the next chapter, for here we take a look at relationships. For simplicity’s sake, they are grouped in 4 rough categories: Animosity, familial, peer and friendship. All of these are tightly defined. The relationships themselves may be roughly categorized in the healthy and dysfunctional departments, somewhat akin to the dichotomy used for the reputation system, and while this is a bit of a simplification, there is a difference here: The system tracks not an objective value of good/evil, but rather the intensity of the relationship! This is VERY cool and a smart choice. It eliminates the “love”-threshold. You know, “reach this many points to get love.” Instead, each character will have different preferences, reactions and the like, and relationships are dynamic. You can actually switch from a familial relationship to animosity to friendship, for example. And yes, you can fake relationships. You can, of course, roleplay all of this, but in case your group tends to favor quicker resolutions, they are provided once more. And yes, they have been designed to allow for quick and painless resolutions. They will not slow down your game – unless you and your group choose to explore them.

The next section also can tie in with that – it pertains alternate and secret identities, and it is one chapter that I wish had been slightly more Starfinderized: The default assumption here would be that a series of Disguise checks is sufficient to establish a secret identity, which, while quick and painless, struck me as a bit…easy, at least in the long run. For brief covert identities and the like, sure, but for long-term identity change, some notes on the use of Computers to delete electronic trails and the like would have made sense to me. (But then again, I’ll return to that aspect down below – and why I don’t consider it to be an issue here.) the subchapter does talk about different means of compromising your identity, and how secret identities and shifts can influence reputation and relationships. And guess what: Having your cover blown is not a pleasant experience. Juggling multiple secret identities is btw. also noted.

Now, the pounding heart of this book, obviously, would be the skill challenges. If you’re familiar with the “Skill Challenges Handbook”, you’ll notice some overlap here and will be already familiar with the central concept.

Basically, a skill challenge represents an encounter-situation that can range from a group dealing with a super-computer’s complex self-defense system,a s it’s steering the vessel into a black hole, in the mainframe to a game of chess. Skill Challenges may be undertaken between teams (representing contests), and can span different increments of time: From long trips across the surface of a blasted planet under a dead sun, to a high-speed chase, the engine can cover pretty much anything. Running a skill challenge may seem daunting at first, but once you’ve read the rules, turns out to be exceedingly simple: You determine awareness first, so yeah, there can be a surprise round. Then, you determine initiative order and proceed to run it akin to a combat, save that it is not a combat, but a collective task.

“Winning” a skill challenge is referred to as “clearing” it, and, depending on the skill challenge, you have several methods: Some skill challenges may require an accumulation. Drawing that moon rover from the ditch, for example? Accumulation. When working against an opposing team, points can be used. Movement-related ones track squares, and for straight win/lose situations with a less pronounced focus on grades of success, “successes” are the tracked method makes most sense. It should be noted that there are actions noted for PCs to in-game interact with the respective skill challenge – obscuring trails, for example, is relevant when embarking on a skill challenge that is based on squares as clearance method.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. How do you beat an accumulation skill challenge? Well, let's say your researching who the replicant-serial killer is, all right? You research, and roll a relevant skill, as determined by the GM. You have a success, and then take a look at the progress rating. For example, 22. Since you succeeded at the task, you accumulate value of by 1d4 + the ability score modifier associated with that check. Once you’ve beaten the progress, you’ve cleared the skill challenge. Being particularly good grants you bonuses, and may move you up in the dice-chain. Class skill? You roll one die size larger. High enough insight bonus? Ditto. To keep things interesting, these skill challenges generally have thresholds noted, where things happen, complications can occur, etc. Let’s say you’ve repaired a part of the mainframe of a desolate space station as you cleared threshold value 8 – electricity is suddenly restored…and the cargo doors open as part of the booting system, freeing whatever was locked inside…

This is perhaps one of the most potent and remarkable aspects of this system – while it can work on pretty much any timeframe, it similarly can slot in seamlessly with combat...and back out of it. What Do I mean by that? Well, you can easily slot skill challenge into skill challenge, Matroishka- or Inception-style.

Let’s say the planet the PCs are currently on is blowing up, and they are escaping the interstellar tyrants that have their homebase on the planet. The PCs embark on a grand skill challenge tracking abstract squares, as they hustle across the planet towards the dilapidated orbital elevators: Atop those, there is a ring of space stations surrounding the planet. (Yes, unrepentant Gundam fanboy here…) As they arrive at the elevators, the planet starts breaking apart…but the damn bullet train is old and needs to be fixed and maintained. Unfortunately, an alien species feeds on the thing, eating it while the PCs try to get it to start – enter a contest. As they finally get the thing running, the kill-squad sent from the tyrants has infiltrated the train – as the PCs make a desperate race for the top, trying to accumulate enough resources, combat breaks out….and even if they succeed, they’ll still need to get out of the system…

That is but one example of interwoven skill challenges, and once you get how these work, space’s the limit. Scratch that, not even that! To infinity and beyond! (Sorry, will punch myself later for that one…) The system may look daunting at first, but one glance at a statblock for such a challenge should tell you a lot about it…and once you understand it, you’ll realize how elegantly this one skill challenge statblock codifies a complex series of circumstances. In use, the system is so smooth, you basically don’t even need to make a statblock. You can run this spontaneously. The precision of all the definitions for increments, time pressure etc. are ultimately there to adhere to the conventions of the game, but in person, I can explain this whole system in under a minute. Heck, I actually implemented it without telling anyone, and it works. A quick-thinking GM can assign PC actions to the general actions within the respective skill challenge.

Basically, what the rules here do, is to allow you to structure how you think about the mechanic presentation of the challenges within. No GM really needs stated that some skill challenges can only allow for a certain amount of failures. Still, the rules are presented within, in order to allow you to write a quick and concise challenge. Similarly, backlash by hazards, traps and attacks, demerits (losing progress) – all there. Beyond thresholds, there also are obstacles – exemplified with the sample task of steering a vessel through an asteroid field. Chases would, obviously, be another example, and one that gets its own coverage – in detail.

If you need further means to modify these skill challenges and want an even tighter array of subrules, you’ll have a whole chapter of special qualities to modify them with: Obstacles, and, as noted, opposition, are covered. When you’re bodyguards for the ambassador’s daughter, whose word may save the galaxy, if you can only convince her… then you’ll want to take a look at the section on influence challenges. If you’re familiar with the way in which Ultimate Intrigue etc. structured social situations and cross that with skill challenges, then you’ll have an idea of how the system works: We basically get a “social” variant of a statblock that focuses more on personality and background, noting biases and strengths as well as weaknesses.

If you instead plan to talk in front of the board of directors of an interstellar megacorp, then you’ll want to check out the section on verbal duels. From allegory to mockery, this is indeed the first of these subsystems/skill challenges that I’d categorize as a mini-game of sorts. Knowledge of associated strategies and how they interact is important…but know what? It actually puts an end to the endless discussions that go nowhere, and it can make social interaction exciting for tables that usually prefer the tactical aspects of combat over storytelling.

For all of these, samples are provided, though, and let me make that abundantly clear: This is not a plug-and-play book of ready encounters. Instead, this teaches you how to use the system and make it your own. Extra design advice, a table of suggested sample DCs by difficulty rating and CR, suggested accumulation, square and success values by CR – ultimately, this is a ginormous guide that aims to teach you an easy system that can make literally everything, from treks across blasted desert planets to researching galactic archives, potentially exciting and interesting. It’s a system that inserts player agenda into what usually amounts to boring, singular pass/fail die-rolls and cutscenes, instead emphasizing the collective experience.

Okay, but we’re still not done. There is another massive chapter – and it’s called combat maneuvers. This chapter introduces an alternative means of resolving, bingo, combat maneuvers. Design-wise, the alternate maneuver system mirrors the way in which Starfinder treats AC: The Maneuver Defense (MD) value is subdivided into PMD (Physical Maneuver Defense) and MMD (Mental Maneuver Defense). The values are calculated as follows: 10 + ½ BAB + Strength modifier (PMD) or Charisma modifier (MMD). All combat maneuvers, and the feint and demoralize skill uses, as well as the Antagonize feat, target these now. Yes. Non-feat taxed antagonize is back. Honestly, it was one aspect of SFRPG that puzzled me as much as in PFRPG. Why lock insulting an enemy, arguably something pretty much anyone can do, behind a feat, while feinting, something I IRL would suck at, is available via skills? But I digress. Maneuvers are listed alphabetically, and are listed with action to activate, skills that can be used, and effects. Descriptors, if any, are noted as well. You basically check the skill against the respective MD. Crushing foes, scaling them…simple. Less simple would be the act of determining these values fro critters. Thankfully, a massive table lists suggested values by CR and array. (As an aside: The array is called spellcaster, not mystic…) Don’t like that? There is a means to use the system in conjunction with the standard KAC +8 solution.

What’s the effect of implementing it? Well, PCs are more likely to succeed at combat maneuvers…but so are enemies. If you are dissatisfied with how hard combat maneuvers are to execute in Starfinder, then this will yield approximately a 25% increase in chance to execute them, which can, particularly in more melee-centric situations, make them game more versatile and nuanced. The new “humiliated” condition is also introduced herein – and, in case you were wondering, there is a whole, massive array of feats that allow you to further customize your characters to make maximum use of this new system. In a rather embarrassing slip-up, the feats refer to the Improved Combat Maneuver feat – which has been rebranded as Improved Maneuver to avoid confusion with the Starfinder core feat. Unfortunately, the references of the feat in the section’s prerequisite lines have not been adjusted that way. It’s a cosmetic glitch, but still a pretty nasty one. Particularly since the Improved Maneuver feat’s special line even erroneously references itself as Improved Combat Maneuver… Also in this section would be the Unlock Skill feat.

Which ties in with…the Skill Unlocks. These can be gained by feats, themes or awarded freely, depending on your preferred playstyle, and include several that interact with other components of the book. At Fame 20, you can, for example, be Aloof without taking a penalty to Leadership score. With Blood Kin, you have a better rapport with your relatives, with Accomplished Climber, you gain a climb speed. Tehre are more unlocks here than I can conceivably cover without ruining the functionality of this review – suffice to say, a handy table organizes them by area of interest – looking for reputation unlocks? All collected in one section. If this notion was not indicator enough: One of the interesting and impressive components of this book would be the fact that all of these can be combined. The pdf does, for example, provide guidance and notes that skill unlocks can make for great relationship rewards…

Of course, considering the new combat options, we also receive a couple of new tricks for character classes: 4 new envoy improvisations, and an expertise talent, as well as tricks, for mechanics, soldiers and operatives may be found. The pdf then closes with 4 solid themes: Contender, scion, fixer and vigilante, before providing a handy glossary. Slightly hilarious: The vigilante gets the “Duel Identity” class feature. No, he is not particularly adept at dueling. That’s a typo.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a rules-language level, as a whole, are very good. However, on a formal level, the pdf does suffer a bit and is not 100% up to level we usually get to see from Everyman Gaming. Particularly in the few instances where a typo can make a rule slightly harder to understand, I couldn’t help but cringe slightly. Don’t get me wrong; this is still a tightly-presented book. Layout adheres to the two-column full-color standard of the Star Log.EM-series, adapted to the big book, and the pdf sports a ton of Jacob Blackmon artworks, many of which are brand new and pretty massive. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. My physical copy hasn’t yet arrived as per the writing of this review.

Alexander Augunas and Matt Morris deliver what can be considered to be a crown jewel among SFRPG supplements; we get a book with a sheer impact and coolness, a mighty toolkit that usually only sees the light of day in this extent towards the end of a system’s lifecycle. Having this near the beginning of Starfinder’s lifecycle is amazing. Simple as that. It is no secret that I consider many of the concepts within this book, the whole notion of skill challenges, to be pretty much a stroke of sheer genius. Having them coupled with some of my favorite tricks, as inheritors of Ultimate Charisma’s legacy, puts just icing on the cake. I applaud the degree in which the systems herein have been modified to represents Starfinder’s peculiarities, and once more, I am left to say, clearly and explicitly, that the very concept herein should have found its way into the core rules.

Now, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have some potential complaints to field: The editing, as noted, could have been tighter. I also would have loved to see more space combat-y things and peculiarities – sure, you can easily simply adjust what’s here to the space context, and the skill challenges present actually do just that…but some exclusives would have been nice. But that is not a fair complaint to field. You see, at first glance, there are a lot of similarities between this and the original PFRPG files; if you own the original files, you will constantly feel the casual familiarity that you expected to find…but once you take a more in-depth look, you will get to see the work that went into this tome…and the achievement that codifying the skill challenges this way, ultimately is. Regardless of system. This book was branded as the tome that will bring skill challenges to SFRPG – and more.

And, editing snafus be damned, it succeeds admirably. At this point, this is the most rewarding toolkit for SFRPG I am aware of. It will literally enhance any game it’s used in, and a GM who understands how this operates gets some of the mightiest narrative tools for a d20-game you can fathom on their hands. The concept itself may no longer be novel in all but its implementation into the system, but it doesn’t have to be. What you see on the cover, the exciting teamwork challenge? That can be yours.

Skill challenges have enriched my games like no other crunch supplement. If you play Starfinder and are not yet familiar with the notion, or if you don’t want to do the math and all those little tweaks…well then gets this ASAP! It is a mind-blowing experience. Now, if I were to rate this solely on its formal properties and disregard the content and its vast impact, I’d frankly have to rate this down to 4.5 stars, rounded down, due to the editing glitches. However, even if I were to divorce skill challenges from all the other components, which elegantly entwine, yet remain optional, they’d suffice to make the editing snafus as but trivial.

To state this in an abundantly clear manner: This book can radically improve pretty much every aspect of your game, of your GMing, of your playing experience. You don’t have to read everything. You don’t have to implement what you don’t want to – you can just cherry-pick what’s right for your and your group. Once you’ve understood this, you can implement its components on the fly, you can tell exciting stories that you couldn’t before. In short: This is, formal snafus or none, still a milestone and a masterpiece. I consider this to be perhaps the most important Starfinder supplement currently released by a 3pp. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. This also gets my EZG Essentials-tag for Starfinder. And had its predecessor not won last year’s Top Ten, and thus disqualified this one from being a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018, you could find it there as well. This is, by all accounts, a must-own supplement for Starfinder.

…now, can we have a sequel book with more skill challenges, tricks and tweaks?

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Skill Guide
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The Haunted Dive
Publisher: Gamer Printshop
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/07/2018 14:58:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 91 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 85 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so first thing you should know, is that this module uses the rules from the Starship, Stations and Salvage Guide. It has a ton of supplemental rules included, but does not reproduce these. It is possible to run the adventure without owning said book, just to make that clear.

The module spends a lot of pages on rules, so let’s take a look at them first:

The supplement comes with 3 new expansion bays, which do focus on a leitmotif of the adventure (see SPOILER-section below) and includes stats for luxury escape pods. This also ties in with the new ship defenses. There is a computer augmentation that clocks in at level 10, which allows the user to add Intelligence bonus to other functions in the ship, which can be pretty excessive. There is a nice, new ship hazard. The pdf also includes equipment rules for back packs that allow for battery combination, which is per se cool – and yes, it may be rigged to detonate. There also is an odd one: Emergency Survival Boosters ”Adds an additional tier of level to any clothing or armor that its[sic!] attached to…” – and no, I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. There is a gauntlet that does not properly denote the damage type it causes, and the generators noted also suffer a bit from wonky verbiage.

There is a cybernetics section that does not properly denote the system into which they’re implanted. There is a lens that grants you infrared vision…which does not exist in SFRPG. One glance at the core manual will show you that infrared sensors translate to darkvision in SFRPG. Low light vision does NOT have a range. There is a section on using VR in conjunction with the Computer rules, but it doesn’t properly codify all of them as per subset of computer features. The new armors are solid, and there are some armor upgrades included.

The pdf contains two variant classes – a VR-based version of the mechanic, and a mystic variant.

…there is no nice way to put it, so here goes: They deviate in a TON of ways from proper presentation and rules-language standards. It begins by the tables being internally inconsistent (one class lists full save names, one abbreviates Fortitude to Fort, but doesn’t abbreviate the others; saves are listed first before the BAB, for maximum confusion…particularly in the second class, which also hasn’t properly aligned columns…) and goes on from there. Even when an ability like bypass provides a clear example to follow, the classes somehow get that wrong and put it in an awkward way. Stamina and Hit Point correlation are dissolved in one instance, which may be a typo. There is so much wrong with these, I frankly don’t know where to start. To give you an excerpt from one of the mystic spells: “This counts as a DR5 vs force and kinetic attacks. This replaces the Major version of Force Shield.“ This is not how DR works. The spells don’t list spell levels in their descriptions spell (you need to default to the list for that!), and this weird “replaces” makes no sense – the old spells are not lost! These classes are trainwrecks and don’t contribute anything of significance to the pdf.

The pdf contains VR-Rules, which list the following: “A Diver begins with a Virtual Hit Point

equal to his base HP. When this reaches 0 they are automatically removed…” Okay, does this include Stamina? If not, why? If it goes directly to HP, there is a whole array of questions left. You have a virtual AC (VAC) of “10 plus their intelligence per level.” No, I am not making that up. If you want to use these rules, you better do some serious fixing first, for RAW, they simply are not operational.

The pdf also includes a new race (see Spoilers) – that is more min maxy than SFRPG races should be, with +4 to an attribute, -4 to another. The race has a fly speed, but doesn’t denote maneuverability or type of fly speed, and labors under the misconception that there is a blanket energy resistance as a rules term. There is not. These glitches tend to also find their way into the bestiary. The presentation of statblocks is not unified, and the critters presented are off in pretty much every conceivable way. Effects that should be noted as critical aren’t, type is off, damage values are pitiful. Damage types are not noted correctly. Skills are off. Plusses are missing. Formatting is wrong. A CR 20 critter is noted as 6000 XP. Statblocks are oddly aligned in some instances. To give you an idea:

“Init +3 Senses Low-Light Vision as per

normal vision Perception 12

HP 72 EAC 20 KAC 15 Fort 6 Ref

11 Will 8

Offensive/Defensive Abilities

Universal Expression, Quick Inspiring

Boost, Focus, Heads Up, Desperate

Defense, Expert Attack

Speed 30ft“

The bestiary section is a bit better...but the NPC section and the new race and related statblocks? Oh boy. Also: There are plenty of lines that read “Will Immune” That is not correct. The section has some guidelines regarding VR creatures and haunts, which is per se cool, but is also contingent on the VR-rules. Which are not operational. And I haven’t even touched upon the fact that formatting is wrong and inconsistent. Skills are not properly capitalized, rules-language is off, things that shouldn’t be capitalized, are…the list goes on.

Okay, that was not what I was hoping for.

Let’s see how the adventure section holds up, shall we? It should be noted that the module does contain proper and player-friendly maps of the vessel, as well as a long section of introductory prose and notable questions that PCs may ask – as far as that aspect is concerned, the adventure presents a neat level of guidance for the GM. The following contains SPOILERS. Potential player should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Okay, only GMs around? Great!

So, as the introduction noted, the inspiration for this adventure was “Ghost Ship” – and while I’d argue that the movie is not an efficient horror movie, I do concur with the statement that the Final Destination-ish mass death scene was indeed well-executed. It also does something interesting, in that it features two distinct tags for descriptions: “Before” and “After”, which means you could conceivably play the adventure as things are happening, or as explorers that happen upon the vessel after the disaster. Another option would be to play its “Before” state with one-shot characters. So yeah, the set-up reminded me of one of my favorite OSR-adventures (review forthcoming), so that’s a good thing.

The Vestige Voyage, the ship, is properly statted and lists its amenities and the like in a concise manner. A brief table allows for random encounters/creepy things happening. The story, alas, is not presented as clearly. Basically, a technomancer has found a new type of creature, quantum fey. (These also would be the new race mentioned earlier.) That idea is amazing. Alas, the synopsis refers to two different characters as “The technomancer”, which can be confusing. Plot-wise, a queen of the quantum fey was imprisoned and driven mad; when freed, she lashed out, and the dying good technomancer uploaded her mind – now struggling with the mad queen for supremacy, she triumphs, but is cursed with undeath. This happens as a gala is held, much akin to aforementioned movie.

Yep, you’ve probably pieced it together by now: Basically, the module uses holograms and VR to account for haunt-like effects, creatures, etc. The adventure itself is presented in a classic way, in that the pdf describes the locations of the “Vestige Voyage.” There is an overview section for the exploration, presented for the GM. Self-destruction of the vessel is a distinct possibility, just fyi. The information-presentation is rough, though. It helps that “Before” and “After” are bolded in the text, but the other pieces of information need to be puzzled together, and enemies are noted in the text sans highlight or stats. The constant issues in rules-language and presentation further hurt this: “Any Engineering 30 and computer check 30 will override the bridge lockouts.” Even casual familiarity with Starfinder ought to tell you that this is not how the like is worded and formatted.

…and, honestly, it sinks the module. Not on its own, mind you…but in conjunction with the rules that are supposed to provide a unique angle, the rules that don’t work? Yeah. It does.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are bad on a formal and rules language level. There are copious amounts of typos, and worse, there are a TON of issues in pretty much every aspect of the rules language. Layout adheres to a solid two-column full-color standard, and the maps presented for the vessel are nice and full-color. They are, hands down, the strongest component of this adventure. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

This module was shocking for me. Edward Moyer’s rules language tended to sport some inconsistencies and issues here and there, but this module is a whole new level. Basic things that have been staples since the inception of 3.0, things that I haven’t seen done wrong in a while, are simply not functional. The rules for the VR-gimmick, on which much of the module hinges, simply don’t work.

Gosh, this was frustrating. When reviewing adventures, I tend to focus on the story, on how it plays. I am a bit less picky than when I’m reviewing books intended to primarily serve as crunch resources. Up to a point. Here, the editing (or lack thereof) actually sinks the entire module. The rules are nowhere near operational. As a developer, I’d send this back to the author and tell them to read up on the rules and how they’re formatted, rewrite the entirety, and then get back to me. I looked at the rules, and even casual observation provided so many issues that I frankly didn’t know where to start when complaining about them.

And, you know, usually, I’d try to see this as something like “Okay, rules are bad, but if you look at just the adventure section…” – but that doesn’t work here. This tries to be a highly technical adventure, with a ton of entwined rules, a whole system for VR with its own intricacies – perhaps because the base adventure section is neither creepy, nor particularly original. Some concepts are really cool, but they are mired in the execution, like dinosaurs, conserved in a tar pit. The main issue, though, is that this simply doesn’t work. The adventure is utterly reliant on these new rules, and when they fail to work, so does, by extension, the adventure.

I so wanted to like this. I adore scifi horror. But unlike “Rogue ‘s Run”, you have no chance of ignoring the broken aspects here. There are no two ways around this – this does not work. And this is so frustrating, because the adventure does have a great angle, a great twist on a classic trope. It has creative ideas, but the execution of said ideas is, at best, in a pre-alpha stage. There is potential here, and had this been presented in a tight manner, it could have scored as high as 5 stars + seal of approval. If you invest a LOT of time, you can make this an interesting and creative module, but expect more than a few hours.

But what we get here, alas, comes nowhere close to that. My final verdict can’t exceed 2 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
The Haunted Dive
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Remedial Tinkering: Artificial Intelligence
Publisher: Interjection Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/05/2018 08:57:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion for the Tinker class clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

First things first – the expansion does not necessarily require any other tinker expansion to work, and for a reason: It is, in a way, the expansion that focuses most on providing lower level tools, though the content does remain very much relevant at higher levels. As such, the only expansion that has a bit of overlap here would be Happy Little Automatons, which is fyi a really nice one.

This notwithstanding, the pdf does properly explain the different invention subtypes introduced so far in a concise manner. It also presents a couple of rulings that are very much relevant to the content within: BP values assigned represent the blueprints, and as such, once deployed, BP limits are no longer relevant. This is relevant due to one of the new innovations within, Brain Surgeon, which allows you to add a variety of inventions to the automaton INSTEAD of giving a directive upon deploying it.

While we’re on the subject of new innovations: Limited Autonomy lets 3/day an automaton activate an invention of up to half invention level the tinker can learn without being given the directive to do so. The automaton may only target itself or the target of a directive it is given. This allows for some interesting low-level combo-play. Logic Study lets you choose a 1st level invention that requires a directed action to activate. Said invention no longer requires a directive to activate, but when thus activated sans directive, it may, as before, only target the automaton or the target of the directive. These do help make the very tight action economy allow for easier comboing, particularly at lower levels.

Secondly, the pdf does state explicitly that multiple directives can be executed in a given round. One of the new inventions within, big red button, does tie into this ruling. The invention costs 2 BP and the automaton gets 3 fat, red buttons, which it may be directed to push as an immediate action. Each button may be pressed once per day, and they all have an interesting angle: +4 shield bonus to AC, minor self-healing (plus temporary hit points) and a weak shield that inflicts fire and electricity damage on those attacking it can be found. As you’ve seen, the immediate action activation is pretty novel and an explicit deviation from the standard. I like it.

As far as first level inventions are concerned, we can also find the amplification array, which is pretty cool: It fires a burst of motes that per se do not harm the target, but which enhance the next source of acid, fire or electricity damage taken before the start of the next turn. You can, undoubtedly, see the first combo forming already by now. Amplified amplification builds on that and is the 3rd level upgraded version. Minor complaint: There seems to be an error here, as the invention states that it improves the previous invention’s damage output by +2d4. The base damage increase bestowed was +2d4, though, which would result in +4d4, not +5d4, as stated. The second upgrade for the abase invention (doesn’t require the amplified amplification invention) here is flexible amplification and adds force and sonic. And yes, omission of cold is intentional. Thirdly, there would be another upgrade for the base invention that allows for a swift action activation.

Bandwagon simulator is super useful 2nd level invention, and lets an automaton use a move action to make friendly, idle automatons attack the same target. Buddy system scripting is another helpful one: If commanded to defend/support an idle automaton, doing so will cause the idle automaton to reciprocate. Why I oughta…subroutine is useful AND potentially hilarious, as the automaton taking damage is given an attack directive versus the source. “What is it doing?” “Evaporating those iron thistles…” Vending machine is another gem, as it bestows the arms invention to all automatons within 30 ft. (See, and that is why I explained the rulings above…)

There also is a massive invention tree that is founded on Heat vent, which allows the automatons to act as soft terrain control dealing minor fire damage to creatures adjacent to them, contingent on the movement of the automaton. Heat vent turbines adds minor electricity damage here; lingering heat vent lights targets on fire, and empower heat vent increases the maximum damage dealt by the base invention.

Slow and steady substructure is a 4th level (Design) invention that makes the automaton only take orders from the master of the alpha, and it may not execute directed actions granted by effects other than being issued directly by said targets. However, in exchange, all limited per day activation inventions slotted on such an automaton can be used +1/day. Also at 4th level, there would be the Hello World subroutine, which may be activated as a directed swift action, and it may only b activated as part of deploying the automaton. The invention grants basically advantage on all d20 rolls made by the automaton – until either one fails or until 1 minute passes. (The ability does state explicitly that it’s not smart to use this with long-term automatons, which is helpful for less experienced players.) The highest level and most costly invention within would be the invention logic tree, which clocks in at 3 BP and as a 5th level invention. This one lets you choose a directed action activated invention, which then no longer requires…you get it. It’s basically the built-in version of the innovation.

Now, in the beginning, I noted an invention that ties in with the combo-tastic Happy Little Automatons-pdf. That would be paint prism, a 2 BP level 1 invention that may be activated as a directed swift action. At the beginning of the automatons next turn, it selects an applied paint invention and starts shedding light of that color. All friendly automatons and the tinker, provided, he has the chromatic study innovation, within 3o ft. gain the benefits of the paint invention until the start of their next turn. This effect persists even if the automaton loses the paint invention (as you can combo with paints…and indeed, it does reward paint cycling! You see, the effect persists and changes the color if the automaton has paint changed next round. The effect only ends when the automaton would repeat a color! Really cool!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language, as expected. Layout adheres to the 2-column b/w-standard of the small Interjection Games-pdfs, and the pdf uses stock art and has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Of all the tinker expansions Bradley Crouch has written, this may well be one of the most crucial and rewarding ones. The inventions and innovations within allow for cool combos galore and add very much super helpful options here…to the point where I’d honestly contemplate potentially granting a few of these as hard-baked abilities in games where the power-level tends to gravitate to the higher end of the spectrum. Apart from the one die-pool size inconsistency, there are no complaints for me to field against this humble and exceedingly cool expansion. Considering the sheer utility and low price point, my final verdict will still clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. Must-own purchase for fans of the tinker!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Remedial Tinkering: Artificial Intelligence
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Metafeats
Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/05/2018 08:54:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so first things first: Metafeats are NOT gained by the characters. They are gained by the players. The pdf suggests to award one per 5 sessions of game, which is a bit problematic; more detailed guidelines for different character XP-progressions and playstyles would have been neat to see. These feats, as they’re held by players and not PCs, transcend characters. The metafeats are as follows:

-But I LIKED my Character…: Basically gives you an extra life. Can be used once; but you may take it again.

-Dutiful Scribe: Rewards the records keeper by reducing Intimidate and Diplomacy check DCs in settlements where the character’s exploits are known by character level.

-Feed the Beast: Rewards player that brings food for everyone; 1/session swift action bite for 1d3 damage (not typed or clarified as per (natural) attack type), with a +20 luck bonus.

-Knowledge is Power: Player brings 1+ reference books to share. 1/session use out of game knowledge to identify a creature, obstacle, plot element, etc.

-Miniature Monstrosity: Bring an unopened box of minis. During the session, open it and have the mini join the fray as a NPC on the PC’s side. May only be used once, but you may take it again.

-Needed Intermission: Player volunteers to run game instead of regular GM. As a thanks, once per campaign, the player can designate a safe rest sans random monsters, etc.

-Oath to Play Well: The GM selects rules (like no electronic devices, ruling for now, etc.), and adherence to these rules provides a massive, usually on HDs, based bonus. I think these bonuses are overkill as presented, though I do like the sentiment behind that feat. It’s part of the concept of the social contracts of roleplaying that I champion.

-Well-Equipped: Players with props or objects. Nets bonuses or additional uses of consumables.

-What IF…?: Player describes action differently, things happen that way. May be used once, and only once.

Battlecry metafeats require that you shout a catchphrase, battlecry, etc. – “Blood, Death and Vengeance!”, for example. ;) Only one battlecry may be in effect at a given time.

-Cooperative Harassment: When a PC fails a combat maneuver, one ally that also threatens the target may attempt the same maneuver as an immediate action. Cool!

-Group Gangpile: All allies gain the character’s teamwork feat. No range, no maximum limit of allies. Broken.

-It Has to Hit: Once per character per combat, each ally may add a +1d6 surge to atk if it misses, potentially rendering a miss into a hit. This is a massive upgrade.

-Magic is Might: Once every other round, the PC may cast a spell as a swift action, provided it has a casting time of 1 round or less, and that the character has not used their standard action to cast another spell. Other actions are game. Do I need to say anything?

-The Power of Friendship: All allies within 60 ft. gain character level temporary hit points, which last for 1 minute. No limit. -.-

-NOOOOOOOOO!: Wounded ally immediately stabilizes and gains character level temporary hit points; also make a single attack at highest BAB against the target that struck you down. You may dra a weapon and throw it to do so.

-Wabba Wabba: Character generates a rod of wonders effect.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re very good on a formal level. Layout adheres to a two-column full color standard, and the pdf has no artworks or bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Joshua Hennington’s metafeats are a really tough nut to review. Perhaps I’m spoiled by my players and their commitment, but I do tend to think that many of the positive behaviors that these try to help you enforce should be a self-evident component of the social contract that is roleplaying. The goal of these metafeats then, would be to basically educate players to be good players…but personally, I think that the at times massive bonuses granted here are a) overkill and b) generate a sense of entitlement that can be rather grating. In short: Before you resort to the methods of using metafeats, just talking to your players may be the wiser move – after all, you’re all trying to have fun together.

This is a personal opinion, though.

As far as my reviewer’s perspective is concerned, I have an issue with the precision of a few of these feats; I don’t like that we don’t get more nuanced guidelines for the awarding of metafeats, and the internal balancing of these feats is all over the place. A 1d3 true strike’d bite 1/session? Versus infinite temporary hit points? There is no guiding principle regarding the power levels of these metafeats, making them all feel like the thing they truly are: House rules.

These are feats in name only; they are not really adjusted and unified regarding power levels of benefits bestowed. And honestly, none of them are really that unique. Their concepts are an idea worth exploring, but some of the benefits are frankly broken and would have required more precision. I expected more. And it’s not that I don’t like 4th-wall breaking stuff once in a while – Rite Publishing’s Metadventurer, for example, is a great example of how you can make that work. This supplement, though, will, in spite of the great idea, languish within the depths of my HD – it’s just not refined and well-balanced enough to warrant inclusion. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Metafeats
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #68: People of the Pit
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/04/2018 10:11:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This DCC-adventure clocks in at 36 (!!) pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 32 pages, which are, as always for Goodman games, chock-full with content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by a supporter of my patreon.

This is an adventure for DCC – a classic, in fact. Most DCC-groups will have played this already. So why bother reviewing it? Well, for one, I’ve been gifted a couple of DCC adventures by one of my readers, to be reviewed at my convenience. Well, and I’m somewhat OCD. So there you go – consider this an indirectly sponsored review of this adventure. Secondly, and as important as far as I’m concerned: This module is imho interesting beyond the confines of its rules-system. It should be noted that this adventure contains a TON of truly evocative read-aloud text that really helps create a tight and intriguing

This adventure is intended for level 1 characters; it is pretty dangerous, but how dangerous it is ultimately depends on how capable your PLAYERS are. Sure, bad rolls of the dice can kill you, but as a whole, the module focuses much more on the skill of PLAYERS as opposed to characters. Your wits are more important than how potent your build is. I strongly suggest that you play this with one or more PCs that can cast spells to make use of the two new spells within. I will mention these below.

You see, there is a town. Some degenerate chaos cultists crawl out of a pit, tentacles, yadda-yadda, evil dudes abduct women. Go save them.

At this point, you probably ask yourself why I even bothered, right? Well, to explain that, we have to go into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only judges around? We join the PCs as they are greeted by scratch-marks speaking of horrid sacrifices in a blasted landscape, and indeed, venturing down the mist-shrouded steps into the vast, eponymous pit, will establish the theme perfectly. You see, the cultists, handily, denote their hierarchies by the color of their robes…and seeing them for the first time will be the time when the PCs may well turn tail and run. Their faces are blank, rubbery masses, reminiscent of tentacles, and vestigial tentacles grow from their abdomens, twitching. There is nothing human about these things, and indeed, the inhuman nature of these beings is emphasized in perfect environmental storytelling that makes sense – they can, for example, navigate crawlspace-sized environments with ease. And yes, such claustrophobic places are included. Worse, these vestigial tentacles are so-called octo-masses that burst forth from cultists slain.

Once the horror of these beings has been experienced, clever PCs may make use of a couple of observations: Controlling when to kill targets can help, and indeed, there is another aspect that makes this stand out: The Chaos-Beast quasi-deity of the monstrous cultists. You see, they have beast-men, so-called Toans. Sure.

But the true horror and one of the coolest aspects of this module? The Chaos-Beast is basically a buried, kaiju-plus-sized mass of maws and tentacles, an idiot-god of sorts – and the cultists can, in groups, call forth and attempt to control Chaos-Beast tentacles! And yes, you can learn the spells! Shadowy tentacles and control of present tentacles! This means that a spellcaster can potentially turn the monstrous thing against its own creatures – and once the module is done, there is a good reason why those spells don’t work! The sooner the PCs realize this and the propensity for minimum-numbers of cultists required to call these tentacles, the higher their survival chances will be!

The partially living dungeon, the caverns and complexes suffused with these tentacles, is not simply window dressing – there are “tentacle elevators”, wherein the PCs climb down/ride tentacles to levels below! The strangeness of the cultists implies a unique life-cycle that the PCs will get to find out as they go. Much like the robe-colors, these experiences are not subtle, but incredibly remarkable – and indeed, they are enhanced by the bonus level that has been added in the current printing of the adventure. The three-page bonus dungeon adds another lifecycle and arm to the cult – the assassins of the cult, octo-masses that have outgrown their hosts, and that can duplicate the faces of adversaries as really creepy faceless men. Moreover, the bonus level is better integrated into the module than e.g. the one featured in the excellent “Doom of Savage King” – the entry is actually hidden on the first level, and considering how the assassins work, it makes sense to use them to potentially lure PCs that would miss the place there. An easy means would be to introduce them as a kind of counter-measure.

Beyond that, the module is actually not just a brainless hack and slash with some mechanic specialties and unique hazards/monsters. Far from it! There, for example, are meditative labyrinth paths – you know, the ones on the floor? These act as delightfully MAGIC teleporters – and yes, the PLAYERS have to solve these. There are handouts for the paths (and a convenient solution for the judge) – and indeed, this is a fantastic example of how sword & sorcery, dark fantasy and lovecraftian aesthetics can form a cohesive whole. You see, the cult is not simply alien in its physiology and life cycle. Oh no! From strange pods to powders and liquids with odd effects, curious PCs can find out quite a lot about how these…things…operate. Whether this is technology, magic, a blend of both…it all depends on how you interpret it. It shows, and does not necessarily explain. It is an example of how you can efficiently convey lore, piece by piece, and it is so successful at this, it may well make your players want to explore the entirety of the module, just due to how incredibly well indirect storytelling is handled within.

There is not a single room or encounter within this 4-level (5 with the bonus level!) dungeon that I considered to be boring; there is not a single trap or hazard that is not deserved; this makes sense in its twisted way – and this commitment to a kind of plausibility only serves to enhance the atmosphere of this place. Oh, and the finale? It is classic Conan, as the PCs arrive just as folks are being sacrificed to the massive Chaos Beast – and indeed, the main honcho may be eaten by their deity! To one-up this, the module actually also presents a super-impressive one-page handout that depicts the scene. If your player’s jaws don’t hit the table, if you hear no audible gulp when showing them this…then you have the most jaded players ever. Anyways, there was one point of criticism I had with the original module – one that has been rectified by the inclusion of the bonus level. You see, the PCs, originally, never got to actually walk directly on the chaos beast. Well, now they do, and the rules presented allow the judge to extrapolate hazard-like dangers for PCs unlucky enough to land on this titanic entity.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level – I noticed no issues. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with plenty of fantastic, b/w-artworks. Particularly the handouts add a second, super-impressive level to this pdf. The cartography is absolutely gorgeous, but we get no player-friendly version, which is a bit unfortunate for VTT play etc. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Joseph Goodman’s “The People of the Pit” is a frickin’ masterpiece. (And yes, I got the obvious Appendix N reference of the title.) At this point, I am utterly bored by most modules that feature an evil cult, particularly if it’s yet another mythos-deity of the week related thing they worship. This module, though? Damn, it is absolutely glorious and a perfect rebuttal to the internal conviction that the whole cult + tentacles angle needs to be boring. In fact, this module pretty shows everyone how it’s done. The dungeon is hard, brutal even, but fair. The adversaries are brilliant, creepy and unique. The dungeon has a ton of unique features that PCs can partake in. The focus on player-skill over character-skill is amazing. The prose is crisp and concise. The production values are great. Oh, and all my nitpicks about the potential of this set-up? Daniel J. Bishop’s bonus level stripped me of them. The consistence of the quality here is impressive.

In short: This is my benchmark of what any module with an evil cult should be able to offer, theme-wise. Fair warning: This can and will spoil hackneyed, lovelessly cobbled-together run-of-the-mill creepy cult modules forever for you. It’s that good. Ever since I first read this, I found myself comparing adventures with only remotely related themes to this one. If you’re playing DCC, you probably already have this. If not, then get this now!

Even if you have no idea of what DCC is, though, even if you have no plans to play using the system, even in such a case, this is worth the fair asking price twice over. Whether for idea mining of straight conversion, this module is so damn good it frankly should be canonized as an adventure that people should have played; as a rite of passage, if you will. This module will live on to become a true classic, mark my words. I mean, even jaded ole’ me gets this hyped about it. That ought to say everything.

My final verdict will be an unsurprising 5 stars + seal of approval. If you even remotely are interested in the themes, get this asap!!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #68: People of the Pit
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Advanced Adventures #15: Stonesky Delve
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/03/2018 04:31:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures series clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

Okay, first of all, this is, as all Advanced Adventures-modules, written for the OSRIC system, but conversions to other OSR-systems are easy enough. The formatting deviates in some aspects from OSRIC’s formatting conversions. This module is intended for characters level 4 – 7, though it should be noted that it requires a smart and well-rounded group to excel – this is old-school in that PCs not smart enough to run in some instances, will indeed die. Horribly, I might add. The pdf does not sport read-aloud text beyond the brief introductory prose, which means that this needs to be properly prepared.

There is another special thing to note here: “Stonesky Delve” is the first tournament module in the series, and as such, it spends quite a lot of space to explain how to run and judge the performance of the adventuring groups. One page is devoted to the time scoring sheet, one to the exploration scoring sheet, and two pages contain a total of 10 pregens. While I applaud the inclusion of so many pregens, it’s annoying that you have to basically copy their stats by hand. The equipment of all characters are on the back of the page.

Now, the tournament framework means that the module is intended to be run in two 4-hour slots; in-game, the PCs get a cave moth pupa that will hatch in 72 hours, for the PCs have to spend at least 72 hours in-game exploring the complex…and a maximum of 120 hours. So yeah, we have a time-limit here, which is smart, as it adds a degree of urgency to the proceedings. Indeed, the framework is simple: The PCs are hired by dwarves to explore and map caverns where ancient dwarven holds may be found. This is also the reason I don’t mind the lack of player-friendly maps here – it is, after all, the task of PCs to map this place. It should be noted that, unlike most convention/tournament modules, this may be hard, but it’s NOT just a meatgrinder! This, if anything, behaves more like a ROLEplaying module than all previously-released installments in the series. It should also be noted that the module can easily be sliced in two, should you desire to do so.

The pdf sports a couple of unique/variant monsters – an umber hulk variation, a predator with a massive tongue that works best in conjunction with piercers (cool!), a three-tongued giant frog, a spitting gibbering mouther variant, and the classic vampire moss also gets stats. These feel down to earth and somewhat plausible. Solid.

All right, 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, one glance on the map will show you what sets the first aspect of the module apart from many others: the first dungeon of the module represents an exploration of the caves of the eponymous Stonesky, but unlike countless modules out there, this complex manages to really evoke a sense of plausible fantasy spelunking. This is, in part due to the clever positioning of enemies, which are chosen and placed in order to evoke a sensible illusion of a subterranean eco-system; at the same time, the complex is set apart by its focus on verticality: When you’re rappelling down a massive tunnel next to a waterfall, and try to get down in the middle of the place to avoid being eaten by cave morays, you’ll know what I mean. The complex comes with a side-view and a top-down map of this area to help you picture the complex.

This sense of fantastic spelunking is absolutely amazing and enjoyable, and, more importantly, it rewards the exploration that is part of the central story angle: Thorough players can, for example, find a well-hidden cavern where the echoes of a dwarven deity’s words resound. This secret is rewarded well regarding scoring, and is but one aspect of the adventure. Aforementioned waterfall? Curious PCs that brave the tunnel can find a leaking decanter of endless water as the source, as well as the remains of a being. This commitment to details and player agenda over rolling the dice is evident in many details: Smart PCs can avoid combats and hazards, and exploration is thoroughly rewarded, and blends the plausible quasi-realism of spelunking with the wonderful magical sprinklings that made the best of the AD&D modules of old stand out. Danger and rewards are closely entwined, and player-skill trumps dice rolling.

PCs can accidentally flood passages with slightly acidic water, and from cramped spaces to vast differences in height, the cave complex is absolutely fantastic: In one cavern, the PCs may happen upon the resting place of Radivither the Breaker, a dwarf of the first generation, he who discovered theft, death, insanity and murder – a mighty impulse and spirit, he is not a combat encounter: Instead, Radivither acts as a kind of haunt/possessing, malignant entity – but encountering this deadly echo can also provide a great boon to the dwarves that hired the PCs. This commitment to focusing on player- as opposed to PC-agenda also can be found in the tunnel that allows the PCs to make their way to the second part of the module: To get there, the PCs have to pass a magical means that prevents access, seemingly preventing progress. The means to bypass this magic is to walk the corridor backwards. Really cool!

Part II of the adventure, the Hold of Dwergma, is a more conventional dungeon without the verticality of the cavern complex that preceded this place; the complex comes with a sewer system that clever PCs can (and should) use – for there is a mighty (and insane) cleric/magic-user here, one who can and will annihilate careless PCs if they do not take care…particularly since the fellow actually gets a detailed tactics breakdown. The PCs can encounter an animated stone fist with flawed intruder detection; hallucinatory tobacco, ancient tomes of lore (noted with title, weight and gp-value), a grue-like thing and a flail snail – the inhabitants are well chosen, the complex is smart and flavorful, and e.g. traps are telegraphed in a fair manner. That being said, this second part does not reach the amazing creativity of the first part of the module, feeling more like a classic denouement to the potentially fantastic things that you can encounter in the first half.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level; on a formal level, the pdf has a couple more typo-level glitches than usual for the series. Layout adheres to the classic two-column b/w-standard of the series, and we get a couple of solid b/w-artworks. The cartography is b/w and solid, and the existence of a side-view map of part I of the module is a plus. Due to the presence of the PCs-do-cartography-angle, I won’t complain about the lack of player-friendly maps. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Joseph Browning delivers pure old-school goodness in this module. Stonesky delve feels fantastic and plausible, evocative and dangerous, and remains, in spite of its harsh challenges, FAIR. This adventure rewards skillful players over good rolls of the bones, presents a great blend of strange flora and fauna and truly fantastic, hazard-laden caverns. The presence of consequences left and right, the constant rewarding of clever play, and the smart diversity of challenges faced all blend together to make the first part of this module downright amazing. Part II of the module falls a bit short of the fantastic wonder evoked by the first half on the adventure. The presentation of the helpful pregens is not exactly perfect, though. Still, as a whole, this most assuredly makes for one of the best adventures in the series – at least among those that I’ve covered so far. The first part is fantastic and warrants getting this adventure on its own; the second part, while not as strong, is still a good adventure. As a whole, one can consider this to be a great old-school module, well worth checking out, and as such, this receives a final verdict of 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #15: Stonesky Delve
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Languard Locations: Beyond the Walls
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/03/2018 04:24:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Languard Locations-series clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Well, first things first: This pdf does contain a list of author biographies in the back that spans 1.5 pages – and this is a damn good thing as far as I’m concerned. Freelancers have it tough, and such sections help generate name recognition, so kudos for that! And yes, locations are noted by designers. A handy list of the locations with brief descriptions is also provided on the final 0.5 page before the author bios – and it makes sense that it’s here.

Anyhow, we do begin this pdf is a slightly different manner: On the first page, we discuss the surrounding lands of the city of Languard – the plains, hills and sea are all described in details here, allowing you to get a feel for the vicinity. The excellent map of Tommi Salama is also provided, with the city proper grayed out to highlight the locations that this pdf covers – you know, the ones outside the walls. A total of 12 such locations are presented.

As before in the series, each location does come with notable folks presented in a fluff-only manner. Only race and an approximate level suggestion as well as gender and alignment are stated. The PFRPG version, courtesy of the variations of the system, is the most versatile in these suggestions. Beyond that, each of the locales does come with one or more specific adventuring hooks, designed to kick off a diverse array of possibilities.

And this is where I need to interject something: As much as I enjoy Raging Swan Press’ gritty and down to earth style, I freely admit to being worried about this pdf. Why? Because the style is contingent on a sense of realism, and which places to put in front of the city, beyond the walls, can have pretty tangible effects and contradict what we know of medieval structures. So, does this break the conceit established by the series?

Well, the first location certainly makes sense: Tor’s Tannery does belong outside the walls. Historically, being a tanner was considered to be an unclean profession in Judeo-Christian influenced culture, and the scents emitted from tanning…well, let’s just say that it makes sense that it’s outside the walls. Tanneries aren’t depicted often enough, and this one actually has an interesting angle as well…not all is as it must seem. And before you ask: No, for once, the Tors are not the cliché standard serial killers/evil cultists. To the north of Languard’s walls, situated at the cliffs, a prophet of the churning waves makes proclamations of repentance and doom, hiding his name beyond the moniker of being the Mouthpiece of the Waves – and his message is gaining traction.

Gallen’s Lost Manor, a many-winged monstrosity of a mansion, makes for a perfect example of the sense of decrepitude that suffuses Raging Swan Press supplements so often; it is inhabited by the last member of the Gallen family, though, oddly, he does have a lot of visitors – who curiously can’t ever remember much about their visits. Now if you can’t make something creepy out of that one, I don’t know. Pungent Grove, maintained by an unhinged halfling druid, is a place that thrives on the refuse of Languard – though, once more, there is more to this than a story of an addled mind with a massive cockroach pet…

The Mother’s Garden is a megalithic open air farmer’s temple that focuses ritualistic power via Stonehenge like rings, a formation of ancient trees and cottages tended by the Daughters – a title that made me flash back to the classic 70s version of Wicker Man. But that may just be me. The Twisted Wreath is amazing: An ancient oak, once a hanging tree, now split by a bolt from the skies, bent by the weight of curses and sorrow, watched my Mother Illona, who crafts poppets and hangs them on the tree – cursing those that the poppets represent. This is amazing.

Heckler’s Hall is unique – part mobile circus, part jester’s academy and part rent-a-riot, this locale is led by the gnome Satu Tylik, and most assuredly makes for an interesting foil…or tool regarding the politicking going on in the city. There would also be a capable freight operation that is bound to have some gainful work for adventurers, and an out of city boarding house also makes sense: After all, the gates won’t be open all the time! Weary travelers can find the vandalized shrine of a barbaric god, tended by a lone caretaker, and just south of Languard, a stone shack is pierced by a mighty olive tree, where a rail-thin and pockmarked misanthrope sells herbs. The aptly-named Outside Inn is a traveler’s place that can be a great source of information when visiting Languard for the first time.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports solid b/w-artworks. The cartography is great, and the city backdrop supplement does have a player-friendly version. The pdf is fully bookmarked and comes in two versions – one optimized for screen-use and one that has been optimized for the printer.

This pdf is the work of a surprising amount of authors: Christopher Bunge, Sam Cameron-McKee, Kim Frandsen, Christopher Hunt, Aaron King, Ben Martin, Rebecca McLaren, Hilary Moon Murphy, Adam Ness, Treyson Sanders, Kris Vezner, John Whyte. It is surprising, then, to note how unified the content feels. The locations outside of the walls are intriguing and captivating, blending the rural and the more metropolitan. Personally, I think that the entries that directly reference in some way Languard’s dynamics are the strongest. Where a sense of realism is enforced by businesses or dubious characters, where refuse makes for a disgusting grove, where enigmatic mansions may present a shadowy puppeteer behind the scenes, this is where the pdf excels. It is surprising, considering how many of these authors are names I don’t regularly encounter among my reviews, how refined and intriguing these entries are. So, all awesome? Well…almost. A couple of locations are off the map, and some traveling distance from the city gates would have been nice, but, as a whole, this is indeed a very good supplement. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Languard Locations: Beyond the Walls
Click to show product description

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Creator Reply:
Thanks very much for the review, End. I'm delighted you are enjoying our look at Languard!
Languard Locations: Beyond the Walls (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/03/2018 04:23:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Languard Locations-series clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Well, first things first: This pdf does contain a list of author biographies in the back that spans 1.5 pages – and this is a damn good thing as far as I’m concerned. Freelancers have it tough, and such sections help generate name recognition, so kudos for that! And yes, locations are noted by designers. A handy list of the locations with brief descriptions is also provided on the final 0.5 page before the author bios – and it makes sense that it’s here.

Anyhow, we do begin this pdf is a slightly different manner: On the first page, we discuss the surrounding lands of the city of Languard – the plains, hills and sea are all described in details here, allowing you to get a feel for the vicinity. The excellent map of Tommi Salama is also provided, with the city proper grayed out to highlight the locations that this pdf covers – you know, the ones outside the walls. A total of 12 such locations are presented.

As before in the series, each location does come with notable folks presented in a fluff-only manner. Only race and an approximate level suggestion as well as gender and alignment are stated. In the 5e iteration of the file, these pieces of information point towards the proper NPC default stats. Beyond that, each of the locales does come with one or more specific adventuring hooks, designed to kick off a diverse array of possibilities.

And this is where I need to interject something: As much as I enjoy Raging Swan Press’ gritty and down to earth style, I freely admit to being worried about this pdf. Why? Because the style is contingent on a sense of realism, and which places to put in front of the city, beyond the walls, can have pretty tangible effects and contradict what we know of medieval structures. So, does this break the conceit established by the series?

Well, the first location certainly makes sense: Tor’s Tannery does belong outside the walls. Historically, being a tanner was considered to be an unclean profession in Judeo-Christian influenced culture, and the scents emitted from tanning…well, let’s just say that it makes sense that it’s outside the walls. Tanneries aren’t depicted often enough, and this one actually has an interesting angle as well…not all is as it must seem. And before you ask: No, for once, the Tors are not the cliché standard serial killers/evil cultists. To the north of Languard’s walls, situated at the cliffs, a prophet of the churning waves makes proclamations of repentance and doom, hiding his name beyond the moniker of being the Mouthpiece of the Waves – and his message is gaining traction.

Gallen’s Lost Manor, a many-winged monstrosity of a mansion, makes for a perfect example of the sense of decrepitude that suffuses Raging Swan Press supplements so often; it is inhabited by the last member of the Gallen family, though, oddly, he does have a lot of visitors – who curiously can’t ever remember much about their visits. Now if you can’t make something creepy out of that one, I don’t know. Pungent Grove, maintained by an unhinged halfling druid, is a place that thrives on the refuse of Languard – though, once more, there is more to this than a story of an addled mind with a massive cockroach pet…

The Mother’s Garden is a megalithic open air farmer’s temple that focuses ritualistic power via Stonehenge like rings, a formation of ancient trees and cottages tended by the Daughters – a title that made me flash back to the classic 70s version of Wicker Man. But that may just be me. The Twisted Wreath is amazing: An ancient oak, once a hanging tree, now split by a bolt from the skies, bent by the weight of curses and sorrow, watched my Mother Illona, who crafts poppets and hangs them on the tree – cursing those that the poppets represent. This is amazing.

Heckler’s Hall is unique – part mobile circus, part jester’s academy and part rent-a-riot, this locale is led by the gnome Satu Tylik, and most assuredly makes for an interesting foil…or tool regarding the politicking going on in the city. There would also be a capable freight operation that is bound to have some gainful work for adventurers, and an out of city boarding house also makes sense: After all, the gates won’t be open all the time! Weary travelers can find the vandalized shrine of a barbaric god, tended by a lone caretaker, and just south of Languard, a stone shack is pierced by a mighty olive tree, where a rail-thin and pockmarked misanthrope sells herbs. The aptly-named Outside Inn is a traveler’s place that can be a great source of information when visiting Languard for the first time.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports solid b/w-artworks. The cartography is great, and the city backdrop supplement does have a player-friendly version. The pdf is fully bookmarked and comes in two versions – one optimized for screen-use and one that has been optimized for the printer.

This pdf is the work of a surprising amount of authors: Christopher Bunge, Sam Cameron-McKee, Kim Frandsen, Christopher Hunt, Aaron King, Ben Martin, Rebecca McLaren, Hilary Moon Murphy, Adam Ness, Treyson Sanders, Kris Vezner, John Whyte. It is surprising, then, to note how unified the content feels. The locations outside of the walls are intriguing and captivating, blending the rural and the more metropolitan. Personally, I think that the entries that directly reference in some way Languard’s dynamics are the strongest. Where a sense of realism is enforced by businesses or dubious characters, where refuse makes for a disgusting grove, where enigmatic mansions may present a shadowy puppeteer behind the scenes, this is where the pdf excels. It is surprising, considering how many of these authors are names I don’t regularly encounter among my reviews, how refined and intriguing these entries are. So, all awesome? Well…almost. A couple of locations are off the map, and some traveling distance from the city gates would have been nice, but, as a whole, this is indeed a very good supplement. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Languard Locations: Beyond the Walls (5e)
Click to show product description

Add to RPGNow.com Order

Creator Reply:
Thanks very much for the review, End. I'm delighted you are enjoying our look at Languard!
Languard Locations: Beyond the Walls (SNE)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/03/2018 04:22:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Languard Locations-series clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Well, first things first: This pdf does contain a list of author biographies in the back that spans 1.5 pages – and this is a damn good thing as far as I’m concerned. Freelancers have it tough, and such sections help generate name recognition, so kudos for that! And yes, locations are noted by designers. A handy list of the locations with brief descriptions is also provided on the final 0.5 page before the author bios – and it makes sense that it’s here.

Anyhow, we do begin this pdf is a slightly different manner: On the first page, we discuss the surrounding lands of the city of Languard – the plains, hills and sea are all described in details here, allowing you to get a feel for the vicinity. The excellent map of Tommi Salama is also provided, with the city proper grayed out to highlight the locations that this pdf covers – you know, the ones outside the walls. A total of 12 such locations are presented.

As before in the series, each location does come with notable folks presented in a fluff-only manner. Only race and an approximate level suggestion as well as gender and alignment are stated. In the system neutral version, proper old-school class names are noted. Beyond that, each of the locales does come with one or more specific adventuring hooks, designed to kick off a diverse array of possibilities.

And this is where I need to interject something: As much as I enjoy Raging Swan Press’ gritty and down to earth style, I freely admit to being worried about this pdf. Why? Because the style is contingent on a sense of realism, and which places to put in front of the city, beyond the walls, can have pretty tangible effects and contradict what we know of medieval structures. So, does this break the conceit established by the series?

Well, the first location certainly makes sense: Tor’s Tannery does belong outside the walls. Historically, being a tanner was considered to be an unclean profession in Judeo-Christian influenced culture, and the scents emitted from tanning…well, let’s just say that it makes sense that it’s outside the walls. Tanneries aren’t depicted often enough, and this one actually has an interesting angle as well…not all is as it must seem. And before you ask: No, for once, the Tors are not the cliché standard serial killers/evil cultists. To the north of Languard’s walls, situated at the cliffs, a prophet of the churning waves makes proclamations of repentance and doom, hiding his name beyond the moniker of being the Mouthpiece of the Waves – and his message is gaining traction.

Gallen’s Lost Manor, a many-winged monstrosity of a mansion, makes for a perfect example of the sense of decrepitude that suffuses Raging Swan Press supplements so often; it is inhabited by the last member of the Gallen family, though, oddly, he does have a lot of visitors – who curiously can’t ever remember much about their visits. Now if you can’t make something creepy out of that one, I don’t know. Pungent Grove, maintained by an unhinged halfling druid, is a place that thrives on the refuse of Languard – though, once more, there is more to this than a story of an addled mind with a massive cockroach pet…

The Mother’s Garden is a megalithic open air farmer’s temple that focuses ritualistic power via Stonehenge like rings, a formation of ancient trees and cottages tended by the Daughters – a title that made me flash back to the classic 70s version of Wicker Man. But that may just be me. The Twisted Wreath is amazing: An ancient oak, once a hanging tree, now split by a bolt from the skies, bent by the weight of curses and sorrow, watched my Mother Illona, who crafts poppets and hangs them on the tree – cursing those that the poppets represent. This is amazing.

Heckler’s Hall is unique – part mobile circus, part jester’s academy and part rent-a-riot, this locale is led by the gnome Satu Tylik, and most assuredly makes for an interesting foil…or tool regarding the politicking going on in the city. There would also be a capable freight operation that is bound to have some gainful work for adventurers, and an out of city boarding house also makes sense: After all, the gates won’t be open all the time! Weary travelers can find the vandalized shrine of a barbaric god, tended by a lone caretaker, and just south of Languard, a stone shack is pierced by a mighty olive tree, where a rail-thin and pockmarked misanthrope sells herbs. The aptly-named Outside Inn is a traveler’s place that can be a great source of information when visiting Languard for the first time.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports solid b/w-artworks. The cartography is great, and the city backdrop supplement does have a player-friendly version. The pdf is fully bookmarked and comes in two versions – one optimized for screen-use and one that has been optimized for the printer.

This pdf is the work of a surprising amount of authors: Christopher Bunge, Sam Cameron-McKee, Kim Frandsen, Christopher Hunt, Aaron King, Ben Martin, Rebecca McLaren, Hilary Moon Murphy, Adam Ness, Treyson Sanders, Kris Vezner, John Whyte. It is surprising, then, to note how unified the content feels. The locations outside of the walls are intriguing and captivating, blending the rural and the more metropolitan. Personally, I think that the entries that directly reference in some way Languard’s dynamics are the strongest. Where a sense of realism is enforced by businesses or dubious characters, where refuse makes for a disgusting grove, where enigmatic mansions may present a shadowy puppeteer behind the scenes, this is where the pdf excels. It is surprising, considering how many of these authors are names I don’t regularly encounter among my reviews, how refined and intriguing these entries are. So, all awesome? Well…almost. A couple of locations are off the map, and some traveling distance from the city gates would have been nice, but, as a whole, this is indeed a very good supplement. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Languard Locations: Beyond the Walls (SNE)
Click to show product description

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Creator Reply:
Thanks very much for the review, End. I'm delighted you are enjoying our look at Languard!
Lost Spells of Canthar - 10 Conjurations
Publisher: Lost Spheres Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/30/2018 05:32:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 5.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, some notes first: This review is, in a way, not necessarily fair. This pdf has been released quite a while back, and as such, the spells do not note whether they should be made available for the Advanced Class Guide classes or the Occult Adventures classes. In a way, this review is a check of how this held up. The supplement, one could claim, is a continuation of the Transcendent 10-series, which is why I will tag them as such on my home page. In contrast to the designer’s commentary present in said series, we have we have a mixture of brief pieces of fluff, explanations and in-character comments here. Since I really adored some of the rough, but still very much inspired options in the Transcendent 10-series, how do the spells within hold up?

Jaunt portal, a level 5 spell for sorcerers and wizards that lets you think with portals: You create a portal in close and one in medium range, creating basically a two-way portal. Love it! And yes, this does take velocity into account and handles overlap by basing its rules on the portal consuming movement and potentially requiring squeezing. This certainly holds up! Caravan portal is a level 6 sorcerer/wizard spell, save that it extends to a greater range, as implied by the name. This spell can change the mechanisms of fantasy economies rather drastically, so a GM should check whether this fits the respective creative vision of the setting.

Gas trap is a 4th level spell that most vampire hunters will consider to be rather helpful. This touch spell targets a gaseous creature and entraps it in a force barrier, allowing the caster to bottle or similar container. Personally, I do think that inquisitors should get this spell. Minor nitpick: There is an instance of an ability score not properly capitalized. There also is a mass version of this spell included. Recall companion lets you call an ally to your side, though you must have had mental or physical contact. This is a simple 5th level spell /4th for summoner) at first glance, but honestly, it can be a game-changer – and it does allow for the classic “evil wizard calls champion”-angle. I am a bit torn on this one, but ultimately, I do like it. The level 8 (level 6 for summoners) mass version of the spell, oddly, has a restriction the regular one does not: It only works for Medium creatures (size not properly formatted) – which kinda makes me think that the former spell probably was intended to have the same limitation.

Summon weapon, a second level spell for sorc/wiz and summoner summons a weapon with a scaling enhancement bonus, which also governs the special weapon abilities it can have. (These are not properly formatted in the flavortext.) Interesting, though: If you know the weapon to call, the spell succeeds; if not, there only is a percentile chance of calling it. This, in a way, can be problematic, as it doesn’t create a weapon, but instead temporarily steals one from a vault. This can, on the one side, wreck a carefully-crafted plot…or it can allow you to craft a rather amazing magical mystery-scenario. Translocation trick teleports a small item away, and can be used in conjunction with Sleight of Hand. Transport, at 3rd level, nets you charges that duplicate translocation trick on objects, dimension door on creatures – and the latter is problematic. The spell should, balance-wise, be at least level 4. Finally, true creation, only available for clerics and sorcs/wizards capable of casting the lofty heights of level 9 spells, and it nets you…creation. Permanent. And yes, lost bodies or even living creatures are possible here, though the latter lacks any meaningful guidelines.

Conclusion:

Editing is rather good on a formal and rules-language level, but formatting flaunts conventions rather often. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf uses distorted stock art as artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Donald J. Decker’s lost spells contain some gems that actually still hold up very well, even after all of this time. They are high-impact spells, exotics that can fuel adventures or radically, if broadly available, change the dynamics of how your world works…or allow you to finally present some distinctly high-fantasy concepts. As a whole, this is still well worth getting. It is raw regarding its formal criteria, but it also sports this gleeful excitement that renders it more interesting than I frankly expected it to be. hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lost Spells of Canthar - 10 Conjurations
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Secret Weapons Project
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/30/2018 05:25:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This humble pdf clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page of which is devoted to the front cover, leaving us with 4 pages of content, designed by James Sutter with Jonathan Weisnewski and Jonathan G. Nelson. Wait…yep, the same James Sutter who happens to be Starfinder’s creative lead!

The first item (with full and proper artwork, btw.) presented would be the combustion lance – and yes, we do get a cool, in-character prose section that contextualizes the weapon in the game. 4 different versions of combustion-lances are provided: At item level 2, we have the ignition class, while the most potent version would be the level 11 megaton class. These are advanced, two-handed, powered weapons with reach. They are unwieldy and on a successful attack, all creatures adjacent to the target must make a Ref-save or take damage equal to that dealt to the original target. To balance this, the base damage output is less than what you’d expect. (The DC is standardized as per the core rules pg 181, just in case you were wondering.)

The second weapon similarly gets a nice prose section that helps make it stand out – this time around, that would be the RD implosion grenade, which comes in 5 different versions: The basic one is a level 1 grenade for 120 credits, while the fifth version is a level 18 grenade, lovingly known as “Black Hole”: These explode in a blast radius, and then such targets towards the grid intersection where it detonated. A save negates this, and distance depends on the item’s version. Really cool!

An overheard conversation introduces us to the grapnel harpoon, which comes in 4 different versions, ranging from item level 2 to 14, with damage ranging from 1d6 P to 5d4 P. When you successfully damage a target, you have established a connection to the being, and then may activate the harpoon as a move action. You make an opposed Strength check with a +4 bonus. (Shouldn’t that be an insight bonus?) On a success, the creature is roped towards the closest unoccupied square adjacent to your, being drawn to you in a straight line. If you fail by 5 or more, you can end up being disarmed or be moved towards the creature. The weapon can only harpoon one target at a given time.

Reactive panels come in three Mks, (level 6, 8 and 10), occupy 2 slots and may be installed in heavy and powered armor. These grant you a number of temporary Hit Points that apply only to the three physical damage types (bludgeoning, piercing, slashing). Additionally, all creatures adjacent to you, must make a Reflex saving throw or take the same amount of damage as that prevent by these temporary hit points. Once the panels are depleted, they require 1 minute to recharge, taking up one of the charges. The temporary hit points budget ranges from 5 Hit Points to 15. Usage is 5, though, so yeah, these are battery guzzlers… Plates have 1 Bulk.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports one amazing, original full-color artwork for every weapon – kudos! The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Fun piece of trivia: All of the folks involved are musicians as well! Jonathan Weisnewski is the gunsmith for the Destiny franchise and is responsible for vocals and guitar for the band Sandrider. (Pretty kickass, imho!); Jonathan G. Nelson’s band is “A Different Breed of Men”, where he is responsible for drums and vocals, and James Sutter plays guitar and sings for “Brides of the Lizard God.” And yes, these are well worth checking out!

But I digress! This humble pdf’s weapons have in common that the well-crafted prose renders them more than just a collection of stats – and that each and every one of them does something unique that no other weapon does! Combined with the amazing artworks, we get a sweet little pdf of all killer, no filler weaponry. Totally worth 5 stars + seal of approval!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Secret Weapons Project
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