Bards and Sages RPG Resource
DriveThruComics
DriveThruFiction
Powered by DriveThruRPG


Home » R. Talsorian Games Inc. » Babbage's Engine » Reviews
Browse Categories













Back
Other comments left by this customer:
You must be logged in to rate this
The Riot Act - (PF)
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/29/2020 12:24:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion-module to the massive (and excellent) Bard’s Gate city supplement clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters; I never even noticed it came out back in the day, until one of my patreon supporters told me to get it and review it recently. Being pretty OCD and surprised that this flew under my radar, I went ahead…

The Riot Act is a module set in Bard’s Gate (and yes, you should have that book to run it, unless you’re willing to make some serious modification), situated in The Lost Lands, for 4 characters of 2nd level. The module mentions that a rogue or bard is helpful, and I’d concur – skills will be useful. More than that, you’ll need means to dish out SERIOUS amounts of damage and high Will saves – scratch that, the boss is simply unfair if played even halfway decent by the GM, but I’ll get to that below.

The module features no player-friendly maps, and two of the maps are missing a scale, one of them even a grid. One of the potential combat encounters could have used a map, but has none. For overview, having a map of Bard’s Gate is extremely useful, but that doesn’t provide these location maps either. The maps present in the module do not come with player-friendly iterations.

The module does have a handout, which is per se a cool thing – unfortunately, it is the most stupid kind of handout in which the antagonists have WRITTEN DOWN their evil masterplan on PAPER, including gloating. This was a real immersion-breaker for me, and one of the few instances, where I genuinely think that the module would have been better off without a handout – and a better plot instead.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The module also contains 3 magic items – one nets unlimited daily magic missiles, but if used more than once per day, one strikes the user. It also fails to mention an activation action – I assume spell completion. There is an item for nary more than 1K gold that lacks an activation action, but ends ANY musical effect automatically – yes, even that of a level 20 bard. And worse, those affected can’t use the like for an hour afterwards. In a world where this item exists, any music-based characters and abilities are useless. This is badly-designed and broken. The final item ties in with the boss.

The module does offer random encounters and read-aloud text. Okay, so structurally, this is a railroad, but unfortunately not one of the good ones – and yes, there are plenty of awesome railroad adventures.

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

..

.

So, a lady called Asmarisa has purchased a large building of the Bridge district, opening her theater, the Motley; her first play, “The Maiden’s Kiss”, has become a super smash-hit – to a strange degree, and thus, the lyreguard investigated, but turned up with no evidence, and in fact, very happy with the play. The adventure kicks off as the PCs are walking through the Bridge district and become embroiled in a riot – after the much-sought-after tickets for the next show. The rioters use the stats from bard’s Gate, and can attain tickets either via force or Diplomacy and subterfuge.

Unfortunately, this is where the module starts to fall apart in a variety of ways. The PCs attend the performance, and halfway down the read-aloud text, said text tells the PCs what to do, namely joining in thunderous applause. Read-aloud text should NEVER hijack control from a PC – particularly since, well, it’s not guaranteed. No surprise: The play is enchanted, PCs must make Will-saves while attending, but the read-aloud text forces them to applaud either way. Oh, and the play affects the PCs with a “powerful, but undetectable mass charm.” It’s also “latent.”

SERIOUSLY??? You mean…like, it’s a whisper in the ear? Like, I don’t know…a frickin’ suggestion?

Also, regarding this whole set-up?

NOT HOW PFRPG WORKS.

PFRPG has a) a VARIETY of valid ritual engines; b) a VARIETY of spells that actually do what the module wants to do – and mass charm? DOESN’T EXIST. It’s mass charm person. Or charm person, mass. Also c) Bards have this engine that does exactly what the module needs. It’s called masterpieces.

Anyhow, the PCs navigate past the stage crew and into a passage beneath the Motley. In the passage, there are two adjacent rooms: One contains 12 rage zombies, one contains guards whose music pacifies the zombies. Why? How? Things become even better. At one point, there’s a magically-sealed lock that requires a tune – said tune is played by the guards, and it’s on a sheet of music…that is never mentioned before, in the section of the guards. Also weird: The door’s XP-reward for bypassing it with the proper “puzzle” if you can call it that, is less than the CR of the trap.

The PCs emerge after this section on a shoreline just a few feet from the Stoneheart River, where the evil entourage has their camp. (Why didn’t the lyreguard notice them?) The troupe is pretty numerous (22 rank-and-file goons, +1 CR 2 dude and a quasit), so you better hope that you have a character with maxed out Stealth who is also lucky. There are also some minor problems – like, what’s the save you use to avoid flames spreading? Well, the module seems to think that “Fortitude” is correct – which it isn’t, and also fails to type the damage as fire, but that, at least, is a nitpick. This is also the part when the PCs ostensibly either hear a NPC extolling their moustache-twirling plan and evil intentions, or find a written account that is no less dumb.

It gets better. When/if the PCs retreat, the final section will be a rooftop chase of the lady, while the city breaks out in riots. This mini-chase may per se be decent, but the boss Asmirasa? Well, she has wasted a feat on Weapon Finesse, but wields a weapon that can’t be finesse’d (smart) – and clocks in at CR 7. Yep, 7. You see, she was turned into a succubus by an evil item, the ring of demonic deception. Why is this bad news? Well, for one, she has charm person, at will. The DC? 22. At 2nd level. Remember, she also has a fly speed that lets her reliably stay out of reach of any PCs, AC 20 and 84 HP. She also has energy drain, which, when used even halfway smart, will guarantee an unfair, unrewarding type of TPK.

But that’s not where it ends, oh no. Her item, the ring of demonic deception, eliminates an outsider’s ability to cast spells or use SPs of third level or higher, eliminates DR and halves SR. But guess what? ANY magic to detect them and discern them fails and nets only a ping as a frickin’ commoner. This is NOT an artifact, and it can RAW be REMOVED AT WILL. Mortals also can turn into succubi/incubi, but who cares – the ring could be mass-produced by the forces of the abyss, and generate a perfect infiltration force of outsiders. Never mind that there are plenty of precisely codified spells and effects that do all of that (at higher levels), and that have appropriate safeguards. Oh, it gets better. The ring’s worth 90 K. At 2nd level – WBL adieu. “But they can’t sell an evil item?” Perhaps not, but there are plenty of options for PCs to convert magic item values into other benefits, devour it, etc. pp. Provided the PCs mind that selling evil stuff is a bad idea in the first place, that is…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are formally good, if not particularly good regarding rules. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard with neat to okay artworks, some of which fans of Frog God Games will recognize. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is not as good as usual for Frog God Games, and is missing player-friendly maps as well.

This is the worst module by James M. Spahn I’ve read; both he and the authors that contributed additional material, Jeff Harkness and Skeeter Green, are usually indicators for something I’ll at the very least like.

This was not the case here. I don’t object to difficulty, never have – I’m a killer GM, and I like old-school modules. I think adventures should be hard, because, you know, if there’s no chance of failure, why bother playing? I also don’t object to railroads – heck, I’ve 5-star#d plenty of them over the years.

I do, however, object to the extremely sloppy rules that this module presents – because they destroy the central premise of the mystery to uncover, and because they, due to being so sloppy, undermine very valid strategies for the PCs. I object to read-aloud text forcing actions upon players – not feelings, atmosphere, a glance or the like – full-blown “this is what you do.”

I object to the module undermining the plausibility of the Lost lands setting, which generally is pretty darn good at catching such issues.

And I object to the fact that the villains are moustache-twirling stupid-evil.

This reads like a failed, phoned-in Pathfinder Society pitch, with Bard’s Gate slapped on.

…you know, when I have to bash a module by Frog God Games (doesn’t happen too often), it’s usually due to mechanics, or something going wrong in conversion. But even then, there’s usually something I can get out an adventure. Awakenings, for example, may not be mechanically-good in PFRPG, but oh boy, story? Totally worth going through the hassle of fixing it.

I got nothing here. This is both bad on a mechanics/logic-level AND on a story-level AND on a design-level.

I actually went through my massive Necromancer Games/Frog God Games-collection, and know what? I think this is the worst module by them I own. It’s their first module in years that I genuinely wouldn’t put on my shelf.

I can’t recommend this module to anyone. Get any other Frog God games modules; for example the excellent Rogues in Remballo. But steer clear of this bland, unfair, uninspired mess. 1.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
The Riot Act - (PF)
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

A Day Out at the Executions
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/26/2020 08:42:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second of Raging Swan Press‘ eventures clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, what is an eventure? Well, know how much or modern gaming is about tactics and combat? Now, I LOVE that, I really do. I enjoy brutal combats that are essentially numbers-puzzles. HOWEVER, this has become a very dominant paradigm, to the point where many modules consist solely of such challenges. But roleplaying is more. If you recall some truly remarkable sessions and things your players talk about, there’s a good chance that some NPCs and interactions are remembered fondly because they were NOT combat.

This is what an “eventure” is – a module or mini-event-booklet focusing on roleplaying, and NOT on combat. Okay, so what does this one offer? Well, if you’re a bit familiar with how medieval societies handled executions, you’ll know that they tended to gather quite a crowd – in many ways, the punitive systems back in that day generated a kind of spectacle. (For more insight on how executions were handled in the 16th century and the realities of the hangman’s job back then, I recommend checking out the diary of Meister Franz Schmidt of Nuremberg and/or Joel F. Harrington’s “The Faithful Executioner”– there are solid English books on that topic, and if you’re fluent in German, I’d recommend checking out the scans of his diary!)

But I digress – if you need hooks for your players, a couple of them are provided, and then, the supplement features an overview of justice in the Duchy of Ashlar – the brutal punishments are described, and while not reveling in the realities, the descriptions are all about, well, executions. With classics like sawing and the breaking wheel included. The module is situated in the lavishly-detailed city of Languard, namely the low city, (see City Backdrops: Languard and the Languard Locations-series) and as such explains the history of the Traitor’s Gate, but the eventure remains pretty easy to adapt to other environments. The Last Chance tavern, with rules-less notes on NPCs and prices provided alongside two hooks certainly sees some serious business.

Since an execution is an event, a lot of people will show up – as such, the eventure provides the fluff-centric write-ups for such NPCs and groups them by category:  We get, for example, write-ups for 4 beggars, including cripples to a madwoman and a charlatan. Nice: One of these individuals also acts as a possible link to Shadowed Keep of the Borderlands. Street vendors and entertainers, as well as other townsfolk, are provided as well, and the section is supplemented by a list of 12 rumors – these do come with DCs etc. - nice.

This basic set-up out of the way, we come to the day itself – the eventure structures the monthly execution day by time of day, beginning from dawn, with the show starting at noon – the criminals to be executed are all depicted in the same flavor-centric manner as before (read: no stats). From hardened criminals to those claiming innocence, there is a nice breadth here, with the afternoon going through the sequence of the executions. If the executions and potential for adventuring there didn’t suffice, you can also make use of the further adventuring section – one criminal’s daughter will have been made an orphan, for example, and what about entrepreneurs for execution-related components seeking a little extra coin? In short: One has to be a very poor GM indeed to not get some serious mileage out of this day at the executions.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and in two versions – one optimized for the screen, and one for printing it.

Creighton Broadhurst’s day at the executions (additional design by Amber Underwood) is a cool eventure, but does have two minor weaknesses: For one, the lack of anything pertaining to DCs beyond the rumors and context, while probably intended, means that this is pretty much almost system neutral in all but name, when e.g. thieves etc. would have warranted some guidance; secondly, the execution’s scene per se has no map – just a small excerpt from Languard’s map, and that doesn’t show the details, like the place where things happen, stands, etc. – and since there’s a decent chance at one point that the characters try to save someone or prevent the like, this makes that component of the supplement slightly less useful than it could have been. As such, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded down: A good and flavorful offering, but one that requires a bit of GM-work.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Day Out at the Executions
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

A Day Out at the Executions (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/26/2020 08:40:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second of Raging Swan Press‘ eventures clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, what is an eventure? Well, know how much or modern gaming is about tactics and combat? Now, I LOVE that, I really do. I enjoy brutal combats that are essentially numbers-puzzles. HOWEVER, this has become a very dominant paradigm, to the point where many modules consist solely of such challenges. But roleplaying is more. If you recall some truly remarkable sessions and things your players talk about, there’s a good chance that some NPCs and interactions are remembered fondly because they were NOT combat.

This is what an “eventure” is – a module or mini-event-booklet focusing on roleplaying, and NOT on combat. Okay, so what does this one offer? Well, if you’re a bit familiar with how medieval societies handled executions, you’ll know that they tended to gather quite a crowd – in many ways, the punitive systems back in that day generated a kind of spectacle. (For more insight on how executions were handled in the 16th century and the realities of the hangman’s job back then, I recommend checking out the diary of Meister Franz Schmidt of Nuremberg and/or Joel F. Harrington’s “The Faithful Executioner”– there are solid English books on that topic, and if you’re fluent in German, I’d recommend checking out the scans of his diary!)

But I digress – if you need hooks for your players, a couple of them are provided, and then, the supplement features an overview of justice in the Duchy of Ashlar – the brutal punishments are described, and while not reveling in the realities, the descriptions are all about, well, executions. With classics like sawing and the breaking wheel included. The module is situated in the lavishly-detailed city of Languard, namely the low city, (see City Backdrops: Languard and the Languard Locations-series) and as such explains the history of the Traitor’s Gate, but the eventure remains pretty easy to adapt to other environments. The Last Chance tavern, with rules-less notes on NPCs and prices provided alongside two hooks certainly sees some serious business.

Since an execution is an event, a lot of people will show up – as such, the eventure provides the fluff-centric write-ups for such NPCs and groups them by category: We get, for example, write-ups for 4 beggars, including cripples to a madwoman and a charlatan. The NPcs herein reference the default 5e-statblocks. Nice: One of these individuals also acts as a possible link to Shadowed Keep of the Borderlands. Street vendors and entertainers, as well as other townsfolk, are provided as well, and the section is supplemented by a list of 12 rumors, with proper DCs provided..

This basic set-up out of the way, we come to the day itself – the eventure structures the monthly execution day by time of day, beginning from dawn, with the show starting at noon – the criminals to be executed are all depicted in the same flavor-centric manner as before (read: no stats). From hardened criminals to those claiming innocence, there is a nice breadth here, with the afternoon going through the sequence of the executions. If the executions and potential for adventuring there didn’t suffice, you can also make use of the further adventuring section – one criminal’s daughter will have been made an orphan, for example, and what about entrepreneurs for execution-related components seeking a little extra coin? In short: One has to be a very poor GM indeed to not get some serious mileage out of this day at the executions.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and in two versions – one optimized for the screen, and one for printing it.

Creighton Broadhurst’s day at the executions (additional design by Amber Underwood) is a cool eventure, but does have two minor weaknesses: For one, the lack of anything pertaining to DCs beyond the rumor-section and context, while probably intended, means that this is pretty system neutral in all but name; secondly, the execution’s scene per se has no map – just a small excerpt from Languard’s map, and that doesn’t show the details, like the place where things happen, stands, etc. – and since there’s a decent chance at one point that the characters try to save someone or prevent the like, this makes that component of the supplement slightly less useful than it could have been. As such, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded down: A good and flavorful offering, but one that requires a bit of GM-work.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Day Out at the Executions (5e)
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

A Day Out at the Executions (System Neutral)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/26/2020 08:39:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second of Raging Swan Press‘ eventures clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, what is an eventure? Well, know how much or modern gaming is about tactics and combat? Now, I LOVE that, I really do. I enjoy brutal combats that are essentially numbers-puzzles. HOWEVER, this has become a very dominant paradigm, to the point where many modules consist solely of such challenges. But roleplaying is more. If you recall some truly remarkable sessions and things your players talk about, there’s a good chance that some NPCs and interactions are remembered fondly because they were NOT combat.

This is what an “eventure” is – a module or mini-event-booklet focusing on roleplaying, and NOT on combat. Okay, so what does this one offer? Well, if you’re a bit familiar with how medieval societies handled executions, you’ll know that they tended to gather quite a crowd – in many ways, the punitive systems back in that day generated a kind of spectacle. (For more insight on how executions were handled in the 16th century and the realities of the hangman’s job back then, I recommend checking out the diary of Meister Franz Schmidt of Nuremberg and/or Joel F. Harrington’s “The Faithful Executioner”– there are solid English books on that topic, and if you’re fluent in German, I’d recommend checking out the scans of his diary!)

But I digress – if you need hooks for your players, a couple of them are provided, and then, the supplement features an overview of justice in the Duchy of Ashlar – the brutal punishments are described, and while not reveling in the realities, the descriptions are all about, well, executions. With classics like sawing and the breaking wheel included. The module is situated in the lavishly-detailed city of Languard, namely the low city, (see City Backdrops: Languard and the Languard Locations-series) and as such explains the history of the Traitor’s Gate, but the eventure remains pretty easy to adapt to other environments. The Last Chance tavern, with rules-less notes on NPCs and prices provided alongside two hooks certainly sees some serious business. The NPCs reference the proper old-school classes, just fyi.

Since an execution is an event, a lot of people will show up – as such, the eventure provides the fluff-centric write-ups for such NPCs and groups them by category:  We get, for example, write-ups for 4 beggars, including cripples to a madwoman and a charlatan. Nice: One of these individuals also acts as a possible link to Shadowed Keep of the Borderlands. Street vendors and entertainers, as well as other townsfolk, are provided as well, and the section is supplemented by a list of 12 rumors – handled appropriately sans rolling the dice here, with costs noted.

This basic set-up out of the way, we come to the day itself – the eventure structures the monthly execution day by time of day, beginning from dawn, with the show starting at noon – the criminals to be executed are all depicted in the same flavor-centric manner as before (read: no stats). From hardened criminals to those claiming innocence, there is a nice breadth here, with the afternoon going through the sequence of the executions. If the executions and potential for adventuring there didn’t suffice, you can also make use of the further adventuring section – one criminal’s daughter will have been made an orphan, for example, and what about entrepreneurs for execution-related components seeking a little extra coin? In short: One has to be a very poor GM indeed to not get some serious mileage out of this day at the executions.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and in two versions – one optimized for the screen, and one for printing it.

Creighton Broadhurst’s day at the executions (additional design by Amber Underwood) is a cool eventure, but does have a minor weakness: While I can’t well complain about being very lite on the rules for the system neutral version, the execution’s scene per se has no map – just a small excerpt from Languard’s map, and that doesn’t show the details, like the place where things happen, stands, etc. – and since there’s a decent chance at one point that the characters try to save someone or prevent the like, this makes that component of the supplement slightly less useful than it could have been. As such, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up. A good and flavorful offering, but one that requires a bit of GM-work.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Day Out at the Executions (System Neutral)
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Village Backdrop: Fraywrack 2.0 (P2)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/26/2020 08:36:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement!

…wait. Fraywrack, Fraywrack…that wasn’t nominally a Village Backdrop before, right? Indeed! Fraywrack was originally released in the Places of Power-series, but even in its original iteration actually was, well, a village. As such, having the expanded version adhere to the formula regarding presentation makes sense, particularly since the original already pretty much adhered to that standard.

Formally, the supplement has been expanded in the usual way for these second visits to locales: That means, we get more extensive information regarding the surrounding locality, and the very helpful notes for the GM on life in the settlement, local laws and customs and tradition all are here. The super helpful dressing/event table has been expanded from an original 6 entries to 20, making it much easier to portray the place as an alive and organic environment. Unlike most of the supplements in the series, this has not received read-aloud text for the keyed locales. The revised version also introduces a new keyed location, EDIT: The map-glitch has been taken care of.

 Fraywrack is rather captivating:

On a lonesome shore of rocky headland, known as the Harpy's Head, there lies the wrecked ruin of an erstwhile powerful ship - and it conceals an alliance most peculiar: You see, a flight of harpies has lured the vessel ashore - but the wreck contains no signs of slaughter, but rather an impromptu war-camp, for the harpies thus forcefully recruited the crew of survivors as soldiers in their desperate fight against Dagon and his strange, deformed minions that rise from the depth in a truly unique coalition.

The unique constellation of characters is a boon here as well: From harpies not being too keen to be forced to play with their food to drunken sailors, there is an intrinsic tension that suffuses the set-up that, by means of its very definition, is upset by the arrival of PCs.

It is btw. nice to see that the pdf does come with a nice marketplace section for consumables, magic, etc., featured among the keyed locales. The location sports also a ramshackle settlement, as you can imagine - and honestly, I could elaborate on how the individual locations are cool and evocative, but frankly, that would be redundant as far as I'm concerned - the set-up at the grand scale is creative and full of potential, something that is continued seamlessly to the individual locales, generating a truly amazing location. Much to my chagrin, the revised edition has not seen fit to include some modifications or stats for the 4 new NPCs featured, which are depicted in Raging Swan Press’ usual, fluff-only manner. Getting some unique attacks or abilities for them would have been neat.

Mechanically, the pdf per se handles adjustment to PF2 well, but, as often, tighter integration into the (critical) success/failure mechanics would have been nice for the checks.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches on a formal level, though the map-glitch is pretty damn bad. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-artworks are amazing pieces. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized to be printed out. The cartography by Maciej Zagorski is well-made and in b/w. Supporters of Raging Swan Press' patreon can get access to a player-friendly, key-less version of the map, at least to my knowledge.

Jacob W. Michaels' Fraywrack s creative, cool and unique - the idea is simple, but the execution is frankly inspired and chock-full with roleplaying potential. EDIT: The map-glitch has been fixed. This is the first version for PF2, and as such, does have a value for PF2-purists. The writing is top-tier, and with the map-issue fixed, I think I can award this 4.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Fraywrack 2.0 (P2)
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Village Backdrop: Fraywrack 2.0 (OSR)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/26/2020 08:33:06

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement!

…wait. Fraywrack, Fraywrack…that wasn’t nominally a Village Backdrop before, right? Indeed! Fraywrack was originally released in the Places of Power-series, but even in its original iteration actually was, well, a village. As such, having the expanded version adhere to the formula regarding presentation makes sense, particularly since the original already pretty much adhered to that standard.

Formally, the supplement has been expanded in the usual way for these second visits to locales: That means, we get more extensive information regarding the surrounding locality, and the very helpful notes for the GM on life in the settlement, local laws and customs and tradition all are here. The super helpful dressing/event table has been expanded from an original 6 entries to 20, making it much easier to portray the place as an alive and organic environment. Unlike most of the supplements in the series, this has not received read-aloud text for the keyed locales. The revised version also introduces a new keyed location, EDIT: and a previous map-issue has been fixed.

Fraywrack is rather captivating:

On a lonesome shore of rocky headland, known as the Harpy's Head, there lies the wrecked ruin of an erstwhile powerful ship - and it conceals an alliance most peculiar: You see, a flight of harpies has lured the vessel ashore - but the wreck contains no signs of slaughter, but rather an impromptu war-camp, for the harpies thus forcefully recruited the crew of survivors as soldiers in their desperate fight against Dagon and his strange, deformed minions that rise from the depth in a truly unique coalition.

The unique constellation of characters is a boon here as well: From harpies not being too keen to be forced to play with their food to drunken sailors, there is an intrinsic tension that suffuses the set-up that, by means of its very definition, is upset by the arrival of PCs.

It is btw. nice to see that the pdf does come with a nice marketplace section for consumables, magic, etc., featured among the keyed locales – it has been properly adjusted for the realities of old-school gaming. The location sports also a ramshackle settlement, as you can imagine - and honestly, I could elaborate on how the individual locations are cool and evocative, but frankly, that would be redundant as far as I'm concerned - the set-up at the grand scale is creative and full of potential, something that is continued seamlessly to the individual locales, generating a truly amazing location. Much to my chagrin, the revised edition has not seen fit to include some modifications or stats for the 4 new NPCs featured, which are depicted in Raging Swan Press’ usual, fluff-only manner. Getting some unique attacks or abilities for them would have been neat.

Mechanically, the pdf is not necessarily OSR in that we’d get old-school stats for the NPCs (which’d have been easy enough to fit in), but rather an expansion of the system neutral version of the original pdf. So if you expected some juicy mechanics, you won’t find them.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches on a formal level, though the map-glitch is pretty damn bad. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-artworks are amazing pieces. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized to be printed out. The cartography by Maciej Zagorski is well-made and in b/w. Supporters of Raging Swan Press' patreon can get access to a player-friendly, key-less version of the map, at least to my knowledge.

Jacob W. Michaels' Fraywrack s creative, cool and unique - the idea is simple, but the execution is frankly inspired and chock-full with roleplaying potential. EDIT: The map glitch has been fixed. The writing is top-tier, but the decision to omit any old-school rules per se also is a missed chance; this is essentially based on the system neutral version of the original, and fails to add relevant mechanics. If you have the original iteration, I’d round down from my final verdict of 4.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Fraywrack 2.0 (OSR)
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Village Backdrop: Fraywrack 2.0 (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/26/2020 08:29:22

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement!

…wait. Fraywrack, Fraywrack…that wasn’t nominally a Village Backdrop before, right? Indeed! Fraywrack was originally released in the Places of Power-series, but even in its original iteration actually was, well, a village. As such, having the expanded version adhere to the formula regarding presentation makes sense, particularly since the original already pretty much adhered to that standard.

Formally, the supplement has been expanded in the usual way for these second visits to locales: That means, we get more extensive information regarding the surrounding locality, and the very helpful notes for the GM on life in the settlement, local laws and customs and tradition all are here. The super helpful dressing/event table has been expanded from an original 6 entries to 20, making it much easier to portray the place as an alive and organic environment. Unlike most of the supplements in the series, this has not received read-aloud text for the keyed locales. The revised version also introduces a new keyed location EDIT: The map-glitch has been fixed.

Fraywrack is rather captivating:

On a lonesome shore of rocky headland, known as the Harpy's Head, there lies the wrecked ruin of an erstwhile powerful ship - and it conceals an alliance most peculiar: You see, a flight of harpies has lured the vessel ashore - but the wreck contains no signs of slaughter, but rather an impromptu war-camp, for the harpies thus forcefully recruited the crew of survivors as soldiers in their desperate fight against Dagon and his strange, deformed minions that rise from the depth in a truly unique coalition.

The unique constellation of characters is a boon here as well: From harpies not being too keen to be forced to play with their food to drunken sailors, there is an intrinsic tension that suffuses the set-up that, by means of its very definition, is upset by the arrival of PCs.

It is btw. nice to see that the pdf does come with a nice marketplace section for consumables, magic, etc., featured among the keyed locales. The location sports also a ramshackle settlement, as you can imagine - and honestly, I could elaborate on how the individual locations are cool and evocative, but frankly, that would be redundant as far as I'm concerned - the set-up at the grand scale is creative and full of potential, something that is continued seamlessly to the individual locales, generating a truly amazing location. Much to my chagrin, the revised edition has not seen fit to include some modifications or stats for the 4 new NPCs featured, which are depicted in Raging Swan Press’ usual, fluff-only manner.

Mechanically, the pdf per se handles adjustment to 5e well on a basic level, with NPCs referencing default monsters/stats. Getting some unique attacks or abilities for them would have been neat – Fraywrack’s unconventional location begs for some cool lair actions.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches on a formal level. EDIT: Map-glitch fixed. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-artworks are amazing pieces. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized to be printed out. The cartography by Maciej Zagorski is well-made and in b/w. Supporters of Raging Swan Press' patreon can get access to a player-friendly, key-less version of the map, at least to my knowledge.

Jacob W. Michaels' Fraywrack s creative, cool and unique - the idea is simple, but the execution is frankly inspired and chock-full with roleplaying potential. EDIT: Map-glitch fixed. If you have the original, round down; otherwise, round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Fraywrack 2.0 (5e)
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Village Backdrop: Fraywrack 2.0 (P1)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/26/2020 08:25:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

This expanded version of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement!

…wait. Fraywrack, Fraywrack…that wasn’t nominally a Village Backdrop before, right? Indeed! Fraywrack was originally released in the Places of Power-series, but even in its original iteration actually was, well, a village. As such, having the expanded version adhere to the formula regarding presentation makes sense, particularly since the original already pretty much adhered to that standard.

Formally, the supplement has been expanded in the usual way for these second visits to locales: That means, we get more extensive information regarding the surrounding locality, and the very helpful notes for the GM on life in the settlement, local laws and customs and tradition all are here. The super helpful dressing/event table has been expanded from an original 6 entries to 20, making it much easier to portray the place as an alive and organic environment. Unlike most of the supplements in the series, this has not received read-aloud text for the keyed locales, and in the PF1-version, the settlement stats are missing. The revised version also introduces a new keyed location, which is per se nice.

EDIT: The map-issue has been corrected.

Which is a pity, because Fraywrack per se is rather captivating:

On a lonesome shore of rocky headland, known as the Harpy's Head, there lies the wrecked ruin of an erstwhile powerful ship - and it conceals an alliance most peculiar: You see, a flight of harpies has lured the vessel ashore - but the wreck contains no signs of slaughter, but rather an impromptu war-camp, for the harpies thus forcefully recruited the crew of survivors as soldiers in their desperate fight against Dagon and his strange, deformed minions that rise from the depth in a truly unique coalition.

The unique constellation of characters is a boon here as well: From harpies not being too keen to be forced to play with their food to drunken sailors, there is an intrinsic tension that suffuses the set-up that, by means of its very definition, is upset by the arrival of PCs.

It is btw. nice to see that the pdf does come with a nice marketplace section for consumables, magic, etc., featured among the keyed locales. The location sports also a ramshackle settlement, as you can imagine - and honestly, I could elaborate on how the individual locations are cool and evocative, but frankly, that would be redundant as far as I'm concerned - the set-up at the grand scale is creative and full of potential, something that is continued seamlessly to the individual locales, generating a truly amazing location. Much to my chagrin, the revised edition has not seen fit to include some modifications or stats for the 4 new NPCs featured, which are depicted in Raging Swan Press’ usual, fluff-only manner.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches on a formal level. EDIT: Map-glitch fixed. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-artworks are amazing pieces. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one optimized to be printed out. The cartography by Maciej Zagorski is well-made and in b/w. Supporters of Raging Swan Press' patreon can get access to a player-friendly, key-less version of the map, at least to my knowledge.

Jacob W. Michaels' Fraywrack s creative, cool and unique - the idea is simple, but the execution is frankly inspired and chock-full with roleplaying potential. EDIT: map-glitch fixed. As such, my final verdict increases to 4.5 stars - round up if you don't have the original, down if you already have it.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Fraywrack 2.0 (P1)
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Bloodlines & Black Magic: The Crescent City
Publisher: Storm Bunny Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/25/2020 11:58:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 54 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/introduction, 1 page back cover, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 48 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

These pages include a 3d10 Oddity gained table, as well as a tracking sheet – I found both to be helpful when using this book.

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

Important note: While intended for use with Bloodlines & Black Magic (BL&BM), the supplement’s content imho retains much of its utility when employed in conjunction with other games, such as Esoteric Enterprises or Pelgrane Press’ GUMSHOE-based games like Esoterrorists or Fear Itself. If you’re into modern horror/dark fantasy, you may wish to keep reading even if you don’t play BL&BM.

This book is divided in two halves – the first is a depiction of the Crescent City, New Orleans, NOLA – the second would be an adventure, the eponymous “The Book of Faiyum”; the latter is intended for 3-5 characters of 1st to 2nd level. The module features read-aloud text, suggestions for the proper soundtrack to set the scene (nice!) and features b/w-cartography. Somewhat to my chagrin, the cartography for the module is not provided in a player-friendly manner – the maps are labeled…partially. You see, the one map where I’d have really thrown a fit over labels, the one that really works best for handouts…is presented in a player-friendly manner. Yeah, this gets a tentative pass in that department.

The book provides statblocks for 3 CR 2 creatures – the Drowned One will be an old acquaintance for fans of BL&BM (Bloodlines & Black Magic), while the American alligator and Louisiana black bear are new critters – and yes, they are new, not simple paste-jobs. Kudos! The latter come with rebuild rules and notes on their value within the context of BL&BM’s occult underground, i.e. regarding the magical currency dosh.  The book also provides a madman, but I’ll cover that fellow in the SPOILER-section.

Okay, that out of the way, we begin with essentially THE gazetteer for New Orleans in a dark contemporary fantasy/horror game. Now only is the publisher a former transplant of New Orleans, the author of this section George “Loki” Williams is essentially a walking encyclopedia regarding the his home, so let’s see how this section fares.

We begin with a general overview of the demographics and then quickly start off with urban legends, ranging from the famous LaLaurie House to the Dueling Oak and ones that are less famous, but no less interesting – for example the notes on the LeBranche curse (unfortunately, misspelled a few times as “LaBranche”…which also brings me to e.g. a plural mistake in the section – editing could have been tighter…) or the delightfully mysterious and grisly fate of the St. Charles Writer’s Club.

But, you know, this is not all – you see, one of the appeals of Bloodlines & Black Magic that let me see past some of its flaws and rough patches was always how it blends history with its very own brand of mythweaving, and this is where the supplement takes the reins to paint a picture that is at once familiar and strange – with a quote by good ole’ Lafcadio Hearn (mostly known for his translations of Japanese Kwaidan) contrasted by New Orleans as established Passage Sur, a kind of neutral ground comprising there parishes – and yes, this book is genuinely educational regarding the different ethnicities to be found in the city, its timeline blending in captivating prose the illustrious history of this city with the supernatural. Before you ask – yes, violating the sacred compact of neutrality has severe repercussions, with the pactbreaker’s mark being a pretty nasty curse. Minor nitpick: A spell-reference has not been properly italicized in its write-up.

And if you’ve ever walked the streets of New Orleans, it should come as no surprise to you that the veil indeed is thin here, the occult barely occulted by the haze of drink and the highly eclectic blend of eccentricities. From leitmotifs pertaining corruption and reputation, but also of the sheer heat, the musical tapestry and festivals – the book manages to capture much of the city’s essence here, with notes on the impact of high water tables and local construction techniques adding a sense of plausibility.

The book then proceeds to take us all on a quick tour of the city’s neighborhoods – of course, these include the Vieux Carre, but the Low Garden District and Fauburg Treme are similarly covered. After this brief overview, we proceed towards locations: I’d, for example, make sure to visit the Azure Gem, a classic goth and punk scene bar, and if you’re into something macabre, you might also want to visit the corpse of Jazzland, what remained of this amusement park after Katrina wrecked it – suffice to say, in BL&BM’s magical iteration of NOLA, this is even less of a place you’d want to go unarmed…Of course, the popularized and famous cemeteries and the Muses Street are also rather exciting locales.

The supplement proceeds to cover briefly a variety of local NPCs, who are presented with rough ideas of their power-levels and suitable classes, but no full stats, before we essentially get the local color section – from brass bands to tour groups to scam artists, common sights and sounds are listed. New Orleans Native is a new feat – which, beyond its normal benefit, also acts as a neat way to introduce the new skill unlocks, which include locating celebrities, or using Linguistics to identify tags, lineage symbols, etc. This section also provides the commune with city spell. 6 additional feats are provided, which include being Bayou Born (+2 to Handle Animal, Survival and Knowledge (geography) in marshes, swamps, etc., double that bonus while within 7 miles of the Passage Sur. The feats are per se solid and cover cool concepts, even if their actual benefits aren’t that exciting.

More interesting: We get a variety bishop chess piece implement, Paul Morphy’s Bishop, which offers its unique focus power. Oh, and cursed dice….that actually also are an implement, which requires a “DC 22 check to master” – okay, what check? I like the idea of a cursed variant implement very much, but having the dice note implement school, if applicable, etc. would have been nice. I like this so much thematically, but this could have used some polish.

On the plus-side, we get an array of haunts and spirits – a pretty massive curated list of appropriate creatures (ordered by CR and noting bestiaries!), and a whole array of grisly haunts. I LOVE the haunts – they are cool, flavorful and well-presented. As an aside: One of them has a suicide theme, and the book has a clearly-visible box that provides a help-line and encouraging words for the depressed. Having lost too many people to suicide myself, I definitely applaud the inclusion of this boxed text.

Okay, and from here on, we move towards the aforementioned adventure. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great!

The module by Tim Hitchcock kicks off when cell phones across the city project a blank text – that requires Pierce the Veil to realize that it’s not blank after all: “Find Faiyum, Contact Eratosthenes.” Yep, the man of Cyrene, the polymath – the ghost librarian needs a favor, namely the retrieval of a stolen tome, the trail of which, bingo, leads straight to NOLA, namely Madame Estelle Verdereau. The flight may seem uneventful, but establishes a woman named Sophia – the roleplaying with her is flirtatious enough, but things aren’t exactly as innocent as it seems, she is working for one El Santiago – the aforementioned tracking sheet provided for the handout allows the GM to keep her actions in mind.

Anyhow, once arrived in New Orleans, the PCs will have to deal with the rather uncooperative butler of Mme Estelle, only to find the woman slain and transformed into a poltergeist; with some proper detective work, more information on the eponymous book may be unearthed, before the trail branches off either towards Algier’s Point and a warehouse owned by “El Santiago”, the club Alexandria, that El Santiago likes to visit – obviously a boat, or a place in the country. The fellow is btw. not to be trifled with – provided his goons haven’t made that abundantly clear already. The man is working for the Archons – but he might well seem to be the lesser of two evils, considering that suspect/interested party number two, one Mr. Onnos, a pseudo-pharaoh and protector of remote St. Armand (hexploration map, player-friendly, included), is a werecrocodile. So he’s evil. Right? Well…actually, Onnos has pretty much a legitimate claim to the book; El Santiago is clearly the worse person, so stealing the book back from his warehouse…might be a solid call. Then again, you know…ahem…were-crocodile. Onnos is not to be trifled with. As a whole, the investigation here is open-ended, accounting for different sequences in which the locations might be visited.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay on a formal and rules-language level – I noticed quite a few hiccups in formal criteria, and some pertaining to rules. In these disciplines, the book needed more fine-tuning. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, with a single red line through from top to bottom; the line has a breadth of one pixel, and is confirmed as intentional. Personally, it irritates me to no end. The artworks used are nice b/w-pieces, and the cartography in b/w is also pretty nifty, though I’d have loved to see a map of NOLA “occultified” included. Player-friendly maps for the encounter areas beyond the hexploration part of the module would also have been nice.

This book by George “Loki” Williams, Jaye Sonia and Tim Hitchcock oozes passion project in all the right ways; it is a brief city guide that misses nary a paragraph without providing some sort of interesting information that you can use in play.

Let me make that abundantly clear – what is here, to me, oscillates between “I love it” and “nice.” This is a compelling book.

And yet, it is also a flawed book.

The module is probably even better than Tim Hitchcock’s “The 58th Seal” and delivers a surprisingly compelling and modular investigation that falls more on the “occult politics” than on the “horror”-angle f the game/setting; I just wished that a) the information design/structure was a bit smoother and required a tad bit less close reading, and b) that the whole “here’s an agent”-angle had been developed slightly more; you know, with more encounters in the city, chances to meet, etc.; the individual in question even gets a handy tracking sheet, so having more impact there? Would have been awesome. That being said, I like the set-up of antagonists, and while it’s not exactly a scary adventure, it captures the spirit of the city.

…as much as I like the module, though….I’d have preferred to get more content on the city itself. The genuinely interesting and inspiring notes on the city cover 20 pages of the supplement, and I feel like it barely scratches the surface of all the things you can do with NOLA in a BL&BM game, of what makes it tick. From the culture and history to the surrounding landscape…heck, music alone could probably provide a whole chapter worth of ideas and hooks.

In an ideal world, there’d be a book of this total length or more on NOLA, and a companion module with slightly more pages.  Jamming both into one book wasn’t a good call as far as I’m concerned.

As presented, this supplement feels like a first glimpse – and the authors acknowledge as much, mentioning in the introduction that one should consult the bibliography at the back.

Guess what’s been cut? Bingo. The bibliography. :(

As a reviewer, and as a person who genuinely loves what he’s seen of NOLA, this leaves me in a weird spot. On one hand, I very much want to love this book, and love a lot of what’s here. On the other hand, the issue of Storm Bunny Studios’ editing sometimes being not as tight? On full display. On the one hand, the authors’ expert writing made me feel like I was back in a weird, changed NOLA…and on the other hand, I was almost annoyed when I realized that the gazetteer-section had already ended, that I had arrived at the module. My mind’s questions rang loudly – “But what about…??”

In a way, the same holds true for master Hitchcock’s module to a less pronounced degree– it is a cool one and plays well, but it is a scenario that feels like it’s missing a few pages to reach peak awesomeness. Both components of the book have their charms and downsides.

It took me quite a while to enunciate, but ultimately, I love what this begins to do both regarding the sourcebook and the module parts; I only like what it actually does with them.

In many ways, this is a book that’s easy to love if lore and concepts are your focus; if you’re primarily into the rules aspect, you’ll probably be less enamored with it, particularly if you’re picky regarding typos and player-facing rules; I can see this range from anything between 2 to 4 stars for an individual, depending on your focus, your preferences, etc.. For me, the range here gravitates to the upper end - I like what's here too much.

In the end, my final verdict can’t exceed 4 stars; anything more would be plain wrong to me, and anything less would be a disservice to how cool the book is.

If anything, I sincerely hope that Storm Bunny Studios gets the funds to continue BL&BM for a long time, and to improve and perhaps even expand upon this book at one point. I’m not done with NOLA, and I have a feeling that neither are the authors.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Bloodlines & Black Magic: The Crescent City
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Hazardous Habitats: Desertlands
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/22/2020 04:31:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment of the Hazardous Habitats-series clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 2 pages yellow (back cover), leaving us with 33 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.

Okay, so what is this? Well, some of Frog God Games’ most criminally-underrated books for PFRPG was the series of “Perilous Vistas”-books, massive hardcovers, which included a ton of rules and information focusing on various biomes, with supplemental rules, monsters, and usually 3 to 4 adventures. Some of the adventures from these hardcovers have since then been taken out of the books, to various degrees of success, but the original Perilous Vistas books have an honored spot n my bookshelf – yes, I have them all.

Anyhow, the thing I enjoyed most about them, hands down? That’d be the assumption, very crucial to the books, that gamers are not simply consumers, that we want to know about a variety of topics. If there is anything I bemoan about the advent of d20-based systems, it’s that many books started to assume that only combat-relevant material needs to be featured. Compare e.g. 3.X’s Sandstorm book with Wilderness Survival Guide, and you know what I mean. In many ways, the environment, a crucial component for adventuring, all too often is relegated to window-dressing. And the GM who actually WANTS to know about an environment? They are often left to their own devices, and/or with small and nigh-inconsequential tidbits.

Well, and here’s what this series does: It takes the lavishly-researched content originally featured in the Perilous Vistas series of books, and provides a system neutral (system agnostic, based loosely on 5e, really), expanded iteration of the material provided in these books – in this case, the material provided in Dunes of Desolation.

The book kicks off with a general discussion of deserts – including the discussion on dry heat vs. humid heat, and the misconception that bright sands are the source of the desert being this hot. The book explains how deserts come to be…and before you yawn – no, this is no dry textbook, but it is genuinely helpful and well-presented information that assumes that the reader is both intelligent and wants to increase their knowledge. This gets two thumbs up from me.

Anyhow, the book then proceeds to depict a range of desert types, including percentile terrain element tables – hot and dry deserts, for example, can have a 10% chance for a salt pan, and the effects of dunes etc. on overland speed are noted in an appropriate, system agnostic manner. Better yet, we get a d20-based table of suggested encounters for each of the desert types featured. Furthermore, tables for population effects on demographics and humanoid demographics for settlements in the respective environment are provided..and these themselves influence the attitudes of the local humanoids! Political systems, notes on lifestyle and sample adventure ideas are also supplied alongside adventure locations.

This system is also provided for semiarid deserts, and briefly mentions coastal deserts (without going into this level of detail), before taking a look at the importance of water and its sources, from oases to rivers to alternate sources, with tables for water availability by desert type provided, with the tables differentiating properly between seasons. Desert travel, chance for the presence of settlements and notes on the construction and maintenance of roads (and the inevitable tolls!) can be found and are all explained, before we take a gander at the various means of travel, starting (obviously) with camels, before discussing mules and more exotic mounts.

Very interesting: Since the book is system neutral, the inevitable hazards that need to be in such a book to make it complete, are grouped in 4 difficulty levels, ranging from “easy” to “arduous”, with notes on detection, identification, avoidance, and escape provided alongside dimensions (with their own categories) and effects, which allow you to judge the intended level of challenge the hazard should provide. Since this may be a bit hard to picture, let me give you an example – the first one the book provides: Contaminated Water (Terrestrial, Disease). The hazard lists the following:

“Detection: Moderate Wisdom ability check or skill check pertaining to diseases, medicine, or nature Identification: Moderate Intelligence ability check or skill check pertaining to diseases, medicine, or nature Avoidance: Moderate Constitution-based saving throw completely avoids hazard Escape: Boiling or otherwise purifying contaminated water before drinking it Dimensions: Individual Effects: Harmful Damage Type: Constitution, hit points, or Wisdom Condition: fatigued, nauseated, or sickened Complication: Disease deals additional damage every 2d6 hours until cured Cure/Remedy: Successful Moderate Constitution saving throw made immediately after taking damage.”

This can be further modified – the book provides variants. Cholera lists: “Increase Effects to Dangerous.” Now, as you can glean from the above, the baseline from which we are supposed to extrapolate the mechanical effects would probably be 5e – while this is not a hard thing by any means, I can’t help but feel that this is where the system-agnostic approach is simply not as convenient as a proper version provided for a system, but that may be me.

On the plus-side, we actually differentiate between wet and dry quicksand, and various different poisons are also codified in pretty much such a way. A bit of a lost chance here – having at least a few poisons with a listed mundane way to cure them other than an ability check would have been nice to see. A random encounter table, and weather codified in this way can also be found – the latter comes with daily high and low temperature tables, chances for precipitation, and wind speeds. A missed chance here: temperatures are only provided in degrees Fahrenheit, and wind speeds assume mph (though the tables don’t explicitly state the latter). Ideally, it’d have been nice to have °C values as well, as °F doesn’t make sense to those not raised with it as a means to gage temperatures. It’s one of the things that keeps bothering me in RPG-books; the second value (kmh/°C) imho would really increase the value of books for those not as accustomed to imperial systems. This is particularly obvious when seeing that the text per se does feature °C values; same goes for the hazards themselves – these, alas, are absent from the temperature tables, though.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, where present. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, with the artworks provided differing in style and relevance to the matter at hand. The book comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

I love Tom Knauss’ environmental books, and the Hazardous Habitats pdfs unlocking them for a wider audience is a good thing in my book. It is impossible to put down this book without having learned some cool tidbit about deserts, and the material never loses its focus on being a gaming supplement – it is educational without being boring or preachy, and I love it for that. After reading this book, you’ll think about deserts within the context of the game as more than just dry places with lots of sand. So yeah, that gets two thumbs up, and ensures that this book is one you can return to time after time.

On the downside, there are a few components that should be noted: Flash floods, while mentioned numerous times, are not codified as a hazard. I was also rather puzzled to see the book provide °C values (YAY!), only to forget them in the tables to determine high/low temperatures. So yeah, there are a few nitpicks, but if you’re accustomed to the imperial systems, you won’t mind those. The hazards work as well as they can with a system agnostic approach; personally, I’d have preferred adherence to a specific system, but I’m a bit of a stickler there.

As a whole, this is a rewarding, well-crafted environmental sourcebook only very slightly tarnished by a few niggles. Hence, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hazardous Habitats: Desertlands
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Arcforge: Technology Expanded
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/20/2020 07:40:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive supplement clocks in at 84 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction (including a ToC for tables), 4 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 74 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters.

So, the first thing you need to know here, is that the material within makes use of Dreamscarred Press’ subsystems, most prominently akasha and psionics; beyond that, e.g. the new class that kicks off the supplement, the helmsman, does reference Path of War’s Knowledge (martial) skill. This poses an interesting question: For which tables and power-levels is this book intended? As you all know, Pathfinder’s first edition at one point somewhat split its demographic: On one hand, we have people that just want to play the game; on the other, there are people that derive a lot of satisfaction from pushing the system; builds and system mastery are important, as are the challenges posed. The latter demographic has split further, with particularly Path of War providing a convenient reference point, as it eliminated several limiters and balancing concerns of the system, with the explicit goal of providing a power-fantasy that other adherents of system mastery considered to be contrary to their own preferences. These issues were not inherent in Path of War’s system, but something chosen deliberately, and this paradigm did influence many of Dreamscarred Press’ latter offerings, which often sport innovative, genuinely awesome designs, but also a disregard for the power-levels featured by pretty much anything Paizo etc. released; this tendency can be seen in many post-Ultimate Psionics psionics releases, but the core framework of akasha is remarkably bereft of the like, oriented pretty much mathematically in line with Paizo’s offerings. So, where does this book fall in the spectrum?

Well, let us start by examining the helmsman baseclass, which is a veilweaver with d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves and proficiency with simple weapons and one martial weapon, as well as with light and medium armor and shields. Of note: The shield proficiency does not exclude tower shields, as customary, which I assume to be intentional here. The governing ability score of the helmsman’s veilweaving is Intelligence, and the class begins with 1 veil and essence, and improves that to 9 and 20, respectively, over the course of its 20-level progression. This puts the class one veil above the guru base class in that regard. Reallocation of essence invested is a swift action, rest is required to unshape and shape veils – you get the idea. The core defining feature of the class would be the companion vehicle or mech (collectively referred to as vessel) gained at 1st level; the effective pilot level is equal to the class level, and the helmsman’s bonded vessel gains all benefits of feats, veils and chakra binds that the helmsman is USING, even if it doesn’t have the corresponding components. Important here, and perhaps something that should have been spelled out more explicitly: USING. This means that benefits that are not based on, well, use, do not necessarily apply. It may sound like a picky differentiation, but it’s an important one imho. Anyways, for example, a Panzer would gain the benefits of an effect contingent on the presence of the feet slot, even though it, well, lacks feet. If a veil generates a weapon, it manifests on the vessel, but uses the helmsman’s size to determine damage dice, and may be used in addition to the vessel’s weaponry. Weapons explicitly wielded in hands do take up a weapon slot for each such weapon created. Size-increases beyond Medium (size reference not capitalized) can take up multiple slots, and the helmsman can reassign what the bonded vessel is relatively painlessly (good) in an 8-hour period.

At this point, you probably realized that this class is basically the anime/mecha pilot in the vein of Gundam, Code Geass, etc., so in order to discuss it, we should take a look at the mecha rules so crucial for the experience of the class before further diving into it. At first level, the character chooses a body type for the mech(a) – agile, bipedal or quadruped/treaded, and the mech must be of the pilot’s size or larger. All damage caused to the pilot is evenly split between pilot and mech, with excess damage from uneven values applied to the mech. If the mech is reduced to 0 HP, it enters a state of critical failure, ejecting the pilot. Repairing a mech takes a DC 10 Craft (Mechanical) check and takes a whole day, replenishing 5 HP; climbing into a mech and activating it is a full-round action, while exiting it can be done as a move action. I like this action economy dispersal here, as it mirrors what we get to see in anime. At 3rd level, the pilot can change the mech’s body type by spending ½ the mech’s HD in hours +1/2 the number of enhancements, rounded down, rebuilding it. During this time, the mech is NOT operational, but existing enhancements may also be changed. A destroyed mech can be replaced within 24 hours, which may not be realistic, but for the purpose of the game, it's a wise decision. Well, and the media this is based on pretty much also follows this paradigm. Mechs grants a bonus to their pilot’s physical ability scores and use the pilot’s mental ability scores; unpiloted or remotely-steered mechs have Strength and Dexterity scores of 10 + the listed bonus. Mechs use the pilot’s BAB, saves, proficiencies and skill modifiers, and do not gain skills or feats of their own. Mechs have a hardness score and take half damage from most energy-based attacks. While piloting, a character can’t wear armor or bulky clothing, and items that provide an AC-increase to the pilot, INCLUDING natural armor bonuses do NOT apply while piloting a mech. Mechs are treated as metal armor, but generally do not per default impose an arcane spell failure.

Mechs are designed for certain types of weapons in mind; this is known as Weapon Affinity; you can picture that as a kind of proficiency, as it influences the type of weapon a mech can wield. Standard weapons can be converted for mech use, though they have to be made for a size that the mech can make use of via weapon slots. There are three types of affinity: Ranged, melee and heavy. The first two are self-explanatory, while the third encompasses a list of weapons ranging from grenade launchers to rail guns and rocket launchers. Basically, if you could picture a weapon being the key-feature of a Gundam mecha that sets it apart, it’s probably heavy. The pilot of a mech with this affinity is considered to have Exotic Weapon Proficiency (heavy weaponry) as long as they are piloting the mech. Now, as for those weapon slots we’ve been talking about: A single weapon slot can accommodate a single Medium or smaller weapon, and in order to weild a weapon, a mech must have it slotted and the pilot must be able to wield it, unless otherwise noted. A crucial difference to regular weaponry: Multiple slots can be combined to fit larger weapons; two weapon slots can be sued to fit a Large weapon; three fit a Huge weapon, 4 a Gargantuan, and 5 a Colossal weapon, and such slotted weapons are thankfully not subject to the clusterf*** that are the rules for inappropriately-sized weaponry. That’s a good thing. If the linear progression instead of an exponential or similar curve struck you as odd: Attacks with a slotted weapon are made at the pilot’s full BAB, but no iterative attacks may be executed. Attacks with natural attacks or unslotted weapons executed by mechs are penalized with -5 to the attack roll.

Okay, so how does the mech companion operate? Well, they have a ¾ HD-progression, which means they start of at 1 HD and improve that 15 HD at 19th level; The mech has a ½ AC bonus progression, and a Hardness that begins play at 1 and improved up to 19; at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the aforementioned Strength and Dexterity bonuses granted by the mech increase by +2, for a total of +8 at 17th level. At 11th and 20th level, we have size increases (you can stay your usual size and instead get +2 Dexterity and 10 additional hit points), and the mech gets a BP (battery point)-contingent. When a mech uses a technological item or weapon, they may have charges drawn from this pool instead, and the battery recharges at the rate of 2 per hour. It is important to note for GMs that this should probably not allow for use of nanite hypoguns; the BP is clearly supposed to be electricity, whereas the hypogun’s charges represent nanites, as made very clear by their capacity, which, unlike most technological items, explicitly reads “1 nanite canister”, not the simple numerical value usually presented for charges sourced from batteries. This is important, because we’d otherwise have a pretty overkill healing angle here. Explicitly stating this caveat in the rules here would have been more convenient for the reader.

At 1st level, the BP-contingent is still 0, but every level thereafter, it improves by 2. At 1st level, 5th level, and every 4 levels thereafter, the mech also gets a mech enhancement. Depending on which basic shape you choose from the three available, you also get a unique 5th-level advancement; these frame-based enhancements generally improve every 5 levels after 5th.

Okay, so, what do the base frames provide? The agile frame is Small (as such only available for Small characters at low levels), and nets +20 ft. speed, +1 armor, two secondary wing attacks à 1d4, Dexterity +4 and 5 bonus hit points; Weapon Affinity is ranged, and we have 1 weapon slot. At fifth level, the frame nets a fly speed that improves regarding speed and maneuverability at higher levels. The mech can hover sans check. Bipeds are Medium, get +2 to armor, a primary slam at 1d6, +2 Dexterity and Strength, 10 bonus hit points, Weapon Affinity for melee and ranged weapons, and 2 weapon slots. Bipeds start play with the arms enhancement, and at 5th level, their arms net a +2 shield bonus to AC, which improves at higher levels. This bonus btw. explicitly increases a shield bonus of a regular shield, if present. Quadruped/treaded mechs start play as Large (size modifiers listed), get +10 ft. movement, +4 AC, a primary slam à 1d8, +4 Strength, 15 bonus hit points, the stability trait, Weapon Affinity for heavy weapons, and 2 weapon slots. The 5th-level advancement nets an additional weapon slot at no cost (ditto for higher levels).

Unless I have miscounted, there are 23 mech enhancements provided. These include gaining an additional weapon affinity, a new weapon slot, and at 7th level, you can get e.g. +2 AC; the equivalents of Weapon Focus and Weapon Specializations and their Greater versions can also be gained; 9th level allows for the taking of +5 hardness. Quicker reload for firearms and heavy weaponry, arms, slow fall hovering for quadrupeds, swim speed and air filters, +15 for Acrobatics and Ride checks made to jump (should imho be typed bonuses), size increases (may first be taken at 7th level, then again at 17th level), climb speed for quadrupeds/treaded ones. I did notice an issue: Superior Arcforged Armor provides a hardness increase of 5 and requires Advanced Armor Plating as a prerequisite, with which it notes that it stacks; said enhancement, however, does grant an AC bonus, not hardness. The enhancement should not refer to Advanced Armor Plating, but Arcforged Armor, which does indeed grant hardness 5. Thrusters are also included, and there is an option to increase the damage dice of weapons you have Weapon Affinity for. Shielded cockpit and cerebral reinforcement are perhaps the most potent enhancements, available at 13th and 15th level, respectively; both net you an assortment of the construct immunities of the mech. Since these are locked behind high level prerequisites, I can get behind them.

Interesting as far as this enhancement engine is concerned: The mech’s arms can wield weapons “appropriately sized” (should reference the mech) and make iterative attacks with them; when doing so, the mech is treated as having two fewer weapon slots (min 0); this aspect of the engine, while not necessarily hard to understand, at first seems to be weird in conjunction with the base rules, until you realize that the mech’s default slotted weapons essentially operate like natural attacks as a default.

Okay, so, before we return to the helmsman, let’s briefly talk about the mech as a whole: The system is kinda clever in that is presents mechs as a non-autonomous construct, somewhat akin to how e.g. vehicles operate; they also behave in many ways like an armor, like an extension of the character. Mechanically, the closest approximation I could come up with, is probably the synthesis; in many ways, the base mech-engine generates what you’d expect: A serious increase in durability for all piloting characters, with math-escalation built straight into the core engine. At the same time, we have a serious Achilles’ heel built into the whole thing. The cap regarding armor stacking is very much required, and the hardness means that the mechs can withstand punishment they actually take better; at the same time, much like in the respective anime series, they can’t be quickly healed back up, and damage takes longer to heal/repair, unless supplemented by copious amounts of magic. In short: You’ll be hit rather often, and the hits won’t be easily or quickly cured.

This is intended, and indeed imho works rather well, particularly considering that the characters, when ejected, won’t necessarily be properly armored and armed, though it’s not hard to get a dress-as-swift-action armor. The core engine presented operates pretty well. Where I can see serious issues that you need to be aware of, though, is within the interaction with the other components of engines, such as psionics and the like. Mechs allow you to enhance your character significantly regarding their staying power, and as such, powers and spells intended to shield fragile casters, which apply their personal benefits to both mech and pilot, can become problematic, as they’re not intended to bestow their benefits upon tanky, potent things with hardness. Depending on the type of game you run, this may be a significant problem – or not. If you prefer a system that presents less avenues for exploits, I’d strongly recommend making each mech their own target for the purpose of multi-target effects, and to disallow the application of personal-only power and spell-buffing effects to mechs. From a rules-perspective, AoE attacks can be a bit weird in play, and explaining the sequence explicitly would have made sense and made the system a bit easier to grasp: When hit by an AoE attack, you roll the saving throw first, then apply the effects; i.e., if you failed the save, your pilot character takes half damage, and the mech takes the other half; since most AoE-attacks are energy attacks, however, the mech further halves the damage incurred.

After some tinkering and testing, I do think that the engine presented works pretty well for what it tries to do; it presents an engine for mechs that duplicates many of the tropes we expect from the genre well, operating in many ways like a gestalt-lite second mode for the character. The base system operates well and is really enjoyable, but the combination with other systems leaves it wide open, which can become a rather pronounced issue.

Personally, I think that focusing more on breadth of options rather than a deepening of numerical boosts would have been a more rewarding route – more customization for the mech, less static boosts – or, you know, make the static boosts for Strength etc. cost BP. Instead of the nigh impossible to control and balance wide open transparency the system offers, a more controlled system with select exceptions would have probably been the more elegant and robust solution that also retains the uniqueness of classes and class options that do focus on mechs.

Speaking of which, the helmsman did also have an option for vehicles, right? Well, the book presents rules for technological companions, (combat transport vehicle, infiltration transport vehicle, motorcycle, sportscar, and ship); these come with their own base shapes and use the mech’s table and ability gains instead of the default companion stats, following the mech frames with their benefits and enhancements granted. These do warrant some scrutiny as well; ships, in aquatic campaigns, would e.g. be an escalation over the “horse is more deadly than cavalier” low-level issue, as the ship begins play with a Strength score of 24. My observations regarding the potential issues of the mech engine obviously also apply here as a consequence. Since these vehicles also behave as though the driver was mounted, there are some seriously devastating attacks that can be pulled off with them. That being said, if you wanted to play e.g. Knightrider? Here you go.

But let us return to the helmsman class: At 1st level, we get the supernatural hypercharge ability: At 1st level and every odd level thereafter, we get one hypercharge from a list of 13; these are activated as a swift or immediate action, and sport a cost – this is a cost in essence burn, which recovers at the rate of 1 per minute of meditation. 7th, 13th and 17th level unlock previously level-locked hypercharges. Hypercharges last Intelligence modifier rounds (ability score reference not properly capitalized) unless otherwise noted – e.g. one that nets you an additional attack with the same weapon is instantaneous. These hypercharges can be VERY strong. For one point of essence burn, we have an attack roll or saving throw reroll for the bonded vessel as soon as 1st level, and the ability does not specify whether the decision must be made before results are made known. For 2 points of essence burn, we have an instantaneous repair for the bonded vessel equal to twice the helmsman’s level. (Infinite healing exploit is only an issue if you combine it with an option that allows hit points to be shared between constructs and living things.) You can also choose an akashic armament or veil that “the bonded vessel has essence invested in” (which is an odd phrasing that should probably read “´of the bonded vessel that the helmsman has invested essence in” or something like that, increasing that by 3, even beyond the usual cap. Later we have the means to get a combat feat for which the helmsman meets the prerequisites. Which brings me to a question of hypercharges like this: Could you use this hypercharge to gain consecutive feats/mini-feat trees for a limited duration? RAW, that’d be possible. On the plus-side, the high-level options include AoE ranged and melee attacks. Really weird: This is probably the first time that I’ve seen a base class refer to the ability suite of an archetype: The helmsman can also get a hypercharge that lets them learn one of the overdrive abilities of the reactor knight psychic warrior, using Intelligence instead of Wisdom as governing ability score.

Also at 1st level, we have the akashic armaments ability, which lets the helmsman imbue essence in the bonded vessel as though it were a veil; the limit based on veilshaper level applies to each of the armaments separately, not to the overall armaments. Well, scratch that: The armaments are unlocked at 2nd level, and a glimpse at the class table confirms that the text claiming that this is gained at first level, is wrong here – the ability is gained at 2nd level. The benefits are all unlocked, with 9th and 16th level providing new sets of options. The akashic armaments are in line with the existing options: Artillery, for example, nets you a +1 insight bonus to atk and damage with all weapons, and +1 to the save DC, if any, of weapons. This is pretty much a variant of the daevic’s armbands of the irked elephant, minus base damage and bull rush, but plus the DC-angle. Bonus type prevents stacking exploits. That being said, I’m not a big fan of the high-level initiative boost. On a formal level, we have some deviations from the standards here: Threat range is e.g. noted as “15:20”, and we have instances of feats not capitalized and weapon special properties referenced not in italics.

2nd level and every 3 levels thereafter nets a chakra bind in the progression head, feet, wrist, shoulders, headband, neck, body. Balance-wise, the head-chakra is usually gained only at 6th level, at the very soonest for full-caster type akashic characters; for others, the customary level-range is 8+. This does undercut some of the balance options of the system; take djinni’s turban from City of 7 Seraphs: Akashic Trinity, for example: binding this veil to the head slot nets you unassisted personal flight with perfect maneuverability if bound to the head slot as well as a 20% concealment against ranged attacks if you move at least 20 ft. in a single round. Usually, that’s perfectly fine, as you can do it at 6th level, at the soonest, if you’re a nexus or vizier. The helmsman, though? This fellow can pull that off at first level, which violates PFRPG’s balance-assumption of no unassisted flight below 5th level – and it also kinda undercuts the coolness of having an aerial mech. Alternatively, sparkling alicorn nets you a half-celestial unicorn at first level. Via the chakra bind for head; stare of the ghaele’s head chakra bind nets you 1d6+1 rounds of staggering, which is hardcore at the usual 6th level; at first level, it’s overkill. This, more than anything else, would disqualify the class hardcore for me – but guess what? This seems to be yet another error, for the class table does instead provide the hands chakra at 2nd level, which is very much a feasible choice! This is perhaps the most egregious issue in a class’s rules I’ve seen in a while, as it means the difference between “fundamentally broken” and “works well within the confines of the system.” Not cool.

4th, 10th and 19th level net enhanced capacity; 4th level also allows the helmsman to prevent the destruction of their vessel by sacrificing their own hit points. I get and like the intent here, but with a regenerating pilot, this can be somewhat problematic; with a 1/round caveat or a Burn-like mechanic, this’d retain the spirit of the ability, without resulting in the wondrous almost trash-indestructible mech. As written, this ability rewards you for keeping your mech nearly trashed, as the pilot can be healed up quicker than the mech. At 6th level, the helmsman may 1/day (+1/day at 9th level and every 3 levels thereafter) reallocate essence as a free action. 10th level nets the exclusive interface chakra; 12th level nets turboboost. This nets the vessel the ability to gain the benefits of one additional chakra to which any kind of veil can be shaped, but the helmsman takes essence burn equal to the number of essence invested in the chakra each round this is maintained. At 18th level, this is delimited, reducing essence burn to 1 if the vessel has “1 or more points of essence invested in the hypercharge chakra.” Wait. WHAT? Hypercharge is no chakra! That’s a series of abilities that requires essence burn to use, but you don’t invest anything in it? Turboboost is also not a chakra, so is this supposed to reference interface? I genuinely have no idea how the hell this ability is supposed to work. The capstone lets the character shift their essence as an immediate action an unlimited number of times per day, and hypercharge requires one less point of essence burn, minimum 0. The first part of this ability is phrased imprecisely: The core veilweaving feature provides the means to reallocate essence an unlimited amount of time as a swift action; adaptive response improves that to a free action a limited amount of times per day. So…does the capstone mean to imply that it allows for unshaping and constructing of new veils? It seems to refer to previous limitations and is phrased as a delimited, but the ambiguous verbiage makes this very hard to grasp.

The class is supplemented by a variety of favored class options, as well as 3 archetypes. The first would be the experimental engineer is an engine-tweak that is a straight power upgrade: At 3rd, 7th, 11th, 15th and 19th level, you get to choose a mech enhancement, an item creation feat, or a hypercharge. Instead of choosing one hypercharge, you get to choose from more. Pretty sure that, at one point, hypercharges were all unlocked at once, and this archetype was not updated properly. As written, it is a straight power-increase sans drawbacks or tradeoffs. The ability name is not bolded properly. The fleet commander can spread his pilot levels among bonded vessels – a 6th level commander could e.g. have 2 3rd level vessels, 6 1st level vessels…you get the idea; each level, the pilot levels must be allocated, and once chosen, these cannot be redistributed. The fleet shares a bond within 100 ft., +10 ft./level, which includes seeing and hearing through them, which can be ridiculously powerful. The fleet commander can also expend actions to command his fleet; “for example, a fleet commander can spend a move action to command the mechs to move, and a standard action to command them to make a ranged attack.”  At 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the fleet commander can issue commands to an additional one of his bonded vessels as the same action, though doing so causes the vessels to take a -1 penalty to atk and skill check “per mech commanded this way.”

The vessels have to take the same action, but may target different targets. Okay, so RAW, only mechs feature in the penalty, which is clearly an error, but at least only one of the vessels gets the very strong vessel shape sharing. Second error: The class feature references the eclipse base class instead of the helmsman. The archetype loses adaptive response. Hypercharges may affect additional vessels for 1 point of essence burn. I spoke too soon, btw.: At 8th level, investing essence into a single bonded vessel for akashic armaments and veils shares that with the entire armada. This replaces enhanced capacity. WAIT. There is no enhanced capacity at 8th level! So what is this supposed to replace? Is the level incorrect? 12th level replaces turboboost with the ability to bond with any vessel as a standard action, treating it as a bonded vessel for all purposes. “The fleet commander may have any number of vessels affected by this ability at a time, but a single vessel may only be considered he bonded vessel of one helmsman at a time.” WTF. Remember: He can see through all. Instead of improved turboboost, we have the ability to command +1 vessel for a point of essence burn How does this interact with the base ability to command more at once at the cost of penalty? Freely? Full choice? Do we need to pay only in excess beyond the basics? The capstone eliminates btw. the base penalties for multi-vessel commands, and allows the vessels to take different actions from each other, which is damn cool – and something the archetype imho should have, at a HIGH cost, gained  earlier.

The themistoclien helmsman replaces the hypercharges with Path of War maneuvers, starting off with 3 maneuvers known, 1 readied, and increasing that to 7 and 5, respectively. The disciplines available are the golden lion, piercing thunder, solar wind, and the atrociously overpowered rajah class’s radiant dawn. Maneuver recovery works via standard action, or he may gain temporary essence equal to half Intelligence modifier (minimum 1) that may be used for essence burn….and guess what? We have the ability to execute maneuvers through the bonded vessel, so essentially rajah lite, minus the rajah’s atrociously OP titles, but with a better chassis, and it has the same enhanced capacity glitch as above. Since it, like the fleet commander, suffers from a progression/ability exchange glitch, and since the core class already has one, I’ll stop trying to judge whether this fares on the power scale. Dual-system options are already hard enough to check when all components are in working order.

Beyond the veil list (which is another indicator that the class SHOULD in fact get the hands chakra…), we also get a couple new veils. Ablation field is for the chest slot and increases your DR or hardness, but RAW doesn’t grant you either, energy adaptation while bound; captain’s guided hand  is cool, as it provides skill boosts and, when bound to hands, lets your vessel ignore mundane difficult terrain and high winds. Dogfighter’s third eye is exclusive to the helmsman’s mid-level interface chakra, and nets you dodge bonus to AC; interesting: you get to move whenever you’re missed, and while bound, you get blindsense. Also for the interface chakra: expansive uplink, which nets long-range telepathy and sensory sharing; general’s beacon which lets you track allies (and enemies, if bound); ironclad bastion is a more straightforward buff with a movement enhancer when bound; navigator’s boon does what it says on the tin, including find the path (not in italics) while bound. Steel ward’s bond lets you interface with constructs and mind probe them. For non-exclusive chakras, we have the technological items disrupting interface bangles for slots wrist, body, which can also disrupt magic when bound, and warlord’s fist, which nets AoE Intimidate.

Okay, since the helmsman class requires knowing the reactor knight archetype, let us cover that fellow next. The reactor knight gets Fly and Knowledge (engineering) and diminished manifesting, and loses warrior’s path, expanded path, secondary path (powers, trance, maneuvers) and pathweaving in favor of a bonded mech and the overdrive ability referenced by the helmsman. The ability lets the archetype expend their psionic focus in favor of Wisdom bonus + ½ class level (minimum 1) boost points, which last for class level rounds and may be used to activate any overdrive known. At 1st level and every 2 levels thereafter, the archetype gets to choose from one overdrive of a list of 12. These include making Fly checks to negate attacks (broken; skills are super-easy to cheese beyond attack rolls), but that one is at least an immediate action, so only once per round. There is also a physical attack at a 60 ft. range that is extraordinary – which is cool. But how is the very possible scenario of preventing the return of the e.g. detached fist handled? How is this explained with weapons? This is missing the usual clarifications of extraordinary melee attacks executed at range. We also have AoE fire damage, or what about adding Wisdom mod to all attack, saving throws and Acrobatics checks for 3 rounds (no, this has no minimum level), for a lousy 2 boost points that are replenished whenever you want? Compare that with the one that lets you spend 1 boost point and a swift action to exit the mech and land on the floor safely with a DC 5 Acrobatics check. Yeah, let me take the latter over a boost that makes palas cry over their grace being sucky. We also have some formatting inconsistencies here, but this review is already very long. The archetype also provides some skill bonuses, mech enhancements and the capstone has a maximum overdrive that lets them use overdrives sans boost point cost. Don’t get me wrong: This is an archetype I per se LIKE, but it is one that desperately needed some limits, some minimum level requirements and internal balancing.

While we’re on the subject of psionic archetypes, let us cover the remainder of them: The Circuitbreaker cryptic loses the altered defense class feature in favor of Technologist and tech-related crafting feats at higher levels. Instead of evasion, they get Psicrystal Affinity and Psi-Core Upgrade; the latter is a rather cool psionics/tech crossover feat that lets your psicrystal bond with weapons, tools, etc. – which is per se neat. I do have one concern with the feat, though: It lets you convert power points into charges on a 5:1 ratio, which, while not exactly game-breaking, can be a pretty strong delimiter in games, considering how batteries, per the default rules, have a serious chance of going kaput. Lacing traps into targets? Nice. As a whole, I consider this archetype to be solid. The Eclipse archetype for the dread class is, unfortunately, not as well-considered. We have a fleet-scenario that sports much of the same issues of the fleet commander, but add to that the ability to execute ranged untyped damage causing touch attacks; that wasn’t good design for the dread, and it’s still not good design when it can be executed at range and via proxies, particularly since it can also channel terrors at range. At this point, the archetype is already disqualified for me. The mecha sentinel aegis is interesting: Instead of the astral suit, we get an astral mecha, including 3-point customizations for mech enhancements and 4-point customization for size increases, with cannibalize suit replaced with the ability to shake off some negative conditions at higher levels. The medimechanic vitalist can add objects and constructs to their collective, and get a modified powers-list instead of medic powers…oh, and they can exchange repair and healing through their collective. And here we have the HP-with-construct-exchange issue I warned of above.

The overcharger wilder gets a variant surge and three exclusive surge bonds to choose from: Armsmaster, Malfunction and Pilot. No surprise: The pilot surge, which nets you a bonded mech or companion vehicle at full CL is by far the best one. The latter should cost the archetype more. The squad leader tactician has a slightly better ratio there, losing coordinated strike and lesser strategies. As a nitpick, his collective erroneously refers to him as mech pilot, but on the plus-side, the feature is modified to lose the range upgrades, but allow for temporary teamwork feat sharing. Using the collective engine to remotely steer unpiloted mecha is also a neat angle, though I am very weary of the fact that this action tree actually is reduced at higher levels, particularly since there is RAW no limit to the number of collectives you can theoretically be a part of at the same time, which could result in some ridiculous scenes regarding the action economy of the faithful mech servants of a ton of tacticians. There are also two non-psionic archetypes: The cyborg engineer vizier may invest essence in technological items, which allows them to consume fewer charges -1 fewer per essence invested. And with the aforementioned hypoguns, that’d mean infinite healing…and the archetype’s out. (As an aside, combine that with the vitalist, and we have infinite mech healing…) The road warrior fighter is straight-forward, a vehicle companion fighter. No complaints here.

The pdf also features class templates and features, which include blade skills for the soulknife that allow for the emulation of technological melee and ranged weapons. The psionic formulist is a class template that removes the extracts mechanic in favor of psionic extracts; these do tend to be more powerful than regular extracts, but the per se solid implementation, comprehensive lists and considering the theme, I’d very much let those guys into my game. The powerful cerebremancer also gets an archetype, the metaforge is essentially a tweak that is based on the variant rule that treats psionics as advanced tech according to the old adage.

The supplement contains a 10-level PrC, the psiborg adept, who gets ¾ BAB-progfression, d8 HD, ½ Fort-and Will-save progression 8/10ths manifesting progression, and 4 + Int skills per level. Bonded mecha, astral suit, mindblade etc. are also advanced; the archetype suspends the draining of charges of technological items while psionic focus is maintained, and they have a higher implantation threshold, gaining progressively more construct-like abilities. The 8th level ability of the PrC is super strong, auto-regaining psionic focus when manifesting a power, provided you didn’t expend it while manifesting that power. The character may also use charges as power points at higher levels – you get the idea.

Rather cool: The book contains a couple of psicrystal archetypes: The Informant, the OS, and the targeting array – and I genuinely love these. The targeting array gets Int-based aid another, including follow-up feats; the OS gets holographic projections and can hijack robots – and we also get a synthetic animal companion archetype. Kudos for this entire section – apart from a few formal hiccups (ability score reference or size not capitalized, etc.), this section really knocks it out of the park! It’s evocative, balanced and creative and shows what the authors can do.

We also get racial variants, 2 for androids, 2 for forgeborn, 1 for the noral (essentially an akashic variant); Skills are not properly capitalized, bonuses are untyped when they should be racial, and they are lopsided, including ability scores on one side of the mental/physical divide, and one of them nets +4 to Intelligence. . Apart from the champion forgeborn, against whom I can field no nitpicks or gripes, I wouldn’t use them. The book also contains 7+ pages of feats, reprinting the required ones like the Craft feats and Technologist, etc. These also include Craft Companion Vehicle and Craft Mech. As a note: The rules for non-companion vehicles to which they refer point to “pieces” instead of gp. We have feats for having the mech integrated into a set of body armor, the usual class feature enhancers for extra hypercharge, enhancements, etc., replace animal companions with a mech, metapsionic means to cause irradiation with powers based on power points expended. Oh yeah, and then there is that feat that lets you always ignore temporary hit points. Always on. Prerequisite: Psionic Weapon or Fist. That’s it. WTF. Kill it with fire.

The book also has an array of over 20 new psionic powers, and the list includes the voyager class and the gambler among the lists provided. These psionic powers need to be vetted VERY CAREFULLY. Assimilate function, for example, is a costly level 8 power that targets an AI: The AI gets one save, and if failing that, it is instantly destroyed and you get all of its knowledge and special abilities. No duration, mind you. You literally get all of it permanently. Do I even need to explain that this can be an issue? Okay, what if I told you that there are powers that make targets resurrect or incarnate as AIs? Ton of narrative potential, but also a high potential for some logic bugs on why bad guys aren’t nigh-unstoppable.On the plus side, we have astral swarms with the robot subtype and cool augmentation options that include instead making gray goo. Weird, beyond the rather prevalent formatting issues: Even if a power has only one augment option, it lists its augmentation as “1.”, which makes quite a few powers look as though something was cut, when cut copy paste was a more likely culprit. We have rather powerful and flexible terraforming-themed powers, including wide-range weather control, but also changes of gravity, fauna, etc.; while I don’t agree with the cost of all of them, I found myself genuinely appreciating these powers, the formatting snafus here and there notwithstanding; for a scifi or science-fantasy campaign, these certainly are cool and appreciated. Quite a few of these are modeled after comparable spells, expanding the range of psionics while retaining a distinct flavor. I also rather appreciated the complex holographic projections, the power-based piloting, interplanetary movement via psionics, etc. – this kind of stuff. High-level tech-wrecking is cool. Not so cool: One augmentation of a power that lets you recharge tech via psionics lets you multiply the charges by recharging multiple items at once. Still, as a whole, one of the strongest chapters of the book.

The final section includes notes to reflavor both akasha and psionics as cybertech; in the case of the former, we get 4 veils: hover boots, H.U.D., micro-missile gauntlet and nanite cloud. The former being e.g. a variant of lavawalker’s boots that instead of resistances grants you an enhanced speed; H.U.D. is a reflavored sentinel’s helmet – you get the gist. The take on akasha is clever, in that it focuses on flavor; the one on psionics goes a different route, and recommends making them no longer susceptible to dispel magic etc. – essentially, it’s a re-establishing of the psionics-are-different paradigm, with the caveat that effects that affect technology now also affect psionics. Provided your campaign sports enough tech-related materials and effects/spells, this works – if not, be very careful, as psionics already are pretty potent. The section also presents three variants of psionic item creation feats for this context, and adds spells as powers to some class lists.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not even close up to the standards of Legendary Games; beyond the rather copious deviations in formatting I noticed, the supplement unfortunately also suffers from several issues on the rules-language level, which include ones that wreck the functionality of otherwise cool concepts. Beyond that, the balancing of quite a few options, internal and external, is dubious. This feels like an excellent first draft; not like a finished book. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard that LG-fans may also know from Starfinder supplements. The supplement sports quite a bunch of full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Matt Daley and Michael Sayre are both talented designers, but the long and painful genesis of this book is readily apparent. The core engine presented is an interesting one that succeeds at its intended goal of depicting rules for a game alike e.g. Gundam SEED, but it is also one that would have benefited from not trying to fuse all those sub-systems – in many ways, one of the things that undo parts of this book, is that it loses track of all the moving parts of the systems it taps into, misses balancing caveats that were clearly intended to be there, misses internal level prerequisites for some ability arrays, etc.

This is particularly evident, as the book does e.g. show a cognizance of balancing caveats regarding e.g. threat range limitations and similar fine details that often are overlooked. The intent is here, the execution falls a bit short. As a consequence, the power-levels fluctuate starkly between OP and “I’d use and allow that without missing a heartbeat!” regarding quite a few pieces of content, and the issues are never there out of necessity for a vision, they are there because of what feels like refinement missing.

Again: The core of Arcforge’s engine does its job in a solid manner, though expansion of it instead of the inclusion of the archetypes might have been the more prudent strategy. In many ways, this feels like one of the most rushed books I’ve seen by Legendary Games so far.

After I had perused the mecha-engine, I was excited to see whether the classes and class features would offset some of its potential rough spots, but instead, they went the other way, exacerbating some flaws with numerous exploits, a ton of glitches, problems in functionality, etc. In many instances, supplemental materials with the proper focus could have rendered the engine a Top Ten-level masterstroke – the potential is here. Still, this does leave me hopeful for future installments!

And yet, while this book is deeply flawed, and while I’d advise extreme caution when implementing it in your campaign, it is also a book that is genuinely inspiring, that has its moments of brilliance, and that, if you can get your players to agree to refraining from gaming the system in its plentiful available ways, can make it a compelling cornerstone for entire campaigns. I just wished this had received the control, clean-up and refinement it needed. As provided, I can only recommend this with some serious reservations, and can’t go higher than 3 stars, consisting of a median of some components in the lower rating echelons, and some in the higher ones.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Arcforge: Technology Expanded
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Kefitzah Haderech - Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals
Publisher: Lost Pages
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/18/2020 08:15:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This booklet clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page thank you note, leaving us with 30 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5) – and yes, the pdf does not have the front and back cover as part of the pdf itself. I also own the PoD softcover, which is a stapled booklet. My review is based on both versions.

While this book is designated as OSR, it is actually almost system neutral – apart from singular references to SAVE or the sparse damage value here and there, the book is not limited to such games in its utility.

So, the pdf begins by explaining the Hebrew expression of “contracting the path/shortening the way” – which is a perfect way to think of portals and gates. The supplement then begins to talk about portals and gates in a game context: As a plot device, as a shortcut, and about their significance regarding connections – this might be me talking in a post-COVID-19-world, but after playing Death Stranding, I have actually a greater appreciation of using and not using portals as far as their significance.

The supplement then proceeds to talk about types of portals – one-way portals, coupled ones, hubs and portal nexus set-ups, and, of course, relays and portal groups. Particularly portal relays are criminally underrated as far as I’m concerned, so thinking in a methodic manner about the subject matter? Seriously helpful.

Beyond that, we take remote perception, as well as awareness of the portal and its accessibility into account. In short: We begin with a serious of considerations that helps the Gm think of the content herein in a structured manner.

The book then brings us to the portal itself and provides a d20 generator with three columns, which lets you determine portal frame, opening and extras – to give you an example, I got a frame of living flesh, with the opening consisting of psychedelic colors and which emits an alkali odor. Cool!

Portal keys are up next – they can be physical objects, non-physical concepts, or simply esoteric names – and once more, we get a d20-based generator with 4 relevant columns: I got an “Exegetic shibboleth of the unearthly peregrination.” Come on, that is cooler than just some portal key, right?

Of course, the construction of portals also requires some consideration, and the supplement suggest 5K gold and a week of work – this is what I’d suggest for OSR-games; for others, I’d adjust the price accordingly – unless you want some serious portal hopping. The section provides a d10 table of considerations pertaining to construction: Perhaps portals can only be erected on ley lines, or the mystic toponyms must be carved into the portal…but unfortunately, they also must be palindromes (have fun making your PCs deal with this…)…and what about the implication of requiring the bones of twins, shuffled and then separated? shudder Really neat ideas!

However, the main meat of the booklet is devoted to the massive PORTATRON, a gigantic portal openings generator. This generator consists of a d10-table “The Portal looks like…”, and 1d6 “…and you will find it” – Here, I got “A well or pit in the ground, which when opened is filled with mist, which will be found in a shrine, with an altar located in front of it. The next table has a promising header: “And do you remember when I told you it was safe? I lied because…” – this table has 17 entries, and is rolled on a d30; I got entry 6, which is: “IT BURRRNS!!! Take 3d6 fire damage, SAVE for half damage. Maybe due to lasers: PEW PEW PEW! Or RADIOACTIVITY!!!” There is a fun and often irreverent tone in some entries, but never to the extent where I found it intrusive. As you can see, while the book does have notes like “save” or “Save or die”, it is for the most part system neutral – the damage values and negative consequences for some portals lend themselves to old-school playing, but also represent one of my gripes: I don’t think that using a portal (unless it’s sabotaged/the PCs have botched something should be lethal; save or die is warranted when the players screwed up. So yeah, not a big fan of this aspect.

Next, we have a d12 table of “the Key is…” – most of these have 6 to 8 subentries, which then might have more subsections. In my sample run, I got “An action, which must be carried out in front of the portal”;subentry + sub-section: the password must be sung.” The key in my test-run was related to ( a d4-table)…nothing specific. After that, we get a 10-entry d20-table to determine why the key’s special. Here, I got that the key can open d6-in-6 portals, but always one-way and towards the same destination.

And then, we have the largest table herein – a massive d666 table. The tongue-in-cheek “you end up in R’lyeh”-entry can be found, but is certainly not representative: The PCs might end up in a fortress of petrified soldiers, actually a child’s toy, or in a jungle in a huge impact crater, where a osmium-iridium meteorite is constantly seeping oozes. My test-run delivered the following entry: “ The study of the great sorceress Edonoplechtus VI; 1-in-6 she’s here researching some crossbreed monsters; else she just left all her pets here. Now yo have a good excuse to unleash the lobstegasuaruses, crocodingoes, ducksharks and roosturgeons you found in that monster manual.” I loved this one. It made me stat up a lobstegasaurus. This table, btw.? Its entries are massive – 12 pages of destinations!

The final pages of the supplement are essentially a portal-relevant appendix N, with each entry properly explained and contextualized, from Ultima Underworld II to Planescape, Portal, Dr. Who, Stargate, etc.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting re very good ona formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard with minimum frills, and the supplement features tastefully-chosen public domain art. The pdf annoyingly has no bookmarks, which makes using it a colossal pain – I’d recommend print over pdf here…also because this is a book that you can use time and again.

Paolo Greco’s portal booklet is one of these nifty GM-evergreens that you can use time and again. The book starts off with some handy considerations when it comes to thinking about portals, and then provides this ginormous, quick to use and incredibly diverse generator. If I have any valid complaints against this, then that’d be that I’d have loved to see it subscribe to a proper system for adequate pricing of portal construction, or to go full-blown system neutral. That, and the few save or sucks, which are simply not that helpful in a book about random portal generation.

That being said, the playful tone that never became obtrusive, the sheer imagination here, and the fact that this covers a topic only scarcely touched in such detail certainly makes this one of the handy booklets I’ve been using time and again. For the pdf version and its diminished utility, you might want to subtract a star, but my gripes notwithstanding, I’d be a colossal hypocrite if I rated this anything but 5 stars + seal of approval – I’m using this too often, and have too much fun doing so, to rate this any other way. If you want to make your portals more diverse, esoteric and strange, look no further.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Kefitzah Haderech - Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Quests of Doom 4: Fishers of Men (PF)
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/15/2020 06:15:25

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 29 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 23 pages of module, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as part of a series of requests by my patreon supporters.

Well, this module was originally penned as part of the criminally underrated series of environmental sourcebooks penned by Tom Knauss. To be more precise, this module originally was released as one of 3 modules in the “Marshes of Malice” swamp sourcebook, which I also own. Unlike the modules in “Mountains of Madness”, the adventures featured in “Marshes of Malice” do not constitute a mini-AP of sorts, which is good news for standalone presentations like this one.

Now, while the original version in Marshes of Malice made use of the expanded environmental hazards featured in the hardcover, this stand-alone version somewhat deemphasizes this aspect, and does not feature dead references to said rules – the module can be run as is and has been properly turned into a stand-alone version.

“Fishers of Men” is an adventure for 6th-level characters, and is set in the Dragonmarsh Lowlands of the Lost Lands campaign setting – for lorehounds of the Lost Lands, this means that this is pretty easy to connect to Rappan Athuk, if desired. It should also be noted that, while the module doesn’t mention that, an important NPC to the plot comes from Endhome, the setting of “The Lost City of Barakus.” I suggest 6 characters for this adventure, and I should note that this is an old-school adventure – it is difficult by design, and probably one of the harder ones penned by the author. It is per se a location-based adventure with a relatively heavy combat focus, so a well-rounded party is very much recommended. The module sports readaloud text for your convenience.

Theme-wise, this module showcases the author’s flexibility, as it leans heavily into fantasy-horror themes, and if I didn’t know better, I would have assumed that Richard Pett or Nick Logue had written this, so yeah – this is a pretty dark one.

Okay, 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, Oliver Quaywright is a visionary gourmand from Endhome, and one who kicked off a culinary trend when he realized the savory taste and succulent flesh of the mollusks from the Dragonmarsh Lowlands, An entrepreneur at heart, Quaywright realized he had struck gold, and proceeded to erect an impressive fishery to provide the supply for his delicious culinary creations – renowned among the elite. Quaywright, dubbed madmen and visionary, prospered, and while an evil slumbers in the Dragonmarsh Lowlands, it’s ultimately coincidence that provided the impetus for the grisly proceedings featured herein.

Tsathogga’s vile mind and hatred had consumed a chuul named Quattu, and said chuul stumbled over a bauble – an ioun stone, as it turns out – one that made the thing smarter. It could read the shipping label of the unfortunate it had happened upon – and a twisted plan gestated. Rallying sea hags and crabmen to its cause, the creature took the well-defended fishery in one fell swoop. The mollusk fishery, with its surprisingly-plausible pre-industrial layout, has since then been turned into a human slaughterhouse, while its servitors scour the Canyon River for prey. It’s debauchery and consumption flipped on its head, with impromptu, man-powered conveyor belts, the infestation called “purple rot”, and the horrid new masters of the fishery making for formidable foes. The living quarters of the place come with a pretty massive table of things to find, which let you add further detail to the savagery, and with azure lily pollen and the like, the complex is not for the faint of heart to tackle.

Indeed, this adventure is best tackled as a kind of assault on a fortified base by the party, with a combination of Stealth, etc. – structurally, an alert-response array of strategies would have been nice to have for the adversaries. Primarily mentioning that, since a GM responding to a full frontal assault with the adversaries herein will make the PCs rue the day… On the plus-side, the environment is pretty darn sandboxy, and allows for a wide variety of different approaches.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf comes with neat b/w-artworks – particularly the one depicting the fishery and its entrance deserves being called out as awesome. The pdf-version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography is b/w – and, you guessed it. The 5 player-friendly versions of the maps that were included in Marshes of Malice? They are absent from this book. This is particularly jarring for the overview map of the massive compound of the fishery, as there is a TON going on there, and the PCs can easily scout out the map. So yeah: No player-friendly maps, in spite of them demonstrably existing. Boo!

Tom Knauss’ “Fishers of Men” has survived the transition to stand-alone module better than many of its brethren. The adventure retains the vast majority of its charm and horrifying, gory premise, and that’s a good thing. On the downside, the loss of the player-friendly maps makes the adventure significantly less convenient to execute than in its previous iteration – I certainly know that I am not particularly keen on drawing player-friendly versions of the 5 pretty detailed maps! It is this convenience detriment that makes me reduce my final verdict for this one to 4.5 stars, rounded down; if you can get your hands on it, go for the Marshes of Malice book instead. If not, then this most assuredly makes for a delightfully icky and twisted challenge.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: Fishers of Men (PF)
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Quests of Doom 4: Awakenings (PF)
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/15/2020 06:13:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module in the Quest of Doom-series clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 15 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.

This module is designated for characters of levels 1 – 3, and is an old-school adventure. This means that not all encounters are challenge-scaled, and that there’s a serious chance of PC death. I generally like old-school modules and making PCs sweat, so that per se is a plus for me.

I’d certainly recommend for adult parties, for it can become rather dark. Structurally, the module provides one of the most efficient bait and switches regarding themes that I have ever seen, and one that plenty of GMs will have an easy time pulling off due to the set-up and progression. On the downside, there is one scene that will potentially TPK the party if they think that fighting everything to the death is a smart choice. So yeah, some groups might require a bit of help/nudging from the GM there. As a whole, I’d recommend this module primarily to veteran groups. The module is much more efficient if the party has horses and/or animal companions.

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, with a variety of hooks, the premise seems old – a meteor streaks overhead, and the PCs are hired to examine/salvage the meteorite’s iron etc. If you expect some weird tentacle creature array coming up, the overland journey will strike you as super-weird, for the themes evoked are actually the Town Musicians of Bremen: The module begins with a very interesting, fairy-tale-esque angle, as all animals in the vicinity seem to slowly be increasing in Intelligence, learning to speak, etc.

This is the effect of the so-called Drift, and it is categorized in 5 stages that start as basic curiosity, and increase to full upright walking, use forelimbs properly, and communicate eloquently – this progression is based on time elapsed, and culminates at 11+ days; the drift powers are essentially spell-like abilities in anything but name (they should be classified as SPs, but I’m nitpicking there), and range in spell-level and uses from 1st to 3rd. Personally, I’d have preferred the drift powers to be codified in a way akin to corruptions, but that’s just a preference.

Anyhow, this fairy tale like scenario is played up in a fantastic manner: If the PCs have horses/animal companions, this awakening is even more impactful and rocks hard; it extends to the random encounters, and the different reactions of people to this change run a wide gamut: What about e.g. a bar with literally a sow as a mascot – who knows more than she lets on. Or what about that scene, where a family has been taken hostage by their cat and its allies? Said hostage situation is great, difficult and evocative. On the downside, the statblocks for the awakened sheep list “Feat, Feat, Feat” in their statblocks, which is a pretty obvious problem that should have been caught.

The turning point in themes from the mildly threatening to a further level happens when the PCs are faced with the heralds and servants of the Bear King: An owl with a broken wing, a chatty badger and a rabbit (called Stomper) with a taste for practical jokes make for remarkable companions to the dire elk Jostrocoles. PCs might become less, well, happy when the fanatic wolves arrive, and when the friendly badger is hurt by them – which is another chance to make friends here – friends they’ll need, for the bear king is a CR 7 stage 5 grizzly, and probably not something the PCs can beat. It’ll probably be up to the allies thus made to allow the PCs to escape captivity. The bear won’t let them just walk away. This is aforementioned thing that might be hard to see on a party of characters – they have to be okay with being captured and disarmed. Now, their badger ally will get them out, but captivity has its advantages: Here, the PCs will meet a belabra called Khotl, a strange jellyfish-like thing that can fill the PCs in regarding the mysterious phenomenon.

Khotl (who comes with roleplaying advice) tells the PCs about the grisly fate in store for their allies: The Drift is a horrible, infectious collective intelligence. The Drift will, at one point, force all infected beings to form a ginormous mass of flesh, using the bodies of its infected constituents as biomass as it levitates into space, where most beings will simply die, The driftmass will then proceed to another world, growing once more. All the weird hints granted from NPCs and companions suddenly make sense – and full-blown cosmic horror, uncaring, unfeeling, invades the module. I LOVE this. This bait and switch is FANTASTIC. Awakening to becoming a person, only to be subsumed and reduced to less than being an animal, being just biomass? That’s some seriously dark and horrifying concept.

In order to stop the Drift, the PCs have to infiltrate the driftmass, said strange meteor, and slay the core – so, provided the PCs managed to slip from the Bear King’s grasp, they have their work cut out for them.

The final part of the module, thus, is all about the PCs beating the insane things in the driftmass and slaying its core. The cartography for the driftmass lists numbers, though, while the module uses letters to denote the placement of adversaries. The map also lacks a scale and uses hexes, which implies a ginormous driftmass that makes no sense. This would be an issue, but not a crucial one.

HOWEVER. The Pathfinder conversion seriously goes off the deep end in the driftmass. The map lists 5 spots where creatures lurk; the module provides 2 creature-arrays: The first is a stage 4 gibbering mouther. The second would be a grick and a belabra (though the latter may have been intended to be a 3rd creature type – in such an instance, it’s missing the header designating it as such. These monsters surviving the last exodus are automatically hostile and super-dangerous. Thing is: Provided the scale of the driftmass is not huge, all creatures are pretty close to each other, and each of them is already BRUTAL and has TPK potential on its own. If the scale is indeed intended to be ginormous, this can be potentially done by lucky groups engaging in excellent tactics, provided they are rest-scumming AND optimized to the teeth.

This ends with the final boss, the driftcore. It’s a CR 10 (!!) stage 5 black pudding with at-will charm person, magic missile and sleep, 2/day darkness and web, and 2/day haste. It has more than 100 HP. With its reliable attack options, there is no way to not have even a clever group be TPK’d by this fellow. Even a level 3 party must be a) lucky and b) up to their A++++ game to beat this thing. Level 1 and 2? FORGET about it! If the driftmass, as I expect, is supposed to be dungeon-sized, this becomes even more ridiculous.

Now, I am a very vocal proponent for super-hard modules – and this module, up until the driftmass, was a well-wrought, deadly module. Tough, but fair. The driftmass? It becomes a horribly prickish save-or-suck fest; it’s unfair and just a mess. This can’t be done as written, at least not by even a decently optimized group at the suggested levels. Heck, even if you just kill off the PCs with magic missiles, you can kill them all reliably and easily. This is not a deadly module – it is beyond. I’d seriously consider the finale, depending on how you interpret the map situation, at best to be a solid challenge with a chance to triumph for level 4 – 5 parties. At the suggested levels, this is a guaranteed TPK.

Treasure for the insane finale? 8 pieces of gold, totaling 380 gp. No, I am not kidding.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, I noticed a couple of hiccups, including ones that impact gameplay. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column b/w-standard, with nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography is nice, but lacks scale, and the second map, as noted above, sports discrepancies regarding it and the text. There are no player-friendly maps included, which is a bummer.

Steve Winter’s “Awakenings” is a module I genuinely LOVE. The atmosphere, the bait and switch, the genre-flipping, is executed in a way that is downright fantastic, 5 stars + seal level great.

… Unfortunately, the conversion to PFRPG by Dave Landry wrecks the module’s finale. Up to that point, the module is brutal, as it should be as a Quest of Doom; it requires a good GM, but it works. The finale? It comes apart, regardless of how you interpret the flawed map – which is another huge strike against the module.

I frankly wished I had gotten another version, for these two problems? They tarnish what otherwise would be an outstanding offering. The map-situation is a brutal issue; the finale being so incredibly over the top regarding its lethality is devastating. I tried making mythic characters GEARED to surviving the module – you can still kill those off pretty reliably if you play the adversaries even halfway smart. That’s not just a DOOM-level super-hard module – it’s unfair and simply provided for the wrong level-range.

Now, to be frank, I should rate this 2 stars, at the very highest. But the adventure? It’s just so awesome that it may warrant investing the time to fix the botched finale. Hence, my final verdict will be 3 stars, representing here an inspired and evocative, but also deeply flawed, broken book – if you’re willing to invest the time to rebalance significant parts of the module, then this’ll be one awesome scenario that your players will keep talking about. If you’re not willing to do that, then steer clear.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: Awakenings (PF)
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Four Nights at the Orc's Head (System Neutral)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/14/2020 07:36:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first of Raging Swan Press‘ “Eventures“ (not a typo) clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, what is an eventure? Well, know how much or modern gaming is about tactics and combat? Now, I LOVE that, I really do. I enjoy brutal combats that are essentially numbers-puzzles. HOWEVER, this has become a very dominant paradigm, to the point where many modules consist solely of such challenges. But roleplaying is more. If you recall some truly remarkable sessions and things your players talk about, there’s a good chance that some NPCs and interactions are remembered fondly because they were NOT combat.

This is what an “eventure” is – a module or mini-event-booklet focusing on roleplaying, and NOT on combat. Okay, so what does this one offer? Well, context-wise, this is somewhat akin to a scripted mini-sandbox, and features the boardgame/mini-game “The Dragon and the Thief” – if you’re new to this, I’ve covered it before. The supplement does cover the rules and provides a proper playing board. It’s a fun change of pace. Location-wise, the “Orc’s Head” tavern is an adventurer watering hole situated in the amazing city of Languard in the Duchy of Ashlar, and since this eventure features essentially 4 fleshed-out nights, it can easily be spliced into other modules for a change of pace. Adapting the eventure to another city or setting is btw super easy – as long as you can fit a tavern in your game, you’re good. As the eventure focuses not on combat or the like, it is useful for a relatively broad range of levels – it best works at low and mid levels, as high level gameplay and the relatively gritty aesthetic clash slightly.

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

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! A chunk of local limestone cut in the shape of the eponymous Orc’s Head clearly designates this place as the infamous tavern run by former adventurer Einar Salonen. Drink is cheap, music is loud, and people are partying. The common room is in the cellar (actually rather common around where I live) due to the original tavern burning down; guests lodge on the ground floor, Einar and staff on the upper floor. The supplement provides prices for food and drink and accommodations, and presents 5 nice hooks to get the characters to check out the place.

Which brings me to a HUGE plus: The tavern is fully mapped in a gorgeous, super-detailed manner – you can see the patterns on wood and tiles, individual crates, etc. The b/w map is STUNNING, and better yet, it’s a 100% player-friendly map!! The map is fantastic, and getting one sans labels etc., with grid and all? AMAZING. I mean, Raging Swan press usually has damn fine maps, but this one? Really nice.

But I digress: The book then proceeds to present customers via a d10 table supplemented by a whole paragraph of flavor contextualizing these individuals. There are no stats provided for them, but the classes referenced have been properly adjusted to old-school aesthetics. 5 members of staff are presented in a similar manner, and there is a pretty neat d20-generator that lets you determine mood, level of inebriation and activity of the individuals. A bit of a bummer: Raging Swan Press has this great Barroom Brawl supplement for PFRPG, and this version references it as the supplement to get to run such brawls. While said supplement is not exactly super-crunchy, its levels of intoxication would have been relatively easy to translate to old-school games – or some text-only guidance would have been nice. Bit of a bummer there.

So that’s the general set-up. From here, we move on to the four nights. These are presented in a nice manner: We get a list of 10 whispers and rumors, as well as 10 brief dynamic minor events to flesh out the proceedings – these sections apply globally. Beyond these, we get fixed events to make the night interesting. In night 1, we have, for example, a good teetotaler priest preach against the vices of gambling and drinking – which’ll potentially necessitate him being thrown out. We have a traumatized adventurer seeking to sell a mysterious dagger, and there’s a young girl, recently orphaned – she needs a roof over her head and food, and wants to stay off the streets, so finding a solution there (Einar will hire her) is the right thing to do.

Night 2 features three adventurers inviting the party to a game of The Dragon and the Thief, and otherwise is pretty quiet, which means that Einar has time for a conversation, if the PCs are so inclined. Night 3 is packed due to the performance of the troupe known as the Yellow Rose – fully depicted, and the 4 performances they put on actually all are adventurer-relevant and explained – kudos! A minor brawl may also break out. The fourth night features two adventuring parties, including one having their loot under the table. As before, these NPCs are explained and feature descriptive paragraphs, but no stats.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports nice b/w-artworks. The b/w-cartography of the Orc’s Head is phenomenal AND player-friendly – huge plus there! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and in two versions – one optimized for the screen, and one for printing it.

Creighton Broadhurst’s first eventure is a SUPER-useful supplement. Getting a compelling, interesting tavern, with several fleshed out nights for the GM? That’s awesome, and nigh universal in its applicability. I adore this supplement as a person. And, well, this is the system neutral version – I can’t well complain about a lack of crunch in it, now, can I? As such, I consider this version to be a resounding success – 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Four Nights at the Orc's Head (System Neutral)
Click to show product description

Add to Bards and Sages RPG Resource Order

Displaying 1 to 15 (of 4742 reviews) Result Pages:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 ...  [Next >>] 
Back
0 items
Powered by DriveThruRPG