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    Phantasmagoria #02
    Publisher: Apollyon Press
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 12/21/2020 11:56:26

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    The second installment of the Sword & Planet-‘zine for DCC clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 3 pages of room for notes, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

    This review was requested via direct donation as a prioritized review, though said person has been very patient with me getting this done. Thank you.

    My review is based on the pdf-version; I do not own the print version.

    So, easily the best thing in the deeply-flawed first issue of this ‘zine was the relative rules-lite proposed system of spaceship rules, which has been revamped, streamlined and expanded in this supplement. We still have 3 ability scores: -Evasion affects AC, Initiative, Hull Points (renamed from hit points – smart choice) and Action points -Luck can be burned to improve rolls -Targeting affects attack rolls by permanent weapons or ramming. The system assumes a hex-grid and roll for initiative as usual; they get 5 + Evasion modifier Action Points; each Action point can be used to turn 60° (one side of the hex), or to move one hex forward. Alternatively, two Action Points can be spent to move backwards one hex or execute a maneuver. The transparency between ship and characters is interesting: The Pilot steers, and other characters are assumed to use the weapons, move e.g. from bunks or recreation area to combat stations, etc., so you may want mapped ships for that. (Evil Robot Games offers a ton of great spaceship maps…just sayin’…) Action Points do not carry over into subsequent rounds.

    Maneuvers require a Piloting check: 1d20 + ship’s Evasion modifier + pilot’s level, and on a failed check, you roll on the 1d8 failed maneuver table. Considering that the lowest fixed DC is 18 (Evade uses the enemy’s attack roll), you have a good reason to not constantly employ these. The pdf provides a total of 4 maneuvers: Loop, Burst, Evade, Hide. I couldn’t help but wish that we got more of those. The spaceship rules also includes an optional rule for the classic shaking in space we know from TOS, Raumpatroullie Orion, etc.

    So yeah, I like this system, but I couldn’t help but feel that it’d have been awesome to get more sample ships, tools for ships, maneuvers, etc.

    After this, we move to a d30 table of artifacts. These are presented in a rather barebones manner, so if you expected the level of detail we usually see for e.g. magic items in DCC, you won’t get that: The best way to envision them, also due to the oscillating quality of the rules-language, would be to consider them inspiration and not much more. The table includes a blaster that requires that the target saves against the attack roll or disintegrate. There is a cloning tank (that requires a few months and some serious funds) to regrow characters. To give you an example: the Endless Battery notes: “Contains infinite energy and can be used to power most basic spaceship engines, but limits potential output to amount that can be taken by anything connected without exploding.” Yeah, I mean, that’s an idea, but not much more than that. Like the aforementioned rifle, there are some entries that are really problematic: Personal Space Suit notes: Creates an indestructible bubble around a character for interplanetary or interstellar travel (treat stats as escape pod, except cannot be destroyed).” Yep, we have a RAW indestructible defensive measure sans activation, drawback, duration, etc. Are you seeing what I’m seeing? This is at best a draft in my book, but not a cleanly-designed table of properly codified concepts.

    More interesting (and much better designed) would be the 6 alien poisons, which include data sludge, a particularly effective poison against automatons…and Zelodonis’ Bane. This poison is really cool: It eliminates letters from the characters’ name, does not heal, and upon running out of letters, the character is forgotten by the multiverse…including deities forgetting clerics, patrons their wizards, etc.. This can be an amazing narrative tool. It also means that clerics are well-advised to have Picasso-like names…unless they want to be forgotten. Or do they? You see, there is a big issue in rules-integrity here: The poison does not specify whether it eliminates e.g. the letter “O” entirely from the affected characters’ name, or just ONE letter. Since the damage on a failed save is 1d30 letters, I assume the latter. That being said, I do think that the number of letters is VERY high for this one.Did I mention the poison that instantly heals under a full moon? Anyhow, this section may not be perfect, but it has some good ideas.

    I wish I could say the same about the prosthetics-chapter, which seems to have been designed for another system: It references Dexterity multiple times, and Agility in other entries. This should have been caught in editing. The pdf also includes a spell that behaves as a ritual of sorts, the second level eldritch limb spell, which allows you to regrow lost limbs…Slightly weird, but cosmetic: The effects f the spell have a header that labels them as misfires…which isn’t correct. (Yes, misfire section is included.) Pretty sure that some organization went wrong in layout here.

    The pdf then presents a stellar system generator with 9 tables that allow you to determine the center of gravity, number of cosmic bodies, type of cosmic bodies, what they’re inhabited by, valuable resources, status of resources, animal life, level of civilization, type of government. The tables note the next table to roll on and the die to roll. Solid if you need a basic generator, but not mind-blowing.

    The pdf then proceeds to present monster generation: We first get a d12 table for monster reskins that include giving classic critters scifi weapons, adding eyes or tentacles, etc. If you’re new to the genre, the table may be helpful; otherwise, you’ll already know these tricks. The pdf then proceeds to a 2-page monster generator in 6 tables: You roll for HD, Size, AC, type of attack, intelligence and appearance. Essentially, this generator provides the basics. If you want the basics taken care of, this does its job; if you want to roll up something unique with a plethora of weird abilities, use one of the other generators out there.

    The pdf closes with a nice d20-based dressing table of ways to getting around, which include ziplines, exoskeletons, flying barges, etc. – classic tropes blended with e.g. litters carried by skeletons and similar strangeness. Having an issue devoted to, you know, actual rules for these would have been nice. The pdf also sports an errata for issue #1, which does btw. not nearly cover all hiccups. It also should not be in issue #2, and instead, you know, be integrated into #1.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay; they have improved since #1 of the ‘zine, but the magazine still would benefit from a tight rules editor/developer. Layout adheres to a solid two-column standard with really nice original b/w-artworks, and the pdf is properly bookmarked for your convenience.

    Chance Phillips’ second Phantasmagoria is a step in the right direction; the glitches that negatively impact functionality are less pronounced in this issue than in the first one. That being said, I really wish that the author (and/or editor) had actually taken the time to make sure that the sometimes rather cool ideas had also been supplemented by proper rules. As it stands, this ‘zine’s primary uses are the ship-engine, some basic generators for judges new to the job/genre, and some tables that essentially boil down to half-fleshed out dressing that could use some meat on its bones.

    As someone rather into the genre, I didn’t get that much out of the dressing components, and the generators fell flat for me as well; as a person, I don’t consider this to be more useful than #1, with the exception of the ship-system expansion, though I wished that had gone further.

    As a reviewer, however, I can see this being significantly more useful for judges with less experience in genre fiction, though I have to pronounce a caveat emptor for them due to the glitches influencing rules-integrity. As a whole, I consider this to be a mixed bag for most judges, and as such, my final verdict will be 3 stars.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [3 of 5 Stars!]
    Phantasmagoria #02
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    Phantasmagoria #01
    Publisher: Apollyon Press
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 12/18/2020 10:21:05

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    The first installment of the Phantasmagoria zine clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 3 pages of free space for notes, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

    This review was requested via direct donation as a prioritized review, though said person has been very patient with me getting this done. Thank you.

    My review is based on the pdf-version; I do not own the print version.

    So, in order to get your apartment’s keys, you need to use your rat Blob with the couch, then lure the fellow back out with your purse using your snickers-bar…

    …wait, sorry. Wrong Phantasmagoria. This zine is all about sword and planet options for the DCC game, and this review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review via donation.

    This pdf contains a total of 5 new classes, so let’s start by examining these. The first one, the automaton, gets 1d10 hit points per level, and the automaton gets a weapon of their choice integrated into their chassis. They don’t wear armor and start off with Crit Die/Table 1d6/I; table remains the same, but crit die scales up to d16. Action die begins at 1d16, and scales up to 1d30, and is applied to attacks or skill checks. We have good Fortitude saves (bad Reflex and Will) and a ½ attack-progression. Automata get the sociopath restriction – Their Personality can’t exceed 15; they still list any score in excess of that in brackets, though – for the purpose of losing Personality, the value in brackets is used. Automata are modular, and as such, you get to roll 1d30 on every level attained, including first level.

    So, what types of modularity can you get? Well, we have +1d4 hit points, +2 AC, moving ANY ranged attacks up one step in the die chain, or perfect recollection of any building the automaton’s been in before. There also is the option to “cast one first level spell with an effective caster level equal to one-half of their level.” Okay, from which list? Compare that with the ability to crush ten cubic feet of loosely packed matter into a 1’ cube. Okay, notice that they are a bit uneven. Being able to see in the dark, as a trained skill, might sound neat, but the pdf fails to specify the associated ability score. Compare with infravision, which is NOT defined as a skill, and instead is automatic. And yes, the pdf is not precise with any of the modularity options and their associated ability scores. Meh. There also is e.g. a means to project thoughts or holodisk contents on a flat surface – cool! Not so cool: No dimensions are provided. Can you become a cinema projector? Is there a range? No idea. Compare being able to create a nutritious sludge that resembles tea (ending world hunger?) and healing 1d6 hp per hour. These are not all issues of the table, just an excerpt, mind you.

    Automata also suffer from malfunctions – on any action die roll with a natural 1, they roll on a 1d12 malfunction table. This table suffers from similar issues. So, you can catch fire. Got it. Guess what#s missing? Bingo, the customary Dc to extinguish the flames. One module may break. No rules are provided to repair it. (RAW this means you can literally permanently lose class features.) The automaton can have its memory banks wiped for 1d10 rounds. Okay, cool. How does that work? Can the automaton still defend itself? Is it standing around, stunned? Is there a default programming? No idea. “The automaton desperately needs an oil bath.” Okay, what effects does this have? How much time before something happens? Automatons add Luck modifier to all trained skills. All in all, I consider this class to be a weak take on the concepts; its randomness doesn’t make much sense, and the unique rules components are pretty sloppy in their details. There are plenty better automata-class options out there for DCC.

    Let’s see if the second class, the captain, fares better. The captain is familiar with dagger, flintlock pistol, longsword, shortsword and usually only wear light armor. We get 1d6 hit points, ¾ attack-progression, good Will-saves, and crit die/table starting at 1d10/III; the crit table remains III, and the die scales up to 1d24; the class begins with 1d10 as the action die, and +1d4 is gained at 5th level, growing pretty rapidly, capping at 1d20+1d20+1d14. Wait…the third die starts off as 1d14? I am PRETTY SURE that the action die gained at 5th level should be 1d14, not 1d4, unless the design choice here is SUPER-WEIRD. Action dice may be used for attack rolls or skill checks. The class gets good Will-saves. While we’re talking about glitches in class tables: All class tables consistently are missing their plusses, which bugged the hell out of me. Captains apply their Luck modifier to attack rolls with swords, but this bonus does not increase or decrease with luck score, and remains static instead, as per the first level score.

    Any allied creature with a Deed Die within 20 ft. of the captain move the Deed Die one step up the dice chain; allies without a Deed Die within 10 ft. instead move their primary action die one step up the dice chain. Captains excel at one-on-one combat, and as such, when facing a single opponent alone, they get +2 AC, but also take 1d4 additional damage from other foes attacking them. Additionally, the captain gets to choose one of 7 special abilities when in a duel with an enemy, which include disarming, disorientation, feinting, etc., with 4th and 8th level letting you choose another effect. These sometimes refer to the wrong class, namely, duelist instead of captain. This makes sense, as, when you’re familiar with PFRPG, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect here. This is a duelist/cavalier-y class; that’s not a bad thing per se, mind you, as the mechanics have been adapted to DCC well enough. Precise strike, for example, lets you decrease the attack one step on the dice chain, but also nets you an double damage die of the weapon used: 1d6+3 would become 2d6+3, for example.

    The third class would be the gremlin, who gets 1d8 hit points, ¾ BAB-progression, good Ref-saves, and crit die starts at 1d6 and progresses to 1d16, with the crit table remaining II. The action die starts off at 1d20, with 1d14 gained at 5th level, and 10th level providing the third die, for a total of 1d20 + 1d20 +1d14. The gremlin is proficient with dagger, flintlock pistol, longsword, nuclear pistol, “short sword”[sic!] and light armor. The class doesn’t specify where the action dice may be used, and the gremlin gains a limited amount of spells (up to 6, with the table providing 12 first-level, 9 2nd-level and 4 3rd-level spells as choices. The class fails to specify how the gremlin casts spells/list. Gremlins are mechanically-inclined and can repair broken equipment and relics; they can also sabotage things, rolling 1d12 and adding Intelligence modifier, which is interesting, but it probably means that the small table’s lower entries will never come into play. Problem regarding internal consistency: Can a gremlin repair an automaton, and if so, how does that work? No idea. Luck applies where? No idea.

    The jovians get 1d5 hit points, are trained with all melee weapons and do not wear armor. Jovians can use their Luck modifier for melee attack rolls, and have ¾ attack progression, good Reflex-progression; we have the same action die progression as with the last two classes, and use crit table III until 7th level, where that is upgraded to IV; crit die starts at 1d8, and improves that to 1d24 at 10th level. Jovians are bird-like people (that look nothing like birds) hailing from a high-gravity gas giant, and gains +2 to Strength, to a maximum of 18. They get a 40 foot movement rate and carry up to 1.5 times their body weight, which is somewhat weird in a game that literally makes fun of encumbrance rules in the core book’s chapter. Now, mind you, I like encumbrance rules, but in this instance, context would have been nice. Jovians can meditate for a minute to temporarily float slowly, with 5th, 7th and 9th level increasing the speed while floating.

    The final class would be the star prince, who begins play at 6th level (being the scion of, well, stars) and 1d20 + 1d16 action dice, which follow the progression to 1d20 + 1d20 +1d14, and are applied for attacks; attack-progression adheres to a ¾-progression, and crit die starts at 1d24, improving to 2d20, with crit table V used. Star princes get 1d10 hit points per level, thus starting off at 6d10, and they are trained in all weapons, but wearing armor eliminates their abilities. They have good saving throw progression in all saves and apply their Luck modifier to them. Depending on what type of star they were, they get one of 4 types of unearthly aura, but the respective auras don’t really have effects. Metal melee weapons wielded by star princes inflict +1d4 damage, and prolonged contact similarly deals 1 damage. They have a 15 ft. fly speed, with every odd level increasing that by +5 ft.

    After these classes, we get an array of new weapons, with some interesting ones included: chain swords, for example, have a 2d16L damage – you take 2d16, roll them, and use the lower. The text for the flamethrower contradicts the table – is its range 30 ft. or 40 ft.? How can the nuclear pistol have the same ranges as a nail gun (20/10/1930), and how come that the medium and maximum ranges are so utterly weird and nonsensical? How can a nuclear pistol have a longer range than a nuclear rifle? Why does a blunderbuss not require a frickin’ attack roll, which it most assuredly should? The consistency here is weird. This also applies in the sidebar regarding the weapons core classes are familiar with: Thieves, oddly, are not familiar with the concealed ring blaster RAW, even though it’s clearly a weapon most suitable for thieves.

    The armors provided include fungal armor (decreasing AC, but can regenerate its AC bonus), nanofiber suits, power armor (+2 Strength, +1 to atk thanks to HUD, one-hand wielding two-handed weapons), carbon fiber vests, personal forcefields and graphene bodysuits. The fumble dice and speed modifications as well as their check penalties fall on the very low side of things when compared to the core book. Personal forcefields net, for example, +6 to AC, -2 to checks, -10 ft to speed (but you can move faster, losing the benefits until the start of the next round), d8 fumble die, 2k credits cost. Compared to the banded mail, this is vastly superior, and it loses the design paradigm of AC bonus = check penalty for armors beyond light category that DCC usually has. The balancing attempt employed seems to be the significantly higher prices, but considering how DCC usually operates in that regard, I’m not sure that this was a good call. A few pretty generic items are also included, like Forged I.D., telescreens, etc. – these are pretty…lackluster? They seem like an afterthought. I’d have preferred a more detailed (and interesting) chapter. The pdf then sports a 70-entry occupation table, with associated trained weapons and trade goods noted – I per se like this, but I don’t get why it didn’t go for the full 100 entries, considering it has quite a bit of blank space on the last page it’s featured on.

    The pdf then proceeds to provide space ship rules: Space ships have 3 stats, which you determine via 3d6: Evasion is added to the pilot’s rolls to evade danger, AC and hit points; Luck can be burned on any roll pertaining ship or components thereof, and Targeting is added to all attack rolls. A ship’s Hit Points depend on make – escape pods have one, and you add Evasion modifier to all HD. The pdf presents 7 sample ships, with HD, # of weapons, # of passengers, cargo space and cost in credits noted. Ships may be powered by one of 8 engines, with solar sails, portal chains, magical siphons, spatial folders etc. included.

    These are thematically cool, but little more than window-dressing as presented. Magic siphons can be powered by spell levels, cool. Portal chains can “teleport several light years at a time”—okay, how much? This is promising, but as provided little more than dressing. We get space ship weapons next. The pdf states that “damage against actual characters may be far higher” – okay, by how much? No clue. The weapons include Star Crash-style boarding tools, cannons, etc. Costs are actually pretty low here, and same goes for the ship armor (4 types provided). Armor for ships has a buffer value, and when hit, reduces damage by this amount, while decreasing by one whenever the ship takes damage in one hit that exceeds the buffer value. Seeing how the weapon damage seems to be pretty low, this checks out well. The pdf also explains how space ship armor is supposedly super-expensive. …it’s not that expensive in comparisons to other items herein. The best armor for regular dudes, the graphene bodysuit (AC +7, 0 check penalty, d6 fumble die) costs more than all but one of the space ship armors. The text also mentions repairs, but never specifies a cost or the like.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level, but not on a rules-language level; there are quite a lot of inconsistencies and hiccups here. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, with impressive and evocative original artworks by Jim Magnusson, Stefan Poag, Jeremy Hart, Penny Melgarejo – this is a beautiful booklet, also thanks to Glynn Seal’s expertly done layout. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

    Chance Phillips’ first Phantasmagoria-zine is an exercise in frustration for me. It looks like a high-quality supplement and is, time and again, very close to making its material work pretty well. However, once you start actually using the content, poking it and really checking its details, you’ll encounter these holes that should really have been caught. I mean, I didn’t even try to poke holes into the rules of the classes; this is DCC, not PFRPG after all—I don’t expect the same level of consistency or detailed definitions of design elements, but when the rules require essentially guesswork on part of the judge, things become problematic. And DCC is pretty well-codified in a LOT of its components. Take all issues I fielded and compare them against the core book’s materials, and you’ll see what I mean. The material herein has no justification for the holes it sports in the engine; there is no deliberate design behind these holes. This supplement is one critical dev/editing run away from being really, really good, but as provided, it is a deeply-flawed offering.

    The setting hinted at is tantalizing, and the spaceship engine is promising, if a little barebones, considering that combat etc. isn’t actually defined and covered. It seems to be a teaser of a proper system, rather than a full system, if you get what I mean.

    As a whole, I can’t rate this higher than 2.5 stars, and after some serious deliberation, I don’t feel I can round up for this. There are too many glitches affecting the mechanical integrity for that.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [2 of 5 Stars!]
    Phantasmagoria #01
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    Ultimate Spheres of Power
    Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 12/16/2020 11:55:25

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This massive, colossal doorstopper of a tome clocks in at 626 pages of content. No, I am not kidding. This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to one of my readers actually sending me a print copy of the book with a request to review it.

    Beyond the challenges 2020 held for all of us, this book proved to be a challenge to review in a couple of additional ways for me, ways which I simply had not anticipated. As a consequence, this review will be structurally a bit different from what I usually write.

    First of all: What is this? It is important to note that Ultimate Spheres of Power is not (only) a compilation of the original book and supplemental material presented in the various expansion books (up to and including the Wraith, Fallen Fey sphere and Blood sphere are included); unlike many minimum effort compilation books, this tome actually did change some material and integrate feedback gathered during the original file’s circulation. It also does not include every bit of content from the expansion books for the spheres, which means it does not (completely) invalidate all those supplements—if you’re playing without that much regard to internal/external balancing anyways. If you do, then, and let me make that abundantly clear, then this book mops the floor with the previous incarnations of the books.

    If you’re new to Spheres of Power, you can read reviews of the system and all books/pdfs compiled and refined in this book on my site. This book contains a ton of classes, spheres, feats, favored class options, items, incantations, etc.—this is one of the books with the highest rules-density I’ve ever covered.

    Which brings me to the two ways one could look at this, and these require a brief look at the history of the system; please bear with me, this is going somewhere.

    When Spheres of Power was originally released, it represented a widely-popular tome – and deservedly so. The Vancian spellcasting system with its spell-blocks is certainly charming and useful, but there always was a desire out there for casting to a) behave more in line with what we experience in books and the like, and b) spellcasting to behave in a way that is less overbearing. In short, Spheres of Power wanted to rebalance magic and make it feel more magical at the same time. The point-based spellcasting system made more sense to many people than the Vancian spellslots. And in the eyes of many, me included, it delivered on these promises. For the most part.

    I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t clearly state that, to me, these benefits outweighed some of the issues that even the original book had, for example how dippable it was, the lack of power-parity between the various spheres, and quite a few more. I should have been harder on the original book, but the freshness of its design, and its vast amount of options outweighed the rough patches for me. That, and I didn’t yet have the same amount of experience with the rather intricate system...and how it changed. Still, even back then, I should have been harsher on e.g. the Dark and Light spheres being somewhat limited when compared to, let’s say…Telekinesis, Conjuring or Creation. It’s not hard to see e.g. the Destruction sphere outperforming the Light sphere in damage; that was intentional. But the lack of parity also extends to utility, and some spheres that really needed an upgrade didn’t exactly get it. Compare e.g. Alteration and Weather, and you’ll notice that these are not equal in utility; perhaps more obvious would be the comparison of Divination vs. Fate.

    That being said, the original Spheres of Power book had this very pronounced notion, this design goal, of allowing us to play mid-tier/low-fantasy, or choose those high-powered advanced options for high fantasy; this division was not consequently maintained throughout the run of all those expansion handbooks. Indeed, one of the issues that only slowly materialized in my tests, was that there was no real guiding oversight regarding the power-levels of the expansion handbooks; strong spheres became even stronger, while weaker spheres were upgraded to parity with the original spheres. This inconsistency in power-levels was rather insidious, in that it happened gradually. And it’s understandable: You design for one sphere, do cool stuff—it works, nice. But the line of where, if at all, to draw the high-fantasy/optional line became ever blurrier, and in later supplements, often primarily was employed solely for high-impact abilities with serious potential for incisions into planned narratives.

    And frankly, in hindsight, I can say that I’ve failed as a reviewer for quite a few of these expansion books was seen within the context of this system; the perspective I assumed became too much inundated with mainstream PFRPG or higher power-level material that didn’t care about balancing as much (speaking of which: the Path of War content has btw. not been reproduced herein); I lost sight of the original promise of Spheres of Power, the original vision of a more even caster-martial approach, of optional, more powerful tricks that were clearly categorized. Throughout the series, it transformed to provide a power-level roughly on par with regular casters, in some cases exceeding them in numerical depth and action economy, if not in breadth.

    This being said, the following points should be taken in the context of someone genuinely loving this massive doorstopper of a tome: These issues may or may not come up in your game, but since they apply globally, I considered them worth mentioning.

    If you expected a return to this original promise of the Spheres of Power system, alongside a streamlining of the material released since, and the implementation of this material in a stringent regular play/advanced play-paradigm, then this book, in spite of its changes, will be a resounding disappointment for you. While Ultimate Spheres of Power does a lot right in these regards, it does not manage to reign in the power-increase due to synergies and the increase of options available, nor does it really establish a clearer baseline of power among spheres.

    That being said, it should be emphasized that Ultimate Spheres of Power is a much smoother experience than using the original Spheres of Power alongside all of the expansion books; it is evident in quite a few cases that the system has indeed been playtested more thoroughly, not simply jammed together, with some of the more powerful options eliminated. The by now notorious incanter dip has been nerfed slightly, for example, though the paradigm of “giving up stuff later to gain power now” can, unfortunately, still be found. And you can still multiclass out of having to pay out.

    So big suggested rule #1 for using this book: Limit multiclassing.

    Big rule #2: I’d strongly suggest limiting, or at least very carefully vetting content from the Player Companion line by Paizo when using this book; the player’s companions, while often interesting, are also not balanced in a tight manner, and I found quite a few combos of the materials in this series and Ultimate Spheres of Power that allowed for really nasty tricks. This is not necessarily the fault of Ultimate Spheres of Power, but it’s something to bear in mind; the book hasn’t accounted for some of the more broken combos that can stem from interacting with these.

    Another difference of Ultimate Spheres of Power in contrast to its predecessor would be partially due to its increased amount of material, and that would be action economy, and its system-inherent consistency: Quicken Spell in spheres costs a whopping 4 spell points; but casting is not either a standard or an immediate/swift action – it is much easier to gain casting for standard, move, swift, and free action going in spheres; there is a lot to optimize, and that is generally something I enjoy. However, I do believe that the system would benefit from global guidelines regarding spell point cost and casting action economy, because a decently-optimized caster does have a higher nova-capability than necessary, performing on par (or beyond) with save-or-sucks of Vancian casters. An easy way to mitigate that would have been an introducing of something like the martial focus employed in Spheres of Might – that way, combos would still be possible, but needed to be deliberate. As such, I do, particularly if a campaign’s supposed to reach the mid-to high-levels, recommend introducing such a mechanic…or at the very least, to impose a hard cap on benefits attainable via free actions.

    In absence of these, let me propose big rule #3: Cap bonuses and debuffs at +/-5. It’s no surprise that PFRPG’s math becomes a bit wobbly at higher levels, but with Spheres of Power, some of these number-escalations can hurt a bit more; if you want to really make sure to maintain something akin to the series’ original promise, carefully vet all increases to caster level in particular, and cap those numbers.

    The other, similarly subtle issue that can still be found herein, would be that the spheres are not consistent in how they value bonuses and bonus types; it is no secret that I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to those, and there are a few instances where the types don’t make sense regarding their value or type to me. It’s also worth noting that it’s pretty common to have buffs and debuffs scale up to +7/8 at higher levels, which is farther than most class options go; again, strongly suggest capping those.

    That being said, these issues, while very much indisputable and present, are by NO MEANS dealbreakers.

    Indeed, after going through this huge tome with a relatively fine-toothed comb, I can comfortably ascertain that the tome clearly works better than the collective of expansion books; and that is an achievement; indeed, I think the Drop Dead Studios crew must be lauded for it, lauded for the streamlining and improvements that went into this book. It should also be noted that the implementation of italics in this book is much smoother and more consistent than before.

    Which brings me to the layout, which is more important for such massive tomes of content: On the plus-side, we have color-coded chapters, and one glyph for each sphere; if you flip through the massive spheres-chapter, you’ll have this glyph on the border of the page as well, allowing you to quickly skim through the physical book and find the proper sphere’s information – two thumbs up for that. It made navigating this huge tome much easier. That being said, I kinda wish the glyphs had also been used in the feat-chapter, which is GINORMOUS. We’re talking about slightly more than 50 pages of feats. Yes, that’s FIFTY, as in 5-0. Granted, this might be me having a visual mind, but I think it'd have been helpful to have each sphere-specific feat have the associated sphere-glyph, with dual-sphere feats having two glyphs. The feat-chapter also uses yellow as its header-color; granted, not the eye-hurting yellow of the original Illuminator’s Handbook, but it’s still yellow text on a background that’s not that much darker; having the letters sport a black outline would have significantly enhanced the readability of the chapter as far as I’m concerned.

    On a rules side of things, the book has taken a more stringently-curated approach than the individual handbooks, with uses of e.g. Everybody Games’ excellent antagonize mechanics (which should have been core) and Spheres of Might, as well as psionics, taken into account, among other aspects.

    …and honestly, without going into a level of detail that would render this review all but useless to most people, that’s as much as I can say about this.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level; while there are still aspects of the book where the rules can become problematic, I was pretty surprised by the degree of improvements that went into this book. Layout adheres to a functional 2-column standard with color highlights and artworks of various styles and aesthetic quality. As noted, I do think that information-design wise, the book does a couple of things right, but could have gone further. I still hate yellow as the feat chapter’s header text color; it doesn’t have enough contrast for my liking, but that’s an aesthetic nitpick. The PoD hardcover is a massive tome, dwarfing the Core Rulebook; it is glued, though, so if my other huge RPG-books are an indicator, it will suffer over the years. I can’t comment on the pdf-version, since I do not own it.

    Adam Meyers, Darren Smith, Amber Underwood, Michael Uhland, Michael Sayre, Andrew Stoeckle, Andrew J. Gibson, Derfael Oliviera, John Little, Johannes Luber, Steven Loftus, Jeff Collins—that’s quite a bunch of designers, and considering that, it’s surprising to see how unified this book feels as a whole.

    But is it good? This depends very much on what you wanted out of it. If you wanted a return to the vision of the original Spheres of Power and the power-levels it gunned for, then you’ll consider it OP. If you don’t care about balance, and just wanted a compilation of the handbooks, then the improvements made here in that regard might rub you the wrong way.

    However, if you wanted an update of spheres of power and all of its content, with some of its rough edges sanded off, then this book does deliver EXACTLY what you wanted. If you’re looking for a system that plays more like magic from novels and movies, then spheres is a breath of fresh air.

    Similarly, if your group enjoys optimization and combos, then Spheres of Power adds more strategy to the whole realm of magic than simply casting the best spell; in that way it’s a resounding success.

    …but in those aspects, it’s also where one can genuinely criticize the book. I am inordinately fond of particularly the Blood and Time spheres, to call out two of my favorite parts of the book. Ultimate Spheres of Power is a gigantic toolbox of options that allow you to make magic more magical. When I love this book, I REALLY love it, and I adore the system.

    …and yet, as much as I adore the way in which this rewards optimization, combos and the like, I can’t help but feel that I shouldn’t have had to spell out that bonuses should cap to not further exacerbate the issues of PFRPG’s math falling apart. Or that, if your group consists of hardcore powergamers (like mine), this wonderful magic system can make them tax the assumptions of PFRPG to the breaking point; the latter is not as big of an issue if everyone’s on board, but in mixed groups, with some less crunch-savvy players, the differences in power-levels can be rather significant; more so than in many comparable contexts.

    I would love to unanimously recommend this book and its inspired, awesome concepts and ideas, slap 5 stars + seal on it and smile from ear to ear, but I ultimately can’t do that. If you and your group can reach an agreement to not push the system to its breaking points, then it will provide literally years of fun for you; courtesy of the new system, the entirety of PFRPG’s first edition can feel radically different, fresh, exciting. For you, this book may well be one of the most important in your entire library.

    I love a lot in this book. Heck, I loved a ton of the individual spheres-handbooks. But, in many ways, this book to me represents the end of a honeymooning phase, the point where the system should ideally have no aspects that creak anymore.

    The best way to think about this, would be to think about it as an alternate caster-system that results in more focused, themed, casters reminiscent of those we know from fiction; who can theoretically perform in a devastating manner on par with Vancian casters; depending on player-expertise, beyond them in their focused areas of expertise.

    It's also a book that lets you drastically change how PFRPG feels, with incantation engine and items etc. allowing you to make use of pretty much the majority of the entire PFRPG array of options.

    Damn, how should I rate this? I am genuinely torn on this one, as I adore how it operates, but am somewhat disappointed by how easily the system can still be strained, and in spite of the name, I don’t think it makes for the best version of the content it could have been. I am, somewhat, in the camp of the people who wanted a realization of the original vision behind Spheres of Power; I wanted something more akin to a second edition, and I can understand anyone who’d consider this a 3-star tome.

    But then again, I pride myself on reviewing books for what they are, and not for what I’d want them to be. Granted, this approach made me fall prey to the whole power-level escalation in the individual handbooks, as there was no clear power-level as a baseline for the entire series. Handbook A pushes envelope; handbook B doesn’t; C pushes further – you get the idea; when the individual frame of reference is the sphere in question in combination with an as-of-yet unfinished entire series as baseline, it’s hard to judge anything but the context of the sphere and a potential overall power-level guesstimate.

    And there’s the factor that this book was billed as a compilation, with some improvements to (content) editing – and it delivers in that regard.

    In fact, it delivers more than I thought it would, but less than I hoped for.

    The key to rating this in a fair manner I can live with turned out to be a weird one: Eliminate the “Spheres of Power” from the title; try to block out what came before; try to block out the original, the handbooks. Assume a position of a person who doesn’t have very specific expectations of what the book should be but retain my hard-won knowledge of how its intricate and rather complex systems can be manipulated, tweaked and pushed.

    If this were a new book of its own, what would my response be? I’d celebrate this book for all of its genuinely amazing components, and for the streamlining and rules-changes that it DOES implement. But I’d also caution against its not-as-streamlined components, and I stand by the big rules suggestions above; implementing them will make the system operate in a much smoother manner.

    I thought long and hard about the verdict, and ultimately, I’ll settle on a verdict that will probably annoy everyone, but which I consider to be fair: In the end, I think this is a 4.5 stars book, rounded down.

    If you are new to spheres of power and have no experience with the system, consider my verdict for the original book to still be valid: For you, this very much will a radical and awesome paradigm chances that breathes life into an old system , and may be worth 5 stars + seal based on that alone.. Just, if you do, consider implementing the limits I outlined above; you’ll thank me at the very latest when your characters reach 10th level. Unless, of course, that’s what you and yours enjoy! There is no wrong way to game, after all!

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [4 of 5 Stars!]
    Ultimate Spheres of Power
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    Rogue Genius Ancestries: Loamlings
    Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 12/08/2020 12:24:39

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This pdf clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

    So, want to play a character who is down to earth, but not a halfling? Someone who is (bad pun incoming), real “salt of the earth”? And you’d like to play something weird, a race you haven’t played in another d20-based game? Well, I’ve got something here for you! Loamlings! Kindly and patient mole people! Wait, that didn’t come out right. I’m not talking about the mole people as per the traditions of superhero comics and weird fiction, but of literal, anthropomorphized moles.

    This uncommon ancestry is Small, gets 8 HO, has a speed of 20 ft. (and burrow speed 10 ft.), and the ability boosts go to Constitution and Wisdom, with the third being free; the ability flaw is assigned to Dexterity. Starting languages are Common and Sylvan, and loamling claws grant them an unarmed attack at 1d4 slashing damage, with the agile and finesse traits, which is treated as in the brawling group. The burrow speed applies to sand, soil, snow, etc., and you get to choose whether the tunnel collapses or stays open; if it stays open, Small or smaller creatures and Medium creatures that Squeeze, can Crawl through. Collapsing the tunnel behind you runs potentially the risk of suffocation, and scent-based perception is reduced to 20 ft., but you create enough of a disturbance to still allow others to follow you. Loamlings have a scent-based perception and only see clearly up to 10 ft., with 60 ft. scent as a precise sense – and yes, this does allow for the targeting of spells. However, you are immune to gaze attacks and visual effects unless they originate from within 10 ft. Anything outside that range, and you’re blinded to it.

    This is a pretty epic and complex change of pace: On the one hand, we have a rather severe and meaningful incision into how the ancestry places, but one that is counteracted by some seriously powerful benefits that have a ton of narrative potential. Can you see, öhm, I meant “smell” the basilisk shepherds? I sure as heck can!

    The pdf provides 4 different heritages: Blufflings get better claws, with 1d6 slashing claws that also have the versatile (piercing) trait; darklings get 90 ft. precise scent (30 ft. while burrowing) and can smell incorporeal creatures. Fieldlings decrease the effects of environmental heat by one step and gain Natural Medicine (I appreciate that, having worked on fields in some summer during my youth…), and finally, rootlings get Combat Climber, and when you succeed on an Athletics check made to Climb, you get a critical success instead. You also need only one piece of fresh fruit to stay hydrated and fed for a week.

    The pdf provides 6 ancestry feats for first level characters: Here we have talking to burrowing creatures, a feat for being so cute that you gain Shameless Request (and +1 for Deception-based initiative rolls), one that nets you trained proficiency rank in Nature and Survival, as well as Loamling Lore. Loamling Weapon Familiarity nets training in hatchet, light pick and pick, as well as access to all uncommon gnome weapons, with martial gnome weapons treated as simple, advanced gnome weapons as martial. So yeah, you get hook hammers and my beloved flickmaces. One of the level 5 feats nets the respective critical specialization effect, building on that. At level 13, when you gain expert or greater proficiency in a weapon, you also extend that to the loamling/gnome weapons…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

    Another feat upgrades claw damage to 1d6, or if you are a buffling, 1d8 + deadly d8 trait – ouch! You don’t want to mess with those claws. There also is a reaction-based feat, Hit the Dirt!, which can be triggered while touching ground and hit by an attack that deals your level or more damage, whereupon you take the damage and then dig straight down by your burrow speed. This is a very potent tactical trick if executed properly.

    5 ancestry feats for level 5 are provided: building on aforementioned claw-improvement feat, we have the option to apply the unarmed attack’s critical specialization; another feat lets you automatically Cover Tracks while burrowing, including full speed while Avoiding Notice etc. while burrowing. I can smell the smuggling plot. Speaking of which: Detect magic as a primal innate spell at will, automatically heightened to a spell level equal to half class level, rounded up. Sounds cool, right? Also comes with +2 circumstance bonus to disbelieve illusions that do not include smell or olfactory stuff.

    The 3 level 9 feats include burrow speed upgrade to 20 ft., half your level Hardness during the round you emerge from the earth (Dirt Armor), and the ability to use earth to Raise Shield a one-use Shield Block shield of earth. I really like this one, and wished it had been, in a modified version, available sooner. Really cool!

    The remaining 2 (talked about one before) level 13 feats include not having your scent-based sight reduced while burrowing, and another feat enhances both Soil Shield and Dirt Armor. At level 17, we have a 1/day summon elemental heightened to 8th level, earth elemental only. True Scent lets you sniff through illusions, and potentially discern the truth behind polymorph and similar effects. Finally, we have another upgrade for Dirt Armor, which no longer falls apart after 1 round, instead lasting until you lose half HP or are critically hit. While you’re at lower than half maximum HP, the Dirt Armor is less effective.

    These rules are all supplemented with proper and rather well-written prose that outlines the ancestry properly. Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level; I encountered no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard, with quite a few original pieces of Jacob Blackmon’s artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, but at this length doesn’t exactly require them.

    Michael Sayre’s loamlings are an interesting sight (pun intended), in that they offer a variety of different tactical options that are truly novel and unique; powerful, yes, but also limited in an intriguing and rather creative manner that significantly influence how the race plays, for good and ill. This is the type of design-paradigm I enjoy seeing. That being said, there is one thing that needs to be noted, and that would be that a player-race with such a burrow focus requires a bit more consideration on part of the GM. While dungeons can’t usually be burrowed apart by loamlings, e.g. smuggling, burrowing in cities and similar scenarios might require some consideration. In an ideal world, some guidance for handling warfare with e.g. loamling sappers, buildings made less stable, etc. would have been awesome to see, because that sort of thing is inevitably where my mind goes. Additional magical detection and protection versus burrowing intruders in the form of magic items, rituals or spells would also have been nice to see, but then again, all of that would have significantly increased the page-count of this supplement. Still, as a GM, I think the race would have been easier to implement with a few supplementary pieces of information and (mechanical) guidance. I also think that the influence of e.g. (magical) perfumes or particularly bad smells, scentblocking effects and how the loamlings perceive the world is a treasure trove that can (hopefully) still be explored in an interesting manner in future publications. Within its limited frame, this pdf does its job very well, but left me wanting more. As such, my final verdict remains at a heartfelt recommendation of 5 stars, just short of my seal of approval.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    Rogue Genius Ancestries: Loamlings
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    Book of Heroic Races: Age of Races 2 (13th Age Compatible)
    Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 12/07/2020 10:29:02

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This book of races clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial,1 page advertisement,1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 12 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

    This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review by my patreon supporters.

    So, structurally, this book contains 5 new races, with each race receiving between 2 and 3 pages of information, which include physical descriptions, notes on the society of the respective race (including how they handle age and death, love and mating, communities and settlements, languages and nomenclature), and these races also note the interactions with the Icons. Each race gets one stunning artwork, and 1 to 2 additional ones that are slightly more comic-like in style, but also neat.

    Two of the new races herein are constructed beings: The first would be the androids: Androids rarely congregate in communities, and, well, being androids, their perspectives on love and magic are interesting. Both Shadow Prince and Archmage are intrigued by them, while the Dwarf King remains conflicted; the Great Druid, no surprise, is not a big fan of the species. Mechanically, they receive their choice of +2 to Dexterity or Intelligence, and the Nanomachines racial power, which can be activated as a move action once per battle. Doing so lets the android roll the next d20 roll twice and take the better result. With a champion feat, the nanomachines are now used as a quick action. Due to the global substitute downward rule of 13th Age, this works.

    The second construct race would have a less pronounced science-fantasy angle: The Geppettoans. The race’s name makes it obvious: We have the wooden Pinocchio-style race. Originally created by a fair and kind-hearted man, the design to create these intelligent servitors was quickly abused…until the race broke free. As a result, the Archmage is not a fan of these rebellious constructed beings – a fact that makes hem potential allies to the Lich Queen. The Great Druid isn’t as opposed to the geppettoans as to e.g. Androids, and the Orc Warlord would love to have the secret to create them. Mechanically, geppettoans get to choose +2 to Dexterity or Intelligence and gain the alchemical resilience racial power: On your first rally per combat, you heal 1.5 times the average amount of your recovery dice rolled, before applying Constitution modifier. A handy example illustrates how to calculate this. With a champion feat, you triple Con modifier when adding it to your recovery hit points attained from the first rally in a combat, which is upgraded to quadrupled at Epic tier.

    Both construct race may, subject to the GM’s discretion, benefit from alternate rules regarding constructed races: These optional modifications are designed to enhance how different they feel: Constructs under these rules don’t eat, drink, sleep or breathe, but still require rest. They are thus immune to the sleep spell (italics missing; same goes for other spell-references in this section), but e.g. cure wounds and similar cleric spells is halved. Potions can heal constructs to the full extent. Additionally, all constructed races have resistance 12+ to holy, negative and poison damage, but pay for these with a vulnerability. We get suggestions for these: Androids don’t deal well with lightning damage, forgeborn are vulnerable to psychic damage, and geppettoans are, well, flammable and thus vulnerable to fire damage. I enjoy rules like these that serve to further differentiate races in 13th Age, and having this presented as both optional, and with drawbacks for both new features also lets you pick and choose: If you only want the vulnerability angle, you can ditch the ability regarding no eating, drinking, etc. without altering the balance of the package. Nice.

    Beyond these constructed races, we have the Gillfolk free of their erstwhile masters (Aboleths are contextualized as Abyssal, fyi), and as such, opposed to Diabolist; the relationships with the other Icons are rather nuanced and interesting here. A warlike people, the Gillfok here reminded me less of the traditional Lovecraftian angle, and more of the subjects of e.g. Aquaman (or Prince Nemo, if you prefer Marvel); they can choose +2 to either Constitution or Charisma, and can fight as well in water as in open air. They can breathe water well, but must fully submerge themselves in salt water every 3 days or die. Their racial power is aberrant resistance, which lets you once per battle roll a save against an ability or spell twice and take the better result. However, the first save against an ability or spell against a monster of the aberration type automatically fails. OUCH! This looks brutal, and it is – but it also is interesting from a narrative perspective and contextualizes the struggle of the race: When you auto-fail against the save-or-perish-level magics of your masters, rising up in revolution has serious stakes. It’s a small thing, but I really like it. The champion feat upgrade alternatively lets you choose to get a +5 bonus, which lets you automatically succeed on Easy saves. Additionally, you no longer autofail the first save as noted above, but instead need to roll twice, taking the worse result.

    The moonblooded are essentially a playable lycanthrope race (minus the whole curse angle), though their flavor contextualizes them as subject to demonic possession due to their bestial abilities. Moonblooded gain +2 Wisdom and the change shape racial power, which can be sued as a standard action once per battle. In this form, you increase one of your physical ability scores of your choice by +2, and increase unarmed melee attack damage to that or a two-handed, light, or simple weapon for your class – unless your unarmed damage would be better (such as if you’re a monk), in which case you use that. The champion feat lets you change as a move action and the unared attack benefit from two-weapon fighting. I have a tiny nitpick here: RAW, the moonblooded can’t choose to revert to non-bestial form, which might be intentional, or an oversight, but I can picture some instances where the player might wish to prematurely revert before the combat ends (such as when witnesses/guards/etc. approach…). Then again, this is easy enough to upgrade with a feat.

    The final race contained herein would be an old favorite of mine, the tengu, who are most commonly found in service to the Shadow Prince; they a rather detailed look at their culture, which belnds a reputation for being greedy opportunists with a surprising aptitude for arts and crafts…and, obviously, swordsmanship. Tengus get to choose either +2 to Dexterity or Wisdom, and their racial power is opportunist: Once per battle as a free action when a nearby enemy rolls a natural 1—5 on an attack or save, you get either a basic melee attack at half damage, or steal an item they are not holding…but the target ALWAYS knows if you steal this way. I LOVE this ability. It screams cinematic combat to me, as seen in many a comic: You know, the immortal, super-powerful villain pummels his enemies, invulnerable…and then, suddenly, the trickster character pops up, has the item…and the tide of battle turns. This is very much awesome. The champion feat upgrade makes this ability work on enemies’ natural 1s without expending it, and attacks executed as a result with sword-like weapons (yes, that’s defined) deal full damage. If you steal, the target no longer automatically knows it; they now need to make a normal save.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level; apart from a few cosmetic and minor hiccups, I noticed no issues. Layout adheres to the series’ standard, with green stripes on top and bottom, and the artworks deserve special mention: The prestige artwork that accompanies each race is really nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

    Joel Flank, Dale C. McCoy Jr., Richard Moore, Kevin Morris and David N. Ross deliver a really nice supplement here. In spite of the limited design space afforded by 13th Age’s races, the individual write-ups manage to achieve meaningful differentiation between each of the races. Personally, I was most fond of the rather courageous take on the gillfolk, as well as by the tengus’ very cinematic racial power. When a power could easily act as a catalyst for an epic battle, I’m all for it. When all’s said and done, I consider this to be a worthwhile addition to the arsenal of 13th Age gaming groups. My verdict is 5 stars.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    Book of Heroic Races: Age of Races 2 (13th Age Compatible)
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    Kingscairn Issue 1
    Publisher: Uyuxo
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 12/02/2020 08:38:52

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This small ‘zine clocks in at 27 pages of content, already sans ToC, editorial, front cover, etc.; the ‘zine is laid out in the customary booklet-size (roughly 6’’ by 9’’/A5), and it should be noted that is has some serious white space and wiiiideee margins.

    Then again, that’s probably somewhat intentional, as much of the ‘zine’s aesthetic is base don the use of the really inspiring (and imho underappreciated) artworks of William Thomas Horton – each of the 6 backgrounds, for example, gets their own associated artwork, and in-between, vistas using the clear, but never starkly-rendered contrasts of the style help to provide a unique identity. My review is based on both the by now unfortunately out of print physical version of the ‘zine and the pdf.

    So, what is this? In short, it is a first glimpse at a setting for Troika that is somewhat more grounded and more conductive to a prolonged campaign than the average crazy trip through the Humpbacked Sky. The tone of this setting could be described as hauntological in its references of old types of science-fiction/fantasy, closer to the Vernesian, or to Gormenghast. Indeed, it is probably Gormenghast that was my very first association upon reading this.

    Kingscairn is an island-bound city-state, ruled, big surprise, by a King, and is best known for mining the Urth-mineral Kingsium (to mention the sort of somewhat Dickensian humor herein); the introductory paragraph does have this weird glitch in the prose that makes it look as though the lake is on top of the city, thankfully the only such weird hiccup in the booklet: “Kingsium, that is found in the depths of the lake that sits on the top of the island.”

    Anyhow, from the introductory setup, we move to a name table with names (mixing Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon ones), surnames, professions (that exist in real-life) and mien. All of these are one-word things. However, we also get two d6-tables: One for guilds and gangs, and one for holidays and events. Here, the respective entries are elaborated upon: We learn about the Bridgebrickers Union,. The Gentlethieves Guild, and the revolutionary Cesium Brotherhood; as far as festivals are concerned, the important Fig Harvest Festival and the Flying Fish Fair are noted.

    The pdf then proceeds to offer a die-drop field of color-coded hexes, courtesy of Daniel Sell, to determine weather before we move to the 6 new backgrounds. These have in common that they are well-balanced and carry this very special blend of the classic and retro-weird: The Brother of the Guild of Gentlethieves has pledged to practice the chivalrous act of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, hearkening back to a day of gold-hearted scoundrels with dashing swagger. Disgraced Matriarchs start off with 3 spells and may test their luck to convert individual to their cause. Beyond the early industrial sprawl, the important figs are growing on steep cliffs – and it is the Fig Poachers, those daring individuals, that risk life and limb to supplement their opulent lifestyle.

    The structure of Kingscairn mirrors social status – the farther away from the bottom and water, the more prestigious, and as such, the Guardians of the Wayward Path stand vigil over the few paths that lead from the city’s apex to the lake, while the Starweaver prefers the few unspoiled regions of the isle, gazing into the stars through their dreams. They can test their luck for hints and begin play with 5 spells and 3 Astrology, but not much else beyond that. Finally, there would be the Octomancer, a failed soothsayer who has mounted an occult octopus (!!) on their head – which translates to getting the stealth-enhancing Ink Shroud spell, among other things. As a whole, I really liked these backgrounds, and the sense of somewhat nostalgic mono-no-aware they seem to exude, at least for me. (And yes, each background is faced by a gorgeous and fitting artwork.)

    The final section of the ‘zine contains three regions: The Bridge of Bountiful Bazaars, the Low City, and the Piers. Each area comes with a brief paragraph or two on it as a whole, and a d6 table of encounters. The bridge has a supplemental d4-table for the spice-merchant, with all 4 entries having meaningful effects – which is great! (I know that Troika! tends to eschew the details, but I’d have appreciated some prices for those.) The low city has no additional tables beyond the encounters, while the piers come with 4 visions of the dream whale and 4 general fishermen rumors. Minor thing, but it irritated me: The tops and bottoms of tables in the book lack the black line to denote their closure.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, very good on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to a per se minimalist one-column b/-standard that works well on the background pages, less so on the others, where the amount of white space bothered me aesthetically somewhat. The physical zine is stapled and has covers with a solid sturdiness. The pdf comes with full bookmarks, nested for your convenience – navigation is comfortable.

    This is, to my knowledge, the freshman offering of Kevin Gorff (at least for Troika!), and frankly, I like it a lot. The combination of the artwork with the relatively down-to-earth setting (as far as Troika! is concerned) manages to elicit a blending of a sense of subdued humor and nostalgia that is hard to describe. The atmosphere is, most assuredly, rather unique. On the downside, the ‘zine is very much what I’d consider to be “sparse” – sparse in detail on Kingscairn, sparse in detail of how it actually operates as a society, and somewhat sparse on content for the page-count. That being said, the very low and fair asking price ($3.00 for the pdf, and the physical ‘zine was offered at a fair 5 pounds on Melsonia.com) do offset this somewhat, as does the fact that this was the author’s first offering. As a whole, I consider this worth considering if you’re a fan of subdued humor and fantasy in the Victorian tradition, this most assuredly is worth getting. My final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded up – now when do we get a more in-depth look at this intriguing, if as of yet very sketch-like setting?

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [4 of 5 Stars!]
    Kingscairn Issue 1
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    Gellarde Barrow
    Publisher: Zzarchov Kowolski
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 12/01/2020 12:15:43

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This adventure for Neo-classical Geek Revival clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

    This review was requested as a prioritized review by one my supporters via direct donation, and also as a regular request by one of my patreon supporters.

    This module contains two different spells: Craft barrow guardian (based on Simulacrum) and barrow hex (based on Trigger & Summon), both focusing on making guardians for barrows. The module also includes a really cool treasure, the mallet of Gellminster, a carpenter’s mallet that can be used to drive sharp objects into pretty much anything: Nail ghosts to walls, etc. Cool concepts! But: its rules are opaque. It will “strike more heavily than an ordinary mallet” (okay, what effect does this have?), and it e.g. doesn’t note how actually nailing critters to objects works rules-wise.

    The module comes with a brief random encounter table and sports no read-aloud text.

    The module is a barrow crawl for low-level/relatively new parties, and as far as the unique things that set NGR apart go, it doesn’t utilize many of those, feeling very much like a conventional OSR-module. In spite of this, it is one of the harder modules for both players and GMs to execute.

    In order to talk about why will require that we go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

    ..

    .

    Okay, only GMs around? Great! So, the PCs are about to explore the barrow of fabled Luc Gallarde, who was rumored to be capable of duplicating anything that can be made of wood in other media, like stone. Note that this is true: In the very first room, a chair (constructed as one would make a wooden chair) of marble can be found. Cool! It weighs 150 pounds, nice, this’ll make it hard to get to safety for the party! Problem-solving ftw.! …wait. It’s valuable, right? The module says as much. Then why doesn’t it list a, you know, actual value? This problem in the details isn’t the only one, but it illustrates one of the weaknesses of the module.

    As far as strengths are concerned, we have a few as well: Beyond bandits in one room, we also have a dangerous hipposteus that can be outmaneuvered by a clever party (if they read the signs well) – and one room is particularly interesting: At the top level, there’s a walkway blocked by pallid, white roots that crosses a larger hall; these roots attack and regrow pretty quickly, but not too quickly. Below, we have the biggest room of the dungeon, including a stationary root monster thing that not only can be outmaneuvered by clever PCs (to at least stay out of melee range), it also throws curled up trilobites (!!) as ammo. That is AWESOME. Seriously, two thumbs up. This creature, alas, also serves as a good way to illustrate that the module isn’t always consistent in how it rewards the players: That hallway with the roots reaching up? If the party takes the time and clears out all the roots, the monster below will fall to the floor. Does it suffer in any way, shape or form from this? NO. In fact, it gets tougher, because now it’s angry and mobile. Granted, bypassing the roots in the corridor above may be the smartest move, but penalizing wanting to deal with the monster in a clever manner strikes me as counterproductive. Taking potshots at it while it’s rooted is much more efficient. I was also surprised to note that it can unroot, because the regular write-up doesn’t imply that, with its limited mobility/can’t reach PCs that stick to the walls angle.

    The second part of the module that makes it kinda tough, is that the barrow has essentially three levels crammed on one map, and a gimmick where two levers allow the party to flood the barrow to a degree. This process is pretty much a question of trial and error (there are only two levers, so that is somewhat valid), but since they seem to lock in place until the water has reached the new level, it can be a bit weird. Anyhow, it would have been REALLY HELPFUL if the individual regions that can be flooded actually noted some sort of shading on the map. Granted, each room that can be flooded notes its differences in the flooded state, but yeah. Considering how simple the actual module is regarding its set up, I shouldn’t have to make notes and reread the module and puzzle that sort of thing together. It’s not that it isn’t there, it’s just that it’s inconvenient.

    The aforementioned mallet, btw., was used by a tomb robber to nail a shadow thing to the wall as he lay dying. The shadow thing, obviously, can’t be trusted, but tries to get the party to free it. And no, there are still no rules for nailing enemies to solid objects – or how to get, you know, out if you’re nailed to an object.

    Conclusion:

    Editing and formatting are okay on a formal and rules language level; I noticed a couple of hiccups. Layout adheres to a 2-column no-frills b/w-standard, and the pdf uses some nice stock art. The b/w-maps by Dyson Logos are really neat, but I wish there was an unlabeled, player-friendly version, or even better, a proper jpg for VTT-use. None is provided. The pdf has no bookmarks.

    Michael Moscrip’s Gellarde Barrow does a lot right; it has a cool item premise in line with Zzarchov’s aesthetics, and when he gets things right (like the ranged attacks of that one monster), he does so rather well. However, at the same time, the complex doesn’t really live up to the cool “I can nail ANYTHING together”-premise. I mean, picture what you could have done with that!! Instead, we get a pretty solid, if inconvenient little dungeon crawl. The whole water/flooding premise, ultimately, is underutilized as well – you could have made some seriously cool puzzles with that, influence and redefine how one or more combats operate, etc. There is a ton of promise here, but as a whole, much of the promise is not realized properly. This also holds true regarding all the possibilities NGR offers in contrast to other old-school systems; the game has so much more to offer than what’s on display here.

    As a PWYW-offering, this is worth checking out, I guess, but in contrast to the other OSR/NGR-compatible adventures, it falls a bit flat. My final verdict will be 3 stars.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [3 of 5 Stars!]
    Gellarde Barrow
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    Gear Book: Operative Weapons
    Publisher: Evil Robot Games
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 11/30/2020 10:04:39

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This supplement clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

    So, this book is all about filling a mechanical need. Namely, to add in weapons for trick attacking at all levels. Like the first of these gear books, this supplement begins by clearly laying out its design concerns and the issues it tries to fix.

    The book begins with a clear analysis of the curve for the weapons, including correctly discerning that the 1st and 7th level weapon perform above their peers, and takes the Starfinder Armory content into account as well – and the design paradigms underlying those, including how they interact with core rules. E.g. switchblades, etc. keep the damage of knives while expanding the utility – design in breadth, if you will. This book, then, provides versions for the weapons to fill the gaps. It should be noted that not every level is truly mechanically distinct: A survival knife and a survival knife 2 and 3 are base-damage-wise identical, but have different levels and increasing costs – which is relevant for seals and fusions. Then again, e.g. the hunting knife 3 (level 6) does get a damage increase to 1d8. The tables provided in this book also clearly designate the weapons from the big Starfinder books in bolded script – very helpful.

    And the pdf goes a step further and manages to include some differentiation between these upgrades – at level 14, we have, for example, a power sap! (I don’t know why, but a powered sap is such an outrageous concept, it just made me smile. I can picture the sap with this glowing tech-cylinder striking, then a discharge of steam as it kicks in…it’s weirdly hilarious to me…and yes, there is a level 20 neutron star sap.)

    And the book goes one step further with this very transparent approach that lets even GMs not usually interested in the nit and grit of design discern what’s suitable and what isn’t, as the pdf walks the reader through the design concerns by weapon type. I very much enjoy this transparent design approach, as it a) shows the degree of thought that went into this and b) means that I don’t have to explain why the design decisions made are valid.

    Anyhow, the pdf features separate tables by weapon type, and the pdf actually provides…drumroll errata for some of the…let’s say…problematic aspects of the Armory book. Like the damage output of e.g. gale batons. Two big thumbs up!

    So, is all great? Well, almost. I have checked the entire array of tables herein (and yes, that was some serious work) and consider all components added to the game herein valid; but I also noticed a glitch in the one-handed advanced melee weapons table. EDIT: This glitch has been rectified!

    Conclusion:

    Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules language level; with the glitch purged, this is a precise and well-wrought pdf. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard with nice artworks included. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

    Paul Fields and Jim Milligan deliver a really handy booklet that pretty much all operative players will definitely want to take a look. This pdf fills a hole in the game, and does so in a well-reasoned and clever manner. Math-wise, the content herein is well-balanced and performs in line with SFRPG. This is so ridiculously useful for operative players, I do feel comfortable in granting this my EZG Essentials tag; not having to switch weapon category is a big deal for me. EDIT: The glitch has been taken care of, which upgrades this to 5 stars + seal of approval.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    Gear Book: Operative Weapons
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    Quests of Doom 4: In the Time of Shardfall (PF)
    Publisher: Frog God Games
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 11/30/2020 10:02:48

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This module clocks in at 29 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

    This review was requested as part of a series of reviews by my patreon supporters. My review is based on the PF-version, since that’s the one that was requested. I don’t own the other versions.

    This module is designated for 4–6 characters of 5th or 6th level, and as always for Frog God Games, a well-balanced group is very much recommended. Nominally set in the Lost Lands campaign setting, the module can be adapted rather easily to other campaign settings…with a few caveats that may be relevant for you. On a formal level, it should be noted that the module has 7 neat b/w maps, but much to my chagrin, no player-friendly, label-less versions are provided; jarring, considering that FGG used to include those. We get random encounters, rumors, and essentially a hex map with a couple of smaller regions where everything zooms in – nice, I like a good wilderness/location scenario. (As such, it should be noted that this isn’t linear per se, though the module does seem to work best in a certain sequence.) The module features well-written read-aloud text.

    The module is penned by none other than Michael Curtis, who is generally a guarantee for an awesome module, so let’s see if this module can break the curse that seems to have affected this series.

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

    ..

    .

    All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the backstory of this module taps into an inconceivably ancient prehistory where the Great Old Ones waged war. In this age of dinosaurs and worse, the dracosaurus horribilis was created – the proto-dragon Ghurazkz. This thing was so powerful that the demon frog god Tsathogga’s tsathar servitor race had to intervene, creating a mirror of raw obsidian, the Akaata – this would drain the life-force of the shoggoth-slaying monstrosity, but even it would not suffice. And thus, they cast the mirror with its prisoners into the vortex of time, into the far future. Eons passed, empires fell, tsathar degenerated…and that future has come. It’s the time of the Shardfall, as the Akaata shatters, releasing its prisoners.

    Readers familiar with DCC will note the references to essentially a time of chaos back then, to dark forces battling, etc. – I like the tone here. However, if your game does have a pretty established lore regarding ancient eras, that’s something to bear in mind. Some of the module’s impact is also predicated on the fact that suddenly, prehistoric creatures are roaming the landscape is deemed to be odd, so if you have a dinosaur county in your setting, perhaps don’t play the module near that one.

    The module begins pretty much with a bang, and has the party face dinosaurs and pretty soon find the first of the 5 fragments of the ancient mirror; I do like that destroying these is very much possible and rewards being smart (don’t attack the reflective side); after some serious (and cool/deadly) dinosaur action, the trail of the fragments will sooner or later confront the PCs with Jouktar, the most memorable NPC herein, and also a symptom for the book: This fellow would be a tsathar from the pre-degeneration phase, when they had an intelligent, refined culture; he was imprisoned as well, and could fill in the party on what happened…but the language barrier is severe due to millennia of differences, and as such, pantomiming is suggested, with some serious ideas re pantomiming etc.. I love that per se.

    Yeah, unlike in DCC, languages aren’t a problem in PF. Comprehend languages, anyone? Tongues? Seriously, why does this module ignore basic strategies for solving this? Heck, the issue extends beyond system borders! In S&W (the go-to-OSR-system for these), the whole problem can be circumvented by writing down communication and casting read languages, a frickin’ 1st-level magic-user spell. 5e also has this little-known 1st-level ritual…it’s called frickin’ comprehend languages. I really don’t get it. This sort of issue could have been bypassed with just a proper narrative framing, but instead, we get some serious consistency issues in ALL THREE SYSTEMS this was released for. This is particularly jarring, as the tsathar actually makes for a reliable and unconventional ally during the module, and is one of the few non-combat scenes in the otherwise combat-heavy scenario full of neat setpieces, which also includes a tar-pit-laden bog of poisonous mists, with a nasty necromancer on the loose. AWESOME.

    …why does none of the undead here get special tar abilities? A proper mini-template, done? Where are the cool environmental effects? Absent. It’s such a great backdrop, where is the mechanical significance? We also have a few minor formatting glitches and e.g. misnamed skills like “Riding” instead of Ride, but these are cosmetic.

    Ultimately, the PCs will need to make their way to a tribe of ogrillons to the proto-dragon and deal with it before it regains its strength….and it’s a MEDIUM creature. It’s CR 7, and essentially a juvenile gray dragon. It’s a solid, challenging boss…but it’s so incredibly lame after the cool set-up.

    It was so horribly anticlimactic, and without the dinosaur angle and background story, it’d feel like just another dragon lording over humanoids. This, more than anything, screwed with me; why doesn’t the fellow get a unique statblock? Even better option: Why is there no gathering of power/special abilities? It’d have been easy to assign one unique ability per fragment dealt with; all the abilities only work against the proto-dragon, and as such, they could have been used to have the PCs deal with a boss far above their weight-class!

    You know, something like: “Power of the Ages (Su): As a swift action, you can tap into the life-force of those who perished at the claws of the proto-dragon, fortifying yourself against its attacks. You gain xyz temporary hit points, as the spirits of these damned shield you from harm. You can command these spirits to attack as a standard action…” (No, this is not in the book; I improvised this.)

    You know.

    Something WORTHY of the epic set-up!

    As written, a well-optimized party can eliminate this fellow in two rounds, tops, and a real power-gamer can one-shot the “epic” proto-dragon. Also: It’s MEDIUM.

    All this set-up for a MEDIUM dragon…sigh It’s also weaker (as in: less Strength) than many of the dinos unleashed. I can’t recall when I’ve been this underwhelmed by a module’s boss.

    Conclusion:

    Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the lack of familiarity with the target systems, particularly the PF-version, of an otherwise great author is very much evident…as is the fact that the Pathfinder conversion by Dave Landry is just BAD and barebones, failing to account for realities of the system in instances where these aren’t just statblock errors, but actually the conversion hampers the frickin’ plot. Layout adheres to a clean two-column b/w-standard with some solid b/w-artworks that might be familiar to fans of FGG. The b/w-cartography is per se really cool and detailed…but we have one map with a 10 ft.-grid, and one with a 20 ft.-grid (an epic T-rex battle); both grid-sizes are a PAIN to work with in PFRPG. The lack of player-friendly versions is also a further strike against the module, particularly in light of the cool set-up. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

    Michael Curtis’ “In the Time of the Shardfall” is an excellent example of an amazing yarn sunk by sloppy mechanical execution, at least in PFRPG. I can’t comment on the 5e and OSR-versions, but as outlined above, unless the module was rewritten (which I doubt) for these versions, the language-issue at least will persist. This module was frickin’ heartbreaking to review…because its framework does so much right: It is relatively free-form, has really cool dino-battles, awesome backdrops that ooze atmosphere and a cool concept for a final boss….and then proceeds to squander all of that potential. Where are the sticky tar-modifications for the undead? Where are the unique hazards? Why is the final boss so incredibly lame?

    I think, I might have an idea. I’m just suspecting things here, but I assume that this was written in a system-neutral manner, with different specialists assigned to jam the module into the respective systems. And at least for PFRPG, that operation has fallen flat. Big time. This needed more pronounced rewrites to work in the system, and instead, we get what feels like a rushed minimal-effort conversion.

    …can you have fun with this? Theoretically, yes. If your party isn’t that deep into PFRPG’s mechanics, and you gloss over the problems. But in many ways, this module is symptomatic of issues that sunk some other great modules in this series. I really hope the remaining modules in the series will leave me with more positive things to say.

    I need to rate this, though. And as painful as this might be for me, I can’t justify rating this higher than 2.5 stars, rounded up, but only barely. This has all the makings of 5 stars + seal of approval, but fails to capitalize on them in the most aggravating way.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [3 of 5 Stars!]
    Quests of Doom 4: In the Time of Shardfall (PF)
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    Black Void: Core Book
    Publisher: Modiphius
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 11/12/2020 05:52:28

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    The Black Void’s core book is a massive tome of 404 pages if you take away editorial, front cover, ToC, backer lists, character sheet, (brief) glossary, index, etc., so quite a lot to digest.

    I have received a print copy of this tome for the purpose of a fair and unbiased review; this has been simmering on my backburner for quite a while.

    You can think of this book as pretty much two in one: Approximately the first half of the book is devoted to the rules, while the second half, the GM-chapter, is essentially the setting, including NPCs, bestiary, etc.; Personally, I’d have preferred them to be split in the middle, as I enjoy handing books to my players, but that just as an aside.

    Before we dive into the analysis, how would I describe it? Well, picture this: Babylon’s in full swing, seen through a lens of Clark Ashton Smith. Suddenly, tendrils of black grasp everyone, and humanity ends up stranded in a strange, uncaring and far-off cosmos, and pretty much at the bottom of the social hierarchies. The cosmology knows three primary components: The cosmos is the vast expanse of space we know; the void lies beyond it, and is the home of the truly esoteric and strange creatures, but not necessarily in a Lovecraftian vein; instead, it also is the origin of beings we associate with real world mythology like the Lammasu, the asura, deva, etc. The interesting twist here, ultimately, is that the creatures from the esoteric realms might be more familiar than anything else, inverting the premise of fantasy as we know it in pretty much every game. Cosmos and void are separated by the Veil, which reminded me in its function of games like Esoterrorists and Bloodlines & Black Magic.

    The assumed story-hub would be Llyhn, the eternal city, situated at a crossroads of sorts where the veil is thin, and where the trade-routes converge; the city is rules from vast towers by unseen rulers who generally do not directly interfere, and as such, the core playing tenet might remind you of a twist on Planescape’s Sigil, or the fantastic City of 7 Seraphs by Lost Spheres Publishing; that’s a good thing. We add a sprinkling of spelljamming, for the Void allows for planetary travel…but all of these decidedly high-fantasy concepts are presented in a way I have not seen before: Black Void has a distinct focus on dark fantasy, some might say horror – the in-character/flavor pieces throughout the book illustrate rather well how the world can be considered to be dark…but I probably wouldn’t use the word “grimdark” for it.

    You see, in many ways, the core tenet of the game is that of a humanist fable: What would happen if humanity had been thrust into a thoroughly alien and indifferent environment where we are not the apex predators and dominant species? The world presented by Black Void assumes that there are quite a few massive civilizations out there, but for those Mesopotamian stragglers stranded in Llyhn, survival within a social hierarchy that is rigged against them is actually a struggle. Instead of the cosmicism of a vast pantheon of ancient gods trampling us like gnats, the horror in this setting stems more from the experience of living in a society that is at once alien and indifferent. It is effective because it is NOT simply an array of horrors and inevitable madness. As such, I do think that the dark fantasy label, with a definite weird fiction angle best encompasses what this is about. However, my first association when I put down this book for the first time was a different one: I thought: “Okay, so this is a Babylonian Tékumel with a dark fantasy/horror-focus!”

    In case you wondered with the whole Babylon angle: Yes, sexuality, slavery and similar mature themes are included, but in a rather tasteful, mature manner, and the presentation is not explicit. For European sensibilities, this is pretty much PG-13, though some people from the US might situate this differently. That being said, like in every horror/dark fantasy game worth the moniker, I wouldn’t recommend it to the professionally offended, so if anything darker than Equestria Girls triggers you (no jab vs. Bronies intended! I think the series can rock hard!), I’d suggest going for a different game.

    Okay, this basic premise out of the way, what about the game-engine aspects? How can one situate Black Void regarding its mechanics? Well, here things become more difficult to answer. In how the mechanics feel, I’d suggest probably likening this to WFRP or Storyteller – the Black Void has a pretty simple basic resolution mechanic, wherein you roll a d12 and various modifiers against a target value, with a natural 1 a failure, and a 12 “exploding” in certain instances, i.e. you get to roll again and add it to the result.

    Character creation is based on point-buy, with 3 suggested point-ranges for different power-levels provided. The game knows 8 so-called “traits”, which are essentially the game’s ability scores: Agility, Awareness, Stamina, Strength, Intellect, Persuasion, Presence, Willpower. These range from a rating of 0 to 12, with modifiers ranging from -3 to +9, though it should be noted that humans have at least 1 in each score. For every 3 you have in a trait, you can select a talent, which are listed by trait.

    Which brings me to a huge pet-peeve of mine: Like most roleplaying games, this begins with character creation, and throws you in on the deep end. While the book does explain the basics of a roleplaying game, it does not explain the basics of its mechanics in an adequate manner before prompting you to create a character. I HATE this tendency with a fiery passion. Why do I have to skip ahead to the “Playing the Game”-chapter (Chapter 3 in this book) and read that first? I can’t make an informed choice in character creation if I don’t understand how the game works.

    To illustrate this: The talent Ambidexterity notes that it reduces the penalties for dual-wielding to 0/-3. Okay, at this point, we have no ideas how fighting, let alone regular dual-wielding, works. (You get essentially an extra attack per turn – main hand -3, off hand -6, and the penalties are applied to the action AND the initiative!) You can’t make an informed choice when you don’t know how to play the game. And this is all the more galling when you realize that the action-based gameplay actually has some neat depth and breadth to offer and is explained in a tight manner. Why not start with that, and instead erect this arbitrary difficulty/confusion wall at the start? On another note, since we’re talking about initiative: If you roll a 12 on initiative, you get an additional action during the first round at -6; I assume that this happens regardless of modifiers, and stacks with e.g. dual-wielding, but couldn’t find clarification on that particular scenario.

    But I digress. Actions are defined in a clear and concise manner: Some might require sequential successes; some might be contested, and cooperative. The game differentiates between resisted (passive) vs. opposed (active) actions, and an easy chart helps Arbiters (the term used for the GM) and player alike gain a good idea of positive and negative modifiers applied to actions.

    The character creation includes a whole lot of means to tweak your character, offering wide and diverse choices that are meaningful: You are human, but you may be a half-blood, or a voidmarked; if you are a pureblood, you are human as we know it; otherwise, you might have attributes; voidmarked can have esoteric attributes, like being ageless…they can be considered to be the somewhat unearthly planetouched of the setting. All of these, however, draw upon the point budget. Beyond traits and homeworld, you can spend points on safe places to stay, connections, loyal allies, etc. – in that manner, the game reminded me of Shadowrun. Magic is generally used via Willpower (Furor – emotional casters) and Intellect (Gnostics – studied spellcasting) and organized in spheres. There also are blood rituals, but more on magic later.

    Skills range from 0 (untrained, -3) to 12 (+9), and are associated with one of more traits: Acrobatics might be associated with Agility, Stamina or Strength, for example, depending on what you do. Your point budget also is used to determine your caste, for Llyhn has a rigid caste society, and humans are at the bottom of the barrel…and thus, even if you spend some serious points, you won’t start at the highest echelons…but everything’s better than being casteless...or a Kalbi (which literally translates to “dog”). Anyhow, there are two things that you can’t start investing in – Enlightenment and Wastah. Enlightenment is your cosmic understanding and can only be attained in play via interaction with entities from the void or the void itself; Wastah is the social clout/charisma/bearing of the individual.

    The book contains a massive array of items, services and goods, and here, we get additional options, for there are different quality levels (illustrated lavishly), but here is a good place to note once more how the sequence of rules-presentation is needlessly obtuse. I consider myself to be an experienced roleplayer, but when I read the following in the drug section, I was puzzled: “Refined varieties may induce stupor. Stamina Roll [7]: Delirium effect < 7.” Note that, at this point, Delirium had not yet been defined; once you’ve read the book, this makes sense, but the like is not always the case. Terrible quality weapons, for example, note that they have a -1 to attack, damage and speed rolls. I am pretty sure that should be initiative or Agility. That sort of thing is jarring, since the game, as a whole, does a surprisingly great job at delivering the degree of customization I enjoy, so if you’re coming from PFRPG or 5e, you will have enough meaningful choices to fiddle with from the get-go. The breadth and depth is here, and in some aspects transcends those games. Want poison grooves, wave pattern blades? Not only can you have such weapons, these modifications actually have RELEVANT effects in-game. For a tinkerer like yours truly, this is frickin’ amazing. This amount of differentiation also extends to armors, fyi: They offer a variety of options to customize them, and act as essentially damage reduction. Weapons have a size, armor a bulk – these denote the minimum Strength required to sue them sans penalty – otherwise, you suffer a penalty for every point by which you fail to meet the prerequisite.

    Surprising for a game with tables for exceptional hits and yes, health levels, the Black Void’s combats run in a relatively smooth and quick manner. The game has derived statistics like Health and Sanity, which pretty much do what you’d expect them to, the latter being harder to replenish…but you can essentially spend Experience Points to regain Stamina, so this is no game of uncontrolled escalation down the insanity rabbit hole. (And before you ask: Yep, fear, madness and delirium are presented in the sanity chapter…once more much later than where the concepts are first mentioned. Some internal cross-referencing “For delirium, see pg XX” or better sequence of presentation would have been prudent.)

    While we’re talking about combat: I genuinely LOVE the action engine presented: There is differentiation between regular movement, running and sprinting, and a whole array of options: Parrying, blocking, aiming, called shots, grapples, and so much more – all available. A handy table lists the base combat actions with a handy shorthand table for your convenience, and with essentially attacks of opportunity (here called “attack opportunity”), the game runs surprisingly tactical combats….to a degree. You see, my main gripe with Black Void as a system comes from it feeling somewhat indecisive of what it actually wants to be. We have all these cool, tactical combat actions and concrete ranges for ranged weapons (yes, with increments), and guess what? The game tells you that it assumes “theater of the mind” for combat. Yeah, I have almost 20 years of in-depth experience with such games, and rest assured, that playstyle is great for more rules-lite games, but as soon as you add attack opportunities and components based on concrete tactical placement of individuals, things get messy in theater of the mind. FAST.

    And this strange inconsistence can also be found in other aspects, most notably those associated with the voidmarked and magic: The esoteric attribute Daimonic Discord, for example, has this text:

    “The character is able to twist other people’s spoken communication so that listeners will hear something different than what is actually being said. The player nominates a target within hearing distance. The character must be able to understand the conversation to twist the words. The conversation can be twisted as much as the player wishes, but the more the message is distorted, the less believable it becomes. A minor tweak, such as replacing a few names or details in a conversation would go unnoticed while making someone appear to say the opposite of what they actually are is conspicuous and would likely be noticed.”

    That is the entire text provided regarding rules. Now, don’t get me wrong: I can really appreciate the ability; I picked it out since it’d be one I’d definitely take for my own PC. But notice something? We don’t get information on whether this can easily be done in combat; it doesn’t seem to be a resisted or opposed action. It just WORKS. And it has no limits. All details are left up to the arbiter. And there are quite a few instances in the book where these very narrative components suddenly pop up in a game that is otherwise rather meticulous regarding the precision of concrete rules to resolve its gameplay. For a while, I figured that this was intentional, mirroring cosmos vs. void: You know, concrete rules for the cosmos parts, while void-related stuff gets the more abstract, narrative tricks. And I think this actually is the rationale. But I maintain it doesn’t work well. In direct comparison, abilities like Daimonic Discord are ridiculously powerful in the hands of a half-way smart character (or NPC) – no limit, no concrete boundaries. It also creates this disjoint and underlines the fact that the game’s system is slightly confused regarding what it wants to be – a complex, tactical game, or a more narrative experience?

    So yeah, as far as I’m concerned, the rules get a TON of things right; the core engine presented is GREAT. But in the details, this could most assuredly have used a capable and strict rules-editor to put the wishy-washy outliers in a proper, hard-coded context. Particularly since the (rather subdued) magical options actually tend to be codified in a precise manner, with ranges, etc. The system as a whole is presented in a concise manner that is rewarding to play, flawed in some details though it may be.

    Anyhow, regardless of whether you want to actually use the game as presented or not, I do maintain that this tome has got something seriously amazing going on for it: The setting. From the bird-like Ka’alum to the shirr, who move on muscular-contractions, gliding over the ground, to the fauna presented, the second half of this book breathes wonder and excitement: Mysteries abound, the cosmopolis’ politics are diverse, and I have rarely read a setting that felt so fresh to me; indeed, not since I first read “Empire of the Petal Throne” have I had a similar experience of a fantasy not indebted to Lovecraft or Tolkien; and apart from City of 7 Seraphs, I would be hard-pressed to name a setting that is so fantastic.

    But this? It’s also horrific and decadent, and if you know me, then you pretty much realize by now that this makes the campaign setting a homerun for me. This fantasy manages to feel both ancient and novel. Additionally, the underdog situation humanity finds itself in adds a great angle: In many ways, the whole system is constructed to make it very easy to ask questions of what it actually means to be human, of what one would do to thrive or survive. This reminded me of Shadowrun or Cyberpunk 2020/RED in quite a few of its underlying themes, save that is presents these notions in a holistic, fantastic vision. In its themes and how the game is set up, the Black Void has more in common with those games, than with the D&D-based reference settings like Planescape or Spelljammer. And yes, this is dark fantasy. However, there is a reason for my Tékumel-comparison. This may be a dark setting, one that may seem nihilistic at first glance – but I’d argue that it really, really is not actually nihilistic or grimdark. Why? For every horrifying and disturbing concept presented, for every hopeless struggle, the book also provides something downright stunning and taps into that same wondrous feeling of jamias-vu Tékumel does. Heck, even the Void and the things, planes and creatures related to it are actually not (all) tentacled, sanity-blasting monstrosities. In what might eb the best meta-twist I’ve seen in a setting for quite a while, these aspects may well be the ones you consider to be more familiar, less weird, than those encountered within the “regular” confines of the setting. You might not notice consciously, but your brain will.

    It’s been quite a while since I couldn’t put down a campaign setting’s information, since it captivated me to this degree. As far as the setting is concerned, this is a resounding success and amazing vision.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level; in some instances, the rules language felt more verbose than it needed to be, and I have encountered a couple of instances where the verbiage is less precise than it should be; on a formal level, I e.g. noticed minor glitches like a whole paragraph in italics, when only the play-example should have been in italics. I can’t help but feel that the book would have benefited from establishing some formatting conventions with italics, bold text etc. to make parsing of rules-language more effective. Layout adheres toa 3-column standard, and is per se gorgeous; the backgrounds etc. make this book beautiful to look at; however, from an information-design perspective, the book is rather inconvenient in its organization and lack of cross-referencing. The artworks of the book are DECADENT. The tome is littered with top-tier, stunning artworks ranging from glorious full-color to some b/w-pieces; most weapons and armors get their own artworks, for example; the majority of the artworks are full-color. The hardcover is a massive, really neat offset-printed book with sturdy binding; it’s beautiful. That being said, I think that some artworks are a tad bit too dark on the matte paper; I can’t help but feel that the book was intended to be printed on glossy paper at one point; the artworks are stunning, but their details sometimes become slightly indistinct on the matte paper. That is me nitpicking at the highest level, though—this book has one of the best art-directions I have seen.

    Christoffer S. Sevaldsen, with contributions from Yadin Flammer, Cameron Day, Killian DeVriendt, Bryan j. McLean, Luke Maton, Gabriel Norwood, Predrag Filipovic, Dan Cross and Jon Creffield, has crafted a singular, distinct vision. The game system here manages to present a complex, rewarding engine that is not just a derivative of a d20-engine or similar game, and that shows off VERY well what kind of tactical depth you can achieve without increasing the complexity of the rules unduly. The system is very close to being a stunning, resounding success. However, its sequence of presentation is obtuse, its lack of cross-referencing annoying, and the instances where the book labors under the delusion of being a primarily narrative-driven game, when its complex engine makes pretty clear that it works much better with a battle-map, is jarring. All of these could have been easily caught and fixed. So yeah, as a system, it is one that has a ton of potential, but also plenty of stumbling stones, and here, “esoteric”, one of the buzzwords associated with this game, is not a positive descriptor. And yes, I am hard on this game – not out of spite, but because this gets everything I look for in a game ALMOST perfectly right.

    The setting, in one word, is STUNNING.

    I love it. I love its complexity, its daring, its distinct vision. I love how it flips familiar and unknown, I love its obvious humanist concepts; it love how it plays with feelings of estrangement and wonder, with the horrors of the conditio humana in an inhumane world. I seriously think that this book is worth its asking price even if you’re just looking for ideas or a genuinely fresh and exciting setting. And frankly, the setting is actually good enough to deal with the minor hiccups of the system.

    But I can’t rate the two components divorced from each other. I have to rate this book as a whole. (Yep, that’s another reason I bemoaned it not being two books…) And that’s hard. You see, for the rules-section, with its inconvenient presentation-sequence, I’d probably settle on something in the 3.5 star vicinity; for the setting, I’d give this 5 stars and slap my seal of approval faster on this than you can say “blood ritual table.”

    This book is not perfect, but oh boy is it exciting. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, and while I’d love to, I can’t round up. This, however, does get my seal of approval and a heartfelt recommendation for anyone looking for something novel, both in setting and mechanics.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [4 of 5 Stars!]
    Black Void: Core Book
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    A Faceless Enemy
    Publisher: Chapter 13 Press
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 11/11/2020 07:40:19

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This module clocks in at 33 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

    This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of one of my supporters, who also donated the softcover to me.

    DON’T SHOW THE COVER TO YOUR PLAYERS. This is one of the modules that has a SPOILER on the cover. -.-

    This module is nominally intended for 4—8 characters of 5th level for DCC, and it takes place in the “Tales from the Fallen Empire”-setting. …yeah, if you’ve read my review of that campaign setting, you might realize that this isn’t exactly good news as far as I’m concerned. HOWEVER, it should be noted that this module, while indeed placed in the somewhat unfocused campaign setting, actually doesn’t really integrate MECHANICALLY with the systems presented in “Tales from the Fallen Empire”: Neither the sanity mechanics, nor those for magic item creation or ritual casting are actually used herein, which struck me as somewhat puzzling. Indeed, when compared to other 5th-level DCC adventures, this yarn is positively tame in quite a few instances, so if you expect world-shattering, save for the final confrontation. That being said, when compared to “Colossus, Arise!” or similar high-level DCC yarns, the module is definitely less challenging. It also focuses more on rollplaying than quite a few DCC modules, with player-skill being slightly less important.

    Genre-wise, we have a sword & sorcery yarn here, and one that can be converted to other campaign settings with relative ease; I’ll go into that aspect below, in the SPOILER section. The module comes with a nice b/w-map of the region it takes place in, which annoyingly lacks a scale, making distances just as difficult to determine as in the campaign setting. The other two maps deserve both being cheered for and booed: They get cheers for the fact that we actually get player-friendly versions sans SPOILERS. They get boos for their actual utility, for they depict, in scope and function, essentially a corridor and a boss-arena; overarching regions/complexes are not included. While aesthetically pleasing due to the artworks included on the maps, I couldn’t help but wish that the budget for these useless ornaments had instead be spent on actually useful maps.

    Okay, this out of the way, let use dive into the SPOILER-section. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

    … .. .

    All right, only judges around? Great! So, the knights of Tal Abastion are essentially an order of austere knights that looks after the ruins of the fabled city-state of Uruk, pretty much the magical ground zero of the setting when it comes to dark magics; as such, the knights are financed by other nations and states, and behave in a way like a foreign legion of sorts, where the stalwart, those that wish to escape, or that have a higher calling, can attempt to get away, start anew, and guard the realms. If you can insert a kind of super-deadly and dangerous ruined city in your game, and justify an order of people guarding it, then you can run this module.

    This guardian army is facing a serious issue: their fortress of Harkanis Bek has been systematically deprived of the supplies they need in the wastelands surrounding Uruk by the brigand band known as the Red Scarves. The modules begins in the city of Tasagaroth, where Shou Shen hires the party to deliver an important magical item to Harkanis Bek, the Heart of Yan Shia, which can generate water and once per lifetime, heal a wounded person of their injuries. Unlike what you’d expect, this item is not properly statted, nor are its weight or dimensions ever properly defined, which is somewhat weird, considering that a local thieves’ guild, in a meaningless throwaway encounter, might well attempt to steal it.

    The first grand decision the party needs to make, would actually be the caravan to join, which guide to hire, or if they want to set out on foot. This differentiation actually might well be meaningful on a micro-level, and I enjoyed the differentiation. While traveling durations are provided, the lack of an actual hex-map or overland map with any kind of grid somewhat disappointed me: The option for the players to actually plan their independent trip seems to have somewhat fallen by the wayside, with the caravan/guide options clearly the intended path.

    That being said, once in the Dol Minor Wastes, the module manages to achieve something few published scenarios achieve – a genuinely branched pathway in a pretty story-driven adventure. You see, there obviously will be encounters with local fauna and random encounters, sure – but, no surprise, sooner or later, the party will happen upon the Red Scarves…and battle is very likely. Here’s the rather impressive thing: The module walks the judge through the army’s responses to the no doubt formidable resistance the party provided, as well as through negotiations and an invitation to the Red Scarves’ camp. And in a nice twist, NOT fighting through an obviously impossible force to beat is the better choice. (Which is also why I think this’d have worked better at lower levels…level 5 DCC characters may well wish to keep fighting…) Anyhow, this is one of the better instances of the “negotiate/capture”-angle I’ve seen modules in the Sword & Sorcery genre pull off.

    The Red Scarves are led by the horribly disfigured Flayed Man, who, in conversation with the party, claims to be none other than the presumably dead Jannik Bel’Tarul, direct descendent of Tal Abastion, and former commander of the knights. This is a mind-blowing twist…that really needed to be set up. I strongly suggest judges who wish to play this module to mention the order and explain its history well in advance, establishing the significance of this revelation, because the module doesn’t do that, and it’d be a shame to have this revelation fall flat. Essentially, Jannik was captured by the demon Prince Mozarak, who flayed him and wears his skin; Jannik was rescued by his children, but the demons, with a copy of Jannik’s form and memories, has assumed control over the stalwart order of the knights of Tal Abastion – thus the guerrilla warfare of the Red Scarves. Jannik also confides in the party: He is dying, and he doesn’t want to leave this conflict to his kids, so he asks for help to destroy the demon prince in command of the mighty army. The depiction of the important NPCs and complex negotiations here is rather neat and enjoyable.

    On the other hand, if the party managed to avoid the Red Scarves, the module may well end with the delivery of the artifact to the fortress of Harkanis Bek (which is also (briefly) touched upon; I kinda wished the module had more room to develop this strand. Either via a condemned man looking for his family, or in league with the Red Scarves – the party needs to navigate a secret tunnel (one of the small battle-maps noted) …and it sucks. It’s a twisting tunnel, where multiple “invisible-line” traps are included. You know, the sucky “walk somewhere, take damage because you didn’t guess correctly”-kind; one of the worst 3.X-design paradigms on full display.

    Thus, they enter the ruins of Uruk! The fabled city! Do we get a map of it? Nope, need the campaign setting for that (back cover provides an excerpt of it…but only that); and no, the awesome, ultra-creepy, magically polluted ruins? The end of an Age in the setting? It’s so disappointing. Some random encounters, and then pretty directly the boss arena. No exploration. No actual roleplaying of skill involved in finding the antagonist…one of the most iconic environments in the entire campaign setting, relegated to window-dressing. That hurt my soul. Similarly, we get another battle-map of a ritual room, where the demon disguised as Jannik is scripted to complete the ritual. No use of the ritual rules from the book. No player skill involved. Just a hard railroad, which sucks big time as far as I’m concerned. It’s also super-obvious to all but the most inexperienced players. Making ritual-completion timer-based and actually having a developed Uruk, where actions and consequences influence the timer…well, that’d have made the actions of the party actually…you know. Matter.

    Anyhow, there is one thing the module does rather well, and I get why it’s scripted this way: A gate opens, ritual complete, and the demon slips through the gate with the party in hot pursuit…only to emerge in Uruk, right in the midst of its demonic cataclysm! This is where the party can use those 5 levels, as they need to fight through demonic strike-forces and defeat the (rather mechanically bland) type IV demon prince while the city burns around them. Once more, it’d have been awesome to actually spend TIME here and have RELEVANT CHOICES. But at least the “time-travel to prevent the undoing of history” and cataclysm angles are compelling enough to make it easier for the judge to paint over the lack of depth regarding the module.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are pretty good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the setting’s two-column b/w-standard, and artworks employed are a combination of neat stock art (I think?) and original pieces – the b/w-art is consistently nice. The b/w-cartography being present in player-friendly versions is nice, but the absence of a grid or the like for the overland map and the lack of a map for the final areas hurt the module in this department. I have no complaints regarding the PoD-softcover; the pdf, though, commits a cardinal sin: It has bookmark. No, that was no typo. It has a grand total of ONE bookmark, making navigation a massive pain.

    After the atrociously bad modules included in the back of the campaign setting book, Oscar Rios delivers a definite and HUGE improvement here. This module has several things I genuinely enjoy about it: For one, it manages to capture that elusive feeling of a Sword & Sorcery yarn, which so many published modules miss. This feels gritty and yet heroic and reminded me of one of the longer good old Savage Sword of Conan storylines, actually managing higher level gameplay without losing the feeling of the genre. The set-pieces provided are great, and the characters presented actually manage to acquire a modicum of depth, something I did not expect.

    …but on a design side of things, this module also has serious issues. While it has all the set up and markings of a modular sandbox, these branching paths and options tend to fall by the wayside, which smells like a serious amount of cut content to me. And indeed, the module’s biggest weakness is that it provides an illusion of modularity, when its story, set-up, premise…all look like the material of a 64-or 128-page sandbox. And it could have been excellent: Present starting area, with map, and options; present overland travel with actual meaningful routes and choices, perhaps a fleshed-out caravan or two. Then present the warring factions, and have MEANINGFUL timelines for the plans of both, and how they respond to the actions of the players. Then, actually have the final, epic region be, you know, game-relevant and not just pretty window-dressing. This module has a set-up for a fantastic sandbox and manages to severely tarnish it by jamming it into a story-driven railroad that will have the judge scrambling to keep the party on the tracks.

    Moreover, the actual design of the combat encounters and the (thankfully brief) tunnel-exploration are really…lame. Nothing of DCC’s usually high interaction-density can be found here, and these regions reminded me of 3.X-modules of yore, with “invisible line crossed, take damage”-traps and consequences scripted in a way that was somewhat hard to stomach for me.

    You might not realize these shortcomings when you read the module; it reads like a neat yarn; but contact with actual play will require some serious work on behalf of the judge. Now, even though this might sound awfully negative, I actually do think that this is a yarn worth checking out for fans of the genre; I strongly suggest expanding whole sections, and personally, I’d divorce this module from its setting, foreshadow its lore, etc. – if you do that, then you may well have a truly epic, awesome experience. In contrast to the modules in the setting book, I actually enjoyed this one, and it’s worth running if you’re willing to rewrite parts and expand upon its ideas. … I can’t rate it for that now, can I? I can only rate what’s here, and what’s here is a deeply-flawed adventure. One I somewhat like and consider worth potentially salvaging, yes…but not something I’d consider to be operational for most groups as written. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded up only due to in dubio pro reo.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [3 of 5 Stars!]
    A Faceless Enemy
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    Advanced Occult Guide
    Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 11/03/2020 07:54:58

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This massive tome clocks in at 435 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial/ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 2 pages of KS-backer thanks, leaving us with 427 pages of content.

    …okay, 3 are an index, which is a very much required feature for a book of this length.

    This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue as a priority review by my patreon supporters. Oh, and I’ve had various iterations of this book available throughout its genesis, just in case you’re wondering how I can have a review of a book of this size done at release. It’s because I’ve been able to test this as it became more and more refined for quite a while.

    The first thing you need to know about this is this: This is one densely-packed colossus of RULES. While there is flavortext, while there are artworks galore, this massive tome is essentially ALL FRICKIN' RULES. That is more page-count than e.g. two Alien Archive tomes back to back. And approximately half of it is player-facing stuff, which might make this one of the meatiest tomes of player options for SFRPG out there, perhaps even the meatiest.

    As you can glean from its sheer size, the volume of the book makes an analysis of every single piece of content prohibitive – while possible, it would take weeks of dedicated work to talk about everything, and bloat the review to a wordcount that would all but ensure that nobody will read it in its entirety, so I’ll be giving you a general overview of what to expect within this tome, highlighting what particularly stood out.

    As for the scope of this tome, it behooves me to state that this delivers several components of gameplay that I consider all but mandatory for my enjoyment of SFRPG: This book unites rules for age categories (mechanically-relevant), rules for ritual magic, rules for corruptions, rules for curses and diseases that include level-scaling, and size-change rules, including the tools for grid adjustments. Oh, and pact magic.

    If you’ve been following my reviews, you’ll note that all of these are things I love…but this also means that this has very big shoes to fill, and usually safe bet books that I think I’ll love end up disappointing my, but I digress. The avid reader will have noticed at this point that some of these components have been released before, and indeed, in many ways, this is a best-of compilation of previous Starfinder-material released by Everybody Games, save that it’s, well, not just a simple compilation. Much to my pleasant surprise, I went through my previous reviews of individual files and realized how damn often the minor niggles I had were addressed, how often the designs had been adjusted, improved, smoothened.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself once more. We begin with an assortment of various new themes, which includes the options to play old characters, young prodigies, chosen heroes, isekai adventurers (people from our world), and those who have fallen through time; and yes, the concept of the chimeraborn is also represented via mutations – these have been streamlined into a superior context, namely by making them functional according to the COM-rules, but also in accordance with the PF2-inspired, highly modular and rather cool species reforged series of Star Log.DELUXE-pdfs. Want proper emotional awareness, a draconic bloodlines, or limited ability for regeneration due to levialogos limbs? You can have that. And no, this can’t be cheesed.

    (In case you’re new to the latter: The levialogoi are super-deadly and EXTREMELY hard to kill outsiders inspired by Supernatural’s Leviathan story-arc. They are awesome and have transcended this basic concept to being essentially all-consuming, nigh-unkillable super body-snatchers...and yes, they are in the bestiary.)

    The book also presents no less than three base classes, with only the zoomer, the dedicated speedster class being something that SFRPG-fans may have seen before, though, suffice to say, the fellow’s been expanded and streamlined. The two new classes fill important niches in SFRPG that will have some fans jump in the air: For one, we have a dedicated shapeshifter class, which begins with a limited number of dedicated forms and expands these over the levels; adaptations allow you to customize your shapeshifting, aspects provide scaling benefits (4 per aspect); beyond these, we also have instinct, which are the talent-like further options available…oh boy can you tweak this fellow. Yes, you can make hybrids. And the class has its own massive forms-engine to easily and quickly tailor your forms. Want to crush enemies? Have a breath weapon?  Yeah, possible. Want species traits? Yup. Oh, and in case you don’t want to wait, guess what – premade forms available. This is a class with an incredible depth, and considering how modular it is, it is astonishing how well its results come out. So far, I haven’t managed to use it to break the game – it delivers potent builds, but none that would render the game askew.

    Secondly, we have the elementian. What’s that? Well, it’s essentially a kineticist-like class, save that its engine hasn’t been copy-pasted from PFRPG; instead, it has been rebuild from the ground up with SFRPG in mind, with the Burns-equivalent being Strain. It should be noted that the class offers multiple choices regarding key ability modifiers, and the option chosen also influences how Strain affects you. You can gather power to gain Energy, you get the idea. However, the way in which the elements have been modified is impressive – while thematically clearly the heir of kineticists, the elementian’s chassis is completely different, with each element noting its associated ability score, skills, weapons, the elemental strike damage and weapon properties that can be applied to them, etc. Of course, these also provide a linear array of abilities, and a serious number of techniques allow for customizing this fellow. It’s also notable that building an elementian for the first time is a much quicker process than making your first kineticist.

    Now, the book also features a serious number of archetypes, some of which are old acquaintances – the legacy ones like shadow dancer, eldritch knight etc. are here; but personally, I was most excited by the pact maker (who does what it says on the tin)…and the soulmark user. What’s the latter? Okay, brace yourselves, fellow otakus: Fate/STAY – the archetype! You know, drawing soulmarked weapons from your body! Seriously, in another book, this’d have been a class of its own – here, it has been condensed to a surprisingly tight and varied archetype that spans two whole pages of delicious goodness. Oh, and there is a terminator archetype that essentially replaces/refines the previous assassin concept. I have one serious issue with this one: It lacks an ability that is called “I’ll be back.” ;) Kidding aside, the concept of the vessel has also been included in this section: Whether protean, demon, angel, archon, etc. – you can play a character housing such a passenger.

    Of course, there is also a whole cornucopia of class options waiting for you: We occult method as a replacement for the biohacker’s scientific method and fields of study like aberrantology or necrology. Mechanics can have an infernal apparatus or a biomech drone chassis; solarians can be attuned to the music of the spheres; vanguards can choose the zero point aspect – and that is not even coming close to the depth of the material herein. For example, what about a witchwarper who replaces infinite worlds with a more planar-themed ability? The feats, in case you were wondering, follow similar high-concept/utility design-paradigms. What about one, for example, that lets you summon fictional characters from the zeitgeist instead of plain old critters? And yes, this has mechanical benefits.

    The armory section of the book includes positron weapons that combine electricity with positive energy, and, as hinted at before…SHRINK WEAPONS! :D Black boxes for armors, a powered armor designed for fighting ghosts…or what about the option to store your vehicle in your armor? This might be a good place to note that, like all books of this size, this cannot be perfect – in this one, we have for example one instance where “vehicular” should read “vehicle”, but one still grasps the functionality of the material presented. Augmentations and cybernetics, from extending arms to golemgrafts and necrografts complete a pretty massive chapter, and yes, technological and magic items are included in the deal as well, and we do get artifacts…yes, including the infamous time-traveling hot tub. The new drugs presented are provided in the excellent format introduced in Pop Culture Catalog: Vice Dens, which renders them scaling and relevant for all levels.

    The chapter on magic presents new spells that allow, among other things, to alter ages and sizes, call forth temporal duplicates…and yes, limited time manipulation. Several pages of new formwarps are included alongside a selection of rituals, which do include means to lock out targets (one of the best “create a barrier vs. critter xyz” takes I’ve seen for a d20-based game, and pretty crucial for my future horror-y designs), using your blood to banish foes (Heeellooo Supernatural once more…), and much to my joy, there is also the call the end-times, your friendly custom-tailored apocalypse ritual for all your insane cultist needs! (Endzeitgeist not included.) Binding agreements, clone creation, dividing targets into multiple creatures…or what about fantastic voyage, which projects your consciousness into nanomachine effigies, unlocking a whole new sphere of potential adventuring in creatures and on the microscopic level! The classic “use map to narrow down on target as it burns/otherwise designates the goal” is also provided. Rites to break potent spells, imprison targets, robotize them, etc. are also part of the deal. And no, I haven’t even mentioned all of them – suffice to say, they do come with adventure hooks. Not that you’d need them after reading them. The “design your own ritual”-section is super-appreciated as well, and rather smooth.

    The pact magic section of the book is absolutely great; there is but one thing I dislike about it – namely that I’d have loved to see an entire tome devoted to it…one might dream. At this point, it’s also no secret that I adore Alexander Agunuas’ corruption rules, and have blood space, botanification, cannibal cravings etc. all in a handy book? Great. Ever greater, though: What about a corruption that ties in with the size-changing rules and makes you slowly become a titan, as “Attack on Titan”-titan? Yeah…shudder The cognitive fixation that can be used to roleplay intrusive thoughts is also one damn fine (and very tactfully-handled) piece of writing that gets two thumbs up. Levialogos subsumption, in which you slowly are absorbed into one of these monstrosities, also is one damn great corruption. You may want to get rid of it…but its benefits are so enticing…Going Akira, aging backward, going soulless…also part of the deal. (And yes, the classic like turning into a blob, therianthropy and vampirism are here as well…)

    Curses include eternal sleep, wendigo psychosis, lost identity, amnesia and more, and from cures to affixes to modify them, the engine is concise and solid, and for diseases, a similar frame is employed.

    One of the highlights in utility would be the handy grid adjustment section I mentioned before – that’ll be printed out and tacked to my screen. And in case you were wondering: The book does provide rules for ultrafine creatures…and supercolossal ones, the latter including rules for use in starship combat. Speaking of which: Let us talk about how cool the bestiary section is, because not one of the critters in it is lame or boring. NOT ONE. What about an earth elemental creature consuming emotions, aptly named apathyst, which also is presented in planetoid size as a nasty alternative? A best-of from the Star Log.EM-series is provided here, including Deisauryu, the Godzilla of the Xa-Osoro system; new critters include shrink devils, and one of my all-time favorurite critetrs every published, the Great old One Allakhadae, the Arsonist Against Reality. Speaking of Great old Ones? Good ole’ Cthulhu and Hastur are included, and our friend Slenderman also gets the Great old One treatment – The Tall One. Yes, these fellows are all beyond CR 20, obviously. Unlike many critters at such high CRs, they are, however, actually suitably hard (read VERY) to stop. Yes, I did not use the word “eliminate” for a reason…

    Beyond these, we have aforementioned levialogoi, soulless, killer clowns…and hateflesh creatures. They are what you’d expect: Super-icky flesh/bone things that reminded me of Tomb raider 1’s Atlantean monstrosities, save they are even more grotesque… ”sinewed screamer” indeed. What about wererenkroda? One of my favorites would be the “thing-That-Walks”-template graft. Remember Kyuss and the worm-that-walks? Now picture you could make such a collective entity out of everything. The artwork illustrates this by providing a nightmare fuel kitsune thing-that-walks: Humanoid, consisting of thousands of the shapechangers…and boy it is disturbing. Want something more biblical? What about the beast with 7 heads and ten horns, the Woe of the Dead (CR 25)? Yep good luck stopping this harbinger of the end of days… The tome concludes with proper class grafts, template grafts, and a whole arsenal of critter abilities.

    Conclusion:

    Editing and formatting are honestly better on both a formal and rules-language levels than a book of this size crafted by a small team (and I mean size category superfine) has any right to be, particularly considering the density and complexity of the rules-operations and subject-matter featured within. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and features a huge amount of artworks penned by Jacob Blackmon in his signature style. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I don’t yet have the print version, but I’ll get it as soon as possible.

    Alexander Augunas, with additional design by Liane Merciel, Matt Morris, Michael Sayre, Chris S. Sims and Owen K.C. Stephens, has done it. Seriously.

    Let me make that abundantly clear:

    For me, this is the most important Starfinder rules book I currently own. This is a superior achievement regarding not only scope, but also of quality of the content herein, and a love letter to STARfinder.

    You see, it’d have been pretty easy to take PFRPG1ed’s concepts like pact magic, kineticist, size rules, etc. and just jam them on top of Starfinder’s chassis. The systems look so incredibly similar. This may be new to some readers, but probably not to most designers: That doesn’t work. Starfinder operates under wholly different paradigms in many ways, and the way in which its math is constructed is a long shot from PFRPG’s 1st edition.

    This book shows that the author REALLY knows SFRPG…and LOVES the system. All the systems that a lesser designer would have half-heartedly grafted onto the engine? They have been designed with panache aplomb, from the ground up, expanded, tweaked, changed, improved – until this is what we got. This beautiful, wonderful tome that breathes SFRPG from every page.

    The main achievement of this book, however, does not lie in the quality of its new class options and monsters, well-designed though they may be.

    It lies in the fact that this book unlocks a whole plethora of inspiring storylines and scenarios, whole types of adventures and playstyles, that the system previously did not support. With this, you could theoretically play Supernatural in Space, a whole campaign in the body of a dying person, duke it out with the Great Old Ones, unleash apocalypses, play a  full-blown space-horror game , duplicate a ton of my favorite anime scenarios…and so much more.

    Crunch can be good when it lets you do cool new stuff, when it helps you realize that one cool idea you had; crunch is outstanding when it sets your mind ablaze with so many ideas for new characters, plotlines, and campaigns, that stare, starry-eyed (haha) at the pages and can’t wait to use…everything.

    How do I put this best? If I was an isekai stranded in the Xa-Osoro system, and you put a proton-rifle to my head and forced me to choose only one Starfinder book apart from the core rules, only book, and told me that’d be all I’d get forevermore to run Starfinder….i’d choose this one, without a second of hesitation.

    It's not perfect, but it’s damn close, and it is more inspired than several hardcovers I could mention. And in contrast to most tomes of this size, it never lets up. It doesn’t have this one section where it feels like the author ran out of ideas or steam. This is a resplendent masterpiece that is a must-own for every self-respecting Starfinder-GM out there.

    Right now, this is the best Starfinder book in my library. This is the tome to beat.

    5 stars. Seal of Approval. Best of. Hot contender for the Top Ten of 2020 (and a true ray of light in this horrible year). And this is an EZG Essential. I wouldn’t ever want to run a SFRPG-campaign without it.

    Do yourself a favor. If you even remotely are interested in SFRPG, if you are playing/running it…get this. If you’re a player, buy this for your GM. This is a truly outstanding gamechanger.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    Advanced Occult Guide
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    NEUROCITY
    Publisher: Gavriel Quiroga
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 10/30/2020 16:17:34

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    So, this game clocks in at 128 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 2 pages editorial/credits, 10 pages blanks/separators, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of KS-thanks, leaving us with 110 pages of content, which are organized in a two-column standard and rather broad, so there’s a bit more content per page than you’d expect, so let’s take a look!

    This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review due to a direct donation. The review is based on the English version, namely version 2.0. Unfortunately, my Spanish is currently too rudimentary to properly judge the quality of the prose of the Spanish version. The book has a warning that states that it features adult themes and concepts, but that is, to a degree, par for the course. I found it impossible to be offended by anything herein, but if dystopian settings bother you, then this probably won’t be for you. It should be noted that the book calls “characters” “players”, which is a somewhat odd choice, as it makes distinguishing between the two a bit harder than it needed to be. It should also be noted that this game is aimed towards more experienced roleplayers, or at least, benefits from at least one experienced Director.

    Okay, so we’re off to a good start, when the book starts with a quote from good ole’ Klaus Kinski, and then an introductory premise: Essentially, the Intranet was born from the internet, namely from the attack on science, on facts. The current attack on the very notions of truth and facts (which are NOT subjective; there is no such thing as “my” or “your” truth; there is just, THE truth, but that as an aside), and on academia, led to a total dissolution of the borders between fiction and reality, a state of disorganized confusion on a global scale, and in order to reign in the resulting chaos, A.I.s were employed – and the rest is history.

    The eponymous Neurocity is a technological sprawl of a city-complex under a perpetually-glitched sun, overseen by the A.I. dubbed I.S.A.C. (Intelligent Singular Artificial Consciousness), which acts a de facto union of deity and state. I.S.A.C. has established a caste-system of sorts, based on a Social Index (nightmare food concept, as far as I’m concerned…but look to China, and it is rather likely as a development…): We have Deltas, Gammas, Betas and Alphas – though the book mentions 5 castes, not 4. Each caste but the Deltas have a minimum logic, and Deltas (50% of the population) are kept quiet by Soma. Brave New World reference? Check. Gammas are only 30% of the population, Betas are 15%, and Alphas don’t state how many individuals belong to the caste. The citizens are btw. color-coded. Finally, there are the Epsilon anomalies: Heavily persecuted by the system, these enemies of the wisdom of Vitalogy are essentially considered to be terrorists that can look forward to being “fixed” if they are caught. They are sent to Samsara, a gigantic biotech complex, where the Renewal and Rebirth processes happen – these essentially mean vaporization and replacement taken from the DNA database, or cloning. Suffice to say, the populace is sterile, and sexuality is considered to be primitive, and as such, is mostly found in the lover castes; love, on the other hand, is considered to be a dangerous mental illness that needs to be avoided.

    Vitalogy, unsurprisingly, has the basic principles of Obedience, Discipline and Order, and the judicial system knows a grand total of 3 classes of offenses and associated punishments. The pdf then proceeds to introduce us to the ministries of Neurocity (Health and Technology are self-explanatory; the ministry of truth is, of course, the propaganda arm of the system in charge of the media, while the ministry of peace and order would be law enforcement, i.e. hunt for epsilons). The intranet has a clearance of Betas and Alphas; a brief d6-table is provided to determine the state of public terminals, and suffice to say, access sans proper authorization is strictly penalized. In case you were wondering: Cybertech does exist, but is considered to be impractical and basically only Sentinels, a type of enforcer, usually sport implants. Indeed, there is a shortage of resources, and thus a constant recycling of hardware and tech going on, and in fact, is in the process of transitioning from a digital to an analog age: Blackouts, system failures etc. are shockingly common.

    The book clearly states being somewhat post-cyberpunk, with the technological regression explaining the tech-noir aesthetic of the 80s. Language-wise, there are two special dialects: Sygma, the language of the privileged, and Subh, the speech of degenerate Deltas and outcasts. Nice: The pdf does provide a random weather table – while temperatures stay at a constant 21°C/70°F. Why’s that nice? Well, I really enjoy seeing values for both Celsius and Fahrenheit here. Kudos.

    And before you ask: Yes, mobile phones and flying cars are both outlawed. Too much freedom/danger in both.

    The city itself is grouped in different, concentric districts (White, Gray, The Market, Developing Area (aka Limbo), and beyond, the radioactive Halo. All regions come with their own encounter tables, story seeds and the Halo sports a “What’s at the end”-table; minor niggle: The header for the Market reads “Stories Seeds for the Market”[sic!], which renders it the only such header in this section that seems to have been missed by the editing pass.

    Okay, so far, so good regarding the setting. What about the rules? We have 5 Attributes: Logic (determines social index etc.), Personality, Technocracy, Instinct, Violence. Attributes range from 5 to 10 for humans, with 10 being excellent. All Attributes start at 5, and you get 9 points to add to them at character creation.

    The basic conflict resolution mechanic is simple: You roll 2d6, and compare the result to the Attribute corresponding to the action: If you roll equal to, or below the Attribute, you succeed; otherwise, you fail. HOWEVER, snake-eyes (i.e. a double 1) is an insufficient success that requires another roll, and any total result greater than 8 is an outstanding success. In combat, the latter causes an extra wound. HOWEVER, at the Director’s discretion, double 6s are actually a critical failure. This is just my personal aesthetics, but I’m not the biggest fan of making the lower end of the success range a botch, and the upper end of the failure range a success – it seems needlessly confusing to me. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have very low results to be excellent successes, and very high ones particularly bad failures?

    Anyhow, Neurocity has no initiative system – the Director (GM) decides the sequence, with Instinct as a general guideline. The game distinguishes between simple actions (success/failure) and complex actions, which can have more significant outcomes. Whenever a player rolls doubles in a complex action, a complication arises. Checks due to complications cannot generate another complication (Why? Real life does offer plenty of cascading failure examples…), and double 1s in complex actions can either cause a complication, or an insufficient success, the latter requiring another roll using the same Attribute. The game uses modifiers ranging from -3 to +3 to the Attributes. Let’s say, you’re intoxicated (-1), but have the advantage of numbers (+2) – you’d end up with a +1 total, which you’d add to the Attribute you’re checking to determine the actual value to roll under. Conflicts between players are resolved as per the regular system, but if both succeed, the player with the highest success roll will win. Okay, so does this also apply in opposed complex actions where one player has doubles? Not sure.

    The game knows 5 functions (essentially the classes), with enforcers, cardinals (ministry of truth officials) and tech-runners having prerequisites, while monitors (snitches) and vectors not sporting any prerequisites. For every point of Personality above 5, the character gains a contact (friendship is considered to be a dysfunctional state, so this is semi-illegal and rare); each value in technocracy above 5 nets you one possession associated with your function (table provided). Firearms are only legal for enforcers. Using firearms in melee imposes a -1 penalty; aiming requires an Instinct roll, and grants +2 Violence on a success. Distances are noted in meters, and can result in penalties of up to -3, as per regular checks. At lower distances, e.g. shotguns can cause 2 wounds. Armor absorbs wounds before becoming useless.

    An important mechanic would be Tension: Each character has a Tension limit of ½ Logic, rounded down. Weird here: The example highlighting this section contradicts how the conflict resolution works: The base rules clearly state “We will consider any successful result equal to or greater than 8 to be an outstanding success” (pg.48); yet, the example for Tension makes a result of 10, exceeding the character’s technocracy value, a failure. So there’s something odd going on here. Some things might trigger Tension checks, which are rolled with Personality. Anyhow, Tension can be spent for a reroll, and when Tension reaches the limit, we have an immediate neurosis – panic attack, anxiety, depression, fit of rage. Tension is healed by things ranging rom alcohol, humor, sex, sleep, violence, soma or other drugs. You only get to reduce Tension once per day, and only by 1 point. This is important, since some things (like Sex or Humor) require checks, while others (like alcohol or drugs) have detrimental consequences for the Attributes – but work reliably.

    If a double-1 is rolled and a character is at their Tension limit, the Trancing phenomenon happens: The insufficient success becomes an overachievement, but the character will also understand the harsh truth of being caught in an infinitely repeating loop of existence in Neurocity. The Attribute is underlined, and in it, the character develops psychic abilities: You know, all those Matrix stunts like stopping bullets, extrasensory perception, that sort of thing – but having these abilities also makes you an Epsilon. Using a trancer ability adds one point of Tension and must be noted before rolling the dice. Then, he adds Tension to his Attribute before making the roll – so yeah, the higher the Tension, the better the trance – neat. You only get one such psychic feat per scene.

    If Tension would be a kind of mental sanity mechanic, then physical health would perform similarly: Half of violence, rounded down, is the wound limit, and you can gain a maximum of 3 wounds per attack (1 wound would be a slash, 2 a high-caliber firearm, 3 an explosion, high-voltage shock, etc.). A character (here, we suddenly talk of characters) that meets their wound limit is in critical condition; this means -3 to everything, and unless healed by the end of the scene, they die. One step away from this limit imposes a -1 on everything. A wound-location table is provided. Head injuries also impose temporary penalties, and we have falling damage as well. Wounds can be healed by cardinals or physicians with a Logic check, provided they have their Medkit. However, only one point per wound may thus be healed, so the more serious wounds require special attention. Cardinals also issue death certificates, which result in Renewal or Rebirth of the deceased individual. Chilling. Reminded me of Kamelot’s Soul Society: “If my soul could revive from my carnal remains—what does it matter to me? If it all fades to black, if I’m born once again…then no one really is free.” …so yeah, not even death is a release, and in fact, the game does something pretty cool with its rules and setting, providing a read-aloud text and a whole mechanic for “respawning” – the default result of death is “Renewal”, a cloning process where you lose Personality and get Tension, with a table of deviations and the like included; only those declared dysfunctional risk Rebirth – i.e. being cloned as a baby and raised once more. While this, for all intents, is akin to death, it is no escape from the horrid loop.

    The setting also has a built-in reason to work together: I.S.A.C designates so-called White Cells, i.e. teams of individuals that are supposed to work together to solve a certain issue. Some basic advice regarding story seeds and storytelling in Neurocity completes the section generally available.

    The Director section is pretty neat – it features the questions and points that let you determine whether the system considers a character to be functional. The book also offers suggestions for I.S.A.C. types – from the doppelgänger to the entity communicating only in telegrams or movies, to a hateful Allied Mastercomputer (à la “I have no mouth, but I must scream”), these change the tone of the setting according to your needs. The pdf comes with a d20 background table on which the player characters roll, and which has rules-ramifications, but which is oddly in the Director-section. Anyhow, we have 6 different potential truths of what Neurocity actually is, and what is beyond it – the Otherside. These generally are interesting, and no, I’m not going to spoil them in this review. The section closes with a d20-table of minor events, and one of 20 major events for the Director’s use. The pdf also features 6 pregens, and a bank character sheet.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are generally pretty good, particularly considering that this is a) a freshman offering, b) a book made by a non-native speaker of English, and c) credits no editor/developer. That being said, it is still easily the weakest aspect of the book; a consistency check by a nitpicky developer would have really benefited this book. This also extends to the formal level – I noticed a few missing blank spaces, an instance of a missing verb – that sort of thing. We also have a few strange turns of phrases. What the book calls “involution” would usually be described as “devolution” or “regression” in English – you get the idea. You always get what’s supposed to be meant, but it can trip you up for a second. The pdf sports quite a few nice b/w-artworks that employ a collage-style modification of classic Argentinian comics, as far as I’ve understood it, at least. The Soundtrack by Espejo Negro is suitable and neat indeed.

    Gavriel Quiroga’s Neurocity is an interesting setting, but I wouldn’t say the same about the rules, which are easily the weakest part of the game: While rules-inconsistencies are few, they do exist here and there. Considering the simplicity of the game’s rules there should be no errors here.

    The organization and placement of information can also feel somewhat scattered. We, for example, learn about Attributes A LONG time before we get to the point where we get to know about how high they’ll be for the characters/how much they can invest in them. The terms player/character are not used consistently, and the rules could have been broken down on a single page; instead, they’re spread throughout the pdf, which isn’t helpful when teaching a system, particularly considering that rules-lite games tend to appeal to an audience that does not want to deal with a high entry-barrier. On the plus side regarding structure, copious examples for rules-applications are provided to explain the mechanics. As noted above, the possible confusion regarding the central resolution mechanic is a HUGE deal. On a rules-level, I’d probably rate this in the 2.5-star vicinity.

    On the other hand, a great deal of thought seems to have gone into the setting of Neurocity, which I’d consider to be a solid remix of a plethora of classic cyberpunk/dystopia themes. A dash of 1984, some Brave New World, an optional side of Dark City, I have no mouth and I must scream…you get the drift, all set against the backdrop of an increasingly analog dystopia that reminded me of one of my all-time favorite movies, Brazil? Yeah, I do like this. I absolutely love the existential horror the Renewal-mechanic hard-codes into the system, and the setting’s modularity is another plus. On the down-side, I have a bit of a hard time picturing Neurocity and its infrastructure: Food, drink and transportation are aspects that I’d want defined in a more concise manner, and same goes for non-human security measures. Regarding non-human adversaries, having a few more monsters/statted foes would have been nice. Speaking of things that would have been nice: A level-system. There is no real advancement, save for Renewal/new characters, which limits the replay value and ability of the game to sustain prolonged campaigns. As written, this works for one-shots and brief campaigns, but beyond that, I can see its utility waver.

    That being said, particularly in conjunction with the soundtrack, we have an interesting development in the classic themes of cyberpunk/dystopias, in that it focus not on super-human feats, but on the terror of existing in a system that is rigged against you, and the horrific realization of reality beyond it. If I had to describe this in one sentence, I’d call it low-fi (no longer) cyberpunk Paranoia with a dash of Kult sprinkled in. For what it is, I do think that it does a good job as a rules-lite, if not always simple system that ties in rather well with the setting it portrays. For the worldbuilding and setting-aspects, I’d probably place this in the 3.5-to-4-star region.

    That being said, its current iteration does have a glitches that accumulate to the point where it becomes a flawed offering; on the plus-side, the game is available for a paltry $6.00, and I do think that it’s worth getting for that. How to rate this, then? As a whole, I consider this to be a mixed bag, slightly on the positive side of things – but not enough on that scale to warrant rounding up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars. I do hope that version 3.0, somewhere on the horizon, will iron off the rough spots, and look forward to revisiting Neurocity in the future.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [3 of 5 Stars!]
    NEUROCITY
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    13 Barbarian Talents and Feat (13th Age Compatible)
    Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 10/27/2020 07:59:50

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This installment of the little class expansions released by Jon Brazer Enterprises clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, including quite a few big full-color artworks, so let’s take a look!

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

    Okay, we begin with expanded talents, which present new and alternate feat-options for existing talents. Barbaric Cleave gets a new adventurer feat, which lets you add escalation die to the AC after making an extra attack with barbaric Cleave, providing a defense alternative to the default offense. As a champion feat, we have escalation die damage to all mooks currently engaged with you when Barbaric Cleave is triggered, emphasizing the mook-sweeper capabilities of the talent.

    Building frenzy gets a new alternate epic feat that adds escalation die to melee damage while frenzying. More damage instead of an additional use. Slayer gets a new adventurer and epic feat. The former nets a free action basic melee attack against the target when critically hitting a staggered enemy. The epic feat has a potent debuff: When your slayer attack drops a non-mook enemy, you lower your choice of AC or even PD or MD of all nearby enemies by escalation die. That is pretty potent compared to the default epic feat.

    Strongheart’s adventurer feat lets you gain maximum recovery die in hp (12 since the talent upgrades that) when you rally while engaged with one or more non-mooks. Epic makes rallying more than once per battle only an easy save. The new epic feat for Unstoppable increases the recovery roll by triple escalation die. More powerful recovery vs. multiple sues – makes sense. Whirlwind gets a new adventurer feat: When you sue Whirlwind on a turn that escalation die is equal or less than your level, your crit range is expanded by 1. This ends when the escalation die reaches 6. Compared with normal miss damage, this is powerful, but fits the whole mook-sweeping theme going on here.

    We have three new adventurer tier talents, all with feats for all 3 tiers. Brutal Blow nets a nearby ally your Charisma modifier to attack rolls when you stagger a non-mook; the adventurer feat lets you get an aura of fear, with the threshold equal to a monster of your level plus Charisma modifier; the champion feat increases this threshold further by escalation die and doubles the buff for the ally; the epic feat delimits the aura, making it apply every time, and also doubles Charisma modifier added to the threshold.

    Naked Brutality nets you a bonus to AC equal to escalation die when unarmored (shields are okay), and the adventurer feat lets you add Constitution modifier to PD once per battle per day. This is upgraded to two battles per day at champion tier, and to always at epic tier. Swap Quarry lets you once per day as a quick action pop free, move, and engage with another nearby enemy. The Adventurer feat expands your crit range when using this by the number of allies currently engaged with the enemy. Champion tier renders the enemy you pop free from vulnerable to all allies’ attacks until the start of your next turn, and the epic feat lets you use it twice per battle. I have this evil idea of twin barbarians with this feat…

    We get two new champion tier talents: Bellowing Charge lets you on one battle per day move to engage a far away foe and make a melee attack. You still may be intercepted. The champion feat adds escalation die to AC and PD until the start of your next turn when using the talent. The epic feat increases uses to once per battle, with enemies needing to succeed a normal save to intercept you.

    Revel in Pain nets you once per day in a battle while raging +1 to AC, up to a maximum of escalation die, capping at 6) when an enemy damages you. The champion feat increases daily uses to 2, and the epic feat increases the maximum bonus to your level.

    We also have two epic talents: Fearsome Demeanor lets you once per day in a battle make all nearby normal monsters and mooks suffer a penalty to their attack rolls and MD equal to the escalation die. If the enemy would instead gain an escalation die based bonus, they lose that instead. The epic feat increases this to two uses and expands the critters affected to Large and double-strength monsters.

    Legendary Rage lets you once per battle expend a banked icon relationship roll of 6 as part of a quick action to start raging. If you do, you roll 3d20 on barbarian melee and thrown weapon attacks, and if two of these rolls are natural 11+s, you score a critical hit. Once you score a critical hit, the benefits end. With the epic feat, the benefits last until you have scored two crits.

    Conclusion:

    Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level – the verbiage is very precise, can’t be misconstrued, etc. Layout adheres toa  nice two-column full-color standard, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked in spite of its brevity. The artworks herein range from great to okay, but for such an inexpensive pdf, impressed me.

    Richard Moore’s options for the barbarian make sense in a lot of ways: They emphasize the brutal, fearsome mook-sweeper, the savagery of the class, and all pieces of design herein capture the theme coded into the barbarian class. The respective mechanics check out balance-wise, with only Slayer’s epic feat feeling, on paper, a bit strong; however, due to the circumstantial triggering conditions of Slayer, the benefits actually do check out. As an aside: Build a team of twin barbarians with the feats and talents in this book. It’s a genuinely cool character concept I’ll propose to my players. Anyhow, rating: This delivers some quality crunch with NASTY combo-potential, with all assaults feeling genuinely barbarian-y. What more could you ask for, particularly considering the super-fair price-point of a measly two bucks. 5 stars + seal of approval.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    13 Barbarian Talents and Feat (13th Age Compatible)
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    The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions
    Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 10/27/2020 06:59:26

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This supplement clocks in at 155 pages, already minus editorial, covers, etc. My review is based on the print hardcover, and I do not own the pdf-version, so I can’t comment on its electronic features. It should be noted that there is a lot of blank spaces, some blank pages, and many pages that are half-empty. I counted 19 pages that are either blank or represent the same sigil, not counting the numerous half-pages. There also are a ton of pages that only have two very thin lists of one-word-lines. This book has less content than it looks like from the page-count.

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

    First of all, let us talk mechanics: Even though this supplement is released by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I am somewhat loathe to call it “compatible” with the rules, or indeed the aesthetics assumed by many OSR games; for the most part, the reasons for this stem from subtle components, but the 2 pages of house rules in the back do a rather good job at illustrating this, so that’s where we’ll start.

    The rules presented are for “Perception Tests”, and propose the following, among other things:

    “When you size up a situation, roll 2d6 and add your Wisdom modifier. On a 10+, ask me three questions. On a 7-9, ask two. On a 3-6, ask one. If you have a positive Wisdom modifier, you get one free answer.”

    The questions presented are:

    “Who’s in control here?”

    “What’s my best approach?”

    “What’s my best exit?”

    “How could I assert my own dominance?”

    “How could I disarm the situation?”

    “If the situation proceeds unaltered, what will happen?”

    …I really dislike this. It’s metagamey and doesn’t fit my aesthetics. And yes, I’m aware that there are plenty of games solely based on such mechanics, but these aren’t games I enjoy playing. In fact, even for storygames, that sort of precognition-like insight and knowledge seems utterly in contrast to what I consider fun in them, so…yeah. Weird. A better illustration of the contention of non-compatibility would be another of those tests, one available exclusively for magic-users. I quote directly from the book:

    “When you unveil your inner vision and feel yourself outward from yourself…” – then we have the rules text (same mechanics as before, save that it uses Intelligence modifier). The questions posed here are:

    “Which of these auras or plasms represent a threat to us here?”

    “When I put forward a subtle provocation, how do these auras or plasms react?”

    “When I subject them to stern rigor, are any of these auras or plasms misrepresenting themselves?”

    “When I set aside my initial impressions and carefully reassess, are there any auras or plasms present that are more subtle, more faint, or hidden from me?”

    “When I dissect these plasms or auras for the fingerprints of their creators’ psyches. Whose are they?”

    “Which of these plasms or auras are truly beyond my personal comprehension?”

    …WTF. This is the sloppiest, most wishy-wishy piece of anti-rules-language I have ever read. First: How does a magic-user “unveil their inner vision and feel outward”? What is “stern rigor” supposed to be in this context? Why do “initial impressions” matter? This book operates under some assumption of unspoken, undefined premises, but they are not the premises shared by the LotFP-game, or most OSR-games, for that matter.

    But those rules are not exactly required to use this, so let’s ignore them for now.

    Let us dial back the clock a bit and let me give you an impression of when I first opened this book after drawing it from my colossal to-read pile. This book is billed as a generator/toolkit for devising seclusiae, which are a cool concept: A wizard’s (that’s the term the book consistently uses, no an error on my part! This book takes a hint from Vance and assumes the term “wizard” to be more encompassing and applying primarily to apex-power entities) seclusium is essentially their tower/home-base or dungeon, and they undergo phases, during one of which, when the master isn’t home or indisposed, they can be assailed. This book is entirely about that phase of a seclusium and starts off in a manner that had me intrigued. The prose of the introduction mimics a treatise in some aspects, and establishes this as more than just a lair, as almost a kind of nigh-impregnable demiplane-ish sanctuary. Okay, cool, looks like we’ll get heist-tools! Are the other phases of the seclusium defined? No. Okay, so what are those plasms? They are undefined magical processes akin to photosynthesis. Creatures that feed on those are called plasmids, while powerful entities are called “plasmic entities”; beyond that, the book rewrites how magic’s supposed to work in the lore of your game: Turns out that you can only cast spells due to having a so-called “plasmic psyche”, and preparing a spell is inviting a plasmid into your brain as a sort of guest.

    …this may be me, but it really bothers me when a supplement makes grand, sweeping claims of how something that is bound to have existed previously, like, well, magic, suddenly gets a new background and how it’s supposed to work, particularly if the like comes without precise explanations in the details.  Spells have an aura that doesn’t need to match the effect, got it. Are these consistent between spells? Contingent on the caster? Do magic items have auras that can be seen? If so, are their auras consistent? How do you see them? Does it require a spell? Are you born with it? Range? Consequences? Can this pierce illusions? No clue. Why does this spend so many words to talk about something that is actually properly codified in consistent rules-language in such esoteric and little-known spells as…I don’t know…detect frickin’ magic? I wouldn’t object to the lore-insertion here to this degree, but it makes the whole premise and system more wishy-washy and ill-defined, muddies the waters.

    Okay, but all of that’s pretty irrelevant if the generator for the actual seclusiae is cool. And frankly, the idea behind the eponymous Orphone’s sanctuary is cool: The lady has started exploring plasmic realms (yep this also bleeds into cosmology…) and found a realm called Paume, which she planned on exploring in essentially a kind of suspended-animation tank. She did not expect that she’d be essentially locked in a perpetual orgasm by Paume, and now is stuck, and probably won’t be too happy, even if saved. The thing on the cover is her plasmic entity guardian Anguilla. Okay, cool premise! I am stoked!

    …this excitement did not survive contact with the actual section of the book. Instead of providing an actual environment, this book acts as a weirdly specific, yet puzzlingly rudimentary generator that is almost bereft of mechanics. Let’s take a look at the guardian’s entry:

    “Anguilla is a plasmic creature of a central node and extending tendrils. The node resides within the walls of Orphone’s ceremonial chamber, and if somehow exposed, appears as (choose 1)”

    An echoing turbulence. A screeching pulse. A prismatic melancholy.

    “it can extend its tendrils into the reality of the chamber, however, and they have a much more concrete form, serpentine in shape (as its name suggests), eyeless, and (circle all that apply):

    Translucent. Swirling. Prismatic.

    With:

    Toothy maws. Mandibles Mouthless.

    With:

    1.Hooks and barbs.

    Feelers. Sticky skin. Bone carapaces.”

    Yep, this book pretty much works like one of those mood-diaries, where you briefly circle preselected stuff as a reductive shorthand for your emotional and mental state. To save time when not enough time is available for proper introspection, this may be a good call, and as a consequence, when time is short, and you need to prep the game? Having a well-written environment with some stuff to select from premade, easy to customize to your whims? Good idea!

    It’d make preparation quick and easy, right? Well, in theory. Thing is that this book is not interested in doing ANY of the hard work for you. And I mean NONE of it. To illustrate and stick with the example, Anguilla gets the following “mechanics”:

    “Mechanically, create Anguilla in two layers. Anguilla’s central node has hit dice, and each of its hit points appears as an individual tendril. Then, each of its tendrils has its own hit dice as well. When a tendril loses all of its hit points and is killed, the node loses 1 hit point that the tendril represented. Anguilla can extend at most 7 tendrils at a time. Write up Anguilla as you would any monster.”

    …No.

    You do that.

    You designate damage, HD, special abilities. You do the job of an author and game-designer.

    Apart from being just another lame tentacle-monster with a body-node, this is symptomatic for the book. It has a format that would at least somewhat validate its presentation as a timesaver, and then omits the stuff that would render it actually, you know, useful.

    Did you expect pregenerated spell-lists? Tough luck, none here. A magic item generator? Nope. A hazard generator Nope. Stats for anything? Nope. So, in spite of looking like a quick-to-use “choose x-type” of workbook, this requires a ton of work, even for its most fleshed out seclusium.

    Oh, I haven’t mentioned that, have I? Well, there are three seclusiae herein, and Orphone’s is the most fleshed-out; the other two are concept-wise blander and more generic, and progressively less fleshed out. The final section of the book then presents the general seclusium generator, and the “maps” – these are essentially a few obscure blotches that look a bit like the map of a country, and on it, you’re supposed to draw the seclusium. One has a very rudimentary pattern in the middle. No, we do not get geomorphs or handy tools. Draw, peasants!

    At this point, I think it’s clearly established that the book is not user-friendly. But is its dressing good? There’s value in that, after all. Let me give you a few examples. For the magical elements of Orphone’s seclusium, we have:

    An usual tree. “For its aura, choose 1:

    It grasps and draws at your plasmic self, like a beggar for food. Its aura is silent and imperceptible, but conveys an undeniable sense of the predator watching the prey.

    For its desire and impulse, we choose 1:

    It would dissolve “right” and “wrong”, allowing utmost liberty… It would bring death…

    …by inserting wheedling, provocative words directly and unsubtly into someone’s thoughts.

    When people come near it, have all make a Magic save [sic! – that’s saving throw versus magic]. Failure means that the voice can speak in their thoughts. The source of the voice, the tree, isn’t obvious and it will likely mislead anyone who intends it harm. As with many creatures who despise their own existence, it will nevertheless act to prolong it.”

    …so, telepathically talking tree. No other effects. Got it.

    If you think I’m being unfair, choosing a bad example or focusing too much on one seclusium, let’s take a look at a servant of one of the wizards, Bostu the necromancer.

    His servant Abmo Om “[…] is a man and is/has (choose 1 distinctive feature):

    Unusually tall. Waist-length hair. Kindly eyes. A delicate face.”

    OH BOY! Can you see how AWESOME this is? I mean, that’s pure poetry! Genius! Kindly eyes? Man, I’d have never thought of that! Unusually tall? WOW! And the final entry put everything into perspective! A delicate face! I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. The genius. The audacity. The imaginative potential! So magical! This is the be-all, end-all of RPG-writing, an epochal work…

    krzkrzkrz Reviewbot-9000 has experienced sarcasm-overload. krzkrzkrz Rebooting. blipblipblip

    ding

    Where was I? Oh yeah, I was extolling the virtues of this splendorous tome.

    The guidance provided for the referee is on a similar level. The book, for example, gives us the super-handy primers for when the player characters arrive:

    “Who will meet them (if anyone)?”

    “What magical auras will impose themselves upon Magic-User’s [sic!] attention?”

    “What dangers and threats will fighters notice?”

    “What atmosphere or mood will clerics become aware of?”

    Who needs magical effects, traps, items, monsters, maps, NPCs, spells or anything like that when we have prose this compelling, guidance this brilliant and helpful, to aid us? A veil has been lifted off my eyes. I was blind, and now I can see! Hahahahaha. All RPG books in my library did dressing the wrong way! Formatting conventions are mere impositions of authority. Editing is for the unenlightened. Precise language is a crutch! The glory of the blank page! This book is the holy grail of…

    krzkrzkrz Critical overheating in sarcasm-processor detected. Review abort. Review abort. krzkrzkrz

    Conclusion:

    Editing and formatting are decent on a formal level; there are plenty of deviations from LotFP’s standard, and indeed, those of all comparable OSR-games I know of.  The rules-language is atrocious where present, making you almost glad of its imminent scarcity. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with sparse, solid b/w-artworks, and PLENTY of filler. Wide margins, a ton of filler pages, some blank for no reason. The hardcover feels weird. It’s lighter than all other LotFP hardcovers, even those of smaller books, and the paper has a slightly brownish tint. The book feels almost like a non-premium-PoD; I’d say that lulu’s PoD-quality is higher than that of this book, which is utterly baffling to me, considering that LotFP usually has really high-quality print books.

    D. Vincent Baker’s tome on seclusiae is the most bloated, vapid, useless book I’ve read in ages. It fails in all ways I could review it:

    As a setting supplement, it doesn’t offer interesting dynamics.

    As a workbook, it is inconvenient and lacks all the components that would make using it for quick game-preparation work.

    As a book of lore you read for the fun of it, it is too obtuse and incomplete to provide even a halfway decent reading experience.

    As a dressing book, its entries oscillate between pure boredom and being utterly bereft of any sort of substance.

    Indeed, that’s how I’d describe this book: I’d call it vacuous, were this effect not obviously intended. It’s a void of content, concealed by words. This book’s dressing, when it’s not jamming some terminology and assumptions into your game without explaining or defining them properly, is a great book for people who say “my truth” and argue that their subjective opinion should be taken as objective fact. It’s all about wishy-washy emotions, about how things feel, as opposed to how they are in the game world. From a design-perspective, it’s a bit like having the thief detect successfully a trap at a chest’s lock, but still trigger it, because the trap wasn’t there. Or to suddenly recognize that you’re walking straight into a blade. Its wishy-washy imprecision dissolves the consensus of language that is required to actually share a meaningful narrative.

    The language herein is like one has taken a huge piece of old lard and smeared it on the language that is the camera lens into the worlds we play in, obscuring everything and turning all into this mushy, indistinct and hazy blob.

    And yes, I am one of the people who enjoy surreal and dream-like prose; I love Machen, and I enjoy Vance, to whom this book is dedicated. I like flowery prose and I’m one of the weirdos who actually buys books of poetry. But this isn’t dreamlike – it’s all about the feels, which’d be fine, if the book had any proper substance to back it up.

    But it has none.

    Neither on a rules-level, nor regarding the actual functionality of the seclusiae, nor regarding their lore.

    And if you think that the basic idea of the seclusiae is great, and that the author usually does much better? Well, I concur. But one solid idea does not make a book, and in fact, all value I could derive from this book would fit on half a page of paper. This book is incredibly bloated, repetitive, and yes, infuriatingly obtuse without earning it in any way. There is no substance behind its bloated language deprived of concrete meaning.

    Do yourself a favor, and instead buy the superior and actually useful Raging Swan Press’ dressing books.

    Or any other LotFP-book. Of all of their books I’ve covered so far, this is the only one I’d consider to be absolutely useless. How this could happen to the publisher, and to the author? I genuinely can’t fathom.

    Final verdict? 1 star.

    As an aside: I am aware of the irony of a sarcastic review being subjective to a degree; if you do own this book and consider it to be a valuable addition to your library, please do tell me why. I’d genuinely be interested how anyone can consider this book worthwhile owning, and what they see in it. Because I tried hard to see the positive in it, only to have it fail by any of the myriad measures I tried applying to it. This invitation also obviously extends to the person who requested this – if it was a troll, it was masterfully done. ;)

    Edit: Yes, this was submitted to troll me. Well played! :)

    Endzeitgeist out.



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    The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions
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