Bards and Sages RPG Resource
DriveThruComics
DriveThruFiction
Powered by DriveThruRPG


Home » Raging Swan Press » Village Backdrop: Ravens' Cradle (SNE) » Reviews
Browse Categories













Back
Other comments left by this customer:
You must be logged in to rate this
IRONCLAW Omnibus: Squaring the Circle
Publisher: Sanguine Productions
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2019 05:32:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Okay, so this massive RPG/campaign setting comes with a couple of pdfs – a one-page cover of the player’s handbook and host’s handbook, which seem to have been combined into this book, a separate cover, a char-sheet and a pdf that contains 10 pregens as well as a sheet; if you take away the cover, editorial, etc., we arrive at 343 pages, not counting the two-page index; said index is devoted primarily to campaign setting concepts; the couple of times I wanted to use it to look up some game term, I couldn’t find it.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters. I also received a hardcover copy, and my review is primarily based on the PoD-hardcover, though I also consulted the pdf-version.

Now, to state the obvious – Ironclaw is a game and RPG-setting focusing on a world inhabited by anthropomorphic species; it could be designated as a furry-RPG, but unlike many of the less serious attempts on the genre, this is not about sexuality or the like. Instead, this focuses on being a game for everybody to enjoy; you can have potentially have fun with this, even if you’re no furry. That being said, I’m no furry and only tangentially aware of the discrimination fielded against these individuals; having been maligned and discriminated against myself, I will attempt my best to give this a fair shake. If I do miss (or think that I might have missed) something that is generally taken as a given in the subculture, please feel free to enlighten me. I will try to include as much relevant information as possible without bloating the review.

If you don’t like the artwork on the cover, you’ll be happy to hear that there are two other styles present herein as well, both of which are imho superior to the one depicted on the cover – there are somewhat realistic, old-school-y b/w-artworks herein, but my favorites? Each species herein gets their own full-color piece, often reminiscent of the illustrations seen in old-timey fairy tale books. These illustrations are genuinely charming and high quality, and to me, encapsulate better than one would think the atmosphere of the campaign setting. It should be noted that mammals (and two avian species, Sparrow and Raven) constitute the different types of species available; there are no playable amphibious or reptilian species.

Okay, so the book begins by explaining what an RPG is, with different frames of references taken into account: There is an explanation if you don’t know anything, one for veterans, etc. For our purposes, we need to state a few things: The GM is called Host in this game…and that, if this is your first RPG book ever, then whatever deity you may believe in have mercy on your soul. Why? Because this book is one of the most needlessly obtuse games I’ve ever tried to review, and primarily because its organization is really bad. If you want to play the game, don’t just start reading the book – the character creation takes up over 100 pages of real estate, and the rules that explain how to actually play the game? They start on page 109. Start reading this book THERE. After you’ve understood how it works, return and make your character. This is particularly important, since the game’s system is pretty different from d20, BRP, WFRP, TinyD6, etc. – it is a rather unique system, and once you can get beyond this huge hurdle, one that does have its merits.

The first thing you need to know, is that there is a difference between declaring and claiming; if you declare something, your character tries to do something, and you have to state it BEFORE rolling the dice. If you claim something, you can do so after the fact; for example, take cover when shot at; essentially, if you’d consider it to be something you do as a reaction or as an immediate action in other games, you’d claim. The game uses d4s, d6s, d8s, d10s, and d12s. Dice are not added together; If you roll 2d6, and have a 3 and a 4, you don’t get a 7, but instead compare your results of 3 and 4, depending on the roll in question, to determine outcomes. The highest die value you achieve is called “The Score.” The standard difficulty is 3, and in order to get a success, you have to roll HIGHER. Hitting 3 is a failure! In the above example, we’d have one success. If the character had rolled 5 and 4, we’d have two successes. Interesting here: As a consequence, there simply are quite a few tasks that not everybody can succeed at – if you have to roll against e.g. 8, you can disregard any dice below d8. It’s simply not possible for most people (with only d6s) to succeed at such a task.

The more successes you have, the better – and some specialized tasks may require more successes. You usually roll at least two sets of dice; for example Speed and Mind, to resolve a given task. This mechanic is also used for contests; you compare your results versus that of your adversary, and the highest showing number wins. Ties are resolved sometimes by the check type, and sometimes by call of the Host. Rolling all 1s is a botch – a spectacular failure. Long-term tasks can have quotas, successes you amass over a longer period of time, like building a house, etc. A bonus is an extra die to roll. A penalty is an extra die rolled against you. Help is interesting – a task has one primary person who tries it; others attempt to assist by beating the standard difficulty of 3. On a success, they add a d8 to the primary character attempting the roll; on a botch, though, something goes horribly wrong for everybody! Sure you want that assist? These mechanics are only relevant for non-combat aid. Combat uses somewhat different mechanics. If a roll is not under stress, or if you’re super familiar with it, you can do it by rote, which means that you maximize all your dice. Rotes speed up the game when you have two dice and only need one to succeed. On the other hand, sometimes, you suffer a limit – e.g. if you don’t have your proper tools, the Host may impose a limit that you can only roll d6 instead of your usual d10s.

The consequence here is obvious – the game has a pretty robust manner of depicting jobs and long-term tasks without having the often ridiculed 5% failure chance under duress that a d20 brings in many games; a crucial difference from many roleplaying games is something you may have noticed – this game attempts very hard to eliminate the need for adding up bonuses or penalties after rolling the dice.

Okay, these basics out of the way, let us take a look at character creation. This does a few things right, in that it specifies a couple of game terms (not that those’d help without a context of how the game actually works…), but they are still appreciated. A character has a career – a kind of job; there are 6 Traits – these are essentially your ability score, and they are Body, Speed, Mind, Will, Species, and Career. You begin play with one d4, three d6s, and two d8s. You assign one of these dice to each of your Traits. These do have in-game ramifications – a high die in Species, for example, denotes that your character is more animal-like, with a low die denoting a more human-like physique. You then choose a starting species. These determine your preferred habitat, diet, activity cycle, senses, natural weapons, and the like. More importantly, each species has 3 species gifts, and 3 instances of certain checks with which the species dice are used: Squirrels get the species dice for climbing, digging and jumping, for example. As noted, each species also gets three species gifts, but more on these in a bit. It should be noted that not all species are that different. The difference between the gray fox aristocracy and red foxes, for example, is that gray foxes include the species dice with climbing, red foxes with digging. Other than that, the difference is purely based in the setting.

Ironclaw’s setting and system are closely entwined, but for once, this is actually a strength of the game; in contrast to what you’d expect, Ironclaw can be considered to be a somewhat Elizabethan tale of class/race-struggles, which focuses on a comparably realistic vision in its details, with magic generally less earth-shattering than in comparable fantasy games; this somewhat grounded nature, interestingly enough, does render many components of the setting more plausible. As noted, gray foxes, per definition, are aristocracy by birth, and as such, there is a decent reason for the lack of distinction between them and their red brethren from a mechanical point of view; while I still maintain that a more pronounced difference between them would have made sense, the setting here provides a sufficiently viable excuse.

Next up, you choose your career from a list of 24 – these behave in much the same way as the species – you get three types of rolls where you include your Career dice, and three gifts bestowed by the Career. If there is overlap, you instead get Increased Trait – this increases the Trait’s die-size by one step, up to a maximum of d12. And no, the text doesn’t specify that – you have to look up the Increased Trait text much later in the book, in the gift list. No, no cross reference is provided, no page number noted. (For reference: Pg. 65 of the book.) You write your Career dice down for the skills granted by career, the species die for the skills granted by the species.

Then, you decide on a personality gift; which is chosen from a list. You also decide on a motto, and a starting region, which you are assumed to be familiar with. Regarding personality: These are defined by a combination of a more simplistic take on the teachings of humors, and the eight virtues and vices – these are essentially the 7 deadly sins and cardinal virtues, plus selfishness/selflessness, respectively. This Christianity-adjacent theme struck me as a somewhat odd choice, considering the anthro-angle, but I might be missing something here.

After this, you assign 13 marks among your skills; these are not skill points, but instead describe the die you get. No marks = no dice; 1 mark = d4, etc. At the start of the game, you can’t have more than 3 marks (d8), and more is only possible, if you have Gifts that add marks. Once you’ve reached d12, a further increase will net you an extra d4, which will then increase to further d6, d8, and so on. You get the idea. The book does feature a skill-chapter, which contains 26 skills. This brings me to a structural weakness of the system as a whole, namely that quite a few things are not really covered by skills, or that they are rather uneven. Academics, for example, includes geography, history, law, medicine, mathematics, physical sciences. Two other skills? Gossip and Deceit. Yep, those are two skills. Dodge is also a skill (and you really want that one); Inquiry and Negotiation? Two skills. Presence and Leadership? Two different skills. And Tactics is yet another skill. The examples don’t help that much either. From Tactics “When led by a particular leader”; from Leadership: “When outnumbered.” So, you need Tactics to follow orders? WTF? Granted, I am being slightly facetious – things become a tad bit clearer in combat, but honestly, not by much. While I love the little cartoons of fox-thespians playing the skills and providing examples, it’s pretty hard to draw strict lines between them. Plus, skills encompass e.g. Throwing, Ranged Combat, Brawling and Mêlée Combat. All of these are resolved in the same manner, as all are skills, but this makes plenty of skills simply mandatory for certain occupations. Odd as well: Endurance is a skill, applied to foraging and hiking. Okay, what about hunting? Is that ranged combat? What about using harpoons to whale? Throwing or Endurance? This is in so far weird, as the math kinda falls apart due to the insistence of trying to avoid the subtraction or adding of static values, which can result in weird situations.

Let’s say you have someone with a skill in something, right? Let’s say, this fellow is really good in their chosen field, e.g. Digging, and thus gets a d12 – the equivalent of a whopping 5 marks invested in that skill! They are competing against someone who only has a species and/or career die and a paltry 1 mark. Here’s the thing – if your species grants you a d8 in Digging, and you put 1 mark in the skill, which grants you a d4. These two dice don’t combine into a d8 or a d10 – instead you roll a d4 and a d8. This makes catastrophic failures, botches, MUCH less likely (because you have to roll two 1s, instead of 1 – basic probability calculation), but prevents the character without the Skill from beating the super high tasks. Okay, that does not make any sense. So, the untrained guy, by courtesy of the species, is pretty much better on average in Academics than the specialized scholar?  So this is one issue of the system that bothers me to no end; perhaps it’s me being OCD, but it really stresses me out. Your mileage may vary; you may not care. But this, to me, undermines the mechanical foundation of the system’s base check-system to a degree.

Secondly, the Skill-system is missing a bunch of areas. Jobs not related to crafting? No idea. Hunting? No idea. Forging documents? Heck if I know. Do you use Weather Sense or Vehicle for steering ships? Both? This section is missing a LOT of stuff I expected to see, and doesn’t do a good job differentiating some of the skills that are more similar to each other. Also, if you want to be a martially-inclined dude, you’ll be having a lot less skills; heck, if you want to fight and survive, plenty of skills are basically mandatory. Thirdly, the organization is once more pretty asinine – you can’t make an informed decision about many of the combat-related skills, unless you’ve read the combat chapter (Starts page 114, for reference). And finally? No sample difficulties for suggested tasks are provided.

Okay, combat. You roll initiative by rolling Speed and Mind Dice. (Though a gift called Danger Sense nets you a d12 as a bonus); the difficulty that you can detect the adversaries ranges from “Near Rage[sic!]” to Further than 10 paces away. So, is it the Observation skill or initiative? Do senses influence that? I have no frickin’ clue. Is Stealth rolled against Initiative? No idea. The RPG attempts a coop-out by stating that combatants act n the logical order, which is a non-resolution if I ever saw one. You can see that I have plenty of issues with the game in how it presents its rules; but don’t get me wrong – particularly regarding combat, the game does quite a few things right – it does not feel like yet another D&D-adjacent combat-resolution. Instead, the game does several clever things: It uses, for example, conditions (called “statuses” in the game’s parlance): Your initiative roll will determine, for example, if you start the combat with Focus, reeling, etc. – and these have SERIOUS mechanical repercussions. From a mechanical point of view, the game feels closer to playing Shadowrun crossed with a JRPG, and I mean that as a compliment, for the most part.

You see, the gifts granted by career and species, +3 of your choice, act in a way like feats, spells, special abilities – some have prerequisites, some don’t; some may be taken multiple times, and there are plenty of means to differentiate between builds: This game HAS tactical depth! But oh boy, the presentation. To explain the combat, we need to talk about values you need to fill in on your character sheet – the so-called battle array. As noted, Initiative is Speed + Mind Dice; Stride is 1 and can be improved. What does Stride do? It’s a movement. So is Sprint- Sprint uses your Speed Dice. If something is in your way when using Sprint, you risk crashing; you roll 1d6 for every point denied, and on a 5 or 6, you take one damage. This means that you can seriously injure yourself using Sprint. Your Run is the maximized Body dice, plus maximized Speed dice, + Dash. Oh, forgot about that one, right? Dash is half the maximum you could roll on the Speed dice, with a +1 if Body is greater than Speed. Run is btw. a stunt, i.e. you gain the reeling status after using it. You do NOT take damage when crashing into something. Why? I don’t know. I have no idea. I don’t get it. This hurts my brain.

Are you beginning to see what I mean by issues in organization and rules-presentation and structure? Did I mention that there is an entire chapter devoted to rules like chases, hiding and sneaking, mounted combat, etc. Why are they all lumped in a chapter of their own, without rhyme or reason? No clue. Mounted combat should, you know, be in the section on frickin’ combat. And how does vehicle combat work? No clue. This chapter seriously made me angry; it feels like an “oopsie, forgot to put that information where it belonged, oh well, stick it in an appendix chapter”/bolted-on errata. On the plus side, this does have a table that provides conversions from the abstract “pace” measurements to both meters and feet. Know what’s ironic for a game set in a quasi-Renaissance default setting? Disarming is explained at the very end of this rules-addendum. Not even kidding you. Oh, and obviously grappling also should be here, where nobody’ll ever find it quickly; not in the section with the Brawling skill or with appropriate weapons. That’d have made sense.

Okay, so you at least have the Dodge defense, which is your Speed dice and dodge dice, if any. If someone attacks. You can also attempt to parry or counter, depending on situation and weapon involved; Attacker Succeeds, Tie and Defender Succeeds are options . Defenders may have to retreat, and hits can send you reeling – the engine per se manages to do the whole cloak and dagger/Swashbuckling feeling come off rather well. You compare dice values. Then, you check your Soak, which is the Body dice. Armor adds to the Soak roll, and may be layered – at the cost of being slower (automatically) and less dodging capabilities.

So, you roll an attack. The defender rolls dodge, fails. Then you cause damage 1 per success, plus, oddly here, fixed values for some values. Some weapons also ignore armor, help parry, etc. Equipment matters; once more, there is depth here. And then, you have the results – provided there are no reactions that are taken, or that the resolution of the attack didn’t necessitate further things. That’s a LOT of rolling, and, as the math-foundation of the game is not exactly even, can also result in odd scenes. Also: Throwing weapons get three dice: Boy., Speed and Throwing, versus just one Trait and the respective skill dice for all others. Doesn’t take a genius to see an issue here. Clearly, the Franziska-wielding equivalent of ancient Franconians would have conquered all of the land according to these rules. So yeah, there is some serious cognitive load imposed on the Host here, and frankly, the “don’t do math, just roll angle” might have made things more difficult here.

…this is starting to sound really bad, right? And yeah, it kinda is – but don’t get me wrong: The system presented? It actually works, and it actually works in a rather interesting manner. Combat feels very tactical and interesting, considering how many gifts have different refreshment intervals, and how the status-based angles can really add some tactical depth to fights. Being hit will send you reeling, and, much like Shadowrun, there is a death spiral going on – 5 points of damage = dead: 2 points of damage, and you’re hurt and afraid (can’t attack) – so you better hope an ally Rallies you. In a way, the basic premise of the combat system, when divorced from the flawed skill-chassis, is super interesting; I could e.g. see a Darkest Dungeon-style hardcore survival-game to work pretty well with a hack of these rules! There is some gold here, I mean it! It’s just buried under layers of unnecessary obscurity and some questionable design decisions.

Anyhow, you probably won’t be playing a dungeon crawler with this game; in fact, you probably won’t be playing a too combat-centric game, considering how lethal it is, in spite of its impressive depth. Instead, as briefly touched upon, Calabria, the default setting, is more of an Age of Sail/pseudo-Elizabethan setting, closer akin to the Three Musketeers than the medieval period, with e.g. the horses as the erstwhile knights still clinging to their old status and ideals; it’s a time of change, an age of mercantilism – though the world, it should be noted, is distinct and doesn’t simply mirror our own. As a whole, this is once more where you can feel that the authors genuinely cared. The setting is thematically consistent, makes a surprising amount of sense, and can be deemed to be an enjoyable reading experience. The campaign setting is easily the most refined part herein; it sports a gazetteer-section, a general overview, and we also get a small bestiary.

I do have one serious question, though: It might be my own ignorance regarding the tropes of the Furry-subculture, but in a setting where anthropomorphized animals like Mice and Wolves coexist, in a game with that much emphasis on the theme, that you put your dietary habits on your character-sheet…what do all the carnivores eat? Do they eat the other species? If not, why not? If so, how does the law handle that? If not, what do they eat? This is particularly weird, considering that the flavortext sometimes uses “animals” as a shorthand for the species “…not content to live their lives as noisy, smelly animals, volunteer for the active life of a mercenary.”, and at other times for the animals the intelligent species consume. I assume that reptilians are eaten, as those are primarily the beasts of burden of the setting, but that would lead me to question how e.g. bears and wolves and (sub-) arctic animals survive. I know. This may not matter to you, but if you run a game in the setting, this WILL come up. It’s the one thing, lore-wise, that really left me wondering.

Anyhow, after all that, we’re done, right? NOPE! Because, you know, the wonders of atrocious information design have elected to put all the NPC-careers in the back! And these include nobles, diplomats, beggars, etc. – sure, they have a stronger focus on a role, but plenty of players will consider them to be interesting. There also are 42 of them. Oh, and magic? That’s also cut apart! The apprentice-level magic is in the front, the rest is in the back of the book! There’s also a bit of cognitive dissonance going here…and throughout the book. I tried to focus on the big picture, but as an example for the “glitches” in the details, i.e. the logic flaws, there is a magic school of sorts called Atavism, which is essentially about embracing the animal aspect. These represent special gifts to choose, and are per se a super-cool idea. The flaw here lies in the execution. How being particularly sparrow-like (minimum d8 Species die) can grant you a battering charge? No idea. If anything, this section should have focused on species-exclusive tricks. As written, it can result in some seriously weird benefits that don't fit the species.

The book also features three unremarkable, brief adventure-outlines without read-aloud text, and closes with a handy summary of statuses. If you want to play this game, tape these to your screen. You’ll thank me later. The final sections of the book are devoted to the calendar/time-aspect of the setting (why should it be in the setting-section, let’s put it in the back!) as well as yet another selection of variant rules, because, 3-4 different places where they could be are not enough. (Seriously, steer clear of those until you’ve mastered Ironclaw.)

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not good on a formal and rules-language level; while the rules-language isn’t bad per se, its utterly arcane and Byzantine presentation is very aggravating. On a formal level, there are a lot of typos and stuff that should have been caught in editing. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard; it is not impressive, but functional. Artworks range from the Disney-ish style seen on the cover to the fantastic pictures for the species. The PoD is a solid hardcover, and the pdf, as a final formal insult…has NO BOOKMARKS! I am not even kidding you. A core game this labyrinthine in its presentation, and it has NO F**** BOOKMARKS.

Jason Holmgren, Chris Goodwin and Van Pigtain wrote the most infuriating RPG-system I have ever reviewed. No hyperbole. Not because of the subject matter, but because it feels PAINFULLY rushed, and certainly not like a second edition. Not even close. And because the game is so close to being genuinely interesting. The weapons that matter, the setting, the depth of the combat options – there is a lot here to genuinely like and enjoy. Once you understand the game and play it, you can have fun with it. Provided you can look past its myriad, accumulating, small glitches, hiccups and logic errors.

But you’ll have to fight tooth and claw (haha!) to get there, pun intended. This book gave me migraines trying to understand it. I am not kidding. Its information-design is worse than that of the PF Playtest was.

And the game has to stand that comparison, because it pays for its “we don’t add stuff to dice rolls”-aesthetic with outsourcing all complexity to the act before dice rolls, the sequence of dice rolls, or what you do after dice rolls. Things that are usually abstracted instead turn into MORE rolling, which needs to be compared, which needs to be interpreted. This works pretty well for non-combat scenarios, but considering how much detail and love is put into the whole combat, in making it feel genuinely different, it still becomes readily apparent that this is NOT a game for novices. This rivals and surpasses in complexity PF2. No, I am not kidding you. There is more rolling going on here than in Shadowrun. And I’ve played for years in a Shadowrun-campaign where everybody had amassed more than 300 Karma.

I maintain that, with a strict design-lead streamlining the base skill system, and some even decent information design (or mediocre one – heck, 5e-levels of rules-presentation would have sufficed), this could have been a genuinely enjoyable game, a breath of fresh air. All the makings of an interesting, rewarding game are here. But their presentation is the didactically-worst thing I’ve read in my entire reviewer’s career. Its an intricately interwoven system of rules-concepts influencing each other that never properly explains its basics. That tries the “let’s start with character creation”-angle, without realizing that you literally can’t make an efficient character, that you can’t make any semblance of informed choice, without, you know, actually knowing what you’re doing. The brief tables explaining rules-themes are appreciated, but I’ve never screamed at a book before. I now have. When, for the oomphteenth time, the game threw a term at me sans explanation, I seriously started hating my time with this game.

…not because of the themes, but because it is one of the most frustrating books ever. It seems to labor under the delusion that “no math = easy to learn”; it’s not. I’ve never had as hard a time trying to grasp how a game is played as with this book. And I have read A LOT of RPGs. Whether it’s 5e, PF2, Genesys, BRP, B/X, GUMSHOE, Storyteller, PbtA, any other OSR-game – I’ve never struggled so much with even getting the slightest idea of how a game plays. Did I mention how e.g. reactions and triggers are not the same? Can you remember which of the movement options did what? Which was the one where you halved your Speed dice? Which is the one that can damage you? Did that one send you reeling? Now imagine a book FULL of options like that, with information spread far and wide. And the nine hells have mercy on your soul if you only have the pdf and no bookmarks.

Is there a demographic to which I can recommend this book? Sure: If you’re a furry AND don’t mind wrestling with a system, if you don’t mind learning a highly complex game that has a thoroughly confusing presentation and a wealth of terminology rivaling Pathfinder, then you genuinely should take a look. Particularly if you gravitate to a more low-key aesthetics for magic, and still want some serious tactical depth in your game. In spite of all of its flaws, this is not a cynical cash-grab. It does show in many instances that the team did care. And if you invest serious time, you can streamline this and make it work for you and your group. I can see this work for a very select group of people, for those willing to invest a lot of time into trying to grasp this game. I genuinely hope that my review will help you in this task, that it’ll at least make getting into the game a tad bit easier. If you feel you belong to this group, round up from my final verdict.

Personally, I’ve come to LOATHE this book; not the setting, not the system per se, the BOOK. I like the world and many ideas herein, but I will never open this horribly obtuse game ever again. Analyzing this book has been painful for all the wrong reasons. I am just thankful that I didn’t get to tackle the first edition – if this is the refined version, I can’t imagine what the first one may have looked like. That being said, I do wish Ironclaw the best – perhaps, a third edition can get it right, can properly capitalize on the significant potential this game has…but my 2nd edition omnibus will not be used again. It has managed what few books ever did – it frustrated me and made me genuinely angry.

I’ve thought long and hard about how to rate this book; and in the end, my final verdict will be 2.5 stars, rounded down. Ironclaw’s second edition is too obtuse: A game of this complexity (particularly a complexity that is as layered as the one of this game) needs a precise, easy to grasp presentation, or at least one that makes sense - and this is the antithesis of that; add the missing bookmarks (insult to injury for pdf-customers) and the utterly messed up organization that makes philosophical treaties of applied objective hermeneutics seem easy to grasp at times, and we have a book that, no matter how much love and passion might be oozing from its pages, frankly is too flawed to even consider mediocre.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
IRONCLAW Omnibus: Squaring the Circle
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Gibbous Moon
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/11/2019 08:42:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 5e-conversion of Gibbous Moon clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/author bios, 1 page foreword, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let's take a look!

After a page providing an introduction, we receive a new and rather well-drawn one-page illustration of the approach to the module’s main adventure site. Barlow, introduced first in the PFRPG-collector’s edition revision of the module, has also been included in this 5e-conversion. What is Barlow, you ask? Well, essentially, the module comes with a full-blown Village Backdrop-style sample village for your convenience – and I mean that; Barlow is not simply some bland “slot in and forget”-place (though you CAN run the module that way and ignore it altogether). Instead, what we have here amounts to a full-blown installment in Raging Swan press' beloved series.

In case you are not familiar with my reviews of the series, this does mean that the town not only receives lavish cartography, but also notes for gathering information, bullet pointed subquests, a section for lore, notes for sample names and yes, dressing habits of the local populace. This also covers sites of interest and in this case, several events and notes on local rumors. Law and Order and daily routine of the local populace are touched upon as well and PCs doing the legwork can unearth plenty of further potential hooks for adventuring. If the game is lagging somewhat, local events helps you bring the picturesque village of Barlow to life - and alive it is: What started as an isolated druidic enclave has seen a recent influx of dwarves (originally rescued from redcaps), who brought with them a sense of modernity not known in the rustic place.

Now if you expect yet another nature vs. progress-struggle, breathe a sigh of relief - no, the dwarves are not the bad progress-guys here - they actually do submit to the village's way of life and thus thankfully deviate from the stereotype. The conflict at the heart of this place is one of change versus tradition - and as we all know, change is inherently painful, but sticking to tradition may lead to stagnation. This is a kind of subtle leitmotif that is part of the whole module. Oh, and have I mentioned that there is an actual dryad in the center of the village? Alas, in the last couple of months, some cattle have gone missing and racial tensions rise, while a grumpy hermit at the wondrous local Clear Water has been less than cooperative. It should be noted that, where sensible, the module references the default statblocks for NPCs, and that the DCs etc. have been properly adjusted to 5e.

Going above and beyond, we even get a mini-woodland dressing for the trek from the village to the hermitage, travel times noted, etc...

Since this is an adventure I'm reviewing here, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great!

The adventurers are led to the Clear Pool hermitage after unearthing some additional pieces of information via social skills etc. in Barlow. Once at the hermitage, they can find not only the grisly remains of sheep, but also encounter a savage dire boar. The hermitage, located in cliffs near a waterfall, is presented as series of natural caves with RSP's trademark attention to detail being reflected in a table of carvings, carcasses to find etc. Speaking of grisly finds - in one of the caves, Viljo, lone survivor of his adventuring team, awaits - he was also sent to this place to recover saintly bones, but his companions have been slaughtered by the resident of this place, a man named Dunstan who subsequently made zombies out of Viljo's former companions. This would be as well a place as any to note that the survivor Viljo, Dunstan, a dire boar (which is deadly!) and the aforementioned zombies all get proper 5e-stats, with Dunstan’s build actually taking shapechanging and Concentration re spellcasting into account - kudos. Dunstan, himself once an adventurer and necromancer, was infected with were-boar lycanthropy and is responsible for the cattle thefts - he stole the livestock to quench his lycanthropic hunger and prevent the beast inside from turning upon the local populace. The moral dilemma in confronting Dunstan is obvious. While the man has acted to keep innocents from harm, he has also resorted to theft to do so. Moreover, he has slain Viljo's comrades, animated them and infected the poor man with lycanthropy as well. He's not evil (yet) though, and while he is a necromancer, he's not one of the insane kind - so what do the PCs do? Kill him? Try to negotiate a deal between him and the village? Try to cure him? What is the right thing to do? This openness of the module is commendable and DCs to broker a non-violent solution are presented in detail. Same goes for tactics, if the PCs elect to fight. The pdf also btw. provides scaling notes for the combat encounters. A cure for lycanthropy regarding Dunstan’s particular strain and multiple hooks for further adventuring are also included.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to RSP's concise and crisp 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions - one optimized for screen use and one to be printed out. Both files are small enough to not be a burden on mobile devices. The b/w-artworks and cartography are nice indeed.

Creighton Broadhurst and Jacob W. Michaels deliver a flavorful, gritty little adventure, and John N. Whyte’s 5e-conversion was done professionally and with an eye for details. The leitmotif and shades of gray themes are strong. Can a certain individual be reintegrated into a society already on the verge of change? This little module has lost nothing of its splendor in 5e; it is still delightfully unpretentious while asking engaging questions; it’s well-executed, interesting, and won’t disrupt your campaigns’ tone and flavor. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Gibbous Moon
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Race Options: Gillmen
Publisher: Rusted Iron Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/11/2019 08:40:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, ½ a page SRD, leaving us with 7.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was move up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

We begin with a recap of the gillmen’s heritage and the pdf also includes the racial traits of the species. We get three alternate racial traits: One replaces being amphibious with 3/day charm person (not properly italicized) as a SP; alternatively, they can reduce land speed to 10 ft., but get 50 ft. swim speed. Interesting: There is a trait that nets you fast healing of 1 hit point per minute, but at a serious cost – you can only ever spend 3 hours outside of water before death from organ failure, escalating the water dependent trait. The supplement also features an array of favored class options for alchemist, arcanist, barbarian, bloodrager (aberrant bloodline), druid, kineticist, occultist, paladin, psychic, ranger, sorcerer (aberrant bloodline), vigilante and witch. All in all, these check out – they are potent, but not unduly so – relevant options to have.

The pdf contains 4 new feats: Aboleth’s Pawn increases enchantment resistance to +4, and the penalty vs. such effects from Aboleth sources to -4. You also are treated as having Skill Focus Knowledge (dungeoneering) for meeting the prerequisites of the Eldritch Heritage (aberrant) feats or other feats with it as a prerequisite. Water-retentive Skin nets you a longer deadline before requiring immersion in water – kudos: No this may not be used to cheese the potent fast healing alternate racial trait. Remembered Legacy lets you count as human and nets you the human subtype. There is an issue here – what if an effect would benefit gillmen, but penalize humans? This should specify how such cases work. Communal Mind-Gridding is a teamwork feat nets you +1 to saves vs. mind-.affecting effects for every ally with this feat within 30 ft., maximum +4.

The pdf contains 2 archetypes, with the first being the sea sentinel cleric, who is locked into the oceans subdomain, and does not get a second domain. The save DC of spells with the water descriptor increase by 1, and the archetype gets +1 to atk rolls of spells or abilities with the water descriptor, including explicitly the surge domain ability. The bonus increases by +1 at 10th and 20th level. The archetype can heal any aquatic or water subtype creatures, or command them with channel energy, as though per the Command Undead feat. 4th level gets rid of underwater combat penalties, including a limited range where ranged attacks take no penalty – the range of the latter ability increases. 7th level nets an animal companion as a druid at -3 levels, but the companion needs to be aquatic/water subtype. Essentially, a shepherd of the waves style archetype.

The second archetype is more extensive – the ephemeral visionary medium replaces the default spirits with 3 destinies – history, nonce and fate; these otherwise behave as though they were spirits. The spirit bonus of history applies to Charisma checks and Charisma-based skill checks as well as Fortitude saves, and the Séance boon nets +2 to attacks with non-spell attacks. Influence penalty applies to Dexterity-related checks and Reflex saves, and the taboos including refusing aid or harmless spells, an inability to let insults stand, or demanding half the treasure. The lesser ability nets martial weapon proficiency and Weapon Focus with said weapon. Intermediate nets you a teamwork feat that you may share with all allies within 30 ft. temporarily as a standard action, and it may be used again when accepting influence. The greater ability further enhances the weapon skill with the weapon chosen via the lesser ability, and the supreme ability nets a hefty +6 to all physical ability scores, which can be triggered as a swift action – essentially, this one acts as a warrior-suite.

Nonce applies the spirit bonus to Wisdom checks and Wisdom-based skill checks, as well as, oddly, reflex save. Expected to see Will there, but I assume intention here, since Fate applies the bonus to Will. The séance boon nets you swim speed. Influence penalty sees you paranoid that the aboleth masters will get you, preventing aid another and imposing spirit bonus as a penalty to Charisma-based checks and skill checks. Taboos include slaying all aberrations on sight, not leaving the water for more than an hour or sell at least 1/3 of what you find. The spirit abilities include seeing in water and create water as a 0-level spell (should be called knack); intermediate nets you favored terrain +2 as though a ranger, +4 if you choose water, and hydraulic push as a first level medium spell. The greater ability nets ranged disarm or steal under water a limited amount of times (accept influence for more uses) and slipstream as a 2nd-level spell. The supreme ability nets you the option to generate 5 supercharged geysers that also gate in summon monster VII water elementals every few rounds. OUCH! It also adds quench and geyser as medium spells.

The Fate option applies the spirit bonus to Intelligence checks, Intelligence-based skill checks and Will-saves, and. The séance boon nets a +1 to the DC of enchantment and illusion spells, and the influence penalty prevents you from casting beneficial spells on allies, unless you’re included among the targets or area of effect. Taboos include autofailing Will saves unless they directly harm others or result in directly harming others; communicating exclusively in Aboleth, or being forced to execute vanquished enemies. The lesser ability is using the mesmerist’s spell per day table (NOT the spell list!); for each spell level you get, you also choose a psychic spell to add to the medium spell list. The intermediate ability nets you a 15 ft.-reach tentacle with 1d4 base damage, a primary natural attack. You have to default regarding damage type. It can deliver touch spells. The greater ability lets you expend spell slots to make a ranged attack against a target in close range; targets hit take a penalty vs. your mind-affecting effects, with the penalty determined by the spell slot used. As usual, limited uses, accept influence for more uses. The supreme ability nets you a potent dominate monster SP.

The archetype also replaces location channel mirrors trance of three for other destinies, except the character gains the lesser spirit power, and the ability does some surprisingly interesting modifications, and as a big kudos, the fate destiny’s bonus spells become a separate, distinct array, but can’t be cheesed. Well, this is a cool class-hack. I’d particularly consider this one for 1-on-1-games; It’s versatile and interesting.

The pdf also contains two psychic options: The corrupting slime phrenic amplification, which can lace aboleth slime in linked spells (managing to execute some high-complexity rules-operations rather well), and also add Constitution damage to spell effects; and yes, balanced. Kudos! The major amplification, sleeper agency, can add an implanted suggestion (not properly italicized) in those affected by charm effects. This ALSO is forgotten. Wow. This may not sound like that much, but it can be used to super-devious ends. Like it!

The pdf also features 3 spells: Symbol of mental erosion works like a symbol of death (bingo, not in itaclis), save that it imposes a massive debuff versus mind-affecting effects; deep-sea armaments is a low-level spell that makes your weapon count as piercing for purposes of attack rolls and damage under water, but NOT any other way; kudos: The spell does explicitly state that damage type etc. remains unchanged. This is a really handy rules-hole fix. Underwater suffication[sic!] is funny, in that, while the title has a typo, it gets the formatting of spell-references right. This spell suspends the ability to breathe underwater, and the spell also has a chance of dispelling underwater breathing spells.

Conclusion: Editing is good on a formal level, very good on a rules-language level; same goes for formatting – the pdf may have some typos and cosmetic guffaws, but it gets often complex rules-operations done right. Layout adheres to Rusted Iron Games’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf has a couple of solid b/w-artworks. The pdf, in spite of its brevity, comes fully bookmarked. Kudos!

Joshua Hennington’s humble little pdf surprised me in a positive manner. While there are a couple of options herein that I’d consider to be filler, the pdf’s occult options in particular are interesting and well-crafted; surprisingly, it’s not the class hack that I most liked, but the psychic options – they look simple, but are pretty tough cookies to properly pen. Anyhow, this is a solid little supplement, with a few lame things (the feats are imho superfluous at best), but also some gems – all in all, well worth 3.5 stars, rounded up due to the low and fair price and the well-wrought occult material.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Race Options: Gillmen
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Seven Dead Sinners
Publisher: Mind Weave RPG
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/11/2019 08:38:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, ½ a page blank, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The premise of this pdf is simple – one undead for every one of the 7 deadly sins, each coming with a full-color artwork (not exactly aesthetically-pleasing). The presentation of the undead is system neutral, so no stats are included. Bible-quotes are provided for each of them. Acedai are incredibly bloated undead, surrounded by putrid stench and buzzing flies. The undead can also attack with belches and flatulence. Okay. Avarit are embodiments of greed and thus take on semi-draconic traits. They are unable to move far from their hoard.

Gula attempt to eat everything. Invid are envious and are very stealthy, gathering items in their stash…which is kinda close to greed and imho misses the mark, reducing envy to material possessions. Irat are a bit like revenants, driven by revenge, but are not released after achieving revenge, instead brooding until disturbed. Luxria carry diseases and, having been tainted by undead, can’t, ironically, fulfill their desires sans basically rape. Magnus reduce the concept of pride to basically a disappointed narcissism.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are per se good. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, and the full color artworks…exist. Not a fan. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

James Eck’s sin-themed undead are, pardon my French, lame. They are obvious and reductive takes on the seven deadly sins, often missing the mark profoundly. They take the most obvious routes, and I’ve seen all themes herein done infinitely better. The one saving grace here would be that this is PWYW, but considering how lame everything here is, how uninspired and dull, I will not round up from my final verdict of 1.5 stars. Unless you are utterly broke, get another pdf.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Seven Dead Sinners
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

The Genius Guide to MORE Simple Class Templates for Monsters
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/08/2019 14:20:21

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 23 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, applying class levels to monsters is often not a valid or smart move n the CR-system, as e.g. slapping a single wizard level on a CR 19 critter will contribute nothing to the build. The first of these genius guides remedied that for a plethora of classes, and this one follows that lead, this time around covering the Occult Adventures classes and the Vigilante. Since these classes have more complex systems, the abilities often work differently than for the class. Spellcasting only allows for the casting of the three highest spell levels it would have access to based on HD, though lower level spells may be spontaneously and optionally added, taking some build-load of the GM. The templates are often based on an ability score, and as such, a global guidelines is that a minimum ability score for an efficient critter should be around CR +9.

Each of the templates features quick rules and rebuild rules, and each of the templates features a sample creature. Kineticist creatures have CR +3 if below 10 HD, +4 CR if it has 10 or more HD, and use Constitution, unsurprisingly, as key ability modifier, and Burn is ignored, with infusions instead using daily limits – which makes sense for playability’s sake. The sample creature is a star here – we get a kineticist plague locust swarm! These sample critters also come with read-aloud text, and full-color artworks by Jacob Blackmon – nice!

The medium template (CR +1; +2 for 6+ HD, +3 for 10+ HD) ignores influence penalties and taboos, instead opting once more for a daily use cap; spellcasting is allocated properly, and the sample creature is the patchwork soul, an awakened flesh golem who can recall being other people – which is a genuinely cool angle! The Occultist creature has the same thresholds that determine CR-increases, and features a spell slot table. Not a fan: Resonant powers are ignored. I get why, seeing how mental focus is gone and focus powers are treated as daily use options, but yeah – the loss of resonant powers is sad. The sample creature here is btw. an occultist-v tooth fairy – aka cryptodontist. Easily one of the most twisted critters I’ve seen below CR 1!

Mesmerist creatures get +2 or +3 CR (with 9 HD being the dividing line), and a handy spells known table; the sample creature here is the baleful reflection, a CR 4 mesmerist soulsliver that may not be tough, but in the hands of a smart GM, can be a rather deadly adversary. Bold stare improvements are tied to HD, and mesmerist tricks are simplified to daily uses. Psychic creatures have their thresholds for CR-increases at 8 and 14 HD, respectively, and flat out uses Intelligence for discipline powers; phrenic pool points are gone, replaced with daily uses where appropriate. The sample creature here would be…a psychic velociraptor! Cool! Bu wait! We actually get more! We also get the cool psychic flumph from the cover! Yep, two builds! Nice!

The spiritualist gets a flat roaming range for the phantom and a small number of spells, with the HD thresholds to determine increased CRs once more being 6 and 10, respectively. The build here would be the gearghost-based “Ghost in the Machine”, which, with its phantom, can potentially wipe experienced parties – the build is pretty darn clever, and, when played correctly, will properly challenge a party. Kudos! (Yes, abbreviated phantom-stats are provided).

The vigilante creature, finally, can have its CR increase by +2 or +3, with 10 HD being the threshold; with slightly less moving parts than the other templates, this one allows for a pretty seamless integration that will make it very hard even for the most experienced of players to discern that the creature is not built via class features, regarding its overall capabilities, of course. The sample creature here, funnily, would be a vigilante unicorn!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a rules language and formal level – I reverse-engineered the crunch for a couple of builds, and in these cases, the material checked out – kudos! Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard of the series (the one without the huge margins, mind you), and we get quite a lot of crunch here. The full-color artworks contributed for all sample creatures adds to the pdf. The pdf is also fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks.

This felt familiar. A quick glance at the credits told me why: The Faces of the Tarnished Souk-dreamteam of Matt Banach as author and Justin Sluder as developer once more reunites here, and presents us with genuinely challenging and exciting builds; I’d go so far as to claim that this pdf is worth getting for these sample creatures, even if you don’t have any interest in the tables! The creatures are creative, and the templates do what they’re supposed to – they allow you to quickly add class-specific angle to creatures without drowning you in minutiae. Love it! 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Genius Guide to MORE Simple Class Templates for Monsters
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

A Blessing and a Curse
Publisher: Mind Weave RPG
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/08/2019 14:18:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little pdf clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The concept of this pdf is simple: Players want goodies, and yet, items, nay, magic, should have a price to pay for it. The system proposed herein is simple – you roll 1d20 three times and check the table: Column one features 20 benefits, column two 20 drawbacks, and column three presents removal conditions.

To give you examples, among the benefits, we have “Protection from Evil – The wearer is protected from the effects of evil.”, but also e.g. “Time Slowing – The wearer perceives things as happening more slowly, allowing him more time to react and make decisions. The wearer may or may not have increased speed to match the change in time perception.” Or what about passing through walls and floors at will? In short, the benefits are classics, and some of these are interesting, whereas others boil down to spell-in-a-can effects.

The detriments are more interesting for the most part; evil being attracted to the user as one less intriguing example. But paralyzed limbs, uncontrollable squawking, the requirement to crawl on all fours? There are several rather nice ones here, once again often, but not always, being relatively easy to translate to most D&D-adjacent games.

The most interesting of the three columns, though, would e the removal conditions – items that need to be taken off by fae, that only can be removed by full body immersion, that require being enclosed in mud to be taken off? These are genuinely awesome and creative, and indeed, constitute the main draw of this pdf as far as I’m concerned. The supplement also walks you through a couple of considerations before portraying 6 sample items – that illustrate this design philosophy: Spectral rings net both silence and invisibility, but the wearer can’t interact with the real world and must be defeated before it can be removed. The trespasser’s mask lets you pass through walls, but prevents you from breathing AND requires that you return to the place where you were when you put it on to take it off. There are several such unique items here, and I very much enjoy the philosophy at work here.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches, though it should be noted that the pdf uses bolding for item, drawback, removal means and benefits of the items. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard, with yellowish-golden headers. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

James Eck’s little pdf started off weak for me – the benefits, in many ways, felt too conservative for me, courtesy of being system neutral. In a way, this is easily adapted, sure, but chances are good that the benefits already exist in your system of choice. To a degree, this extends to the drawbacks as well – this really shouldn’t have been system neutral as presented. The standard entries are boring, and the creative ones? They’d require serious rules-fu to convert to your game. That being said, the system also presents the cool removal conditions, which generally tend to work super-well and enhance roleplaying. They highlight what benefits and drawbacks should have focused on as well – specific, roleplaying conductive tricks that feel distinct and magical. It also mirrors in many ways how I, as a person, like my magic items to behave and work. That being said, the pdf could also have used a higher price point and more meat on its bones – as presented, it can best be thought of as a kind of design philosophy guideline for magic items – it’s a good one, but the system neutral nature, paired with the pretty conservative sample effects, ultimately render this less compelling than it could have easily been. However, the low and fair asking price of $0.99? Totally worth it. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, as befitting of a mixed bag, slightly on the positive side. I’ll round up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Blessing and a Curse
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Frogfolk of Porphyra
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/07/2019 12:30:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the „...of Porphyra“-series clocks in at 57 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of SRD, with the pdf laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), leaving us with 54 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This book was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

In case you were wondering: Porphyra RPG is essentially a continuation of Pathfinder 1, fully backwards compatible in the same way as Pathfinder behaved to 3.5, but with several cool features such as scaling feats and the like. Now, it should be noted that this pdf was written before the rules for Porphyra RPG were finalized, a fact that makes this closer to Pathfinder in several ways, so this is something to bear in mind.

All right, so, frogfolk! Who doesn’t love them? I sure as heck love me some gripplis, and indeed, these frogfolk are one of the three races contained herein, with the other two being the boggards and the doathi. We start with the boggards, and indeed, the book begins with a really well-written introduction by Perry Fehr, one that does a rather excellent job of setting the stage for culture and leitmotifs of the boggards, who are said to have ventured to the patchwork planet of Porphyra at the behest of the Great Old Ones, and boggards are resembling humanoid monstrous toads (as opposed to the gripplis being frog-like); the boggards as depicted here are an extremely primal society native to swamplands, and they still feel the sting of the Elemental Lords losing the NewGod war, reserving particular enmity for the Chiuta. The details provided, which include sample names, provide a compelling picture.

Mechanics-wise, boggards get +2 Strength and Constitution, -2 Intelligence, which makes them somewhat lopsided regarding their preferred classes. They are Medium humanoids with the boggard subtype, speed 20 ft., swim speed 30 ft., and get darkvision and low-light vision. This is one of the changes, were the pdf is closer to PF1 than Porphyra RPG, as in Porphyra RPG darkvision has no range, and includes low-light vision. Boggards have hold breath, and get a 10-feet tongue secondary attack; interesting here: This tongue locks you and the target down, but does not interact with the drag/pull rules, instead locking you and the target in place in relation to each other, making the tongue a pretty potent tool; however, since it’s easy to break loose, there is no reliable way to cheese this. Still, theoretically, this would allow a tribe of boggards to use their tongues to limit the movements of targets that they shouldn’t be able to restrict – this does not paralyze them, or anything, but it does allow boggard groups to lock down targets action economy-wise. While this does seem a bit odd to me, it may well be intentional. Still, a certain sense of disjunction did not leave me here. Boggards get marsh strike, and the mind-affecting sonic, Charisma-governed terrifying croak ability, usable 1/hour as a standard action. A target can end up being briefly shaken, and the ability has a caveat that prevents spamming it, but lists no range – I assume as far as can be heard, but yeah, pretty sure there should be a range.

Alternative racial traits include a bite attack (that does not properly specify damage type – Porphyra’s convention is bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage for that), some water-themed SPs…and a really cool one, that allows them to communicate across surprising distances – this one in particular, the toadsong, has some seriously cool repercussions regarding how you can depict them, and sets them apart. Really like it! There also is a replacement for the tongue that lets you make 10 foot 5-foot-steps on a successful Acrobatics check – the DC here is a very low flat DC, when it would have made more sense to at least somewhat tie this to the threatening creatures. Then again, Porphyra RPG has gotten rid of much of the bonus stacking tricks, so yeah. The pdf includes 4 nice, properly-coded race traits and 3 racial feats that scale with levels: Exploding Warts punishes critical hits against you with acid damage; Marshmaster nets you a +2 bonus to AC, initiative, Perception in marshes (later +4), and Toad-Boss Bully provides minor debuffs to creatures you demoralize or hit with melee attacks but only one target may be affected at a given time. I assume that affecting a new target ends the previous effect, but this is not explicitly stated.

Doathia are essentially batrachians deep ones, who look like humans, but suffer a -2 penalty to Charisma upon reaching middle age. They get either gills, +1 natural armor, +2 to Perception, or “resist sonic 5” (should be resistance); the bonus types are not codified properly either, and formatting differs from how Porphyra RPG usually does that. Odd: This is not included in the racial traits. Doathi get +2 to any “characteristic” (should be ability score), -2 to Charisma, are Medium aberrations, have darkvision (again, not the Porphyra version) and resistance acid and sonic 5, once more erroneously referred to as “resist.” They have an unnatural aura and a properly codified +4 racial bonus to Athletics made to swim, and may take 10 while swimming. 4 alternate racial traits are included, and I have no complaints there – they are well-balanced and precisely-presented, including easier item activation due to a history of forbidden lore, SPs, etc.. and the pdf also sports some cool traits: My favorite states: “You are fascinated with the Great Old Ones, but their cults are too gauche for your membership.” This nets you mythos spells added t spell list, and made me genuinely chuckle. Hidden Twin is a great racial feat, it lets you summon an invisible monster that later is greater invisible. Ogdoad Legacy nets you limited fast healing and later no breath and acid immunity. Like these!

The grippli,a s depicted herein, get +2 Dexterity and Wisdom, -2 Strength, are Small, have the boggard subtype, darkvision (same issue as before), 30 ft. speed on land and in water, 20 ft. climb speed, +8 racial bonus to Athletics checks made to climb and swim, +4 racial bonus to Stealth in marshes and forested areas. They can also fall in a more controlled manner if not overly encumbered; they always have a running start for jumping purposes, marsh stride, a Con-governed toxic skin (Track: Sluggish-Stiffened, Staggered), kept in check by limited uses, and weapon familiarity with nets. Overall, a pretty powerful race regarding the utility. In the alternate racial characteristics, something has gone wrong – there is one, bughunter, which nets you a +1 trait bonus to hit and damage vermin. That should be a trait, and its cost should not be the vastly superior jumper and toxic skin. Pretty sure that this should be a trait, and have no cost. Grippli also get the cool communication-angle, and toxic skin may be replaced with a skin that is permeable, allowing for bladders storing potions to be smashed and consumed more quickly. This one is really cool. The 4 traits that are presented here, are once more all mechanically-tight and properly codified. There are three racial feats: Poison Spit lets you spit the toxin, but since it’s just 1/day, that may not be the smartest move. Frog Style is a cool (Style) feat that lets you bounce around when critting, with two cool follow-up tricks that allows you to potentially throw and follow foes. Split-Second Leap lets you 1/combat avoid a ranged attack with a Reflex save – I generally like this, but it should not have a nonsensical “per combat” use, and instead specify a fixed duration.

The pdf also presents new racial spells (Porphyra differentiates more between spell-lists, which is one fantastic change). For the purpose of readability of this review, I will put spell names in italics, even though Porphyra RPG’s convention is to not do so. 3 variants of call bugs (pretty self-explanatory what that does) are included; Curse of the Ogdoad is a nasty, permanent curse that afflicts the target with essentially disadvantage on d20-rolls. Key and Jewel points the caster towards the nearest magic item (excluding those in the caster’s possession and those of their allies), which is a great time-saver at the table. Plague of Warts is interesting, in that it is a debuff – but for boggards and aberrations, it acts as a buff. Toe of Frog is a nice little grippli-curse, and Wall of Muck allows for low-level terrain control.

We also are introduced to an array of new magical items, which includes the Batrachonomicon artifact – and yes, it’s a risky tome. The Boggy Bodhran is a buffing hand-drum, and really creepy: Elixirs if Devolution can make anthropomorphic humanoids revert to being animals, with hybrids such as doathi having a 50% chance to become giant frogs or orangutans…A jade frog wondrous figurine can warn you of traps (or move/transform into a frog), and there is a mask that enhances mythos spells. Cursed totems of the Great Old Ones, makes that can plague of warts targets, and there is a web-woven grippli-armor as well. Generally a neat selection! Mundane items, such as snares that may be carried around (damage type not properly codified), a grippli fruit drink (called, of course, “Buu’uurp”), and firefly essence (which is essentially an anti-concealment bomb)…also cool: The custom to make Ghoul Portraits. When someone dies, the family commissions a super-ugly/repulsive portrait – the deceased person does return to hideous unlife, the portrait has a good chance of scaring them away! I LOVE this! Heck, I’d love it, if folks would do that once I’m dead and gone. We also get a siege weapon, a macabre, simple tongue-themed ballista, a drug that can induce astral projection…some gems here that I look forward to using!

The supplement also presents three new archetypes(class options, one for each race: The bloated champion is for the boggards, and is a new cause, which nets Deception and Intimidate as class skills, 1/day enlarge person (self only), and has a theme of becoming more massive; the former ability lacks the proper descriptor as (Sp), which is also missing from the capstone that lets you call a potent ally. Other than those niggles (and no proper bonus types), a cool cause. Grippli arcane archers can choose to become zappers, which are essentially anti-vermin exterminator specialists that can act unimpeded underwater, among other things. The ability to do see duplicates freedom of movement, but is extraordinary, and as such, should specify an activation action. The third option would be the Sothite doathi wizard, who is a disciple of Yog-Sothoth – they lose some weapon proficiencies, but get free action low-range demoralize attempts with limited daily uses, uttering words of Yog – cool. The archetype also gets some esoteric, exotic spells and is a bonded object that may be enchanted as a weapon.

The appendix of the pdf is massive and contains some monster update rules re types and things like Improved Drag, Quicken Spell-Like Ability, a couple of spells and universal monster rules. From giant ants, flies (statblock misses bolding and dragonflies to the leather-winged toads called Mobogo and the dreaded Ogdoad (4 types of these batrachians sires of the doathi), this section offers some fun builds.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting oscillate on a rules-language and formal level between admirable precision and missing some obvious components. Layout adheres to the series’ 1-column standard with purple highlights, and the pdf is all about the content, with no interior artwork. The pdf comes with extensive nested bookmarks that render navigation simple and comfortable.

Perry Fehr (and Mark Gedak) deliver a pdf here that sports a few hiccups stemming from Porphyra RPG by then not being finalized. That being said, the supplement does take advantage of several great rules – from the scaling feats to spell-balancing via categories (such as powerful curses being balanced by being exclusives), the pdf highlights several plusses of the game. Perry Fehr is a great author, and actually manages to make the respective races come to life, feel distinct, so that’s a huge plus for me; at the same time, his rules oscillate between inspired and unconventional to less than impressive. Minor bonus-granting feats? Lame. Similarly, the rules are rather often precise and to the point; at other instances, as noted above, they lack bonus types of sports a few oddities – in short, this is pretty much a definition of a mixed bag; while personally, I consider this to be on the positive side of things, I’d usually round down due to the hiccups. If you are particular about the details, you may wish to round down. HOWEVER, considering the amount of content we get, and the rather cool critters featured in the extensive appendix, my final verdict will round up from 3.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Frogfolk of Porphyra
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

5e Menagerie: Trash Griffon
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/07/2019 12:28:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This mini-pdf clocks in at 4 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content.

One of these pages is devoted to a one-page iteration of the nice full-color artwork, while the other contains the rules-relevant material and background.

In 5e, Trash Gryphons are challenge 0 Tiny monstrosities that actually are a variety of different entities that combine the traits of mammals and birds; the most commonly-known one is raven/raccoon, but pigeon/rat or jay-squirrel hybrids exist as well. An alternate ability that lets them use skunk musk is provided. Good news: the statblock of the 5e-version works, though the features like Keen Sight are only bolded, and not both bolded and italicized, as they should be.

As noted before, there is an alternate creature feature that allows for the use of skunk-like musk spray that may temporarily incapacitate those sprayed; however, it is not perfect: It specifies that immunity to poison makes you automatically succeed on the saving throw. Okay, does that mean the poisoned condition, poison damage, both? This needs clarification.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal and rules level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the artwork is cool. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

The 5e-version of the trash gryphons penned by Jacob Blackmon and Margherita Tramontano is better than the flawed PFRPG-iteration. It’s not necessarily an impressive critter, but it’s an okay little file for a low price point. If the notion sounds interesting to you, this may be worth checking out. My final verdict will be 2.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
5e Menagerie: Trash Griffon
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Monster Menagerie: Trash Griffon
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/07/2019 12:26:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This mini-pdf clocks in at 4 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content.

One of these pages is devoted to a one-page iteration of the nice full-color artwork, while the other contains the rules-relevant material and background.

Trash Gryphons are CR ½ Tiny magical beasts that actually are a variety of different entities that combine the traits of mammals and birds; the most commonly-known one is raven/raccoon, but pigeon/rat or jay-squirrel hybrids exist as well. An alternate ability that lets them use a skunk musk is provided. The statblock isn’t perfect and lacks e.g. flight maneuverability and has a few minor snafus in the math, which is jarring at low CRs and such a minor stat complexity.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, but on a rules-language level, there are more glitches in this simple critter than I am comfortable with. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the artwork is cool. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

I’m sorry to say, but the trash gryphons by Jacob Blackmon and Margherita Tramontano fall short – I like the concept, but with hiccups in such a simple critter and not much offered beyond the basics, and we’re left with a flawed little pdf. I can’t go higher than 2 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Monster Menagerie: Trash Griffon
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

US Marshals: A Shared Storytelling Game Of Justice In The American Wild West
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2019 10:47:41

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This book clocks in at 114 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/introduction, 1 page advertisement (for Outlaw Soaps! – It fits thematically in the book – really like it!), leaving us 110 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so first things first, this is a rules-lite game about the “Imagined Wild West” – not the historical one, necessarily, and with the subject matter being slightly less common than the Age of Sails tackled in the first Difference-engine-powered game, we begin with a pretty nifty array of links for further research, so if you want to embark on a more historical game, or are like me, not from the US and thus not as enmeshed in the history of the nation, this’ll be extremely helpful – particularly because we’re playing US Marshals and/or their deputies this time around, and not the classic lone stranger popularized by media. Interesting here would also be that the author obviously did his research – if you fear a depiction of just the Old West of classic Hollywood, you’ll be told about some ladies that were US Marshals. Similarly, while racism was obviously a thing, the book also contextualizes this, and provides examples for African American heroes serving as US Marshals. So yeah, you can obviously ignore these or include them in your game, choosing what aspects you wish to emphasize, but it was interesting for me to read and certainly not something I was that familiar with.

Interesting here: Even if you have no patience to do some research on the era, the game explains the role of the US Marshal (or deputy) rather well in a succinct and precise manner, and that out of the way, we move to the swift and pretty painless character creation.

The game requires 2 six-sided dice (d6s). You start by choosing a nickname, followed by selecting your attributes. There are three of those, the first being Mental, which denotes your wits, cleverness, will, etc.. Physical describes strength and endurance, agility, etc. and finally, Social, determines the character’s charm, persuasiveness, humor, etc. You assign the values +4, +3 and +2 to these.

After this, you choose two Talents and two Flaws (a difference to the first Difference-engine game); this change is smart, as it generates more roleplaying potential; Talents generally tend to provide a +2 bonus to one type of challenge, while Flaws either provide a -2 penalty to all challenges pertaining some broader aspect, or -3 to challenges pertaining a more limited component – enough of those are provided to get a sense of the intended balance and make the notion of designing more of them yourself simple. Cool here: There are plenty of special events that may happen when you roll doubles, snake eyes (two 1s) – you get the drift. If you e.g. have the cheapskate flaw, snake eyes represents an item malfunctioning, breaking, etc.

Talents and flaws may also influence your Health – the default starting value is 9, and the game has another resource, namely Grit. This is clever, as it is easily the aspect of the game that makes it last – Grit is a mechanic that will have different applications, depending on your talents chosen, and it also acts as XPs of sorts – it can either influence roles, or you can spend 3 grit to buy a talent, 5 to get rid of a flaw, or 6 Grit to increase an attribute by +1. Health is always equal to the sum of all attributes, so an increase also makes you slightly tougher. The pace of the game’s progression is wholly in the GM’s hand – as noted, Health is the combination of all attributes; other than Health-increases, gaining talents or removing flaws are the suggested means to depict character growth.

After this, you choose your gear – gear doesn’t give you bonuses (at least usually; special gear may well grant bonuses!), but does allow you to perform certain tasks. All characters begin with proper clothes, a knife, a revolver and either a repeating rifle, Sharps rifle, or a shotgun, as well as a Marshal’s badge and a card signifying their office. Beyond that, you name items, and perform a simple challenge – if you win, you get the item; if not, then you don’t get it. You get to roll until you lose or have 5 items. What’s a simple challenge, you ask? It is a roll of 2d6– you roll against the opponent, and if you win, you win, if you lose, you lose. Ties are rerolled. This is the most simple resolution method herein, but not the only one – I will get to others later. But I digress: The system knows three types of weapon: Simple, improved, and advanced – their damage ranges from 1 – 3. Reloading a firearm takes a full turn, and ammo should be tracked, but this is handled in an abstract manner I enjoyed. You count shots, but are assumed to have enough ammunition on you to reload thrice. The game also specifies that one roll does not necessarily equate shots fired. Derringers and Holdouts, repeaters, carbines, etc. – all provided, and yes, the weapons do have differences in their details and rules by type. Range is a simple concept as well – from Point blank to Extreme Range, there are 7 different distance categories, which can impose massive penalties. At extreme ranges, only seasoned veterans will be able to hit at all, unless using a Sharps rifle, and these instead really suck at low ranges, you some tactics re gear are included. Rules for aiming, sights, bows and arrows or thrown weapons are also included. And yes, we get rules for cannons, explosives, etc. as well. All of these gear rules are not rules you need to know to play, mind you – they are introduced later in the book, and I moved the brief discussion of them to this section for the sake of readability.

Finally, you can add traits like age, weight, etc. and other non-.mechanical game data –and bingo. Character creation is very much possible in less than a minute – if you roll for items all at once and use colored dice, you can definitely resolve character creation in even less time. Room, board etc. is generally not necessarily something you need to track. Really cool: A suggested survival kit list of useful equipment is provided for your convenience, cutting down on the dreaded shopping spree eating up gaming time.

The Difference engine’s core resolution mechanic is to roll 2d6 + Bonus versus 2d6 + Bonus. Impossible tasks are not rolled, and easy tasks are resolved as automatic successes. Before dice are rolled, the GM and player agree on Stakes – what happens on a success, and one a failure.

The winner of the challenge is the one with the Higher Result; in case of a tie, Bonuses are compared; if the bonuses are the same as well, the highest rolled result on the dice acts as a tie-breaker – and should this still be tied, the player wins. In the case of challenges between players, neither fails – they can reattempt the check on the next turn.

But why is the engine called “Difference Engine”? Well, to determine your success in a challenge, you can have different successes – there are actually 7 degrees of success; by barely making a challenge with a tied roll of +0, you achieve minimal success, while a Difference of 11+ means an incredible success – fighting and jumping examples allow the GM to easily determine effects for a given result. It should be noted that the GM-section of this book also contains advice pertaining such components, assigning difficulties, etc. – the system is easy to grasp, intuitive and explained ina concise manner.

Teamwork is very potent – the player with the highest attribute rolls 2d6, and adds +1d6 per additional privateer involved. Only the highest two dice results are calculated, and only the Marshal who rolls the dice applies Talents and Flaws! Examples on how to interpret the rolls and how to make the eponymous Difference matter are provided, with several simple suggestions illustrating results. The system knows critical successes (double 6s) and failures (double 1s) as an optional rule, and the pdf even explains what happens on a double 6 opposed by a double 1, walking you through the entire process of using this. The game presents a detailed example of a challenges, and even if you’re new to roleplaying, that should explain the subject matter rather well.

There is one more factor to consider – Grit. Each character begins play with 1 point of Grit, and more points are gained whenever a Double is rolled ( i.e. two 2s. two 3s, etc.); this, however, may well be modified, depending on your Talents, Flaws and background story. If the players use Grit, the GM gains one point of Grit, mirroring a system I have used with some success for hero points and similar mechanics in more complex systems. (Yep, in my home-game, using a hero point will net the group a doom point I’ll use for complications and adversaries…) Using Grit BEFORE the roll lets you add +1d6 per Grit used, but only the highest two results are used to calculate results; OR, you can add +2 per Grit used. If used AFTER the roll, you get to add +1 per Grit used to the result OR you may reroll one die rolled, but must take the new result.

Combat is classified in turns, which correspond to no set amount of time, allowing you to categorize them anew per frame (so that naval combat might have longer turns); initiative is a simple challenge, which is a smart change to the system. Akin to how VsM-games work, difficult movement may require Mental or Physical tests. Attacking may be resolved by rolling Physical vs. Physical, Physical vs. Mental, Mental vs. Mental – it depends on the context. Damage is contingent on the weapon employed and the Difference. Obviously, social combats are also possible, and it should be noted, that Marshals reaching 0 Health take their negative Health as a penalty to all challenges If negative Health exceeds one of the PC’s attributes, they can’t use challenges in that attribute any more. At -6 Health, a character falls unconscious, at -10, the Marshal is dead. The game includes discussions of handling attacks versus objects, and indeed, actually has a dueling sub-engine, which is surprisingly exciting, involving potential wagering of Grit. Speaking of which: GMs may actually allow for Grit being used to temporarily recover Health. Let me state this right here: This is genius. There usually is a dissonance between players not wanting to spend such a resource (because they are hoarding it), and the reality depicted in classic Westerns and similar pieces of media. If the characters are so tough, why don’t they constantly operate at peak efficiency? The game makes the player not want to use Grit unless necessary, which also means that it’s sometimes smarter to NOT buckle up and use it to heal. This is very clever, and I really enjoy it. Optional rules for getting worse without proper treatment are fyi included as well.

Healing is handled easily: Roll a Mental challenge, and add Health value of target, whether positive or negative, to the result. On a success, the target regains half the Difference (rounded down) Health. On a failure, though, the Difference is taken as damage! So no, Health-scumming is not wise, and yes, it is very much intended that full heals are difficult. The engine has further improved in this game over its first iteration, in that the game presents actual rules for the means of getting around (trains, coaches, horseback – the latter differentiating between types of movement), but also has further rules regarding making camp: Campsite complexities, conditions and tasks are all covered.

The rules lite “GM has the reins”-angle is further emphasized by having positive and negative conditions and states of mind listed, which can have mechanical effects – and yes, we once more have the game spelling explicitly out that the like can’t be power-gamed. Love, faith, pride – all of these matter, and the game also walks you through downtime in detail – and where to draw the line between depicting everything and nothing. From being on the lookout to cooking and similar tasks, this engine presents quite a few cool components. Camp safety also is a factor – poisonous snakes in the vicinity, increase a threat level of a camp site by +1; the GM rolls a check with such factors cumulatively added to determine bonuses versus the characters’ rolls. It seems simple, and indeed, is an elegant solution.

The book acknowledges that it can’t be an extended GM’s guide, but provides several solid guiding principles and the like, and presents advice on choosing GM roll bonuses. The book also talks about why it abstracts the whole matter of money, how progress doesn’t necessarily need to be positive, and how to handle bonus-granting items – if you went overboard with handing out items, the book has trouble-solving means. The book also briefly touches upon weird west themes and presents stats for generic NPCs, as well as a handy little two-page character sheet.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting on a rules language level are excellent; on a formal level, I noticed a few near-homophone hiccups (à la “then/than”), but nothing serious. Layout adheres to a nice one-column full-color standard, using a blending of modified public domain art and stock pieces to surprisingly consistent effects – kudos for capturing the aesthetics well. I can’t comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the physical book, since I do not own it. A somewhat serious downside for the pdf is that it only has 7 bookmarks. For an over 100-page game, those are not enough and make navigation not as comfortable as it should be. If in doubt, I’d suggest print.

Lucus Palosaari has really learned from his first Difference game – here, we have a serious step ahead for the game, with pretty much all of my gripes taken care of. For one, the sequence of rules-presentation makes more sense to me; secondly, the game is simply more detailed: We have a lot of optional historic angles and explanations, and indeed, the book manages to be better at maintaining longer games: The use of Grit as a combination of hero points and XP is super smart and rewarding, and I can see the system allowing you to run prolonged campaigns. Presented in a concise and sensible manner, this is a fun, rules lite game, one that lets you choose the pace of the game and the degree of complexity of the game. As a whole, I consider this to be a success, and as such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars – if you’re looking for a rules-lite game that’s easy to grasp, one with a potent engine that you can customize easily, then you can’t go wrong here.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
US Marshals: A Shared Storytelling Game Of Justice In The American Wild West
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

5E: Pixies on Parade
Publisher: Playground Adventures
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2019 10:44:08

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 5e-version of this module clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This was moved up on my review-queue as a prioritized review at the behest of my patreon supporters.

I playtested this module with a group of kids, which spans the ages 4 - 11 since this is a kid-friendly module and as such needs to be tested regarding its best age-range - the tabs on my homepage contain the suggested range I'd most recommend this for. Sidebars mention e.g. cartoon violence and how to depict it; it should be noted, though, that adults can enjoy this module as well; with very minor reskinning and a different emphasis, you’ll have a dark fantasy yarn or something akin to a Don Bluth movie from the 80s/90s.

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion - you see, no one likes cheaters and you'll just make the module boring for you if you continue reading. ... .. . All right, only GMs here? Great! Every year, the town of Glavnost celebrates a festival most peculiar, dressing up with wings and the like to honor the fully statted town's pixie protectors that keep even the most unruly children from being lost in the forest...failing only very rarely. Alas, one particularly stubborn child named Edwin, seeking freedom from his parent's commands and wanting a life of eternal blissful parade with the pixies, slipped through the cracks - and the Nightmare King, a boogeyman got him, halting his aging process and grooming him to become the successor, a son...a new boogeyman.

After a brief introduction of the key-NPCs of Glavnost, the festivities of the town (which comes with a thoroughly gorgeous map that could come straight out of a children's book) are in full-blown preparation - here, the kids have some time to roam, to mingle with the townsfolk and do some research that may hint at the importance of the pixie parade, the nightmare king and the disbelief regarding the existence of gremlins, in spite of the little buggers being made responsible for many a mischief. The prevalence of fey magic allows for a unique gift here: Imagination magic.

With the power of imagination, the kids can subtly alter reality, which also represents e.g. carts coming around in just the right place to catch falling characters and the like. And yes, if the kids are smart, they'll pick up on this and use it to their advantage! The adults can't see the gremlins, which btw. include properly-statted pugwampis and vexgits (minor nitpick: spells in innate spellcasting not italicized, and the headers for attacks etc. in the action-section should be in italics as well, not just bolded; these minor formatting snafus extend to other statblocks as well, though not to all of them – still, uncommon to see in Playground Adventures’ offerings), sabotaging the town, but the kids can - and thus, the first task is basically gremlin extermination, with 3 sample sabotages being provided.

Eventually, the success of the PCs will earn them the attention of fairy godmother Lista, who fills them in on Edwin's fate - which mirrors a playful way to convey stranger danger's importance as well as acknowledging something: That parents don't tell all stories to the children, worrying it might give them bad dreams. This is something that ultimately, instinctively, all children know - and to save Edwin, the fairy bestows 6th level (previously gained XP) on the players, tasking them to redeem Edwin and freeing him from the Nightmare King's influence.

In order to do that, though, they have to brave Edwin's dark dreams - first, defeating his shade in a game of hide and seek and then, braving toy soldier variant golems (the battle featuring a GLORIOUS isometric map, and yes, figurines of wondrous power, toy soldiers, included! These are moved around via a giant, shadowy hand, and here it should be noted that the errors in the toy soldier statblocks have been cleaned up – including the formatting, which is correct for this statblock. Edwin's hound would be the next task - and here, things become interesting: The poor dog, turned hellhound by Edwin's descent into darkness, just wants to play fetch, but the damn sticks keep burning, resulting in angry fire blasts into the woods...which may cause a forest fire! Here, one can teach about being careful with fire...and the encounter rewards kids thinking and providing a stick that doesn't burn...and reduce the dog back to a regular, non-hellhound pup.

On the, again, lavishly mapped isometric map of the path ahead, fairy circle traps and a tooth fairy await and upon vanquishing the fey, the PCs may get a faerie fire (spell reference not in italics)-duplicating Baby Tooth of Edwin. There is another encounter next that offers yet another means to educate and slightly shock: Edwin, thinking he can impress the fey with a present, stole his parent's wedding ring - this item became the symbol his remorse, transforming into a now chained golden dragon that needs to be freed, filling in the PCs on Edwin's crime before turning back into the ring, asking them to present it to Edwin. Minor nitpick: The ring that may be gained here references flight maneuverability, which is not a thing in 5e.

...and then, the ground shakes...trees start toppling...and a ravaging, massive stuffed bear of colossal proportions breaks through the trees...and yes, this encounter once again is beautifully rendered in isometric maps of stellar quality...and yes, the massive, powerful Terror Bear is a powerful adversary indeed...but vanquishing him provides a return of the creature to Edwin's teddy-bear of old, which may grant advantage versus the frightened condition.

An then, it's time for the final boss fight: Edwin, accompanied by corrupted, color-less pixies, wants to collect all the pixies for his twisted mockery of a parade...but thankfully, the encounters so far have provided all the components the PCs need to save him: Each of his erstwhile fragments of innocence recovered frees a pixie and, together, they may free Edwin, exorcising the influence of the Nightmare King, freeing raw nightmare power - which is a thoroughly awesome climax: The Nightmare Avatar has powerful, unique powers that the kids may know from nightmares: Like being slowed. At the same time, though, they can use their imagination magic to counter his dread powers in an excellent showdown that may end with the PCs reuniting Edwin with his overjoyed parents - happy ends don't happen on their own; one needs to fight for them...and one needs to do the right thing. This morale, unobtrusively conveyed throughout these pages, it what really makes this shine above and beyond. On the downside, I am pretty sure I noticed minor glitches in the saving throws of the final version of Edwin, as well as among skills. I noticed minor hiccups like this among the nightmare avatar’s stats as well. The flavor text explaining the way in which the imagination magic works here also references Pathfinder rules language.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting in the 5e-version of this excellent module, alas, are not up to the same level as in the PFRPG-version; they aren’t bad by any stretch of the word, but they sport several minor snafus that do accumulate, and some of them impact mechanics. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard by Daniel Marshall and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The copious full-color artworks by Jacob Blackmon are neat indeed. A special shout-out to cartographer Jocelyn Sarvida - the isometric maps of this books are downright BEAUTIFUL, featuring gorgeous renditions of the adversaries, which makes them btw. also suitable handouts. Speaking of which - as the astute reader may have noticed, I did not explicitly state that there'd be 1-page hand-outs of said maps. Well, never fret - as the final piece of awesome, this module does feature a PWYW-map-folio for handouts purposes. Take a look at it if you need any example on how good the maps are...

Stephen Rowe's Pixies on Parade is, in one word, inspired: Mirroring classic tropes of the power of imagination and fairy tales, it never crams morality down the throats of the players, while still teaching what's right and what's wrong. The idea of imagination magic is brilliant as a tool for GMs. Now, as for the themes of the module and its suitability for kids: It's pretty much perfect, mirroring themes of beloved children's tales and not shirking away from important topics, all presented in a child-friendly manner. I can see some very young kids that are particularly sensitive consider the themes a bit frightening, but in my case, the 4-year old enjoyed the module, surprisingly, more than "A Friend in Need," despite being frightened a bit - that depends on the kid in question, though and requires the discretion of the parents - personally, I would have loved this module as a 4-year old, having always had a penchant for slightly more mature stories, even as a kid...and yes, I learned to read at a very young age to read some fairy-tales my parents considered inappropriate...which became my favorites. It is my firm belief that kids can benefit from topics that are not all sunshine and flowers, particularly if they feature a didactic and moral component.

As a reviewer, I think the target age-range for most kids will span the ages of 6+ - and yes, I did not include a limit for a reason. Why? Because this module not only is great for kids. It's just as awesome for adults: Seriously, just tweak the fluff a bit and make it darker and you have a GLORIOUS fairy-tale themed introductory module that makes for a great starting point of PC careers as a prologue: Just let the level 6-blessing revert after the module and skip to adulthood - where you can also add elements appropriate for the process of growing up and paint a bleaker picture. Or make a campaign about innocence lost too soon…

Pixies on Parade’s premise and scenes are a downright awesome: From the gorgeous maps to the blending of sandboxing in the beginning and a more linear heroes' journey, this book's themes are concise...and there is not a single boring encounter in this book, not a single uninspired critter or problematic scene, nothing I could complain about. All of this holds true for 5e as well – for the actual content.

However. Dan Dillon’s conversion is as good as you’d expect from this master of 5e, and manages to tackle the spirit of the adventure well, and preserve it – he really gets 5e, after all, and the big picture, the fidelity to the source? Captured and translated. At the same time, this iteration of the adventure is simply not as refined as the PFRPG version – it features quite a lot of those pesky, small errors, from spell-references to formatting oversights to other components, which, while on their lonesome, won’t hurt…but they do accumulate, and in a masterpiece like this, they still felt glaring to me. Playground Adventures usually is much better at catching even miniscule snafus. Anyhow, I can’t rate this as highly as the PFRPG-iteration; the module is inspired, the conversion more than competent in the broad strokes and concepts, but the sheer number of small glitches in formatting, references, math, etc. weigh this down. Hence, my final verdict can’t exceed 3.5 stars, rounded up due to the strength of the narrative. It’s simply a damn fine adventure for young and old alike. If you have the luxury of choice, though, do use the PFRPG-version – it’s clearly the vastly superior iteration.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
5E: Pixies on Parade
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Recall Knowledge: Dragons
Publisher: Evil Robot Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/05/2019 06:21:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first of the Recall Knowledge-pdfs clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page introduction/editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

So, I’m a fan of monster lore. I like my critters deadly, and I like it when players are rewarded not for their outgame knowledge, but for actually doing their legwork. As such, PF2’s Recall knowledge use of the Lore skill, with its sub-categories, is something I genuinely loved seeing, and which I felt to be curiously absent from the Bestiary. Anyhow, this pdf is the first in the series to tackle the notion of PCs actually pausing to think about their foes.

The Lore subcategories in this supplement will be Lore (Dragon) and Lore (Arcana), with the Arcana DC generally being 5 higher than the more specialized one pertaining dragons; DCs by level are provided, ranging from level-1 to level 20, and DC adjustments are recapped as well. There is a brief table summing up creature identification skills (Occultism for e.g. aberrations and spirits). As standard in PF 2, critical successes will net you more (and better) information, while critical failures net you no or incorrect information; interesting here is, that a failure nets you one piece of true information, and one that is false or misleading.

A kind of Recall Knowledge statblock is provided: It lists the creature level, its category (here: dragon, metallic or dragon, chromatic), the type trait, DCs and best known ability – this is relevant for the critical success. One of these is provided for young, adult and ancient dragons. The base assumption is, that young and adult dragon knowledge is common, whereas that pertaining to ancient ones is uncommon – this makes sense, considering that most people will know about nearby dragons; furthermore, as they age, dragons tend to raid less, etc. – in short, the rules support the established in-game lore. I can get behind that.

Another useful feature of this book? You don’t have to paraphrase abilities – the pdf has you covered. There are 6 pieces of true knowledge, and 6 erroneous or incorrect pieces of information. These generally tend to seem plausible, and hey, might even be true in your game? Or, well, not, as per the standard. These tend to be plausible. “Bathing in dragon blood can make your skin invulnerable.” “Dragons can swallow their enemies whole.” Okay, the first was simple, but what about the second one? True in PF2 or not? See, that’s what I meant by plausible.

Each sub-category of dragon gets their own specialized table of such entries – these tend to range from 4 entries to 8 entries for the true knowledge, and 3 entries for incorrect information. Considering that most GMs will have a tougher time coming up with plausible lies on the get-go than paraphrasing information in not rules language speech, I think the focus here is a bit unfortunate – having more plausible false information would have been more useful, as far as I’m concerned. Your mileage may vary there, but yeah – that’s one of my biggest niggles here. I also think that each of the dragon types could at least have used 6 entries for each false and true pieces of information. I am personally rather fond of the inclusion of copper dragon jokes: “Why can no one see the minotaur rogue? He’s invisibull.” XD Having one such table for each dragon type, and the full 6 entries, would have elevated the pdf from being a neat one, to being a great one.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are pretty good on a rules-language level, but on a formal level, I noticed a few missing full stops, and e.g. the incorrect information: “Brass dragons it.”[sic!] and “Brass dragons sunlight.”[sic!] Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports a couple of rather nice full-color artworks. The pdf as no bookmarks, but doesn’t necessarily need them at this length.

Paul Fields’ first book on creature lore, both truthful and false, is a promising start for a new series. It has identified a oversight/hole in PF2 that can be filled with handy dressing-books such as this one. This is a helpful GM aid to have, and as a whole, is well-researched. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like it could have used more false pieces of believable information regarding the dragons, and the full complement of truths for each of them. Considering the low price-point, I will round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars for this one, and look forward to tackling the one dealing with fiends!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Recall Knowledge: Dragons
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Crypt of the SCIENCE-WIZARD 5E
Publisher: Skeeter Green Productions
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/04/2019 12:34:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first publication of Skeeter Green Publishing clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 38 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange of a fair and unbiased review. I have consulted both the pdf and the print version for the review.

So, let’s start with the first thing you’ll notice upon opening the module: The covers are sturdy and detachable and hold a massive map of the main adventure area; and, before you ask, the electronic iteration des feature a full-color, player-friendly iteration as well as a graphic of the somewhat isometric overland map; these two, for once in my life, are actually components, though, which, while helpful, do not account for my eternal cries for player-friendly material; oh no. Yeah, I kinda got what I usually complain incessantly about. But guess what? The module goes a step further. The softcover saddle-stitched module with its delightfully old-school-y detachable cover? It comes with something that should have been standard for years, but isn’t.

A separate booklet.

This booklet is 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), and it shows regions and rooms found in the module. From a parchment/treasure-map to a sea hiding a barely (but clearly!) visible entrance to a complex to a hallway with walls studded in hieroglyphs and strange pictograms, the module takes one of the best pages out of Goodman Games’ playbook and escalates it to the level that I wanted to see. Yep, you heard right. A 20-page handout booklet (6’’ by 9’’/A5) for the players. F*** YEAH!

…ähem. Apologies. So, this booklet is where a lot of the module’s budget went, its artworks far superior to the other pieces within, but guess what? That’s how it should frickin’ be. The handouts? Everyone at the table gets to see them. What good is a gorgeous, beautiful map, if only the GM gets to see it? What good is a lavish fight-scene depicting some iconics instead of the PCs? What good is an assassination scene that the PCs won’t witness, and that spoils the mystery of an investigation? Bingo. This module, for once, prioritizes where its art-budget should go correctly, providing cool artwork where it’s seen. Huge frickin’ kudos. If anything, other publishers should take a careful look at the module for that reason alone.

Anyhow, where was I? So, this is the first of the “Tales of the Black Tower”, but the module very much is a stand-alone offering – you’ll have no more annoying dangling plot-threads than in any other adventure, i.e. enough to hook the next module in a wide variety of ways, and enough to run this as stand-alone, should you so desire. Nominally, the module is recommended for 3rd level characters, but is designated as a difficult adventure – this difficulty, just so you know, stems from how it challenges the players. Veterans may tackle this as soon as 1st level (provided the GM tones down the combat encounters), and much like my previous comparison with Goodman Games’ DCC-modules, I’d actually consider this in aesthetics close to them: This is a pulp fantasy exploration that values player skill over character skill. Save-or-die-scenarios are absent, but the module is still deadly. In short: It is a hard module, but it remains fair in its difficulty.

The module features boxes of read-aloud text, and sidebars “Behind the GM-screen” that further elaborate on the proceedings within. Random encounters, where applicable, are slightly more detailed than usual, featuring brief descriptions as well as the relevant stats. References to stats or sections have been bolded in the text, and proper formatting has been implemented, making the parsing of the adventure information reliable.

Now, if you’re a 5e-GM, chances are that you’ve, at one time, taken a chance with a 5e-module converted from OSR-rules. There is an excellent chance that the result was not pleasant. There are plenty of OSR-authors playing a kind of pseudo-5e, one that works at their table, but one that also does not, not even closely, work in proper 5e-games. There often is a lack of understanding regarding rules and the intricacies of the system on display that is absolutely aggravating.

Yeah, this is NOT the case here. Not at all. This is a PROPER 5e-adventure. The author obviously knows the game, has played it, and has actually analyzed how it works. The rules conventions are in place, the execution is excellent: Ability checks are what they’re supposed to be; saving throws make sense, damage types are correctly implemented, and same goes for conditions. There is one instance where boiling water has no type to its damage, and the names of the features/actions of the new monsters, “Melee/Ranged Weapon Attack”, and “Hit” are not properly depicted in italics, but that is a purely cosmetic issue. Saves, skills, passive Perception – all CORRECT. I love this. There is another aspect to this module’s 5e-iteration that I feel I need to mention, but that ties into the SPOILER-section below. For now, rest assured that you actually get a proper 5e-adventure here, and not some minimum effort hackjob of a conversion.

It should be noted that the module has an implicit setting that can easily be adapted to desert /wasteland environments, including wilderness random encounter tables, but which has a distinct Mesopotamian slant – while it is easy enough to get rid of this flavor component, I’d genuinely suggest not doing so, for it imho adds to the unique flavor of the adventure.

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

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, we begin with a scroll, that feels like it’s been taken out of the Nemedian Chronicles, weaving the yarn of mighty god-emperor/wizard Kersete, and the vengeance the entity has wrought upon partially successful insurgencies; Kersete may not be active in the world right now, but the mighty being remains unconquered, and indeed, both in nomenclature and in the way all of this background story is conveyed, we have distinct impressions of a twist on the Gilgamesh epic, save that we have an excerpt from a chronicle of an antithesis of the myth, of a deadly being.

The module presents essentially the entrance to the Black Tower where Kersete lairs, but unlike many modules that are parts of series, it is a feature-complete experience sans dangling threads, should you choose to run it right now.

Structurally, the module makes a whole bunch of daring decisions I love seeing: For one, there is a pretty good chance that the players may not even find the proper finale; false treasure-rooms and ends are included, and indeed, unless your players are really SMART, they may not even find the potential entrance to the Black Tower or the module’s boss encounter.

Combat is sparse once inside the complex, and indeed, the primary focus lies on traps and creative problem solving. It is my utmost delight to note that there is not a single sucky “invisible line”-trap herein. This adventure employs the best trap design I have seen all year, regardless of system; heck, it ranges among the best adventures out there in that regard, period. You see, not only are the traps CLEVER, they can’t be simply disarmed with a roll of the dice – the module expects the party to act in a small manner, and the traps MAKE SENSE. There is a thorough commitment to the complex MAKING SENSE. There is, for example, a checkered floor, obviously trapped, that sports a time-waster of sorts, and deadly gas – this gas is delivered in sequence of types, with only the final one being lethal, and allowing the party enough time to rescue their compatriots. Can it TPK the party? Yeah, sure. But that’d be a deserved loss. One of my favorites is a kind of moving, thin ledge that needs to be traversed – it’s made of flint, and creates rains of sparks that ignite essentially kerosene-like fuel in the pit below. It can be jammed, used in tricky manners, heck, even weaponized by smart parties.

It’s VERY hard to describe just how meticulously the module sticks to the paradigm of providing a fair, but thoroughly challenging dungeon for people who want more out of the game than rolling to hit (though that is included as well!). It took me a while to fully appreciate how intricately and well designed the whole complex is, how it systematically emphasizes being smart over dice rolls. And how it uses its handout booklet and the depictions there to further create these challenges and portray them in a fair manner. There, in the back…isn’t that an impaled skeleton? As the party ventures down the corridor, they get ANOTHER handout that shows the scene in more detail. And attentive players really do get an edge in the exploration of the tomb.

And this is where we get back to 5e, and how it influences this module as a system. You probably know that most 5e-groups won’t be as accustomed to the old-school playstyle and its focus on problem-solution and roleplaying over simply rolling checks, right? Well, the module does something GENIUS. It uses checks, rolling the dice, as essentially a hint-system! This is elegant and genius in several ways: It slightly decreases the difficulty of the module for an audience not accustomed to the playstyle AND, at the same time, rewards the players for using the tools at their disposal, the system-immanent options they have. This is sheer genius. I love it. One could argue that the 5e-version is actually more of a design achievement than the OSR-version already is. I know, right? How often does that happen???

Interesting would also be another aspect, though this might be primarily a thing that GMs notice: There is this old adage that stipulates that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Well, guess what? That’s kinda the leitmotif here. From the player’s side of things, the dungeon can feel very much like a magical dungeon with some oddities; from a GMs perspective, we see the purpose of all, the intricate commitment to detail and intelligent notions. Yes, this is pulpy, but it’s up to you how and whether you’d emphasize these components, and the party won’t end the exploration with some anachronistic blaster rifles. In fact, in many ways, the party is cast in the roles of e.g. Conan and similar heroes facing things beyond their comprehension. If you’ve followed my reviews, you’ll know that my comparisons with my beloved barbarian are reserved to adventures and supplements that really do a good job of capturing this ephemeral atmosphere. All of the traps make sense, and there is not a single “a wizard did it”-moment. The module can be mean, tough, and brutal, but it always remains FAIR and retains a perfect commitment to plausibility.

We have a constant, almost obsessive commitment to excellence and foresight regarding EVERYTHING. From how the handouts are implemented, to how it TEACHES what sets it apart from other modules. You’ve heard me gush about e.g. Harley Stroh’s DCC-modules, and how they work; it could be claimed that this adventure goes a similar route, but teaches the PLAYERS from the get-go how to ROLEPLAY the problem-solutions required in the adventure from the onset. What do I mean by that? Well, there is, for example, a kind of storage room that contains various tools that can be helpful. Their presence makes sense. Removing plaster from the walls? You know, that might actually be a GOOD idea here! This dungeon wants you to engage with it, and not consider the walls to be textured like in a computer game. This notion is driven home from the get-go, for the crypt is at the bottom of an oasis’ lake. Opening the crypt will mean that the party has to wait until the water has drained. They’ll also have destroyed, you know, an oasis in the wastelands. Choice, consequence, written in all-caps letters right there. And guess what? They might well accidentally create a sand-water sludge for a moment – this is, essentially, a safe-zone tutorial that does not, not for a second feel like one; instead, you genuinely feel a) clever and b) like people exploring an ancient place of wonders.

And honestly, I could go through the module, trap by trap, encounter by encounter, but I’d be doing it a huge disservice.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are slightly less impressive than in the OSR-version; as noted, on a formal level, we have a few instances where things are not italicized properly; it’s still very good, though, and its use of 5e-rules is excellent. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard. The artworks are okay for adventurer-scenes – the budget has obviously gone where it should, into the massive handout booklet that is pain amazing. The electronic version comes with player’s map etc., and cartography for the region is full color and the VTT-compatible player’s map (which features no secret doors or SPOILERS), b/w for the handouts. The handouts even include a treasure map to the oasis that jumpstarts the adventure. The physical version is AMAZING, capturing the old-school vibe with its wraparound cover and booklet perfectly. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks, making using it a joy. Still, for the handout booklet alone, I’d seriously recommend getting that version, if you can.

I first read material by Skeeter Green when he contributed material to the PFRPG-version of Rappan Athuk, crafting some of my favorite parts of the mega-dungeon. I knew he was no novice, and I had high expectations. When I have high expectations for anything, I usually end up disappointed. This holds doubly true for 5e-conversions, which often, to put it in plain English, suck.

Oh boy.

Oh boy was I not prepared for this.

From the support and inclusion of all the formal things you expect, from player maps to bookmarks, to all the other things so many publishers forget, the formal criteria are pitch-perfect., and form a glorious unity with the handout booklet, which is NOT just an optional gimmick, but something that is brilliantly interwoven with the complex’s meticulously-executed design. Both writing and design are fantastic here, and the singularity of vision, of a capital letters ROLEplaying adventure that rewards and teaches clever problem solutions. The use of 5e’s more expansive rules-options as a type of hint system not only is smart, it also contextualizes the module’s playstyle within the system and adapts it in a supremely smart manner.

It took me ages to properly grasp why I adored this module to this extent, it took analysis. In a way, this module reminded me of some of the best authors out there: Much like Richard Develyn’s superb 4Dollar Dungeons modules (seriously, even if you play OSR-games and not PFRPG, get them!), there is a commitment to a distinctly novel vision, and an expert implementation of it, that is frankly astounding. Much like Harley Stroh’s DCC-works, there is a commitment to atmosphere and challenge and plausibility here, one that you may not consciously notice at first, but which suffuses everything.

This is not murder-hoboing 101. There are plenty of good and bad old-school modules that cater to this playstyle. If you want more from your modules, though? Then get this right now.

This is all about creating a consistent illusion of the experience of delving into a wondrous and weird complex. It’s an ephemeral theme, as it suffuses pretty much the entire genre, but know what? This adventure made me realize how BAD a ton of the modules we regularly consume actually are. How artificial, how flat.

If anything, this is one of those stand-out adventures that designers should take a close look at; that GMs should process and run. This is, in short, a masterpiece – and one that manages to attain its excellence without over the top flourishes, shock value or any of the other things that make it easy to sell you on a book. The module proposes a simple question: “Do you need all of that? Doesn’t exploring a creative, smart complex with weirdness and challenges galore, suffice?”

Turns out, it does, at least when executed this well. In many ways, this is old-school in a way that puts many modules of both old- and new-school to shame; it has learned from the past, retained core values, and expanded upon them, injecting new components to enhance the experience.

Do I have complaints? Well, yes. I want more. We need more modules of this quality. To get back to 5e once more: I actually prefer the 5e-version over the OSR-version. Structurally, it is even more clever than the old-school iteration in its “teaching by showing”-approach married to new-school system usage.

This is one of the modules I’ll be referencing in my reviews for years to come. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval, and this receives a nomination for my Top Ten of 2019. If you have the luxury of choice, I’d actually recommend getting the 5e-version.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Crypt of the SCIENCE-WIZARD 5E
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Crypt of the SCIENCE-WIZARD S&W
Publisher: Skeeter Green Productions
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/04/2019 12:32:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first publication of Skeeter Green Publishing clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 38 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange of a fair and unbiased review. I have consulted both the pdf and the print version for the review.

So, let’s start with the first thing you’ll notice upon opening the module: The covers are sturdy and detachable and hold a massive map of the main adventure area; and, before you ask, the electronic iteration des feature a full-color, player-friendly iteration as well as a graphic of the somewhat isometric overland map; these two, for once in my life, are actually components, though, which, while helpful, do not account for my eternal cries for player-friendly material; oh no. Yeah, I kinda got what I usually complain incessantly about. But guess what? The module goes a step further. The softcover saddle-stitched module with its delightfully old-school-y detachable cover? It comes with something that should have been standard for years, but isn’t.

A separate booklet.

This booklet is 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), and it shows regions and rooms found in the module. From a parchment/treasure-map to a sea hiding a barely (but clearly!) visible entrance to a complex to a hallway with walls studded in hieroglyphs and strange pictograms, the module takes one of the best pages out of Goodman Games’ playbook and escalates it to the level that I wanted to see. Yep, you heard right. A 20-page handout booklet (6’’ by 9’’/A5) for the players. F*** YEAH!

…ähem. Apologies. So, this booklet is where a lot of the module’s budget went, its artworks far superior to the other pieces within, but guess what? That’s how it should frickin’ be. The handouts? Everyone at the table gets to see them. What good is a gorgeous, beautiful map, if only the GM gets to see it? What good is a lavish fight-scene depicting some iconics instead of the PCs? What good is an assassination scene that the PCs won’t witness, and that spoils the mystery of an investigation? Bingo. This module, for once, prioritizes where its art-budget should go correctly, providing cool artwork where it’s seen. Huge frickin’ kudos. If anything, other publishers should take a careful look at the module for that reason alone.

Anyhow, where was I? So, this is the first of the “Tales of the Black Tower”, but the module very much is a stand-alone offering – you’ll have no more annoying dangling plot-threads than in any other adventure, i.e. enough to hook the next module in a wide variety of ways, and enough to run this as stand-alone, should you so desire. Nominally, the module is recommended for 3rd level characters, but is designated as a difficult adventure – this difficulty, just so you know, stems from how it challenges the players. Veterans may tackle this as soon as 1st level (provided the GM tones down the combat encounters), and much like my previous comparison with Goodman Games’ DCC-modules, I’d actually consider this in aesthetics close to them: This is a pulp fantasy exploration that values player skill over character skill. Save-or-die-scenarios are absent, but the module is still deadly. In short: It is a hard module, but it remains fair in its difficulty.

The module features boxes of read-aloud text, and sidebars “Behind the GM-screen” that further elaborate on the proceedings within. As far as OSR-rules are concerned, we have Swords & Wizardry as the designated rule-set, which means one save, HD-rating, morale rating and both ascending and descending AC-values. Some monsters are taken from Frog God Games’ Monstrosities bestiary, but all information required to run them is included in the adventure. Random encounters, where applicable, are slightly more detailed than usual, featuring brief descriptions as well as the relevant stats. References to stats or sections have been bolded in the text, and proper formatting has been implemented, making the parsing of the adventure information reliable.

It should be noted that the module has an implicit setting that can easily be adapted to desert /wasteland environments, including wilderness random encounter tables, but which has a distinct Mesopotamian slant – while it is easy enough to get rid of this flavor component, I’d genuinely suggest not doing so, for it imho adds to the unique flavor of the adventure.

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

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, we begin with a scroll, that feels like it’s been taken out of the Nemedian Chronicles, weaving the yarn of mighty god-emperor/wizard Kersete, and the vengeance the entity has wrought upon partially successful insurgencies; Kersete may not be active in the world right now, but the mighty being remains unconquered, and indeed, both in nomenclature and in the way all of this background story is conveyed, we have distinct impressions of a twist on the Gilgamesh epic, save that we have an excerpt from a chronicle of an antithesis of the myth, of a deadly being.

The module presents essentially the entrance to the Black Tower where Kersete lairs, but unlike many modules that are parts of series, it is a feature-complete experience sans dangling threads, should you choose to run it right now.

Structurally, the module makes a whole bunch of daring decisions I love seeing: For one, there is a pretty good chance that the players may not even find the proper finale; false treasure-rooms and ends are included, and indeed, unless your players are really SMART, they may not even find the potential entrance to the Black Tower or the module’s boss encounter.

Combat is sparse once inside the complex, and indeed, the primary focus lies on traps and creative problem solving. It is my utmost delight to note that there is not a single sucky “invisible line”-trap herein. This adventure employs the best trap design I have seen all year, regardless of system; heck, it ranges among the best adventures out there in that regard, period. You see, not only are the traps CLEVER, they can’t be simply disarmed with a roll of the dice – the module expects the party to act in a small manner, and the traps MAKE SENSE. There is a thorough commitment to the complex MAKING SENSE. There is, for example, a checkered floor, obviously trapped, that sports a time-waster of sorts, and deadly gas – this gas is delivered in sequence of types, with only the final one being lethal, and allowing the party enough time to rescue their compatriots. Can it TPK the party? Yeah, sure. But that’d be a deserved loss. One of my favorites is a kind of moving, thin ledge that needs to be traversed – it’s made of flint, and creates rains of sparks that ignite essentially kerosene-like fuel in the pit below. It can be jammed, used in tricky manners, heck, even weaponized by smart parties.

It’s VERY hard to describe just how meticulously the module sticks to the paradigm of providing a fair, but thoroughly challenging dungeon for people who want more out of the game than rolling to hit (though that is included as well!). It took me a while to fully appreciate how intricately and well designed the whole complex is, how it systematically emphasizes being smart over dice rolls. And how it uses its handout booklet and the depictions there to further create these challenges and portray them in a fair manner. There, in the back…isn’t that an impaled skeleton? As the party ventures down the corridor, they get ANOTHER handout that shows the scene in more detail. And attentive players really do get an edge in the exploration of the tomb.

Interesting would also be another aspect, though this might be primarily a thing that GMs notice: There is this old adage that stipulates that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Well, guess what? That’s kinda the leitmotif here. From the player’s side of things, the dungeon can feel very much like a magical dungeon with some oddities; from a GMs perspective, we see the purpose of all, the intricate commitment to detail and intelligent notions. Yes, this is pulpy, but it’s up to you how and whether you’d emphasize these components, and the party won’t end the exploration with some anachronistic blaster rifles. In fact, in many ways, the party is cast in the roles of e.g. Conan and similar heroes facing things beyond their comprehension. If you’ve followed my reviews, you’ll know that my comparisons with my beloved barbarian are reserved to adventures and supplements that really do a good job of capturing this ephemeral atmosphere. All of the traps make sense, and there is not a single “a wizard did it”-moment. The module can be mean, tough, and brutal, but it always remains FAIR and retains a perfect commitment to plausibility.

It’s really hard to describe how exceedingly WELL-DESIGNED the entirety of this humble dungeon is; we have branching pathways, chances to skip sections, and every challenge is fair.

We have a constant, almost obsessive commitment to excellence and foresight regarding EVERYTHING. From how the handouts are implemented, to how it TEACHES what sets it apart from other modules. You’ve heard me gush about e.g. Harley Stroh’s DCC-modules, and how they work; it could be claimed that this adventure goes a similar route, but teaches the PLAYERS from the get-go how to ROLEPLAY the problem-solutions required in the adventure from the onset. What do I mean by that? Well, there is, for example, a kind of storage room that contains various tools that can be helpful. Their presence makes sense. Removing plaster from the walls? You know, that might actually be a GOOD idea here! This dungeon wants you to engage with it, and not consider the walls to be textured like in a computer game. This notion is driven home from the get-go, for the crypt is at the bottom of an oasis’ lake. Opening the crypt will mean that the party has to wait until the water has drained. They’ll also have destroyed, you know, an oasis in the wastelands. Choice, consequence, written in all-caps letters right there. And guess what? They might well accidentally create a sand-water sludge for a moment – this is, essentially, a safe-zone tutorial that does not, not for a second feel like one; instead, you genuinely feel a) clever and b) like people exploring an ancient place of wonders.

And honestly, I could go through the module, trap by trap, encounter by encounter, but I’d be doing it a huge disservice.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard. The artworks are okay for adventurer-scenes – the budget has obviously gone where it should, into the massive handout booklet that is pain amazing. The electronic version comes with player’s map etc., and cartography for the region is full color and the VTT-compatible player’s map (which features no secret doors or SPOILERS), b/w for the handouts. The handouts even include a treasure map to the oasis that jumpstarts the adventure. The physical version is AMAZING, capturing the old-school vibe with its wraparound cover and booklet perfectly. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks, making using it a joy. Still, for the handout booklet alone, I’d seriously recommend getting that version, if you can.

I first read material by Skeeter Green when he contributed material to the PFRPG-version of Rappan Athuk, crafting some of my favorite parts of the mega-dungeon. I knew he was no novice, and I had high expectations. When I have high expectations for anything, I usually end up disappointed.

Oh boy.

Oh boy was I not prepared for this.

From the support and inclusion of all the formal things you expect, from player maps to bookmarks, to all the other things so many publishers forget, the formal criteria are pitch-perfect., and form a glorious unity with the handout booklet, which is NOT just an optional gimmick, but something that is brilliantly interwoven with the complex’s meticulously-executed design. Both writing and design are fantastic here, and the singularity of vision, of a capital letters ROLEplaying adventure that rewards and teaches clever problem solutions.

It took me ages to properly grasp why I adored this module to this extent, it took analysis. In a way, this module reminded me of some of the best authors out there: Much like Richard Develyn’s superb 4Dollar Dungeons modules (seriously, even if you play OSR-games and not PFRPG, get them!), there is a commitment to a distinctly novel vision, and an expert implementation of it, that is frankly astounding. Much like Harley Stroh’s DCC-works, there is a commitment to atmosphere and challenge and plausibility here, one that you may not consciously notice at first, but which suffuses everything.

This is not murder-hoboing 101. There are plenty of good and bad old-school modules that cater to this playstyle. If you want more from your modules, though? Then get this right now.

This is all about creating a consistent illusion of the experience of delving into a wondrous and weird complex. It’s an ephemeral theme, as it suffuses pretty much the entire genre, but know what? This adventure made me realize how BAD a ton of the modules we regularly consume actually are. How artificial, how flat.

If anything, this is one of those stand-out adventures that designers should take a close look at; that GMs should process and run. This is, in short, a masterpiece – and one that manages to attain its excellence without over the top flourishes, shock value or any of the other things that make it easy to sell you on a book. The module proposes a simple question: “Do you need all of that? Doesn’t exploring a creative, smart complex with weirdness and challenges galore, suffice?”

Turns out, it does, at least when executed this well. In many ways, this is old-school in a way that puts many modules of both old- and new-school to shame; it has learned from the past, retained core values, and expanded upon them, injecting new components to enhance the experience.

Do I have complaints? Well, yes. I want more. We need more modules of this quality. This is one of the modules I’ll be referencing in my reviews for years to come. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval, and this receives a nomination for my Top Ten of 2019.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Crypt of the SCIENCE-WIZARD S&W
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

The Price of Evil
Publisher: Zzarchov Kowolski
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/01/2019 08:48:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page blank for notes, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due a patreon supporter asking me for helpful horror tools.

So, what is this? This is, essentially, and adventure toolkit that allows you to create a wide variety of haunted houses, with a first use of the generator taking approximately 30 minutes to make an adventure. But this booklet is more than that.

First of all, this is available as a pdf – I also have the limited edition Adventure Omnibus Vol. 1 that included this one among its pages, but this book is currently not available to the public, so pdf is where it’s at.

Rules-wise, the supplement provides material for NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival, Zzarchov’s criminally-underrated roleplaying game), and generic OSR materials, including HDs and e.g. features like regeneration noted; NGR works a tad better than the generic OSR-angle, but frankly, this book is relevant for any D&D-adjacent fantasy game; if you know what you’re doing, you can use e.g. PF 1’s haunts and quickly use the material you generate here – just add stats. Same goes for 5e, DCC, and yes, PF2. This is pretty much relevant for any fantasy/horror game.

If you’ve been playing horror modules in your D&D-adjacent system and are a really good horror GM, or if you’ve run e.g. Lamentations of the Flame Princess’ by now infamous classic “Death Love Doom”, you’ll probably have encountered a response that is understandable: At one point, the party might decide that exploring/cleansing the hell-hole that you created was simply not worth it – get the torches, ladies and gentlemen. This book does something that may be easily overlooked, but which is super simple – instead of riling against the party being a professional elite team of supernatural-stuff exterminators, the kit embraces it wholeheartedly, and uses the angle to motivate the players and PCs to tackle haunted houses in the way they’re intended to be tackled.

How? By setting a price on everything. The notion is the valuable thing here, not its implementation – once more, application to any system is super simple. The idea is genius in its simplicity: Haunted houses are places nobody wants to live in, right? So they’re available for a few gold pieces…and then, you just have to purge the place. Well, guess what? Every room has a value noted, and throwing lightning bolts around, much less torching the entire place, destroys the investment made. The party is incentivized, by their own greed, or their employer’s interests, to not destroy the place. (Hence also the title.) So, super-clever angle that gets rid of ludo-narrative dissonance (Buzzword used, and actually within the proper context? Check!) from the get-go, got it – but how does it fare as a generator?

The generator uses a degree of abstraction, and focuses on rooms conceptually in relation to each other. Doors between rooms are explicitly noted, and merged rooms count as one. Each room is generated by taking a playing card from a standard Poker deck, and comparing the number and suit, with the relation to nearby cards (pairs, full houses, etc. matter) impacting the contents of the room and the haunted house as a whole. Some rooms are marked with an asterisk, and these are never merged, and some rooms may be unique. Two rooms are mandatory – master bedroom, and kitchen. If these are not dealt, you choose a location and turn it into the respective room of the same suit.

The pdf uses a helpful type of information design, with text in yellow indicating items that are not part of the seller’s manifest, and rooms with items that are printed in blue, there is a potential secret door to another adjacent room with an item with a blue outline. All those aforementioned “blue” items? Described in detail – so no, you don’t have to guess how a secret door might work, the book actually describes HOW you can open these secret doors.

The standard house is divided into four floors, with stairs always included – the floors are ground floor, cellar, upper levels and tower. A pattern to put down the cards is provided for each floor, and there are alternate patterns in the back of the book, but frankly, you can devise your own layouts with literally zero hassle.

Here, things become interesting, and the two smart components are combined: Each room has components listed, with associated prices. These components, if destroyed, decrease the resale value of the house. Some of the rooms laid down in the patterns for the respective levels of the house are actually color-coded: The best hand in these influences the type of spirit infesting the house, and the spirits are depicted in a manner that makes it very easy to translate them into phenomena, haunts etc. for any system: The spirits have names, descriptions, and note how they can be enraged, how they can be defeated, and the powers they might be able to manifest. Additionally, such spirits usually need to be fought in the witching hour, and the pdf provides a simple system to simulate the escalation seen in horror movies – during the day, the spirit has 0 haunting powers, and over the course of the night, these increase…with the witching hour, the apex of the spirit’s power, being the time when they need to be bested. Here is another thing: Each room notes room powers for the escalating stages of haunting – take the first room, the observatory: At first, we only have a sense of vertigo looking at the stars; then, as the night progresses, the floor might start to dissolve above the vast void of the universe, and at witching hour, oxygen and heat might accompany this phenomenon. The suggested deadliness of these room-based powers tends to be noted with helpful skull-icons (In NGR, these indicate the die size of stress incurred), and an icon of a hand rising from the grave, in red, denotes a power that’ll continue until stopped. There also are rooms that have powers contingent on the suits, or unique contents.

Otherwise, the card value of the drawn card determines a few things: The suit denotes, unless otherwise noted, the room’s specific condition, with heart being the default; spade indicates an occult impression; club indicates damage, and diamond, fitting, the presence of an additional valuable item present.

If all of that sounds helpful, but dry, fret not – this is Zzarchov Kowolski we’re talking about, one of the probably most criminally-underrated designers out there. For bathroom room powers, the pdf notes “Look, it’s a bathroom. We’ve all seen the Ghoulies. You can think of something, but I shall not dignify the obvious options.” Zzarchov’s trademark dry, black humor actually managed to make reading a generator fun (!!) – and yes, before you ask, the supplement manages to be rather creepy as well as funny. And yes, manor grounds are covered.

Note how I mentioned the best hand mattering? If you draw a royal flush, you’ll have an evil god; a full house indicates that, well, the house itself is just evil. Demons, serial killers, spiteful misers, white ladies, bogeymen, insane spirits, good ole’ Bloody Mary…or what about a leprechaun? Obviously, these are only a start – you can easily just supplement your own, favorite spirits/critters. Oh, and for jumpscares, the pdf covers both groundskeepers and cats. Obviously.

The pdf introduces a brief OSR-system for insanity, which uses aforementioned skull icons as the indicator of oppression points, but frankly, there are plenty of better and more detailed insanity tables out there.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to a smooth and neat two-column b/w-standard, with colors used for smart conveying of information. The pdf sports several really nice original b/w-artworks, with Alex Mayo providing both layout and artwork. The pdf is layered, allowing you to turn off art and gudies/grids, should you choose so. Much to my chagrin, the pdf sports no bookmarks, which makes navigation a bit of a hassle. Unless you happen to own the excellent Omnibus hardcover already, I strongly suggest printing this pdf. The lack of bookmarks would usually suffice to cost this supplement a star…

…however, this is a plain genius generator. I mean it.

Not only is this a pleasure to read, oh now. It actually delivers results that are better than many handcrafted mansion-crawls out there. It is also ridiculously broad in its options for application.

You could conceivably use this generator for years on end for e.g. your Halloween-game and still get new results. From level 1 to 20, a moderately capable GM can not only provide challenges for any level, it’s also possible to use this generator for pretty much any system that is even roughly D&D-adjacent. Moreover, it’s exceedingly easy to modify the generator with your own entries.

In short: This is one of the rare supplements that fully transcends the systems for which it is intended, creating a universally-relevant, wonderful and consistently creative experience.

The Price of Evil, had I owned the book when it was released, would have made my year’s top ten list, it’s that good. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval, and this book gets my EZG Essentials-tag as a super helpful and rewarding GM tool that has a ridiculous re-use value. If you want to be able to make glorious haunted houses with minimal fuss, get this ASAP!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Price of Evil
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Displaying 1 to 15 (of 4457 reviews) Result Pages:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 ...  [Next >>] 
Back
0 items
Powered by DriveThruRPG