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    Quests of Doom 4: Nightstone Keep (PF)
    Publisher: Frog God Games
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 08/20/2020 05:56:35

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This module clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

    This review was requested by my patreon supporters, who asked for slow, but steady coverage of the entire series.

    Okay, while nominally set in the Lost Lands campaign setting, Nightstone Keep can easily be put into just about any campaign setting without much hassle. We have a location-based adventure wherein the PCs explore the eponymous dilapidated keep as the baseline premise. The adventure does not sport read-aloud text, but does feature one thing I very much enjoyed: The b/w-maps presented herein are actually player-friendly – no annoying numbers etc. are featured, and there are no spoilers on the maps, just general designations. Kudos.

     The module is intended for a party of about 6 characters of 5th to 8th level, at least nominally. What does that mean? Well, this is a Quest of Doom module, and as such, I expected top-tier difficulty; however, a more salient way of looking at this would be to consider this a horror adventure; at the very least, a dark fantasy yarn. If you approach this with the mindset that you can just “win” it by doing everything right, you’re facing a TPK. The module, alas, isn’t particularly good at telling the GM how to handle the challenges presented, and one CAN argue that this is just as broken as “Awakenings” in some ways; however, I maintain that, unlike said adventure, “Nightstone Keep” can potentially work, or at least, is closer to actually working as a top-tier difficulty module. This can be bested. Kind of.

    In order to explain the potential issues this has, and means to offset them, and whether you want to check this out, though, we need to go into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

    ..

    .

    All right, only GMs around? Great! So, Nightstone Keep was abandoned some time ago, and apart from the initial encounter that pits the party against so-called carrion graw (crow-like monsters), the focus of the module otherwise is a single creature of sorts. Of sorts? Yeah, remember the awesome Monstrous Arcana-series from the second edition days of yore? If I had to liken this to any other module, this series, and Matthew J. Finch’s fantastic “The DemonSpore” would be my frames of reference.

    You see, a strange, brown, fuzzy growth spread through the keep – and it*’s the herald of the true horror that the heroes will need to best, the Aurunglyd. Like the DemonSpore, we have a fungal infestation here, but one without the whole divine angle – instead, this one seems to simply spawn servitor creatures with different roles , like tendrilled maws, the slow, but hardy glaur guardians, or the nimble, aerial speartongues. In a way, the plant monsters in this module provide a strange and somewhat frightening ecology that is interesting and well-executed.

    To a point. You see, having e.g. the Huge glaur guardians only sport a speed of 10 ft.? That’s smart, and clever parties can exploit this to hell and back – in a good “fight smart” sort of way; the massive tunnels and general size of the environments also means that the module can play very much like an awesome survival horror scenario. You see, the aurunglyd has an Intelligence of only 11 – it’s not dumb, but it’s also not super smart, so that’s a good thing; it lets the GM play it accordingly, and fall to smart tactics. In theory.

    There are two issues with this critter. It’s a CR 17 monster on its own, with 6 attacks, all sporting grab, and the engulf DC is 27. Ouch. Still, can be handled. It’s two details that make this critter cease functioning: 1) The monster has regeneration 10; RAW, this regeneration has no negation clause. I kid you not.

    From context, I assume that fire and lightning were supposed to negate it, but the statblock fails to specify that. 2) This thing has 210 hp, regeneration 10. Oh, and it has an artifact that makes it ALSO regenerate 1d4+3 hp per round. The gem of vitality is an artifact that the PCs might well end up with – it’s a massive gem that heals you for 1d4+3 hp PER ROUND. INFINITE HEALING! Yay! -.- Granted, it is relatively fragile for an artifact (hardness 15 + 200 hp, also regenerates 2 hp per round – good luck trying to destroy it…), but yeah – this artifact’s healing CANNOT be negated.

    It gets worse. It doesn’t even have a slot, and weighs 60 lbs. and imposes a whopping -1 penalty to atk and Dexterity-based skills (which makes no sense for the aurunglyd, but isn’t represented in the statblock anyways…) – for INFINITE HEALING. Oh, the weight? That’s seriously NOT a significant drawback. I mean, come on, even in old-school games, any fighter at this level worth their salt can juggle stuff like that.

    It gets WORSE. The area the aurunglyd is fought in? It has really nice environmental hazards etc. – which is cool. However, it also has an upwelling pool that grants the aurunglyd fire resistance 10.

    Let’s take stock, shall we? Melee pretty much means DOOM and death if attempted; Good luck with your 5th to 8th level fighter/melee dude trying to not get squished and absorbed by the thing, even prior to it spawning servitors.

    One of the two improperly functioning means to deal persistent damage to the critter still has fire resistance 10 to overcome. The other is rarer. Beyond this, we STILL have 5 to 7 hit points regenerated per round. Oh, and the thing has AC 26. It’s not even easy to hit.

    “But endy”, you say, “this is an old-school module! Combat is a problem-solving exercise!” Yes, you’d be correct. However, the module gives the party the finger for going the burn-it-all-route – it doesn’t work due to the body of water and artifact, even if the GM increases the pitiful damage that natural fires tend to inflict in PFRPG.

    Not even a thoroughly optimized party has a good way to deal with the artifact. Worse, the artifact and the part of the thing that holds it? Submerged in the pool. Can you see any party, even the best-optimized murder-hobo 25-pt.-buy party get in the pool and beat this? No? Well, there’s a reason for that. You can run this module with MYTHIC characters and TPK them. I kid you not.

    Then again, stronger characters will trivialize all but the final encounter.

    Know what this boss fight is? It’s the most brutal DPR (damage per round)-test I’ve seen for the system, and one that is woefully lacking in actual calibration. All the pieces are in place, and yet, the module screws it up.

    Conclusion:

    Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the module is utterly wrecked in a couple of key aspects, which render it unbeatable for the level-range if run RAW. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, with nice b/w-artwork. The b/w-cartography deserves special mention, as the presence of player-friendly maps is a big plus. The pdf comes fully bookmarked.

    Urgh, this review was even more frustrating for me to write than the one for “Awakenings”, because “Nightstone Keep” (EDIT: This used to read "Nightfall Keep"; that's what I get for listening to Blind Guardian while writing the review...) is even closer to actually, you know, working. Ed Greenwood manages to evoke a sense of slowly creeping dread and dilapidation; I love creature ecologies like this, and I wanted to love this module; I got ready to sing its praises, and was happy – and then, the  final boss fight degrades this module from a Quest of Doom to a doomed quest.

    For comparison: Even super-deadly LotFP-modules tend to be fairer: Burning all in “Death Love Doom”? Totally valid. Ridiculous attention to detail in “The Grinding Gear”? Pays off. Here, though, the party can’t win with either optimization or clever play – only by beating the DPR-challenge posed, with RANGED options, mind you. The module explicitly discourages smart play and non-combat strategies, which runs contrary to the spirit of old-school modules.

    Now, if your party invested their resources primarily in electricity damage, they might triumph. Might - provided they realize how the fight works from the get-go. Because otherwise, the frontline fighters will die, leaving the squishy casters to their doom. I wasn’t joking when I said that this module can kill off MYTHIC characters.

    I’m not sure if Anthony Pryor just botched the conversion, or if the other iterations of the module are as broken as this one, as I don’t own them. It’s evident that this wasn’t playtested, at all, and that nobody checked the math for the level-range.

    How to rate this, then? Well, it’s a great, creepy, escalating dark fantasy/horror module – up until the utterly RIDICULOUS final boss DPR-test. It can be fixed and made into a 5 star-experience with relative ease – ignore the frickin’ broken artifact (which should NEVER fall into player hands anyways) and eliminate or slow the regeneration the boss has. Ideally while also tinkering with the ridiculously over-CR’d final boss, rebuilding the statblock for a tough, but manageable CR in the vicinity of 10, with a focus on high Constitution and staying power.

    …but I can’t rate that. I have to rate what’s here. And what’s here is a great case for how small errors and a lack of checking of a game’s math can utterly destroy what would have been a great yarn. It can be salvaged, though. And I am genuinely too lenient here. But I can’t bring myself to rate this as low as it frankly deserves. After all, it can be fixed with relative ease…which is the only reason I can justify giving this module 3 stars; mechanically, it’s a 1-star failure, but if you’re willing to fix the finale, you can have serious fun with this.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [3 of 5 Stars!]
    Quests of Doom 4: Nightstone Keep (PF)
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    Cult of the Green Orb
    Publisher: Verisimilitude Society Press
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 08/19/2020 06:50:38

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This module clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

    Okay, so this module is intended for 5-7 characters level 4-7, though it should be noted that the module probably works better at the higher level ranges. A plus: The module actually has notes for suggested characters and their levels if created for this module. As for rules, this employs Swords & Wizardry (S&W); it features a very small map of the starting settlement (a large version would have been nice), and a hex-map of the surrounding area and a hand-drawn side-view of the complex – I liked that. The map is also hand-drawn, and this time around, the assigned numbers to the rooms make sense regarding their position on the map. The map comes with a grid, but doesn’t specify grid-size – I assume 10 x 10 feet, but having that noted on the map would have been nice. Speaking of which: It’d have been really neat if we got an actual player-friendly version of the map.

    He module begins with a quote of the Heavy Metal movie, but if you expect some outré component, as in the previous modules by the author, you won’t find it here. This is very much a classic fantasy module. The adventure comes with a massive exposition dump-style read-aloud text. Pretty cool: We get handy dialogue snippets as readaloud text for the starting settlement/research there. The dungeon rooms and the like do not have readaloud text, though. Somewhat annoying: the module does not implement the rules-relevant formatting aspects of S&W in a concise manner. Indeed, this module requires whipping out your trusty markers to reliably run it at the table; it’s not particularly convenient, though monster stats are set apart by their stats using a different font.

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

    … .. .

    All right, only referees around? Great! So, this story is about the eponymous green orb, by name the Loknaar, which had two mighty known wielders explained in the exposition text – a dwarf, and it may also have been wielded by the priest-turned-sorcerer Dretchelich. (Also written as “Dredtchelich” sometimes…) I did not make up the latter name, by the way. Essentially, the PCs are to travel to Azul Rik and determine if the ominous green glow is due to the dreaded Loknaar. The little settlement of Piktown offers a surprising amount of depth for parties that actually bother doing their legwork, which is a plus.

    However, the module does suffer from a couple of design decisions: Number one of these would be Kritus, a suspicious old NPC who wants to accompany the party, who can open the gates to the dwarven Azul Rik. The local populace, while offering inconsistent information, does provide warnings here – and indeed, taking the guy with them is a bad call: The module provides a whole array of sabotages that are about as subtle as Gollum whistling “I’m singing in the Rain” or “Row, row, row your boat…” while holding an ill-conceived knife. Essentially, this module assumes that the players take the fellow along, and works best if hey do, but that’s a TALL order. This, already, is a pretty big detriment to the integrity of the adventure, at least as far as I’m concerned.

    It also puts this module in a sphere of direct comparison with Frog God Games’ “Cave of Iron” – which had serious issues.

    Unfortunately, the same holds true here: Now, I’ll gladly state that the module does manage to evoke, at times, the sense of a dwarven hold – with massive 10K gold doors (no weight given), we have some cool, unconventional treasure ideas. (Just, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t use gold = XP with this module…) This culminates in massive doors of PLATINUM. Heavy PLATINUM doors. If the party doesn’t try to get these out of the complex, they are literally doing it WRONG. Oh, but guess what? The platinum doors do not sport notes on how much they’re actually worth. The module sports pretty significant wealth, though magic item design tends to be rather boring and lacks all formatting: One of the best treasures herein is a “returning axe (+2, 60ft range no penalty, add str bonuses)”[sic!] to give you an idea.

    The book also features some seriously sucky mechanical components, worst of all being the TPK pit trap: Touching one particular gem will make the floor collapse into a 500-ft. deep pit, with everything falling down. Thieves and PCs with Dexterity 15+ have an 80% chance of grasping wires to avoid the fall. All other PCs have a 50% chance, and 50% chance to grasp another character. Usually, we’d see a saving throw here. Not a percentile chance. The text also specifically notes that only thieves can find it, when a dwarf should get the customary chance – that’s pretty much a textbook example of where the benefit should apply….and even if you don’t mind the weird execution of the mechanics here, we still have a save or suck, just minus the save. Which strikes me odd indeed.

    Anyhow, the complex can’t really field the claim that it makes internal sense or adheres to a kind of realism, but I don’t expect that – I can have fun with a good funhouse dungeon that makes no sense. The thing is that none of the challenges per se that the module offers are actually…well…interesting. This sounds jaded, but it’s all so paint-by-the-numbers. Dre(d)tchelich is trapped in the Loknaar, some lizardmen found it, and now they want to enslave a green dragon (aren’t these usually hanging in forests? Granted S&W Complete doesn’t state as such, but it’s kinda the convention…). The Loknaar is the true villain. There are a few lizardmen rebels (5!), and everything feels so…petty. Paltry. The only good scene herein was a troll head in a chest, sprouting tiny legs to run away and regenerate. Why didn’t it regenerate and burst the chest before? No clue. There are demons and undead and some aberrations left – all very standard, remains of Der(d)tchelich’s experiments, I guess. No, there is no clear baseline of power.

    Not that there’s much to do beyond combat here. And sure, if your players are so dumb/naïve that they trust Kritus, there’s a bit of challenge here, and that may theoretically be interesting.

    But what party’ll do that? Heck, “Cave of Iron” had issues re map missing etc. – but guess what? It did a better job managing to get the party to take a mushroom person along for the ride than this module does to take the obviously insane, dangerous hermit along, who may well be a legendary evil in disguise. I mean. Seriously.

    For newbies, this is too hard, unforgiving and dickish; for veterans, this is too boring. The previous modules by the author had serious issues in some regards; but each at least had this glimmer of potential, of something interesting – of a world that I’d like to know more about! Not so here.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are neither on a formal, nor rules-language level, up to par. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard, with tiny hand-drawn b/w-artworks-. The hand-drawn b/w-cartography is somewhat charming, but the lack of player-friendly versions is one big strike; the second strike would be that the village map is teeny-tiny – we’d have needed a one-page version here. The module comes with bookmarks, at least.

    Extildepo’s third module is by FAR their weakest; while the previous ones had weaknesses, they also used to have one or two nice ideas, hinting at unique visions and potential that never really made it into the modules themselves. This can’t be claimed to be true here. This module, to me, was aggravating; it felt phoned-in, and I literally have improvised superior, more concise, and unique scenarios on the fly, without prep-work, while hungover and suffering from a splitting migraine. I scoured these pages, time and again, trying to find redeeming graces – and came up blank.

    The dialogues are decent; the head got a chuckle out of me; that’s it. That’s all the positivity I can muster here. Know how “Cave of Iron” got a sound beating from yours truly for its shortcomings? Well, at least it wasn’t boring. I can’t recommend this to anyone. It’s not even funny-bad. My final verdict can’t exceed 1.5 stars…and since I rounded up for Cave of iron, I am left with but one recourse. Rounded down.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [1 of 5 Stars!]
    Cult of the Green Orb
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    Legendary Planet Adventure Path (Pathfinder)
    Publisher: Legendary Games
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 08/17/2020 05:46:33

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    Okay, so this review will diverge from my usual format, as I’ve already covered the entirety of the AP. As befitting of a review of the campaign as a whole, I’ll focus on the overarching entity, the AP as a whole, if you will. I’ll also provide some brief commentary on the individual modules in relation to the campaign.

    It should be noted that I’ve been a backer of this campaign, and that I backed for PF1e – not because I liked 5e or SFRPG less, but because the pitch of the sword and planet AP using mythic rules really tickled my fancy. As such, the following is based on the PF1e-version of the AP.

    If you take a look at my ratings of the AP-installments, you’ll notice that I LIKE this series. Very much. That being said, this doesn’t mean that the AP doesn’t have some issues, so what follows should be taken in context – the AP does many things that Paizo APs suffer from as well, and the dissection of some components to follow stem from a position of someone enjoying the campaign’s individual installments. Still, I can very much picture that some people would have issues with some aspects of the series. This review should be understood as me vocalizing my issues with the entirety of the AP as a cohesive whole.

    As such, the following will contain SERIOUS SPOILERS for the entirety of the AP. I won’t go into details per se (that’s what the individual reviews are for), but you get the gist. If you want to play in this AP, please stop reading NOW.

    … .. .

    All right, only GMs around? Great!

    So, the first thing you need to know about the AP, is that, while there are two ways to start this, only one of them is actually viable on a narrative level.

    One of these was the notion of beginning with “To Worlds Unknown”, with the module starting essentially in medias res. This is per se a solid IDEA, but that’s all it is, as the AP’s main motivation for the VAST majority of the AP is easily the weakest aspects of it – the primary assumed motivation for the PCs is that they “do the E.T.”: They want to go home. I’m so not kidding. If I’d be in the PC’s shoes, I’d be happy. They are thrust into this wondrous, fantastic series of planets, and still, they are assumed to want home as a driving force – only that, at one point towards the end of the campaign, they suddenly are supposed to want to end the threat of the evil civilization to save, bingo, their home. Even if, by manner of outgame party consensus you can get your party to go that route, this very tenuous thread of connective tissue makes no sense when starting with “To Worlds Unknown.” This weak core motivation also invalidates pretty much all the options in the Player’s Guide, which you btw. also should not hand out to the players if you choose the introduction that actually does work:

    “The Assimilation Strain” was billed as an optional prologue, when it’s anything but “optional” – it’s mandatory. It establishes the PCs in their own world, ideally with the players thinking that we’re going for a regular fantasy campaign. Then, the Ultari Hegemony and their allied races happen to the world – though that is not evident at first. The Assimilation Strain transitions from cookie-cutter fantasy opening to horror via a bait and switch, and then switches things up once more, as the PCs find the Sword & Planet source and enter the genre properly, if you will. This mirrors the classic trope of the genre, establishes the PC’s home, and also the danger that can befall their home if the Hegemony is not stopped. This prologue thus establishes the tenuous thread that will have to hold for the vast majority of the campaign. Do not skip it.

    Ideally, you know your players well enough so you can judge whether they’d like the AP, and pull off this bait and switch – if it works, it works REALLY, REALLY well. Again, do not skip it.

    “To Worlds Unknown” begins with the same relatively dark theme and goes for a prison break, while then establishing the largest strength of the AP for the majority of its run:

    Its, for the most part, pitch-perfect grasp of the whole Sword & Planet genre. The planets evoke wonder, are marvelous, and add stunning set-piece to stunning set-piece. The sense of wonder is excellent. If exploration of wondrous vistas is what you’re looking for in the AP, then rest assured that this’ll deliver in spades.

    Indeed, the first 3 adventures focus on this sense of wonder: “To Worlds Unknown” is the establishing shot; “The Scavenged Codex” is a huge scavenger hunt for an important item, and “Dead Vault Descent’s” tide-locked planet is FANTASTIC in the best ways.

    This first third of the AP has few issues – “The Scavenged Codex” forces the PCs to work with a truly despicable NPC early on, and this might rub some people the wrong way; that being said, this railroad can be managed to an extent by a capable GM. “Dead Vault Descent” is a fantastic adventure, but it actually does not progress the story. It’s a clear “You princess…äh…way home is in another castle…äh, on another planet”-scenario. Other than that, I consider the start to be super promising. However, one of the weaknesses of the AP would be that it, like MANY, MANY Paizo APs, lacks unifying tissue and consequence. “The Scavenged Codex” and “Dead Vault Descent” both set up significant consequences for the worlds they take place on – consequences that are of no real concern thereafter. Similarly, like many Paizo APs, one can’t help but get a sense of an episodic structure – the modules aren’t particularly well-linked, nor do consequences between modules carry over particularly well.

    But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Player’s Guide feels oddly tacked on to the AP. It doesn’t do a good job at providing alternate motivations for alien PCs that did not go through the prologue. The alien PC races are pretty darn strong, and as replacement characters, well, that’d work in a way. It’d have been nice to get some suggestions from where such characters derive the unique mythic power that allows for instant adaptation to other worlds, though. Introducing new PCs could have been handled better. Speaking of adaption: I may well be alone with this, but I like survival aspects, so a hard mode where the PCs don’t get this ability to instantly adapt to new planets would have been an awesome addition for groups that enjoy dealing with minutiae, hazards and the like, who want planning matter more. Oh well.

    Making the new bodies the consequence of experimentation between Prologue and “To Worlds Unknown”, perhaps with some negative consequences as well, could have rendered the whole “Bring down the Hegemony”-angle more personal. But yeah, if you hand out this guide alongside the prologue, you’re spoiling things, and a player’s guide should NEVER spoil the AP.

    These first three installments are what I’d call the “Wonder-Arc” – it’s all about the wonder of these realms, high pulp, high danger, all awesome, all with different themes. “Dead Vault Descent” in particular stands out, its tidelocked planet and challenges eliciting a sense of melancholy, foreshadowing the night to come.

    Oh boy. “Confederates of the Shattered Zone” – in hindsight, I should have rated this one lower. It’s a full-blown thematic whiplash. Suddenly, we travel into a quasi-space-Victorian setting that can be best likened to the videogame “Sunless Skies”, save with quasi-Nazis thrown in; it’s oppressive, grimy, and takes some cues from the Pathologic franchise (which I LOVE) in its strangely, yet compellingly-dissonant and anachronistic elements. It’s an industrial age nightmare in space. I should love it to bits, but I really, really don’t. Richard Pett is a fantastic author, and his dark visions are haunting – but here, it simply doesn’t fit the tone of any other part of the AP. At least not in how it’s implemented. The massive module establishes a baseline of factions and implies a long-term game here, but can’t develop it properly; in many ways, this feels like a mega-adventure in its own right, cut down to module size…which really hurts the module and its overall place in the AP. If you run the AP as written, I’d STRONGLY suggest expanding the entire section, so it can actually start to shine; or, well, if you cut any module from the AP, it probably should be this one. Also, because it then adds this weird kyton-fueled Hellraiser-ish angle towards the end, including what should be a cataclysmic event for the PCs, something that should be a huge climax, but which is ultimately relegated to a few paragraphs of text, when it should be a whole sequence of its own, with rules, challenges, etc. – I really don’t get why the finale here is a cut-scene, prefaced with a pretty vanilla dungeon. Cut the dungeon, make the cut-scene-ish finale rules-relevant.

    I love this setting, this module’s potential, but its implementation left me less enthused. I really, really dislike it in the context of this AP. It doesn’t fit in either with the first half of the AP (including the horror-ish prologue!), nor with the second half of the AP. It’s this odd middle part of the AP that feels excessive and suddenly dark just for the sake of being dark. Its end also implies consequences that, bingo, aren’t ever properly touched upon again.

    Again, I’d love to see an AP in this setting, but as part of the Legendary Planet AP? Well, here, I genuinely think that it suffers from obvious cuts, and/or from ambition exceeding the scope of what the formula can provide. It also reads like it was supposed to have more pronounced consequences on the overall plot, which I don’t really see happening.

    Thankfully, the second arc of the AP, which I’d dub “The War against the Hegemony” once more takes up the themes that fit the saga per se better. The war beneath the waves depicted in “The Depths of Desperation” is epic once more in the heroic, wondrous sense; supported by mass combat rules and conflicts with ginormous foes, this is a great turning point in the dynamics; “Mind-Tyrants of the Merciless Moons” further builds on this: Tim Hitchcock delivers pretty much Sword & Planet themes in a nigh-perfect manner; he gets it. The original pdf release was pretty flawed in formal aspects, felt rushed regarding several rules-components, but these glitches have been dealt with, rendering this a high point of the saga. (Even though I still maintain that getting high-level PCs to engage in a regular dungeon crawl isn’t that smart.) Still, kudos to Legendary Games for making this one shine. I just wished that the last pass had been executed before I had my backer copy of the massive hardcover sent to me…hope this’ll be handled differently for Aegis of Empires.

    And then, there is “To Kill a Star” – a milestone of an epic high-level adventure, this finale of the AP very much justifies running the campaign. It’s epic in all the right ways. I’m super happy with this finale in pretty much all ways. It’s a mega-adventure in its own right, and an excellent one that doesn’t try to limit the party, instead working with its vast capabilities. My one complaint with the second arc of the AP is its sequence, not in plot, but in narrative escalation: In “Mind-Tyrants of the Merciless Moon”, we have the high-level translation of themes and playstyle from the first arc: It’s about the wonder of the strange places, brutal combats, and splices in some more epic scales. I love that. The problem is that it follows a module featuring a full-blown war against the Hegemony. We have a war in” Depths of Desperation”, with the PCs taking on armies and huge threats, and the move back towards the wondrous explorer/resistance angle, striking at a key asset of the Hegemony. In some ways, this sequence feels like a scaling back; having the escalation move and build organically from the mostly personal level in Mind Tyrants to the global in Depths to the interplanetary in “To Kill a Star” would have kept the sense of escalation intact.

    So, whenever someone asks me whether I’d recommend this AP, I ask two questions: 1) Do you want a strong story, or are wondrous locales more important to you? Because Legendary Planet excels at presenting the sense of wide-eyed wonder that I want out of the genre. The plots WITHIN the modules all work well enough. But its overarching story, particularly considering what connects the modules and consequences that carry over? In that regard, the AP is pretty damn weak. For comparison, I reread a couple of Paizo APs, and saw many similar issues in a lot of them, which, I think, may stem from the fact that the direction of the individual authors needs to be stricter, or more focused, or both. Or, well, someone to actually rewrite the completed AP to tie things all together and make it, you know, a narrative where story-threads matter. While certainly not perfect, particularly in the mechanical aspects (which SUCK!), the Zeitgeist AP, for example, does this a lot better – keeping NPCs and how the party acted relevant. Implementing consequence. Legendary Planet is not good at that. I wouldn’t recommend this AP to someone looking for a captivating story. Villain-wise, the Hegemony is no more or less plausible than comparable villain-civilizations like Star Trek’s borg or Star Wars’ empire; I had no problem suspending my disbelief in how they work, and particularly when they actually become proactive, i.e. in “Mind Tyrants of the Merciless Moons” and “To Kill a Star”, they really came off as supremely dangerous. It’s this looming presence throughout, but, like in many Paizo APs, there isn’t much chance to establish direct opposition early on – however, I didn’t care as much here, because the enemy, well, is the Hegemony. An empire. Not a single enemy, and as such, you’re not expected to create a personal rapport. That’s a smart angle. But back to the second question: 2) How good are your players at PFRPG? Legendary Planet excels, with no doubt in my mind, and beyond what many comparable series offer, in the mechanics department. This AP makes perfect use of potential that only the uneven, wide-open math of PFRPG offers, of all those plentiful options, to provide truly challenging and evocative combat. I can’t reference a single campaign that consistently manages to hit this precarious level of being truly challenging for veteran players without becoming unfair or simply an assortment of save-or-sucks. While the story may not be true impressive, the overall DESIGN of the challenges herein tends to end up in the highest tiers. This is particularly impressive, considering the escalation that mythic gameplay adds to these aspects. You might need to do some fixing on a narrative level; but unlike the Zeitgeist AP, you won’t have to redesign a whole atrociously-bad subengine or fix combats and stat highest-tier, huge monsters. Legendary Planet’s combats are meticulously-crafted for strategy, tactics, etc., and supremely-rewarding in that manner.

    If your players tend to curmbstomp through Paizo-APs, then this’ll get that excitement back to the table’s combats. Unlike in most published modules, I only very rarely had to optimize enemies, slap templates on them, etc. – this is, design-wise, one of the best campaigns I’ve seen.

    To summarize: While the individual stories told in the modules work well enough, the overarching story of the AP is easily its weakest component. It’s weak regarding consequences that transcend modules, and doesn’t have proper decision-based branching on a micro-or macro-level going on. On the plus-side, the creativity of the wondrous expanses is top-tier, the pacing within individual adventures is great, and the variety of challenges posed is evocative and great. This handles the wonder, the sense of being thrust into unknown worlds, exceedingly well; it hits its genre aesthetics and tropes really well, and in a concise manner. For the most part. (cough Confederates /cough)

    If you’re looking for a challenge and can take the AP for what it is, it offers a truly fun campaign. I you want an intricately-woven, intelligent storyline beyond the narrative shortcomings many comparable APs offer, I’d recommend choosing another campaign to run. I can see this AP clock in as anything, ranging from 3 stars to 5 stars for an individual group. Personally, the excellence regarding design components helps me forgive the issues in the narrative. On a plus-side, the flaws in the overall story being not that intricate do mean that AP is super easy to dismantle, expand, and scavenge from – it’s very easy to replace components of the saga, exchange them with your own material or other modules, or elaborate upon an individual chapter.

    How, then, am I supposed to rate this AP, as a whole, as opposed to my ratings for the individual chapters? In the end, I think that the weaknesses in the overarching narrative fabric of the AP needs to be represented in some way in the final verdict. To state this once more – for me, as a person, this works well; I can deal with the narrative, expand upon regions, add consequences, etc. If you enjoy the like, then this may well be a 5 star + seal level AP for you.

    But I can’t write my reviews based solely with this perspective in mind. As such, my final verdict of the entire saga as a whole, as opposed to individual installments, would usually not exceed 4 stars, but there is another factor to this: Pricing. Considering the amount of content, this AP is a steal. We get art and map folios, and the equivalent 0f 8 (!!) modules, with the finale being a mega-adventure in its own right, for $50 in pdf; $109.99 pdf + print. This is a STEAL. This has more than 700 pages of top-tier content. (Not counting the art and map folios that are super helpful in the age of COVID…) For that price. You don’t have to be a math savant to realize how good this bang-for-buck ratio is. Hence, I feel justified in adding at least half a star, and round up. Oh, and the AP gets my seal of approval. It’s not perfect, but I still love it to bits.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    Legendary Planet Adventure Path (Pathfinder)
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    Quests of Doom 4: Cave of Iron (PF)
    Publisher: Frog God Games
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 08/17/2020 05:22:28

    An ENdzeitgeist.com review

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This module clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 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.

    “Cave of Iron” is an old-school module intended for characters level 1st to 3rd – a well-rounded party of 6 is recommended, and at 1st level, this is a VERY deadly module. It should be noted that the module requires that the GM pulls off something that every experienced player will be weary of; otherwise, it might well end before the intended finale, so yeah – this is certainly a module for experienced GMs. And parties. Oh boy, this is capital letters DOOM. Are you tired of your cocky, optimized PCs? Well, the final region has 10 minute intervals for random encounters, and these encounters can include 6 CR 4 creatures, and even one encounter with 14 CR 1, 8 CR 2, and one CR 6 (!!) critters – while one of the planned encounters lists this as not necessarily an IMMEDIATELY hostile one (they do turn hostile if the party dawdles), parties that think they can murder-hobo through this with their 3133T-murderhoboing builds will die horribly. It should also be noted that, while the numbers of critters encountered make this intent clear, the like is not spelled out in the random encounters section, so yeah – experienced GMs definitely required. The party has no chance of survival if they can’t level mid-adventure, and imho, even level 3 parties may well be hard-pressed to survive this one. You have been warned.

    The module features read-aloud text, as well as b/w-maps for a section of wilderness and an adventure-location; the latter is aesthetically really pleasing and nice, but both maps come without player-friendly versions.

    The primary antagonist comes with very rudimentary and pretty flawed depictions of making characters of that type; I strongly suggest ignoring the paragraph. Apart from the primary antagonist, we have two new monsters here – as a minor nitpick, an ability called “thought onslaught” should most definitely be codified as mind-affecting, as it does cause untyped damage. Another creature’s CMD is off by one, missing its special size modifier.

    The module is set in the Keston province in the Lost Lands campaign setting, but is pretty easy to adapt to other settings. The adventure starts off in Hillfort, and nomen est omen here. 12 years ago, valuable metals were found in the hills in the vicinity, and the Hardshale Mine thrived – every month, a wagon train carries supplies to the mine, and returns laden with iron and miners, with the trip usually taking less than a week. It’s been 3 weeks and the last supply train hasn’t returned, and the riders that were dispatched when the wagons were 4 days overdue haven’t returned either, and more goblins than usual have been sighted – enter the adventurers!

    To provide more details, I’ll need to go into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

    … .. .

    All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the first section of the module deals with the road to Hardhsale Mine after the short briefing. If the PCs are smart, they’ll take a friendly NPC along for the rid: A kind rogue can certainly help; the commoner minor, who is also an alcoholic, though? Less useful. En route, the PCs get to face several goblins (potentially gaining some intel regarding the plant monsters, like Jupiter bloodsuckers, which the PCs can also find.

    And then comes the hard sell I mentioned, which really requires serious GM mojo to pull off – The PCs meet Pezzi Zakii, a friendly shroom-humanoid, who professes to be a kind being. Ideally, the shroom accompanies the PCs as a funny sidekick, “saving” them with his “shroom powers” over his own plant creatures. Conversation primers are also provided, and this’d be a more effective angle if, well, if shrooms were not one of the most classic OSR-villains ever. If your players played through either Expeditious Retreat press’ shroom modules or Matthew J. Finch’s fantastic Demonspore, forget about selling this one to your party. The module does not hinge on the party falling for Pezzi, but becomes more fun if they do. Here’s an issue: “It is vital, however, that characters don’t kill Zakii on the road.” While the shroom has 35 HP, making that unlikely, it’s certainly within the range of things that the party can pull off. On the plus-side, invisibility and sleep as prepared spells do make for a pretty likely chance to escape. So yeah, not penalizing the module for this one, even though I really suggest GMs taking some serious time to think on how to sell this.

    Why? Because the module does actually a really nice job at making Pezzi seem likable, and the shroom, until recently isolated from the surface world, has a good reason to have free-willed adventurers around, wanting them to demonstrate how e.g. smelting iron works, etc. Still, some designated troubleshooting sections most assuredly would have been helpful here. The Hardhsale Mine, once the party arrives there, is the highlight of the module: Lavishly-mapped, the place features a ton of feeblemind-ed miners, deadly plant creatures (including a cool reskin of the assassin vine – the flowershroud), and with the magic-dampening witch grass hazard, the small mining settlement is atmospheric, dangerous and thoroughly creepy.

    Of course, the PCs will need to go down into the Hardshale Mine – the mine has three levels, with the majority of the action dealing with the third level, where the mine managed to break through into the shroom’s habitat, thus initiating the catastrophe…provided the party isn’t TPK’d. A planned encounter deals with 5 CR 4 and one CR 5 enemy….which can’t RAW be bypassed. Hope your group is super-paranoid and good at hit and run…The final encounter with Pezzi Zakki and its minions btw. add +2 advanced violet fungi on round 1, 5 mandragoras (CR 4) and a green brain (CR 5) on round 2, a CR 3 fungoid on round three, and all surviving vegepygmies from a camp on round 5. These vegepygmies, btw.? That’s the 14 CR 1, 8 CR 2, and one CR 6 creature. Plus, you know, the CR 5 BBEG. If the PCs have not leveled by then, they will be wiped out at the very latest here.

    Now, there is a room for super-deadly modules like this one; heck, I prefer hard modules. But this one is insanely brutal, and its level-range is hard to sell. I can’t see a level 1 party beating this; not even really overpowered groups. Level 2 will also be borderline – so yeah, wrong level-range.

    But there is one aspect that really tanks the module for me. That final subterranean area, which constitutes more than half of the keyed encounters? Well, guess what’s missing its frickin’ map? YEP. The entire subterranean finale is missing it’s §$%&$§-map! And no, this is not intentional – the text references hexes, and the module certainly doesn’t waste time talking about the relation of encounter areas sans map, making it very obvious that a map should be here…but isn’t. How in all the 9 hells could that happen???

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting re good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports some nice artworks in b/w. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography for the surface of Hardshale Mine is awesome and b/w – but that doesn’t make up for a) the lack of player-friendly maps (which Frog God Games usually provided) and b) THE FIRCKIN MISSING MAP for the region containing half of the keyed encounters!!

    Man, Steve Winter’s scenario deserved better.

    The module has not one, but two bad strikes against it: 1) The lack of player-friendly maps is disappointing; the missing map is inexcusable. 2) Dave Landry’s PFRPG conversion is insanely-brutal. I get the whole DOOM part of Quests of Doom; heck, I’ve been a fan of the super-brutal modules. But this one? You can throw mythic characters at this and watch them die. The level-range is not appropriate, and I’d seriously not throw this at a party below 3rd level; heck, most parties at 4th level would still consider this to be HARD if the GM plays it halfway smart. Unless you’re dealing with a super-optimized group, this might still TPK level 4 parties!

    Both of these would be serious strikes on their own; the latter perhaps more excusable than the former; but in combination? In combination, they tank this module, and while the adventure, if run as intended as opposed to as provided, is a solid yarn, it isn’t outstanding, or novel enough to make up for these issues. My final verdict can’t exceed 1.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [2 of 5 Stars!]
    Quests of Doom 4: Cave of Iron (PF)
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    The Luchador (Pathfinder 2nd Edition)
    Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 08/13/2020 12:43:51

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    The luchador base class in its PF2e-iteration clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages 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, the luchador gets 10 + Constitution modifier Hit Points, and chooses whether to apply the ability boost to Strength or Charisma, the latter being the governing ability score for class ability DCs etc. As far as initial proficiencies are concerned, the luchador is trained in Perception as well as Athletics, Performance, and one skill determined by the stable, as well as 2 + Intelligence modifier additional skills. They are trained in unarmed attacks and simple weapons, and the luchador class DC. 5th level upgrades the ranks in simple weapons and unarmed attacks to expert. This improves further to master at 13th level. As far as the class DC is concerned, we have the proficiency rank increase at 11th level, which includes occult spell attacks, if relevant. 17th level increases these two to master.

    Regarding defenses, they are Experts in Fortitude and Reflex, Trained in Will, and are untrained in all armor, but Expert in unarmored defense. At 7th level you increase your proficiency rank in Will to expert, in Fortitude to master. At 9th level, successes in Fortitude or Reflex saves are upgraded to critical successes. 19th level improves your Reflex save rank to master and also nets you +2 on initiative rolls.

    This already looks promising, considering how PF2e is more adapt at portraying characters fighting without armor. The luchador gets Powerful Fist at first level, upgrading damage to 1d6, as well as eliminating the penalty for inflicting lethal attacks with them. 7th and 15th level net you Weapon Specialization and its Greater brother, in line with the fighter base class.

    Feat-wise, we have a class feat at 2nd level and every even-numbered level thereafter, a skill feat at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter (requiring being trained or better in the skill, as customary), a general feat at 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter. 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter net a skill increase, with 7th level unlocking master, 15th legendary. 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter we have ability boosts, and 5th level and every 4 thereafter an ancestry feat.

    It should also be noted that we have Aerial Expertise (+5-foot status bonus to distance moved vertically and horizontally, +5 ft. for every 4 levels) at 3rd level, and the ability to execute Aerial Takedowns, a two action ability with the Open trait: Stride or Leap twice, then follow up with a Grapple if you and the enemy are in the air, allowing you to down flying targets. Interaction with nonstandard movement modes like Climbing etc. is provided. Cool!

    Additionally, first level makes you choose a persona (minor niggle: there’s a blank space missing between “persona” and “class feature”); the personas are Freestyler, Heavyweight, Ki Warrior, Lichadore, Oil Wrestler and Rudo. These net you, as noted above, a skill you’re trained in (which was called stable, but that’s not a big deal), and a class feat. For Freestyler, we have Acrobatics and Improvised Weapon Training; for Ki Warriors Occultism and Ki Strikes, for Lichadores Religion and Returned from Beyond – you get the idea.

    These deserve a bit of elaboration, as they significantly alter the playing experience of your individual luchador: Ki Strike nets you the ki strike spell (not in italics – an oversight that extends to multiple named spells throughout the pdf) and a Focus pool of 1 Focus Point, for example. Further feats provide additional spells and tend to increase the Focus Point pool. Returned from Beyond nets you negative healing and a +1 status bonus on saving throws vs. positive effects. Oil Chemist nets you some Alchemical Crafting and alchemy dabbling.

    Here's the thing: The original iteration of the luchador did a pretty impressive job at tackling (pun intended) a combo-driven fighting engine; in PF2e, this is a much easier (and smoother) proposition, courtesy of e.g. the presence of the Press trait, which the pdf does make pretty good use of. Speaking of another thing the pdf makes good use of: PF2e’s modularity regarding class feats deserves special mention here: For example, if you already have negative healing you don’t need the luchador persona to e.g. take Dark Deliverance at 4th level – while the feat will primarily be accessible to lichadores, the pdf is future proofed in this regard, which is most assuredly a plus. On the other hand, where it makes sense, the persona requirements are intact: It takes a luchador with Ki Strike, for example, to learn Hand of the Lich. Only a freestyler can learn to escape a Grab or Swallow Whole as a reaction.

    I also rather enjoyed seeing that the pdf provides a great in-game justification in line with rules for having a higher weight and retaining the grappling options: With Giant Frame, your weight doubles, affecting the maximum size category you can Grapple and what can Grapple you.

    Of course, there are class feats building on each other, such as the AC-enhancing Shoulder Roll reaction, which can be improved to include a counter attack. What about setting yourself on fire to buff your attacks (sans harm to you?) as a sequence building on Oil Chemist? Yeah, very much a cool option.

    Of course, suplexes are here as well, and we have the obvious elemental strikes based on ki; more interesting to me (and most assuredly some other fans of the class’ first iteration) would be the fact that the dual identity and Charismatic leader/star-angle imho work better in PF2e than they did before; making enemies Doomed 1 at high levels, downtime abilities and more are provided, and with capstone abilities that net you undead apotheosis and mask phylactery, controlling grappled targets and more, the class feat engine does an impressive job at rendering the PF2e luchador at once flexible and distinct; there are feat trees, but as a whole, the freedom to make your combos and customize the class accordingly is neat indeed.

    The aforementioned ki-based spells are all provided (6, to be precise, and conditions/damage with regards to spell level, actions, etc. checks out for them); we get two backgrounds (Masked Inheritor and Stable Trained), and we get 6 items for the luchador, beginning with wrestling oils and silk masks at first level, all the way up to item level 17 championship belts. The pdf also covers how PF races (including orcs) handle luchadores and closes with a sensible luchador multiclass archetype.

    Conclusion: Editing is very good on a rules-language and formal level; on a formal level, one reference to stable instead of person and the missed italics for spell-references irked me somewhat, but not in a way that would compromise the pdf. Layout adheres to a two-column standard with green highlight, which remains pretty printer-friendly. The artworks are full-color, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

    One can see Michael Sayre’s expertise with PF2e on full display here, and the class actually showcases a lot of what I like about PF2e. This is not simply a 1-to-1-conversion of components; instead, the pdf showcases how the thoroughly robust core engine of PF2e renders combo-based fighting styles such as the one championed by the luchador work in a much smoother manner. If I take a look at this and the PF1-iteration, I consider the PF2e version to be superior in pretty much every way. The class presented here remains in line with the core tenets of the game, while providing a significantly smoother gaming experience. In short, this is an impressive beast of a class. While there are a few formal hiccups, I can’t justify rounding down from my final verdict of 4.5 stars, and frankly, the playing experience is so smooth and enjoyable, this also earns my seal of approval.

    This is how you show off the strengths and improvements of a new system.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    The Luchador (Pathfinder 2nd Edition)
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    Star Log.EM-080: Isekai Characters
    Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 08/13/2020 12:42:25

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This pdf clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

    So, what is an “isekai”? Well, put simply, isekai characters are those hailing NOT from the universe/reality in which SFRPG takes place, but rather from our own world.

    The pdf kicks off with the isekai theme: The theme knowledge lets you choose up to 3 Starfinder RPG products; these must be legal at your table, and the GM needs this list. You can’t choose an adventure, but gain a special Intelligence-based class skill called RPG Lore, which you can use to Recall Knowledge to identify creatures in the chosen products; you also get an untyped +1 bonus to such checks, and your theme-based ability-adjustment may be freely selected. Minor nitpick here: Personally, I’d base the selection on number of pages instead of product number, as the ability as written rewards choosing thick books over pdfs. At 12th level, 3 additional books may be chosen.

    At 6th level, we have the ability to take 10 on any d20 roll or check due to your knowledge of the law of averages, with the ability refreshing after spending Resolve to regain Stamina. At 18th level, 1/day when succeeding on a RPG Lore check, you regain 1 Resolve.

    The pdf also provides the isekai avatar archetype, which requires that you take aforementioned theme. The archetype replaces the 2nd-and 6th level class features. Second level nets mechanics application, which nets you a +1 insight bonus to RPG Lore, which increases a5th level, every 4 levels thereafter and 20th level by +1. As a move action, you can choose a creature or challenge within 30 ft. and use RPG Lore to identify it, gaining a +1 enhancement bonus when dealing with you, including AC, saves, etc. This improves to +2 at 7th level. The 6th-level class feature nets you an isekai advantage, with skill DCs defaulting to 10 + 1.5 times class level, and saves defaulting to 10 + ½ class level + class key ability modifier. 6 isekai advantages are provided, and if the adventurer wants, they can forgo the class features at 9th, 12th and 18th level for another isekai advantage.

    One lets you use law of averages 3 times and with a +1 bonus to the result before requiring Resolve expenditure to regain Stamina to use it again; we have a bonus feat. Additionally, we have to option to spend Resolve to reroll failed checks, or force rerolls of adversaries – interesting here that this has no range or line of sight caveat for the offensive application; this might be an oversight. The ability is kept in check by the Stamina-replenishing caveat to regain its use. There is also an option that lets you dabble in class features for a kid of gestalt-lite (minor nitpick: typo “bonsu” should read “bonus”), and we have a +2 improvement for an ability score of your choice, which doesn’t stack with personal upgrades. This may be chosen multiple times, stacking up to +4. The final advantage lets you use mechanics application as a move or swift action, if you choose, but still no more often than once per round.

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

    Alexander Augunas’ isekai are a neat concept, whether you dabble in old-school sword and planet themes or full-blown gonzo; they may not be for every table, but I considered them to be pretty neat. If anything, the concept and isekai advantages have plenty of potential for expansions, and I think that the out-game knowledge should be based on page count; otherwise, the ability prioritizes big books over larger ones. When all is said and done, I consider this to be a good file, well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [4 of 5 Stars!]
    Star Log.EM-080: Isekai Characters
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    Ætherjack’s Almanac Number 6 Iridium Frigates & Cybernetic Corpses (Troika! Compatible!)
    Publisher: Axes & Orcs
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 08/13/2020 06:35:44

    An Endzeitgeist.com

    The sixth zini in the Ætherjack’s Almanac-series clocks in at 2 pages, which, as always, contain essentially 4 pages – print them, fold the booklet in the middle, done. The first half of these pages contains the front cover.

    This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review via direct donation.

    On the first half of the second page, we get the Cyber Corpse AI Hub background, making you the AI of a decaying warship; you are an old warship at 2d6% capacity, and have a corpse soldier as well as a barely-functioning plasmic cannon. You have an internal armory of advanced weapons and armor, but it is lost. Within you. Why? Well, that’s a curious thought, isn’t it? Your possessions also include the hole in your heart that captain and crew abandoning you left. Oh and works of art from cultures you helped destroy.

    The advanced skills include a solid 4 Strength, 3 Iridium Frigate Piloting, 2 Fusil fighting and Fist Fighting, and the basics of Mathmology as well as a bit of Astrology, Religion, and Arts so you can be pretentious in your loneliness. (George R.R. Martin’s scifi stories, anyone?) Here’s the cool thing: You do NOT have awareness of your internal structure; you don’t have a proper engine for sailing within a sphere, but you can, provided you have the charts, sidestep reality and switch spheres.

    Of course, we do get stats for the ravaged iridium frigate ship, a fully repaired version for reference, and stats for the cyber corpse drone, which has 9 Skill, 15 Stamina, initiative 3, and armor of 0, 2 or 4; it deals damage as a Modest Beast or weapon wielded; the Armor 4 is only deployed when not caught unaware. A full d6 Mien table is provided. Minor nitpick: The background lists the possession as “corpse soldier”, and not as “cyber-corpse drone”; as an aside – a less potent ravaged cyber-corpse drone would have imho made for a good addition here. Why? Well, when comparing this to the Shellfolx background in #4, the cyber corpse drones are superior in every way: I Skill more, 7 Stamina more, 1 Initiative more, and vastly superior armor, plus more weapon capabilities. The same holds true for the Iridium Frigate versus the Golden Barge of the Shellfolx. Oh, and the advanced skills. Indeed, the background is VERY MUCH like the shellfolx, just stronger in pretty much every way.

    The second half of the first page, traditionally the back cover-ish one, contains only brief notes on ship-based hyperspace generators; something more substantial would have been nice here. I did, however, enjoy the shout-outs to two indie supplements by other publishers that work well in conjunction with this series.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-color standard using dark blue and lighter-grey-blue-ish white text; easy to read; a b/w-version is included if you don’t like the colored version. The collage-style artworks employed are charming as always. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

    Ian Woolley’s sixth Ætherjack’s Almanac provides a pretty neat, fun background with lots of roleplaying potential; however, I couldn’t help but feel that the background would have benefited from a better balanced cyber drone body (perhaps more of them to make up for that?), a frigate in line with the shellfolx, an Advanced Skills array in line with the Shellfolx – you get the idea.

    I’d be much more impressed by this, were it not in quite a few ways a super-up version of Shellfolx. I know that Troika embraces chaos and uneven characters, but the comparison here, within one series, makes this feel like overkill. I like the design, but I hate how inconsistent it is regarding the baseline of power of comparable backgrounds in its own series. It’s, essentially a reskinned #4. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded up only due to the fact that Troika! is more resilient regarding such inconsistencies than many comparable systems.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [3 of 5 Stars!]
    Ætherjack’s Almanac Number 6 Iridium Frigates & Cybernetic Corpses (Troika! Compatible!)
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    On the Bringing and Binding of Toothcollectors
    Publisher: Violent Media
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 08/12/2020 05:38:46

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This pdf clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 9 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

    This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue at the behest of my patreon supporters.

    Okay, so first of all, this is a combination of a kind of mini monster-ecology with a grimy dark fantasy/horror flair, and a brief, sketch-like adventure.

    The supplement doesn’t adhere to a specific OSR rules system. The stats presented for the eponymous toothcollectors note their HD, their armor “As leather”, and their Move as “Quick, erratic, upside down at night”; now, if you expect a standard tooth fairy trope, or its simple inversion, then you’re most assuredly new to Evey Lockhart’s supplements.

    There is constantly this touch of the weird and uncanny. “Upside down at night” certainly evoked a disjointed and odd sentiment in me. The strength of toothcollectors is contingent on their collected teeth – they have 18 slots, and if they jame enough teeth in, they can’t close their mouths or speak anymore. They are superb assassins and excellent at sneaking around, represented by percentile values. They speak the languages of those whose teeth they have collected; and what they need for their services can be determined with 2quick d8 rolls: A blackened incisor, for example. They are obsessive, and at day, they dream, sending rhizomes into the soil, communicating, forming and dissolving strange alliances. A d8-table lets you determine their personality – oh, and nonhuman teeth have special effects. Powers. They crave some of them, yet won’t admit to it…and others will need to be forced into the little…things.

    And yes, before you ask: The supplement does describe the somewhat grimy ritual required to call and bind a toothcollector, and I really enjoyed that one. I’d immediately back a book of ritual magic penned by Evey Lockhart.

    Brief notes and minor SPOILERS for the low-level mini-module follow. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

    … .. .

    The module deals with a magic-user who won’t leave the basement of a stonemason, which her rented. It’s up to the party to kick out the magic user from the strange, subterranean observatory where he observes the Red, Red Moon with a telescope pointed at the eye of a dying toothcollector. The module comes with rudimentary maps sans player-friendly versions or grid, but on the plus side, effects like acidic paste note how they can be dealt with in ways other than succeeding the saving throw. Also a plus: The magician ahs a few unique tricks, though these do suffer a bit from the system-agnostic approach; not unduly so, though.

    Conclusion: Editing is good on a formal and rules-language level. Formatting could be employed in a somewhat tighter manner, but isn’t bad either- Layout adheres to a one-column standard, with a red moon on the side, and the utterly weird, frightening artwork for the toothcollector drives perfectly home how alien they are. Cartography is functional and b/w – not impressive, but it does its job. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

    Evey Lockhart is one of the RPG-authors whom I’d consider to be auteur, though she’d probably scoff at that. She knows horror and has a distinctive voice and theme; if I’d had to classify it, I’d probably call her aesthetic one resounding from the American hinterlands and the downtrodden; a neon-neo-hobo’s nightmare- and dream-visions. They might not all be for me, but there is something compelling about them. As an avid fan of beat poetry, I tend to adore her more poetic supplements, but this one here? If you dislike the whole poetry-as-game-text-angle, then rest assured that this is not that artsy, and instead depicts a compelling little ecology well worth checking out if you like your fantasy grimy and weird. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [4 of 5 Stars!]
    On the Bringing and Binding of Toothcollectors
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    Wolf-Packs and Winter Snow - Revised
    Publisher: Dying Stylishly Games
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 08/11/2020 07:02:38

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    4 pages of handy index, leaving us with 285 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

    Okay, so before we dive into the book itself, it should be noted that, while I have used both pdf and hardcover to write this review, I can ONLY recommend getting the hardcover. Why? The pdf is missing bookmarks, rendering it extremely grating to use and impossible to navigate on the fly. If you’re interested in actually playing the game, get print or prepare to suffer.

    Now, as for what this is: Essentially, Wolf-Packs & Winter Snow (WP&WS) is a prehistoric roleplaying game that has several modular components that allow you to utilize in it a pretty wide variety of contexts; from a quasi-historic version sans magic to one featuring subdued magic to massive, full-blown magic prehistoric roleplaying, the system/setting allows for a wide variety of playstyles.

    Now, it should be noted that I consider this supplement to be pretty much what I’d deem “Peak-indie-ness”; this book is mostly the work of one woman, and it feels like an indie game with a concise and undiluted atmosphere; however, this strong focus is also represented by flaws, particularly when it comes to editing and formatting; some pages tend to be exceedingly precise in both regards, while others suddenly sport accumulations of minor snafus. If, e.g., ability scores (which the game calls Attributes) being in title case at one section, then lower case in another, then this’ll annoy you once in a while. Not consistently, mind you – this is better in that regard than I figured it’d be, but considering that this is the revised edition of the system, I was surprised to see that this wasn’t adequately edited with regards to that. Some of the glitches are very obvious, when e.g. a class table suddenly lacks the number indicating the die-size for grit gained.

    But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; we have the classic ability scores as Attributes, with their modifiers ranging from minus 3 to plus 3. Skills follow the “x-in-6”-style we know from Lamentations of the Flame Princess; we have 4 saving throws: Weather, Poison, Hazards, and Magic. (The latter can eb cut in a game sans magic, obviously.) Constitution modifier is added to saves vs. Weather and Poison, Dexterity modifier applies for saves vs. Hazards, and Wisdom modifier is applied for saves vs. Magic.

    The standard level-range noted in tables ranges to level 15, but there is content herein (such as among the spells) for levels beyond that. The game has 4 core classes: The Expert is basically your guy who uses skills, akin to thief/specialist, etc. – they start with 6 skills, and get +2 per level, and use d6s to determine how hardy they are. Hunters get scaling Animalism as a skill, d8s to determine hardiness, and are the only class that gets an attack bonus, which scales up to +10. Hunters can take the fight defensively, fight recklessly, go for the kill and aim actions sans penalty. Magicians are the only spellcasters, get d4s to determine hardiness, and get a scaling Art-skill. Neanderthals get d10s to determine hardiness, and a 3 in 6 Foraging, Athletics and Tracking skill, as well as the same combat benefits of hunters. Neanderthals are, statwise, better than hunters of equivalent levels, but require more XP to attain a new level; additionally, there is an implied social stigma attached to them, but as a whole, I think it’d have been nice for hunters and Neanderthals to get different unique things to set them apart.

    Now, you may have noticed that I have used this weird term “hardiness” to talk about the staying power of these classes, and there’s a reason for that: You see, Hit Points are differentiated between Flesh and Grit. You roll the die for Flesh, but every level after that, up to 9th, nets you only +1 Flesh. A new level attained does net you a full die determined by the class. As an example: An expert starts play with d6 Flesh and d6 Grit; At third level, we have a total potential of Flesh of 1d6+2, and 3d6 Grit. Constitution modifier is add to BOTH Flesh and Grit at first level; at higher levels, the modifier is only added to Grit. As common in old-school games, full Hit Dice are only gained up to 9th level – beyond that, we have no more Flesh increases, and Grit increases by a fixed amount defined by the class. Neanderthals get btw. 1 Grit more than Hunters – probably because being roughly based, framework-wise, on dwarves, but without their level cap limitations. Grit is regained pretty quickly – one turn, or one hour; however, when fatigued, it takes a full night’s worth of sleep to recover Grit; Flesh, however, only replenishes at the rate of 1 per such longer rest, 2 if the circumstances are particularly favorable. Using the Medicine skill can also replenish Flesh. You die if your Flesh is reduced to 0.

    It should be noted that there is a system that makes gameplay less lethal, but more gory: When reduced to 0 Flesh, you consult a table depending on the type of damage that reduced you to 0 Flesh; The game has a basic and concise engine for bleeding out, and each such injury will have serious implications – you can end up losing an eye or the like, become a Dead Man Walking (with only a few rounds left before you inevitably die), etc. – if you want a less gritty, and more epic-bloody angle, this system is the way to go.

    Spellcasting is interesting in how it represents a riff on the traditional systems, contextualized in a couple of very interesting ways: We have the basic Vancian spellcasting with spell preparation etc. as the framework, and we have the usual spell levels, though this book calls them “ranks” instead; these go btw. up to rank 9, even though the standard range of play only advances to 8th rank. Anyhow, since we don’t have paper yet, the spellcasting has a very important aspect: It requires a wizard’s sanctum, where rituals are conducted, with the actual spellcasting only finishing these rituals. When preparing a spell in a spell slot not suited for it, the magician must make both an Arts skill check and a saving throw versus Magic, risking casting the spell normally on a failed Arts check, and risking magical backlash on a failed save. The engine explicitly tells you that e.g. making a spell that usually grants protection from an element do the inverse, rendering the target vulnerable, etc., would be a valid tweak. In short, the system, while still very much focused on precision, does allow for creative modification. Good! The backlash tables are also well-wrought, ranging from the minor and cosmetic to the apocalyptic, with application left up to the GM.

    This is great, because it keeps magic volatile, while at the same time allowing for the means to rein in attempts to game the system, all without risking that campaign play is wrecked on every cast. In short: The backlash system proposed herein is, much like the one in Lost Pages’ “Wonder & Wickedness” of Goodman Games’ Spellburn-engine from DCC, one of the better ones out there, providing volatility without destroying outright and constantly – you can play magician without being hated by everyone at the table. But how do the magicians record their spells? Art! They have a sanctum, usually a cave or hut, and it is here that their art and rituals take place; item creation in this place is also much faster. For the purpose of magic item creation and beyond, we also have herb, reagents and body-part generators, allowing for precise and on-the-fly creation of components – and thus, adventuring potential. The general notion of the grimy, visceral haruspex-style savage magic is strong here, and I love it.

    Speaking of elegant components I enjoyed: There is a handy mechanic for light going out; essentially, light sources have a die that you roll, and after a timeframe or when drenched etc. by a downpour, you roll, and if you roll badly, the light goes out. It’s pretty simple, and it does its job. Beyond that, we have a weather table, altitude sickness, the consideration of requiring food and water (Constitution damage looming…) and more, and the base engine already is interesting.

    Speaking of interesting: XP is generally awarded for exploration, and for the exploration of ENTIRE complexes, which means that the game has a hardcoded reason to dungeon (or rather: cave) dive, if you will. Ignoring danger? Doesn’t net XP. Ignorance, though, like not realizing that there are more rooms hidden, for example, is taken into account – so your players can’t use XP to know if they explored the entire system. Killing harmless animals and other NPCs doesn’t net XP, but looting the gear might – the focus here is more on survival.

    However, there is one aspect that I very much enjoyed, and that was probably already obvious to some of my readers: When the sanctum of a magician is essentially a fixed place (it can be moved/transferred, mind you – just not easily), how does that interact with the gameplay? Well, the book does a pretty solid job depicting that, but unlike many OSR-games, I’d argue that WP&WS offers for an interesting playstyle that is rarely, if ever, supported: What’d call “generational.” You see, it’s easier to attract a tribe than in many comparable games, and the tribe needs to be fed; there are mechanics provided for managing the tribe (you assign roles), which, while as simple as the ones presented for the day-to-day survival, ultimately allow for a playstyle that lets you potentially focus on more than one character – I like that. So, your old PC died? Good news, your tribe has this excellent hunter anyways…Paired with the relatively subdued power-gain of the system we have a game that is lethal, but not unduly so, but one that also will make a PC death hurt in just the right ways.

    The book, and this should be noted, is littered with random tables, with particularly the exploration of biomes above and below ground being important factors here; since exploration and survival are driving forces, the sheer amount of random cave/dressing generators and features really help crafting the encounter-driven aspect of the game. (Other examples of tables include magical transformations, etc.) The exploration focus also is enhanced by the plethora of cool hazards featured, which include a variety of fungi, spores and slimes, and e.g. calcifying miasma and the like – really cool. Speaking of which: Herbalism has a pretty nifty core engine (including a table to let you determine whether that poison/drug/etc. will be a broth, syrup, etc.

    But let’s take a look at exploration generators for a second: We’re exploring a plain, and thus, we roll a d8 (Landscape), a d10 (wildlife) and a d12 (weirdness): and get: “Snow laying in the lee of scattered boulders in a wide plain of low grass and weeds, the howls of wolves echoing around the plain at night...and sometimes, plants move in the breeze, even when no wind is blowing.” You can work with that, right? Considering that the book presents an easy method for randomized grid maps, we have, as a whole, a rather impressive component here; and of course, we also receive a massive bunch of random encounter tables. Indeed, the hazards and dressing will make a lot of sense to check out even if you’re not interested in the game per se. The book also provides a solid little haunting engine, and yes, we do get a proper generator.

    The book also presents a pretty massive bestiary section that ranges from a chapter devoted solely to prehistoric fauna, to one with fantastic monsters – kudos for the separation there. Makes retaining the chosen tone of the game easier. NPCs get their own subchapter, and we do get a supplemental NPC tribe generator, including trade goods, situations and tribal quirks. Undead and constructs also have their own chapters.

    In case you want more classes, the book is happy to oblige: We have the degenerate aberrant class (d6 HD, 3 in 6 Stealth, and the same chance for either Tracking or Perception, based on original race); they also deal extra damage when making a surprise attack. Morlocks are essentially reskinned elves,; mystics are a tweak on the charismatic spellcaster who gets their powers from a patron (which felt somewhat like a more DCC-style caster blended with a charlatan engine). The Neanderthal Apothecary is particularly good at making potions, which can even mimic spells. Orphans are essentially Mowgli – the class, and get superb Animalism, and while fragile, they are excellent at Stealth. There also would be the Wendigo, who can use cannibalism to heal, and limited spellcasting. This consumption-based eating is, unlike the majority of content in this book, sloppily designed, with exploits so far wide open, that, unlike other sections, this one is not a charming ambiguity to allow the GM to make their calls, but a borderline broken component. As with the core classes, I couldn’t help but feel that giving the individual classes a few more things to set them apart, while also balancing them against each other, might have been neat to see. We do get NPCs and tribal generator options for this one. Variant rules for allowing characters to change classes are provided.

    The book also features appendices for becoming eloi, hollow ones, children of snow and liches, which are pretty exciting, as all feature some procedures, often in steps, to attain the transformation – but nothing is free…

    The book provides a detailed sample cult, and we get an appendix of bonus spells that can only be attained in game, not at the start. I like this distinction per se, but I considered the choice of which spells to feature here, and which to include in the core spells, odd – magic mouth, for example, is here in the appendix, and that spell usually doesn’t exactly break the game. Resist fire is a core spell – resist acid and resist lightning can only be found here. There is no real rhyme or reason for some of these choices.

    The book, just fyi, also contains a variety of magic items, which note the spells rquired to make them – the garrote Throat-Closer, for example, requires silence. It’s a small thing, but a touch I appreciated.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are two of the weaknesses of this book; while the tome is better than one would expect from a indie production of this size and ambition, but I still think that some proper editing would have been rather helpful for this book. Since this is the revised edition, I couldn’t help but be somewhat aggravated by the inconsistent formatting. Layout adheres to a nice and pretty clean two-column b/w-standard, with well-chosen public domain artworks and black silhouettes used. The pdf is a colossal pain in the backside to use due to the lack of bookmarks; I do not recommend getting the pdf, unless you only want to scavenge tables for your DM-tool folders. The hardcover is a neat book, with name etc. on the spine.

    Emmy Allen’s Wolf Packs & Winter Snows were her first offering for the roleplaying game scene, and the book has aged surprisingly well; the revised edition has expanded the original content in meaningful ways. In fact, I wanted to review the original when the revised edition was announced. Then, the revised edition pdf hit sites, and I figured I’d wait for the print option, as dealing with a book of this size on screen is very unpleasant for me. When the print copy finally arrived, I was ecstatic, and after excessive perusal of the book in theory and practice, this has somewhat mellowed, but not vanished.

    The information design regarding small rules can sometimes be a bit more precise; the organization of “bonus spells” vs. the spells available in core…there are quite a few aspects that could be smoother. While uneven classes in OSR-games are pretty much a given, I couldn’t help but feel that having more unique options per class would have been nice. Similarly, the unique selling proposition features, such as the tribal management, survival aspect, etc. are great, but I wished the book focused more on them.

    This being said, all of this should be taken as criticism voiced most respectfully, for a book I generally consider well worth owning; the Flesh and Grit-rules, and the horrible wounds engine, for example, just beg to be scavenged for a variety of OSR games, perhaps even beyond that. As a whole, the designs presented are per se concise, and when it is hampered in its integrity, this is usually due to small aspects that could have been fixed rather easily by a capable editor or developer.

    So, Wolf Packs & Winter Snow: Revised Edition is a flawed tome, but it is an OSR game that has more unique tidbits than MANY of its compatriots; its designs are interesting, and its vision and commitment to said vision exceed in ambition, and most of the time, execution as well, what you’d usually dare to expect from such a book. As a reviewer, I can’t rate this 5 stars – there are too many hiccups in this book for that; however, I do consider this to be a book worthy of my seal of approval. My final verdict will thus be 4 stars + seal of approval….for the hardcover. The pdf is only useful to a very select clientele willing to suffer through its lack of comfort-features.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [4 of 5 Stars!]
    Wolf-Packs and Winter Snow - Revised
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    Witch+Craft, a 5e crafting supplemental
    Publisher: Astrolago Press
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 08/10/2020 05:08:39

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This massive book clocks in at 215 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, ¾ of a page blank, 10 pages of brief author/artist bios, 4 pages backer thanks, 3 pages of index, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 192 ¼ pages of content, so let’s take a look!

    This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon supporters. My review is based on the pdf-version; I do not own the print version.

    Okay, in case the cover wasn’t ample indicator, this is a pretty wholesome book as far as D&D etc. are concerned; it is a book that presents a crafting engine, and does so thematically in line with Studio Ghibli movies, the inspiration that this book proudly wears upon its sleeves and acknowledges pretty much from the get-go.

    In case you’re not that familiar with these charming movies, I strongly recommend watching them all now; in case you’re not up to a marathon of some of the most charming animated movies ever made, let me try to give you an idea about the magic presented herein: It is, ultimately, a form of magic that tends to feel high-fantasy in that it is something assumed to infuse the daily lives of individuals; unlike many high fantasy magic examples, we have no threatening industrial complexes or outrageous engines per se; instead, we have a take of magic as pertaining to the everyday life, to the domestic sphere – hence the supplement focusing on the sensible terminology of “domestic magic” – magic is seen and employed as a tool in everyday lives, with its potency somewhat influenced by the dedication, passion and care instilled into it by the creators.

    The Crafting rules presented remain pretty simple and follow a six-step process: At the blueprint stage, you propose a project; then the GM decides a difficulty tier in 7 levels; simple tasks are level 1 or 2, legendary ones level 7; as a variant rule, level 0 tasks are also included. In step 3, this level then determines the DC of the project. This is calculated by multiplying the Difficulty Level with 5, and then adding 5, which generates a span from DC 10 to DC 40, assuming the unmodified difficulty tiers presented above. Crafting requires base materials, with the difficulty tier providing a general guideline of how easy it is to gather the respective materials. Then, you start preparations, which include gaining the required knowledge, assistance if feasible, getting high class ingredients. However, there are two interesting factors here: For one, when you sacrifice something of personal importance suitable for the task appropriate to the level, you improve the quality of the item; when you make an item FOR someone else (and not sold, etc.), generosity will make the item more powerful, excluding items that harm the recipient. In short: Honest gifts are always more potent than e.g. items bought/sold. More tricky: If you assume reciprocity, the bonus does not apply.

    While I like the intent behind the latter rule, I don’t really think it works in game. Per definition when playing a game with numbers and success/failure states, you have an intrinsic motivation of making gifts, and many aspects become really muddy. Say, you make a healing potion for your adventurer buddies: One way of arguing here is that the gift is selfless; another would be that the gift helps keep the gift-giver alive as well if it can heal an ally, and as such does not qualify. I adore the idea behind the rule, I get where its limitations come from and consider them to be necessary to avoid gaming the engine and creating really cynical gift-giving rackets contrary to the game, but the precise definition of what is and is not gift-giving is not nearly precise and detailed enough. I’d usually mind less here, but as provided, this rule will lead to copious amounts of grumbling and discussing with the GM of what is and is not a proper recipient of the generosity boost.

    Each of these aforementioned factors are preparation advantages, and one per type can be applied to a project. Here is where things become interesting: You roll the crafting check with just a d6 + toolkit/proficiency, versus the DC; each advantage you got adds +1d6, which is added to the roll. So, preparation is king. I like that It also keeps skill more important. However, taking the example from above, this also means that the +1d6 generosity die can be extraordinarily important, making chances for annoying discussions more likely.

    Anyhow, this also means that that you can roll up to 6d6, plus a probably modifier of +6 (relevant ability score 18, plus proficiency bonus) as soon as first level, which makes it already possible to beat rather high DCs; unless you’re part of a trading class, though, you won’t see much relevant scaling, though. The engine has a few more charming peculiarities, though: Any “1” rolled in item creation introduces a flaw, and every “6” rolled introduces a boon. You can pay off a flaw with a boon. A variant rule lets you take a flaw or lose a boon for a +3 bonus to make a project you almost failed at apply this bonus. If you fail the role, the materials are lost. Flaws and boons are roughly categorized in 3 levels (stacks), ranging from Minor, over Substantial, to Dangerous (flaws)/Magical (boons).

    While generalist rules are provided, the book provides the notion of trade classes, which reward specialization. Their framework is based on 5 tiers; you improve the tier at level 9 and every 4 levels thereafter; each tier increases your Craft Dice by +1d6 (so a tier 5 character has 5d6), and also increases Stamina by +1 from its starting value of 3. Stamina is a limiter of sorts: You expend Stamina at a rate of 1 per Difficulty Level, multiplied with the project’s size – Small projects have a x1 modifier, and the largest you can get is Huge, which means x4. Somewhat to my chagrin, this means that recreating Howl’s Moving Castle is beyond the options available by the system. If a project requires more Stamina than you have, it’ll take multiple days. When taking a trade class, you get a bonus language, the lingua franca of the trade, and choose a primary and secondary medium. (Open media alternate rules included). Tier 1 and 3 net you tool proficiencies, and you start off with two techniques, with an additional one gained every tier thereafter. Tier 2 and 4 net you a reroll of a d6, a reduced flaw, or lets you add a boon; tier 3 lets you autowin the craft action of Difficulty Level 1 projects. Tier 5 lets you double the stamina cost to roll twice the total dice and take the better result.

    Techniques have prerequisites by tier, and some apply only for certain media: Collector requires crystals, for example, and nets you the sacrifice benefits automatically when making a gift. Which is something I mechanically understand; however, it once again ties in with the disjoint I mentioned above regarding the game’s mechanics and the intended spirit of the rules. This is a benefit that lets you forego making sacrifices when crafting; mechanically, it’s just a d6 without a narrative drawback, but within the themes of the game, if one does indeed assume a world wherein the rules herein apply, this pretty much undermines the tenet behind the power of sacrifice for the work. It also is really weird that it’s a crystal-exclusive. Why can only crystal collectors be this attached to the materials they used to craft? My grandpa (Rest in peace) was a carpenter, and he used to do wood engraving and carving as a hobby; you bet that he had a collection of his favorite pieces of wood, and could tell you all about where he found the branches etc. during his travels.

    Having connections, a green thumb, etc. – there are plentiful cool ideas here; in quite a few instances, though, their mechanical consequences haven’t always been taken into account. The option to grant a +1d4 boost with a short rest recharge? Okay. What about having an eidetic memory stretching back one week? The ability explicitly states that we have the ability to create exact duplicates and forgeries thus, potentially including (at least RAW), magical aspects. Okay, but what about aspects that the character wasn’t aware of? Hidden mechanisms? A letter with a mage’s seal and some weird effects? As written, you get to reproduce them, even if you are not aware of their presence. This needed a cleaner presentation. It also imho warrants means to detect your forgery, for RAW, this is a perfect copy, which means when applied to a world, that documents are rather easy to simply, well, copy. Infectious Enthusiasm is another one of these aspects: It nets you advantage on any Charisma checks involving your current project. Okay. Does this entail adventuring to gain the materials? Just haggling for them? Where’s the dividing line? Sticky Fingers nets you advantage on all Dexterity checks made to gather resources for your project. Okay, so if I’m a rogue, entering a mansion to steal stuff for my project, I get advantage on every single Stealth check, on every Sleight of Hand, and each check made using thieves’ tools. Got it. All rogues need to be craftspersons with projects pertaining to their current heist, as this obviously nets the equivalent of a +5 bonus to pretty much everything they do.

    … Man, I feel like a prick disassembling the engine of such a charming book, but while the intent may be admirably, the design of these aspects is uneven; 5e is not a narrativist game; it is a rather precise system, and the rules here, well, they aren’t as precise as they should be. I’d usually give this some leeway, but as presented above, the verbiage unintentionally creates realities within the game that run contrary to the spirit of the book. Need another example? Well, why not take one from the tier 5 high-level techniques; let’s choose Symbol.

    Symbol makes creatures within 600 ft. that can see or hear it, and creatures following the direct leadership of a creature wielding it, or creatures acting to preserve it, immunity to fear, the first “two steps of exhaustion”, and lets creatures regenerate two levels of exhaustion and all lost “hit dice” on a long rest. You may only have one such symbol “empowered” at any one time, however, you may have up to 3 duplicates. I don’t even have to TRY to poke holes into this. What constitutes “following direct leadership”? How does that interact with the rang/sight/hearing caveat? What constitutes preserving? Does this apply re range? What do duplicates do? The same thing? What action, if any, is changing the symbol to be empowered? If I designate a part of a border wall an object of preservation, does that make everyone defending that border eligible? You get my drift. I know what this is trying to do; I do maintain, however, that the book is not as precise as it should be, and there is NO REASON for it being so wishy-washy; this wide open ambiguity doesn’t add to the game; it leads to discussions and potential anger about different rules interpretation, which are very much contrary to the spirit this book seeks to evoke.

    Now, as for the respective trade classes: Each of them sports essentially three sub-classes that modify/determine the trade class benefits depending on the profession. I generally like these, though the priorities sometimes seem a bit odd; while e.g. having cartographers, painters and writers presented as subsets of Drafting made sense to me, the same can’t be said for the “Crystal” header, which has Glassblower, Jeweler and Mason (!!) as subtypes of the trade class. Stonework in general is not represented, which struck me as a bit odd.

    As for the system as a whole: I genuinely like its framework and basic set-up, as well as its versatility; however, in the details and verbiage of particularly the smaller rules components, this sorely needed a strict developer to get all the rules-language in line and modify it to be…well…precise. And no, I don’t care what anyone says, this is NOT a deliberate feature; I’ve reviewed plenty of supplements that employ vagueness in certain aspects of their rules without generating potentially weird effects on the game world and discussions; there are components herein that are needlessly vague. In short: If you’re an experienced GM/designer, I’d strongly recommend design your own set of more precise techniques. Much to my chagrin, the massive list of them provided herein does not reach the standards of rules language precision and internal consistency/balance I expected.

    The book then proceeds to present us with Cape Verdigris, a charming seaside setting that reminded me of Majo no Takkyūbin (Kiki’s Delivery Service), providing a per se neat basic framework of several locations in which to situate the game; as a whole, I very much enjoyed this section. I would have loved to see more details here, but as a sketch-like framing device, the book does a good job here.

    A massive part of the book following this section turns out to be an adventure of a rather unconventional kind: Without going into SPOILERS, the module is about an old mansion, which the party gets to restore to proper glory, including a variety of rather interesting things that happen; the focus is, decidedly, not on combat, which I applaud. The characters and challenges per se are charming in that elusive Star Dew Valley-esque manner, and as a whole, I very much enjoyed this. HOWEVER, the module also fortified an inkling I had above: The module primarily makes use of the rules presented in this book, which is good; it often disregards the problem-solution options provided by D&D 5e’s core engine, though. Spells, skills in negotiation, etc. – unless absolutely requiring the system’s rules, the module always elects to tell you that it takes a DL X project to solve this. The lack of awareness regarding system options is evident with e.g. a kite flying event. I mean, you know that there are plenty of spells and options that let you generate wind? Not accounted for.

    This is a weakness of an otherwise interesting one-year spanning series of small challenges and events. The second weakness being the focus on NPCs over the player characters regarding the baseline premise of the inheritance of the manor, which makes the entire module feel a bit more like the player characters are flunkies of NPCs. It’s a small thing, but having the party be the directly-affected individuals would have been more engaging. Finally, for an otherwise gorgeous book, the rather rudimentary b/w maps (which are player-friendly, however!) struck me as aesthetic sore spots; consider the success of the supplement during founding, I was surprised to see that the cartography wasn’t better.

    The supplement also features an array of new spells, and what can I say: After the supplement has so far failed to impress me regarding its applicability to the general system of D&D 5e, the spells herein are generally neat: Using phantom inspection to analyze an object based on a hologram of sorts in your hands, getting essentially a spell-based infravision, fortifying your fellows versus airborne hazards with aura of incense (which may be a bit low-level for its benefits)…easily the best-designed section of the book so far.

    After this, we move on to an array of new familiars, including new greater familiars that can only be called with a new higher-level spell. These familiars, including a mothy hamster-ish thing, a living piggy bank and more, are genuinely charming, and the statblocks not only adheres to 5e’s formatting conventions, the math also checks out. Kudos! What about birds that are literally instruments – you know, songbirds? This is genuinely heart-warming and charming, and yes, the soots are included as well! What about a tortoise that holds tools? Awesome. This level of charm and cuteness also extends to the magic item section, where blankets of napping, magical fishing rods and the hood of the edgelord (which has a chance to transform into a non-removable, sparkling flower) made me grin. I particularly loved the blueprint of artifacts section: here, proper artifact crafting (DL9 and more in some cases!) are provided – and we get actually IMAGES of the blueprints. That’s awesome.

    The book then proceeds to provide a bestiary section (pertaining to the module and beyond) and provides uncommon trades in another appendix; these are presented with a single variant rule, and are, in some ways, less detailed than what I’d have liked to see, but oh well.

    Then, we get the boon/flaw tables: 5 entries for minor, major and magical boon, same for flaws – that’s what we get regarding general ones. Then, we get tables for the respective general categories (not for the actual trades – so we get tables for Wood, but not for the individual trades dealing with wood). These tend to be interesting, but ultimately, a total of 5 entries per boon/flaw level seems awfully low to me. If you’re really embracing the system, you’d better prepare greatly expanding those tables, otherwise, they’ll become repetitious fast. I think that this section would have benefited from more meat on its bones. After this, we get d20 tables: 17 entries for obstacles, 17 for high-quality materials. Weird: We’d have the space for proper 20-entry tables – why not fill them up?

    Appendix 5, Crafted Treasure, was when I first read the book, admittedly the aspect I was preparing a long and droning monologue on, as it is here where we finally get the guidelines of values by DL and size, and labor. These two humble tables at the back of the book do a LOT to contextualize properly the entire engine, and ultimately allow you to create a plausible setting utilizing the frameworks of the book. Why is this only in the appendix? No idea.

    Statistics for awakened objects and objects, as well as a full-color character sheet on two pages close the pdf before we get to the credits.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; when it comes to rules-language, the book oscillates between delightfully precise and frustratingly wishy-washy and vague. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and the book is full of impressive, colorful and wholesome artwork; lots of pastels, not a single drop of blood – you get the idea. Cartography is the one aspect where this doesn’t excel aesthetically – the rudimentary b/w-maps crammed into the book (why not on full pages in the back as well, for handout use?) look somewhat out of place. …oh, and this has no bookmarks. WTF. A huge tome of a book, with rules, appendices, that requires you to skip to and fro, of this size. With no bookmarks.

    Shannon Campbell, Damon Hines and Dillon MacPherson have achieved something I genuinely like here; while I may be a frickin’ edgelord, I’m very much in love with Studio Ghibli movies and the aesthetic, and the designers have actually managed to successfully translate that nostalgic, wholesome feeling to the gaming table, an impressive feat indeed.

    And yet, while I should love this book, I don’t. The robust core engine starts buckling somewhat in the details, where the consequences of the technique benefits on the world this depicts by applying the system haven’t been thought through to the logical conclusion. The technique rules are often frustratingly imprecise and “open to interpretation”, and not in a good way or one that would help creativity, but in an aggravating way. It is weird, really – this book primarily struggles with applying its concepts to the realities of the game system and table; not necessarily in the rules aptitude, mind you, but with regards to how e.g. concepts like generosity apply in game. This is in so far weird, as the book is also an example of a team that actually can write precise 5e-rules, as highlighted in spells, magic items, etc.; and yet, the core engine, and to a degree, the otherwise absolutely heart-warming module, doe somewhat suffer from this phenomenon, from the integration of the content within the finer rules of the system.

    You may not notice; an experienced GM can offset this – but ultimately, I can’t help but consider these to be unnecessary flaws in a book that could easily have become a Top Ten candidate. The rules aspects are what costs this my seal of approval.

    In summary: This is a thoroughly charming, heart-warming supplement I can definitely recommend if you’re looking for a thoroughly wholesome take on fantasy not focused on slaying critters. Its systems are per se robust and solid; however, if you and your table tend to be individuals that think about the realities and consequences of the implementation of magic in everyday lives, if you expect pinpoint precision, then this book might also frustrate you. There are a quite a lot of components that need to be agreed upon regarding their interpretation, some of which are aspects of the core engine. And that, ultimately, is not something that this design should have, or that it needed to have to function. Furthermore, the priorities tend to feel a bit odd: The relatively few boons and flaws per trade, for example, will require expansions in prolonged play. The per se neat setting/framework hinted at could have used more meat on its bones, etc.

    As a whole, I almost loved this, but the small and not so small hiccups did accumulate. I wanted to adore this, rate it 5 stars + seal; I can’t. From aforementioned small hiccups to the lack of bookmarks that renders navigation a colossal pain in the behind, this has too many small flaws, to the point where, in the system’s parlance, they no longer are minor, but have stacked up to a major flaw. And even if I pay off its flaws with boons, I can’t arrive at a unanimous recommendation. As a whole, I can’t rate this higher than 4 stars, even though I very much wanted to.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [4 of 5 Stars!]
    Witch+Craft, a 5e crafting supplemental
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    Close Encounters: Onyx Station
    Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 08/10/2020 05:05:46

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This installment of the Close Encounters-series clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 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.

    Okay, so we have essentially an Event Horizon situation on our hands: Onyx Station vanished in hyperspace, and now, 50 years later, it suddenly reappeared. Scanners show biological life, and it’s up to the party to explore the returned station. Structurally, this is essentially DIY-make-your-own-module toolkit, providing brief overviews of respective sections alongside hazards ad creature suggestions, with every 2 levels getting their own suggested creature assortment and adventure hooks.

    Unsurprisingly, this means that the majority of the pdf is taken up by a bestiary, but we also get two ships: The tugboat, which is a tier 3 shuttle coming with a gravity beam; I generally like this ship, though it has some space left to customize it, and the tier 5 pilgrim-class freighter. Both are not combat-focused, just so you know. They are not as meticulously-crafted as the vessels presented by Evil Robot Games.

    Anyhow, bestiary: We have pretty much a nice array of the classic concepts you’d expect, conceptually: We have weird science-experiments (CR 6), chaos beasts (CR 7), columns of flesh (CR 10), sedating fungi, creepy sentries (think Alien: Isolation), fear-consuming nuisances, scifi-morlocks, etc. – essentially, the creatures herein have a pretty strong horror angle.

    The good news here is that you can use these critters; the bad news is that there are some glitches in them, some of which obviously did stem from slipping in the line in the table. When a CR 4 expert creature has the EAC and KAC of the CR 3 critter, the source of the glitch is pretty obvious. Said critter has btw. also slipped in the HP column – but down here, sporting 20 HP more than usual for the CR.

    Fly speeds, if present, do not list being extraordinary or supernatural. We have further hiccups in the details here, like an ability that obviously should be mind-affecting (both from context, and the fact that its damage is untyped). The statblocks per se tend to be correct, but also sport quite a few glitches, some of which seriously should have been caught: “…while those already exhausted become exhausted.” [sic!]

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, okay on a mechanical level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, with quite a bunch of nice full-color artworks. Fans of Fat Goblin Games will be familiar with a couple of those. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience; weird: Each critter gets two hyperlinks to point to them: One critter name, and the CR.

    Kim Frandsen and Michael Ritter deliver a solid little toolkit here; it may not be exactly mind-blowing, but it is a helpful little supplement if you’re looking for some hazards and critters to add to your game. The build-integrity of the content is significantly higher than in e.g. the ill-fated NPC Codex. Oh, and this costs a grand total of $1.50. Do I think that this is worth the equivalent of not even half a cup of mediocre coffee (a good cup cost more than €3 where I live…)? Heck yeah. This may not be mind-boggling, but for little more than a buck? Most assuredly worth checking out! As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [4 of 5 Stars!]
    Close Encounters: Onyx Station
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    Arcforge: Psibertech
    Publisher: Legendary Games
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 08/10/2020 05:02:28

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    The first expansion of Arcforge (actually the second half of the original document, to my knowledge) clocks in at 76 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page ToC, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 64 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

    This book requires the first Arcforge book, and for full use, you should also be using Ultimate Psionics and Akashic Mysteries.

    Okay, while the book doesn’t start that way, let us begin as always, by taking a look at the class options presented within this book – these include two new archetypes, the first of which would be the biomech speaker druid, who adds Knowledge (engineering) to the class skills and gains a mech, as well as “biomech pilot” (should be capitalized) as a bonus feat, replacing wild empathy and nature bond.

    This feat requires a bit of explanation: It nets you a partially biological mech, which unlocks a whole array of unique mech enhancements, which includes share spells, 25% to negate critical and precision damage that can be taken multiple times to upgrade to full-blown immunity, or treating integrated weapons as natural weapons. These benefits are potent, but considering the dual tax, and the per se plausibly minimum level requirements, they are valid. But back to the archetype: 4th level lets the druid 1/day as a standard action exchange one of the mech enhancements for another; 6th level and every 2 levels thereafter increases that by another daily use, and 8th and 12th level improve the action economy. The capstone delimits this daily-uses wise and replaces wild shape. Instead of resist nature’s lure, we have an untyped +4 bonus to saves versus Ex/Su, Sp and Psi-like abilities of biomechs, robots, and bio-engineered critters.

    Before we go to the second archetype, we have to talk about the robot engine featured in this book, the modular robot engine: In addition to the robot subtype’s properties, the book champions them having Upgrade Points (UP) equal to twice the robot’s CR, minimum 1. Additional upgrades may be slotted on to a robot, granting +1 CR for every 2 UP beyond the normal amount, and if possible, these abilities have a saving throw DC of 10 + ½ the robot’s HD + the robot’s Intelligence modifier. For creators of robots, Improved Robotics nets +2 UP for any robot made (does that increase the robot’s CR for cap-purposes or not?). Most upgrades cost between 1 and 2 UP, with a few also offering a cost of 3 UP. These include additional modes of movement equal to base speed (including clumsy fly or burrow), an additional attack (both 1 UP), Dex to damage, all-around vision…there are a ton of cool ideas here, but the individual value of the upgrades oscillates rather drastically. Let’s take aforementioned movement mode upgrade: It places the same numeric value on climb or swim speed as on burrow speed, which is valid for a monster-customization engine. There is also one upgrade that is called “Autodestruct core”, which deals 1d10 times HD damage in a 30 ft.-radius as a full-round action, with half damage being fire, the other slashing, Ref halves. At higher levels, this also irradiates the area. Cool, but destroys the robot. Compare that to threat range +1 for all the robot’s attacks (which RAW even stacks with keen et al., which it really shouldn’t) or a threat multiplier increase by 1, which has no maximum cap. Both of these cost 1 UP. Notice something? Formatting is sometimes weird: “The robot gains burn (1d6) with attacks of a certain type.” – look no further than this to realize how important formatting is…making a melee attack work as energy-based is valued the same way as causing 1 Constitution damage on an established or maintained pin.

    To make that abundantly clear: I like the robot customization engine! And heck, as a quick and painless GM-customization tool to make robots more potent and versatile it is absolute GOLD. The problem here is akin to others in the first Arcforge supplement– the almost obsessive system transparency between subsystems that are not, or no longer, balanced for parity. In many ways, the core issue of the robot upgrade system lies that it is not as finely balanced as a class option among its own options due to originally being a GM-facing tool. Okay, that’s something one can deal with. However, the system is opened to players, and to other subsystems, and that’s a really bad call. The mech engine, for example, has obviously not even cursorily been balanced against the robot upgrade system. You don’t have to be an experienced crunch wizard to see the disparities here at a glance.

    One of the mech enhancements introduced herein, for example, nets you 1 Upgrade Point – this upgrade point can be spent on bonafide fly speeds, boosters, etc. – compare that to hover stabilizers or the feather fall-based modified aerodynamics enhancements in the first book. Need more? In the core engine, only mechs with the quadruped/threaded body type could gain a climb speed – well, now that limit’s been thoroughly squashed. In many ways, this small mech enhancement that allows for robot upgrades to be used for mechs is SUPER-broken and needs to die; it compromises the per se solid core engine for Arcforge mechs established in the first book. Thoroughly.

    Unfortunately, this annoying lack of concern with system parity can be seen in some other instances. There’s e.g. the new feat chain that upgrades your astral constructs with upgrade points (because we all know that astral constructs really need a power upgrade /sarcasm) or the option to add the aggregate template (more on that below) by adding AIs stored into the thus created astral robot. The idea here is AMAZING. Let me make that abundantly clear. I also love the world-building implications this has. Execution? Not so much. This book introduced the Biomech Construct psionic feat, which applies the biomech template to any astral constructs you create, and you can choose options from an enhancement menu or the metamorphosis powers of the same line, which is pretty potent as a whole. At one point, I am pretty sure that parity between power points and BP/corresponding abilities was considered, and the feat would be potent in that context; however, the final iteration of the Arcforge-systems has gone another way, which also destroys this assumption of parity.

    The integrator aegis is a more complex archetype – this one gets rid of astral suit, but instead modifies their own body, which means they can wear armor. They get access to a limited array of aberrant customizations, and begins play with two robotic enhancements (see above) twice at 1st level, once at 2nd, and once at 12th level. Reconfigure is replaced with the inorganic property that provides a pretty darn impressive list of growing immunities. This theme is also emphasized by cannibalize suit being replaced with an option to ignore a whole array of negative conditions with limited daily uses. And yes, that’s flat-out “ignore” – not suspend or delay onset, ignore. And the character even gets hardness that scales, with all implications of hardness, and as a capstone, has a construct apotheosis. The aegis also features generally available customizations to gain weapon emulation, the ability to mimic psibertech, gain robotic upgrade points, or apply the astral suit’s bonus to touch AC. These general customizations should be taken with a grain of salt – I do not recommend any but the weapon emulation and the psibertech mimicry to be introduced – bingo, once more we have system-crossovers that pretty much go beyond what’s feasible. Robotics enhancement would, for example, net you an UP as a 2-point customization, which can be…well…overkill.

    So yeah, the robot upgrade engine and how it pertains to robots on their own? Valid, fun and cool. How it interacts with other sub-systems? Broken. These crossover options need to die in a horrible nuclear fire, or the material needs desperately to be rebalanced to the power-levels and assumptions of the respective systems that they connect to.

    The pdf then proceeds to provide specialties for technological daevics, the metahumans – essentially akin to passions, opening the flavor of the class and expanding it, which is a cool angle. Two are provided, the cannoneer (fixation) and espionage (vigilance) specializations. The cannoneer gets Perception, Stealth and Knowledge (geography) as skills, and the passion veil list includes the new tech-themed veils from Arcforge: Technology Expanded (with micro-missile gauntlet and nanite cloud delivering two veils usually exclusive to vizier and helmsman), as well as gorget of the wyrm, armory of the conqueror, courtesan’s cloak, sentinel’s helm, and lashing spinnerets, the latter usually being a guru/vizier-exclusive. The pdf also introduces a new veil, namely daevic aspect, which the specializations/passions both get – but interestingly, the effects differ by specialization. The core benefit for fixation would be a +1 insight bonus to attack rolls and AC, for vigilance, it’s be +1 (untyped, should probably be insight) to saving throws and skill checks against creatures you have identified. This differentiation also pertains to the chakra bind to blood. The cannoneer (fixation) gets a 20% constant miss chance, as per blur (spell reference not in italics), as well as a threat-range expansion of 1 with all ranged weapons used, explicitly applying after the Improved Critical feat or keen. Not a fan of threat range stacking per se, but not necessarily broken at 12th level; it should be noted that weapon and weapon property lack formatting in the pdf. Espionage (vigilance)’s blood chakra bind instead nets 30 ft. blindsight, +10 ft. per essence invested, as well as improved uncanny dodge as a rogue of the daevic’s level. Notice what I didn’t talk about? Yep, essence invested. The veil lacks its essence invested section, and e.g. Fixation provides no reason to actually invest essence in it beyond the base benefits outlined above. Pretty sure that’s a glitch.

    Anyhow, back to cannoneers: 3rd level nets Precise Shot, 5th Deadly Aim, 8th level Improved Precise Shot or Pinpoint Targeting sans prerequisites. 6th level nets one of two aspects: Sharpshooter lets the character use a full-round action to make one shot, making a number of attacks they normally could execute, even with weapons that can shoot only a limited amount of times per round; for each hit, they deal damage and add it together, and if even a single attack was a critical threat, one confirmation roll at the highest BAB suffices. I am EXTREMELY torn on this one; on one hand, it is a good example of representing the one-shot-kill style of snipers; the damage this can accumulate, particularly on crits, is insane. Then again, that’s exactly what the ability is supposed to do. So yeah, it might not be for every game, but I actually like it, with reservations. If you need a nerf suggestion for a grittier game, make the 2nd iterative attack the only one that is consulted for critical confirmation; with a good build, this still will yield a reliable amount of critical hits, but not as much as the “one confirmation suffices”-angle.

    Cannoneer requires the use of the armor penetration rules already previously mentioned in Arcforge: Technology Expanded (as an aside – they are one reason why I believe that this book and the first one were, at one point, one massive tome that was split); however, the rules actually are here, and the benefit increases armor penetration by 2, and all creatures adjacent to the projectile’s impact point or line of fire for automatic weapons are treated as if caught in a splash weapon (save based on class level and daevic’s Charisma modifier), with 12th level and 18th level increasing the radius of the splash by 5 ft., and the armor penetration by 2.

    Let us briefly talk about armor penetration. That would be a kind of variant rule that is applied to weapons, with a proper table added: To explain the scale: A light crossbow or light pick has AP 1, an atom gun AP 14; muskets and revolvers, for comparison, clock in at AP 4. AP does pretty much what it says on the tin – it bypasses the respective value of armor. This value is enhanced by the enhancement bonus, if any – a +2 revolver, for example, would have an AP 6, value, the revolver’s base 4, plus 2 for the enhancement bonus. I like the idea behind AP per se – weak weapons like crossbows etc. definitely can use a power upgrade, and AP does deliver that, and the excessive-looking AP-values at higher level start making sense courtesy of a simple rule: It gets rid of that “attack touch AC”-caveat of firearms. Now, I do think that some of the higher AP values are a bit excessive, but having tested playing with the AP rules, I actually found myself liking them quite a bit. While my pretty conservative tastes would reduce the higher AP values and increase the lower ones for a more even playing field (that would also make tanking more viable and interesting), the notion behind this system is one I can definitely get behind. The Piercing Attack feat introduced herein increases any AP value of your weapons by 2 if you maintain your psionic focus, and by expending the focus, you can also apply the AP value to deflection, sacred or profane bonuses to AC.

    The second specialization/passion for the daevic gets Perception and any two Knowledge skills, as well as HU.D. from Arcforge: Technology Expanded, as well as sentinel’s helm, courtesan’s cloak, dreamcatcher, collar of skilled instruction, essence of the succubus, cuirass of confidence and bloody shroud, as well as aforementioned, slightly problematic daevic aspect. 3rd level nets an untyped +2 to Knowledge skill checks and the ability to make them untrained, as well as the option to, as a swift action, make Perception and Knowledge checks. Rules syntax here is a bit ambiguous: Is that a swift action for both? Or a swift action for either? Additionally, we have a +1 DC-increase for veils used against identified creatures, which increases by a further +1 at 8th level and every 5 levels beyond. 6th level allows for the choice between optimizer and saboteur; Optimizers get the tactician’s strategy and one strategy, with an additional one unlocked every 6 levels thereafter; these use Charisma as governing ability score. Unfortunately, quite a few strategies don’t work for the daevic, as they are contingent on being a member of a tactician’s collective, which is a class feature the daevic does not have. No alternate means to determine eligible allies is provided either. Yep, another point for my assertion that Arcforge struggles when attempting to blend systems. Saboteurs gets 1d6 sneak attack and the unchained rogue’s “debilitating strike”, with 12th level and 18th level increasing the damage dice by +1d6 and the option to apply an additional debilitating strike effect whenever the ability is used. Why did I use quotation marks above? The class feature of the rogue is not called “debilitating strike” – it’s called “debilitating injury.”

    The pdf also provides the psiborg racial variant for the noral race: +2 Constitution and Intelligence, -2 Wisdom, starts with a psibertech piece’s basic augmentation and treats their level as +1 for its purposes, and an increased implantation value of +1/2 character level (min 1) as well as a decrease of the Heal check to install cybertech by 10; the variant loses symbiotic resistance and surge for these. Androids can choose three new alternate racial traits for a similar start play with a basic augmentation, Small androids, and a bonus feat in place of nanite surge. Forgeborn can replace fearless with a piece of psibertech and its basic augmentation. There is more interacting with the eponymous psibertech: The Crystal Psiborg feat transforms a psicrystal into a piece of psibertech, granting you its base augmentation, but eliminates its autonomous ability to move; I don’t think doubling the personality based benefits in this context was the best call, though. Feat-wise, an Android or construct can choose the True Machine feat, which nets you full construct apotheosis, the robot subtype and 1 UP, or the clockwork subtype sans winding requirement. This feat may be taken at 1st level. Seriously, this feat is not a good idea – I’d rather recommend basing the like on a player race properly designed to account of the copious immunities of constructs. It’s not like we don’t have enough of those. Alternatively, if you wish to salvage the feat, I’d strongly recommend implementing a scaling mechanism that lets the player choose new immunities from the construct’s lists as the levels progress. Otherwise: Kill this with fire. It should also be noted that soulknives and zealots can use blade skills/convictions to tap into the psibertech engine so prominently featured above.

    Which is also what we should talk about next, for 15.5 pages are devoted to psibertech. Cybertech is interesting, in that it blurs the line between item and class feature: A psibertech implant may be chosen in lieu of a power known, feat or selectable bonus feat; if the character does not have a manifester level, they use class levels in a class granting Wild Talent to determine manifester level-based benefits. A character must first choose the respective basic augmentation before choosing an advanced augmentation; if the character has 3 advanced augmentations, they get the ultimate augmentation at 20th level. HOWEVER, psibertech does occupy a slot and has an implantation value, and they have a weight. Unlike regular cybertech implants, these psibertech pieces can, as you can glean, not simply be bought…or can they? After all the information on individual psibertech benefits, there is a note that provides global pricing for psibertech crafting: 5K for the basic augmentation, +20K per advanced augmentation, and +50K for the ultimate augmentation; twice that price for being bought and installed. This latter section is one I’d be careful with, but do appreciate as a whole: Adding these costs to the class feature angle might be a way to keep the psibertech power in check for less high-powered campaigns. It should be noted, though, that in comparison to regular cybertech, psibertech is VERY low-priced. 1/day full-round action to replenish all power points is certainly worth more than 100K gold.

    There is one aspect about psibertech that I consider extremely problematic and broken, regardless of campaign power level. You guessed it. Mechs can get psibertech if they have the proper body parts. Thing is, the pdf doesn’t really explain whether the pilot has to pay for in class features, whether the crafting is the only thing, or any limits – is psibertech a mech enhancement? Not that it’d matter. Psibertech as a sub-system has no semblance of power-parity with regular mech enhancements, and it’s very much obvious that this section was pretty much a very ill-conceived afterthought, as psibertech’s rules language never intersects properly with that of mechs, making cross-interaction very wonky at best. You guessed it: Kill it with fire. Scratch that, make it “Kill it with untyped damage.”

    To give you an idea of what to expect: At the same implantation value of comparable cybertech, the arm of the augmented blade acts as a mind blade or call weaponry, which replaces your hand as though affected by graft weapon. Rules syntax isn’t 100% clear here in whether this means that only that hand is lost while the weapon is drawn, or whether the benefits of graft weapon also are assumed to apply. It could be read either way. The advanced Augmentations (header not properly bolded) include threat range increases of +1 (which do stack with keen, but NOT with static threat range increases, retain usefulness in areas where psionics don’t work, a critical multiplier increase of up to x6, or making it count as a DR-bypassing material chosen from adamantine, cold iron or silver. I think adamantine should have a minimum level here. The capstone ability nets auto-confirmations of critical threats. (Yes, there’s a lot of missing formatting here, unfortunately.)

    The collectivist’s mental uplink requires a collective to do anything (and should probably specify this as a prerequisite), and allows you to add willing creatures as a move action, and expend psionic focus to add a willing creature as a free action. This is potentially very strong, but the “willing” caveat does prevent abuse via Unwilling participant etc. and a breaking of the offensive capabilities of the collective engine. The advanced augmentations here include making all collective members count as having your teamwork feats for the purpose of the psibertech augmented creature gaining their benefits, a shared awareness of creatures regarding concealment, and a very powerful one: manifesting powers through collective members – but that last one is actually properly kept behind 15th level and another augmentation as a prerequisite. Remote viewing through members is included, and the capstone doubles collective members.

    A psionic tattoo-based one can be found, and there’s one that provides the ability to morph and infiltrate, including options to fortify their mind, deliver false readings, etc. There also is an athanatism-themed enhancement that could be thought of as somewhat themed in line with Death Stranding (which I btw. grew to absolutely love after hating it for the first 10 hours…) There also would be one that allows for psychometabolism powers to double duration (doesn’t stack with Extend Power); nomads gain mobility-enhancers (which include altering teleportation destination by up to half base speed – very cool!) – and yep, the nomad still has to have “line of site[sic!]” to the destination, but that’s at least just a typo. With mech pilot’s bond, you can teleport your bonded mech to you (again, this should have a prerequisite that, you know, it requires an actual bonded mech to do anything…), and a vocal enhancer can improve the mind-affecting abilities of the target. Interesting, btw.: There is a piece of psibertech that has construct-apotheosis as an advanced augmentation – only here, it’s locked behind a proper minimum-level-requirement. On a minor meta-level complaint, some bonuses here probably should be circumstance bonuses, as that’s usually the bonus type associated with regular cybertech. Some of these augmentations, just by the way, are pretty much game-changers. If you have plating of the psion-killer, you get the ability to choose an advanced augmentation to fire off a 30-ft. radius dispel psionics with ML equal class level (should be character level), usable every 5 rounds. This is very potent, but also pretty darn cool, and at 16 lbs. weight and implantation 3, it does have a cost. Flat-out power immunity for any power to which PR applies is locked behind 12th level, as another example for the augmentations provided here. I am not a fan of the one that nets you slowly replenishing technological charges and charges of psionic items, and replenishing the entire power point pool in 2 hours? Ouch.

    An incorporeal phantom lite also ranks among the more potent pieces here. Fans of Path of War also can psibertech that interacts with Path of War Expanded’s sleeping goddess, which does, among other things, allow for the substitution of expending 2 readied maneuvers instead of psionic focus. This one is very powerful, but that’s what fans of Path of War know and expect. There also is an interesting piece of psibertech that eliminates the limitations of cybertech – only up to implantation value works at once, the rest becoming latent, and with an advanced augmentation, they can have two pieces of cybertech that take up the same slot, active at the same time. MOST of these are pretty well-balanced. Most. Not all. Temporal schemer’s interface, for example, has a cool base power – automatically notice delayed powers or those set up triggered. Cool! An advanced augmentation nets you, however, the option to make a move action to get as second swift action. That can be EXTREMELY powerful. Don’t do it. Seriously. Swift actions are extremely valuable. This should have, at LEAST, a 15th level minimum prerequisite. Readying a full round worth of actions is also insanely strong, and it introduces a whole can of worms. As a whole, I love a lot of the psibertech ideas – pretty much all of them. But their internal balancing, even without the subsystem-spanning issues, imho would have warranted further finetuning to ensure that the material is on a singular level.

    The magic/tech item section includes a means to fire ranged touch, rays, cones and lines through weapons to add their enhancement bonus to the attack roll or save DC, doubled charges and ammo capacity for just the equivalent of +1 (x5 for +3 in the greater version), injecting weaponry, etc. – the armor penetration rules also are featured here, with AP-ignoring armor, laser-weapons increasing AP, etc. – some interesting ones here. Combined weaponry is interesting (but should specify that components lose e.g. finesse if not both of them have that property…); an modification that decreases charge uses, means to withstand psionics/tech-negating fields and 3 regular cybertech types are also included: One is essentially a template-based slavecollar, one decreases psychic enervation chance (with a limit). Realignment chips are interesting, if very low-priced– at 36,400 GP, they allow for the swift action regaining of psionic focus, though each subsequent use renders you first fatigued, then exhausted – and this DOES have a caveat that prevents abuse, bypassing immunity. Kudos for that! It’s in instances like this that the series shows how good it can be. A couple of neat items (balanced against the Armor Penetration-rules) are provided alongside two new artifacts, including the mighty mech/robot-crafting Arcforge.

    Apart from the 4.5 pages of aforementioned robot customization engine, the last 30 pages of this module deal with creatures – first, with a whole array of new templates. These include sample statblocks, and feature the biomech template, data phantoms, a variant mindborn template, a template for modular constructs, one for the aforementioned slave-angle (shell), synthetic creatures, the anti-magic spellspurned and one for radioactive creatures. I did not reverse-engineer all of the sample creatures, but at a glance, the builds and templates generally are neat and interesting. The robot section ranges in CRs from 2 to 16 and includes terraformer bots (looking like birds with drill-beaks), and seriously ends the boot on a useful and versatile note.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are, like in the core book, very much uneven – psibertech sometimes gets high-complexity stuff right, only to botch in the easy parts. Formatting is often very inconsistent, but less so than in the first book. This pertains to rules-language as well, which oscillates between “I’d allow that in a heartbeat” and “what were they thinking” – the latter applying primarily to anything regarding attempts to crossover between subsystems. The pdf sports a nice array of old and new full-color artwork. Bookmarks are annoying – the first part of the pdf is bookmarked with a few lines, but after the daevics, the entire template and robot and item section has no bookmarks, making navigation of these parts a pain.

    Matt Daley & Michael Sayre’s Arcforge: Psibertech shows many of the same issue of the core book, but also does many things better: Within the individual frames of reference of the individual subsystems, the content tends to be cleaner than in Arcforge: Technology Expanded. While internal balancing isn’t often as tight as it should be, if you do exert some caution, you can get some seriously neat mileage out of this book. There’s this part of me that loves this book.

    And then there is the part of me that is infuriated by the plethora of formal glitches and uneven balancing, and more so, by the absolutely broken links between subsystems. These aggravating afterthought-like crossovers that compromise the systems they intersect with; both psibertech and the robot upgrade system have no business intersecting with the regular cybertech (pricing all off in comparison) or mech engines (balancing of UPs vs. mech enhancements all off); considering that the core book already had its issues in the core engines and how the engines of classes and sub-systems interacted with the mech-engine, adding these on top is asking for a colossal cluster-f - and not in the fun way, but in the “how the f does this line up” kind of way.

    In short, when seen from solely a design/balance perspective, this is broken as all hell.

    Dear lord, this is a rough beast of a book, and one that clearly shows that it desperately needed some serious playtesting, development, etc. – this, like its first book, could have been a milestone. It oozes cool ideas. But, and there’s not questioning that, it does fall short of its lofty ambitions.

    And yet, while I consider this book DEEPLY flawed, I also can see it having its appeal: If you take care, eliminate the broken bits, and want to flex your design muscles a bit, it’s actually a book that’s surprisingly easy to redeem (provided you can handle the complexity of the subsystems): Rebalance a few components, limit psibertech and nerf a few parts, kill off the system-crossovers, and there you go – psibertech is a book you’ll get a TON of mileage out of. For me, as a private person, I can get a ton of fun out of this!

    As a reviewer, however, I can only rate what’s here, not what I wish this was, or what I can make the book into for my table. I have to rate this book for what it is.

    And it is a flawed book that shows glimpses of true greatness time and again, but still falters. Worse for the system-inherent context, this book compromises the mech-engine, which already was struggling under the none-too-great class option components in the first book, even further, at least if you are not careful and realize how broken those system-crossovers actually are. Considering that aspect, I should rate this lower than the first book; probably around the 2-star vicinity.

    However, idea-wise, and within the systems presented, the book also does a lot right. Moreover, the extensive bestiary section is super useful for the GM, and, it covers almost half of the book, it needs to be weighed accordingly. As such, I actually do consider this book slightly better than the first one, but it’s still an incredibly uneven book, one that makes the first Arcforge book more uneven as well; hence, my verdict will be 3 stars. If you are a very crunch-savvy GM (or simply not concerned about balance) then consider this to be a full-blown recommendation; if balance matters to you, do yourself a favor and bear my warnings in mind. I thought long and hard, and while I really wanted to rate this higher, round up, etc., but I just can’t justify doing so. The book has too many serious and pronounced issues to warrant doing so. For me, as a person, it’s a good book that inspired me to flex my design muscles, but as a reviewer? As a reviewer, I can only recommend this with reservations and very pronounced caveats.

    As an aside: One of the authors has expressed a desire to revisit this series at one point. I’d LOVE to see that. Arcforge is one of those frustratingly-rough books that really shows potential, and this holds true for this second part here as well. Now, the first book and this one were probably part of an original document, split in production; the following installments were not, so I’m looking forward to seeing how/if they improved upon the lessons learned here and engines crafted.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [3 of 5 Stars!]
    Arcforge: Psibertech
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    13 Rogue Talents and Powers (13th Age Compatible)
    Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 08/04/2020 08:57:25

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This pdf 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, so let’s take a look!

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

    Okay, so after a brief introduction, we begin with 3 new talents, the first of which would be Artifact Fence, which lets you carry and use magic items equal to your level +1 sans suffering quriks; on Adventurer feat level, we get to roll twice when enhancing an item via rune activation, applying your choice of the two; the Champion feat upgrade is interesting: When using less magic items than your level +1, and you choose to act upon an item’s quirks to the detriment of your compatriots or yourself, you can improve the benefit granted by 1 tier. Kudos: Has a GM-control caveat. The Epic feat upgrade is super interesting, in that it lets you ignore quirks from item pairs that have fundamentally opposing penalties, and it also offers a cool mechanic that makes magic item overload beneficial, depending on Escalation Die. Cool talent, particularly since, when used with Thievery from the start, it lets you start with a magic item at the cost of a negative Icon relationship!

    Knife Thrower increases damage for thrown daggers to d8, with Adventurer allowing you to spend your momentum to add Escalation die to damage; the Champion feat adds the Escalation Die to crit range when you have momentum, and the Epic feat also adds it to damage when you have momentum, and 1/combat reroll a missed attack. Now, this combo is very good for certain builds, and the pdf actually acknowledges this! Better yet, the pdf actually specifies a ruling that can be sued to keep the talent in line. The pdf lets the GM actually make an informed decision here AND provides a means to reign the option in. This sort of care is absolutely awesome to see; it’s the difference between a situationally broken option, and one that can be tweaked to operate properly in any game. Huge kudos!

    Magical Savant lets you choose wizard cantrips equal to the highest of your mental ability score modifiers, casting them as a wizard sans Cantrip Mastery. With the Adventurer feat, you get a wizard spell of your level or lower as a daily power, with a level equal to the current Escalation Die, maximum your level. The Champion feat lets you use Sneak Attack with this spell, provided you have momentum. Yes. At range. The Epic feat eliminates the momentum requirement, and makes it recharge 11+ after battle.

    3 first level rogue powers are next, with 2 being momentum powers: Clothesline lets you intercept targets and potentially daze them, with the feats increasing the chances of doing so, and Champion/Epic improving the negative condition. Grace Under Pressure is another interrupt action that requires being engaged by 2 enemies or more, and lets you add Escalation Die to AC at the cost of losing it as a bonus to attack; Adventurer adds it to PD as well; Champion makes you no longer lose the bonus to atk, and Epic makes the bonus last. The non-momentum based power would be Vicious Strike, which can only be used while staggered; this one basically nets you ongoing damage, but at the cost of suffering damage yourself; the feat upgrades increase the save to get rid of the damage and let you use it when not staggered, but when you are, you instead increase the effectiveness; the Epic feat can also render nearby enemies afraid.

    There are 2 new 3rd level powers: Dirty Trick can only be used once per combat on an enemy, and pretty much lets you cause damage based on your Charisma, with PD as target, and the attack causes a variety of negative conditions, with the feats adding more conditions. The new momentum power presented here would be No Cage Can Hold Me; an interrupt action that is triggered by being hampered, stuck or stunned; a hard save lets you negate them, and you also get to use it instead of Background checks to escape from bindings, cages, etc.; the feats decrease the save’s difficulty and let you spend momentum to lose the inflicted condition.

    The 2 5th level powers are Guileful Twist (momentum, lets you add Charisma (or Intelligence if you have Cunning) to damage rolls when hitting foes with attacks or rogue powers; this one has no upgrade feats; Knife Drop requires fighting with two weapons, with a one-handed weapon wielded in off-hand; it’s a daily quick action, triggered by missing in melee, and the missed attack deals half damage instead and you gain momentum; the feats upgrade use to 1/combat (Champion) and ongoing damage (Epic).

    There are 2 new 7th level rogue powers, both daily: Be Prepared does not turn you into a lion; instead, as a move action, you get ½ level as a bonus to all defenses vs. the next attack by the targeted enemy. The feats let you retain this vs. one defense and add a counterattack. Painful Smash is a Dex-based attack that makes a nearby ally get triple escalation die to all attacks until the end of your next turn. The feats let you add Strength to damage, even on misses, and the other lets allies that crit the target retain the bonus for another round.

    The final new power is the Distracting Dash 9th level power, which is an at-will momentum power that lets you, as a move action engage an enemy engaged with an ally, allowing said to pop free, even if grabbed or stuck. The Epic feat upgrade lets the ally move as an interrupt action without provoking opportunity attacks.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules language level. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports nice full-column two-color layout, and the pdf sports neat full-color artworks, including a one-page piece. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, in spite of the pdf’s brevity.

    Richard Moore has delivered a rather impressive expansion here; the rogue options herein allow for cool combat options, roleplaying opportunities, and, moreover, takes a lot of these little combos into account; it is a carefully-wrought, inexpensive, and thoroughly rewarding class expansion. 5 stars + seal of approval.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    13 Rogue Talents and Powers (13th Age Compatible)
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    Star Log.Deluxe: Cantrips Reforged
    Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 08/03/2020 10:34:34

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This pdf clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page blank space, leaving us with 7 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, what is this? In short, it applies the design paradigm of PF2’s cantrips engine to SFRPG, making them automatically scale with your level. For the purpose of scaling, only the class level in the class that actually grants the cantrip is taken into account for heightening. SP are heightened to 1/3 of the creature’s CR or level, maximum 6th.

    Okay, one thing could be spelled out clearer: What about cantrips like daze that are on the spell lists of more than one spellcasting class, how do these operate with multiclass characters, say a technomancer/mystic who has access to daze via both classes? Do they take all levels into account, or do you have to choose the spellcasting class/take the one with the higher CL? The answer is in the text, even though the phrasing is a bit more opaque than I’d have liked: The class you learn the cantrip in is what counts. If you learn daze as a technomancer cantrip, it is heightened as a technomancer spell. (This means that you have to note in which class you learned which spell, which seems a bit unnecessarily cumbersome for me.) That being said, handy glyphs denote whether the cantrips are present on mystic, technomancer or withwarper spell lists.

    The pdf goes through the scaling cantrips in alphabetical order, beginning with charming veneer, which provides a minor buff to Charisma related skill checks and lets you once per 24 hours gather information more quickly, with the heightening effect allowing for Resolve expenditure for rerolls. Churn fluid is a GREAT spell for thinkers, allowing you to alter the chemical composition of fluid; in the hands of a good roleplayer, this is a really neat tool. It also brings me to a nice thing to note: We have heightening via +1s, in increments, and thresholds – i.e. if heightened to 3rd level or above. Quite a few of these cantrips sport both of these options: For churn fluid, the regular heightening extends the duration; at 3rd spell level, there is the option to send Resolve to make the duration permanent instead. Cost/benefit ratio represented in an interesting manner here. Another such creative spell would be ghost sound, which later lets you generate scripts to lay out. Now this demands being used for a complex scenario!

    There are also simpler cantrips here: Dancing lights increases the number of lights and area affected; daze causes minor untyped damage – and before you ask: Yes, the spell has the proper descriptors to balance the untyped damage. Kudos. Dazzling flare gets increased durations and the means to use Resolve to render targets off-target for a round.

    Detect affliction deserves special mention: You see, the cantrip’s diagnostic ability gets new capabilities at each spell level. Detect magic does something similarly amazing: The higher the spell level, the longer in the past may the aura be that you can see – oh, and the area affected also improves. These detect spells are gold, and seriously warrant getting this booklet. Energy ray, not exactly a spell I was looking forward to covering, was also a pleasant surprise, in that it presents an assortment of critical effects as part of its scaling, instead of just attempting to make the damage scale. Damage in comparison to common regular spells btw. checks out. Same goes for the save-based alternative hazard, or the KAC-based telekinetic projectile.

    Fabricate scrap is a great one that lets you generate increasing amounts of junk for spells and abilities based on junked electronics. Fatigue sports scaling nonlethal damage alongside higher-level chances of exhausting targets hit – and the mechanics here are clever, as the metric checked is Constitution: If damage exceeds the value, the target is exhausted. Interesting. Mending is nice, preventing abuse with a proper heightening cap and Resolve expenditure required to heal the same construct. Psychokinetic hand gets increased distance, range, etc.

    I also love the grave words cantrip: Roll 1d20, flat, against DC 19 when the character touches a corpse: If you succeed, the corpse utters a useful tidbit of information. The higher the heightening, the lower the DC. Neat. Stabilize at higher levels include options to add shield other-ish effects, and at the highest level, even use the spell as a reaction – though at a steep Resolve cost. Yes, this means that frickin’ stabilize may cause applause at the table. The length of telepathic messages and their range can increase seriously. Token spell can be made to last longer and generate more benefits. Transfer charge now lets you transfer charges between multiple objects at once and improvise shock grenades, but the latter is kept in check by requiring short rests to make these overcharge tricks.

    Conclusion:

    Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level, on a formal level, there are a few minor blemishes like a missing instance of italics; nothing serious, though. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports a nice artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

    So, Alexander Augunas’ cantrips reforged ultimately represent a power-upgrade, and as such, send my reviewer’s senses tingling. However, when seen in the context of the damage averages expected at the respective character levels, you’ll quickly realize that cantrips are very much in line with what they should be. This is NOT an unbalanced supplement, and for that, it really deserves serious kudos. More so than that, however, it deserves applause for the instances where the cantrips not simply provide numerical escalations but how they open up new roleplaying opportunities. That’s what really makes the pdf shine for me.

    It should be noted that, if your aesthetics include high-level spellcasters being very fragile sans spells, this will somewhat mitigate that Achilles heel. If that is part of how you envision Starfinder, then this may not be for you. If you, however, wanted to see cantrips matter more and actually be conductive to roleplaying in meaningful ways? Then you should consider this pdf to be one I can recommend from the bottom of my heart. Considering that this is the very goal of the pdf, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up in spite of the slightly cumbersome core implementation for multiclass characters (which is easy enough to tweak), and for the evocative roleplaying enhancers, this does get my seal of approval.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    Star Log.Deluxe: Cantrips Reforged
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    Star Log.EM-077: Chimeraborn Characters
    Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
    by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
    Date Added: 07/30/2020 12:01:47

    An Endzeitgeist.com review

    This installment of the Star Log.EM-series clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 4 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.

    As an aside: The concept of the playable chimera had originally been introduced for PFRPG as a class-neutral general archetype, but personally, I do think that the SFRPG-implementation is actually smoother in its structural interaction with the system, since SFRPG is better suited for the global archetype concept. This is not a simple linear conversion.

    After a brief introduction on the chimeraborn, we begin with a new theme: Instead of the usual theme knowledge, the theme makes the character a Large magical beast with the shapechanger subtype and the race’s original reach, and you count as both the original race and as a magical beast. However, the pdf does not future-proof this aspect: If e.g. an effect affects shapechangers in a benevolent way and penalizes the original race, we’ll need a GM-call. The body has three heads and the front paws are as prehensile as the hands of a human. You get shape change to a version of your original race. While in your chimeramorph form, you lose all racial traits except Hit Points and ability score adjustments. You also get +1 to Strength. At 6th level, each head has its own name alignment within one step of you, and the same languages and mental ability scores. This nets you a +2 insight bonus to saving throws versus mind-affecting effects, but the other heads also tend to voice your desires, which is a glorious roleplaying angle if handled well. 12th level nets you +1 Stamina per level, +1 for every further one you attain; 18th level lets you, up to twice per day, as a move action while in chimera form, roar and recover 1 Resolve Point.

    The chimeraborn scion archetype requires the theme, and at 2nd level nets you Skill Focus with two skills, one skill from each of your other heads’ list of associated skills. At 4th, 6th, 9th, 12th and 16th level, you can replace the usual class feature with a so-called chimeraborn instinct. Minor nitpick: The ability is called “Temporal Scion” in an obvious cut-copy-paste glitch from Timelost Characters. Also: The ability should note that 2nd level does net an instinct – that has to be deduced from context.

    As for the heads, these all have different skills associated with them, and grant you abilities: Animal heads net a vesk’s natural weapons, blindsense (scent) 30 ft. and low-light vision, with the associated skills being focused on the physical. Dragon heads net you blindsense (vibrations) 30 ft., a dragonkin’s breath weapon, natural weapon and darkvision, while the magical beast head nets darkvision, low-light vision and natural weapons. Slightly problematic here: The dragon head is much better than the alternate choice regarding magical beast heads...at least unless you make smart use of chimeric evolution, an instinct which nets you a polymorph (1st level) based access to an ability of a creature whose head you have. 6th and 12th level instincts feature btw. upgrades of this one.

    2nd level instincts also include the ability to have gear incorporate into your form, and quicker shapechanging. The 6th level instincts include an ability to upgrade the chimeric creature’s natural weapons – oddly, it does reference the requirement of natural weapons, when it is impossible for the chimeraborn to not have them. Chimeric shapechanger is a Resolve-powered, limited ability to assume the shapes of the creatures of your alternate heads, with limitations properly included, and scaling handled precisely. There is also the means to spend Resolve to shunt mind-influencing effects into your other head. The 12th level instincts include an upgrade versus mind-influencing effects to +4, and an evasion like defensive boost for them. There is also a means to get a 4th-level polymorph (not italicized) available universal creature rule, and the means to assume a hybrid form, which erroneously refers to itself as an evolution once.

    Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level, and on a rules-language level, odd: On one hand, the design is super-precise regarding high-difficulty concepts; on the other hand, there are some remnants and slightly rough patches that make this ultimately feel like a condensed version of a complex option that needs more room to shine. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf comes without bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

    Alexander Augunas at once did a great job converting this, while also stumbling a bit in some details. These minor niggles don’t impede the usability of the material herein per se, but they do make this feel rougher than it should be. As a consequence, I can’t rate this per se conceptually amazing file higher than 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo and the low price. If the concept even remotely intrigues you, get this – it’s worth the fair asking price.

    Endzeitgeist out.



    Rating:
    [4 of 5 Stars!]
    Star Log.EM-077: Chimeraborn Characters
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