Jul 192019
 

The Fall of Mith: Mithos Manor (5e)

The first module in the Fall of Mith-series clocks in at 72 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 68 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Yes, before you ask – this is the start of an planned series, but for once, I wouldn’t advise in favor of waiting until the entire series is released, for the book utilizes a pretty clever suggested hook (which you should employ) that allows it to be seamlessly slotted into pretty much any setting or ongoing series of adventures you choose/currently play. The module is also entirely self-contained.

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon supporters. Furthermore, the adventure was moved ahead beyond that due to me receiving a hardcover copy of the adventure. My review is based on both the print version and the pdf.

 

So, before we dive into this adventure’s content, let me state that this module does a whole series of things rather well – first of all, the adventure includes two archives, each of which contains 6 maps of the eponymous manor – 6 for day, and 6 for nightfall. The module even includes instructions to print them out for use with 1’’-squares, something I genuinely haven’t seen before and really appreciate. Speaking of maps: The manor is pretty massive, and the maps come in a hand-drawn, artistic and pleasant style – in full-color! Even better: Guess what? They come as properly player-friendly maps! The print outs (and yes, these are included in the pdf/book not only do not have the annoying room numbers that break immersion, the module goes one step further! Know how sucky it is to have secret door indicators on player-maps? Well, this module has them purged completely. No door indicated! Awesome! How detailed are the maps? When you zoom in on the tables in e.g. the kitchen, you can see different dishes (!!) on the table. I am not kidding. That is some seriously next-level mojo here. I could recite a list of long-time publishing companies whose cartography can’t hold a candle to this and its map-support. If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ll know that this is a pretty big deal for me.

 

This general notion of going a step beyond also extends to quite a few other components. For example, to the read-aloud text – there is plenty of that to go around, and its quality is high. There is plenty of additional indicators to go around, and the module has a couple of sidequests for the characters to engage in – where these sidequests would modify the circumstances, they come with their own “sidebars, titled with the appropriate indicators. Thus, if the party completed sidequest x, they get bonus read-aloud text z. When they are accompanied by a certain character, the character will behave according to their personality, potentially helping the party with secret compartments, warning of traps, etc. – the like has been consistently implemented, which is particularly amazing in the final encounter, where more than one entire column is devoted to such if/then-clauses. I applaud this, since it accounts for the consequences of the party’s actions without just relegating this responsibility to the GM.

 

The artwork density follows a simple paradigm of plentiful, almost decadent coverage, and that would be artworks – the book comes with a quite excessive bestiary section, which features not only an array of new adversaries, all with their own artworks, but also a ton of NPCs. The latter fall in two categories – one would be the rank-and-file people, like guards, watch initiates, etc. – these people? Even they come with their own artworks! There also are 4 NPC “Heroes” – these people receive particularly impressive artworks, with Jasper Mithos, who lends his name to the manor, receiving a gorgeous full-page artwork – it’s a glorious piece. Oh, and one of these “heroes”? Well, said entity comes in two different statblocks – transitioning the creature from one to the other is a sidequest – and yep, we get full-color artworks for both of them. And they are very much different from each other! On an aesthetic level, this looks like a book on par with established, large publishers, and does pretty much everything right – including a concise and unique visual identity.

 

What do I mean by that? Well, if the cover was not enough of an indicator, the aesthetics of the book tend to be a bit further developed than the usual premise of quasi-medieval or early modern fantasy that we get to see; the uniform and dressing habits tend to hearken closer to a fantasy approximation of (post-) Edwardian aesthetics; this is definitely intended, as e.g. the manor featuring an observatory and its layout reflecting this identity. Before you put down the module and consider it anachronistic, let me state that this has a conceit that makes this seamlessly slot into pretty much any fantasy world. I’ll get to that in the SPOILER-section. For now, let us state that this module won’t wreck the carefully-cultivated aesthetics of your game.

 

There are a couple of additional things to note, for the module offers quite a lot of additional, rules-relevant material, including 3 feats that represent having received training by the people of Mith. These, unfortunately, showcase one of the weaknesses of the adventure – rules-editing. Mithian Watch Training refers to “Attacks of opportunity”, when that should be “opportunity attacks” in 5e; worse, the Mithian Mystic Training feat labors under the erroneous assumption that there is such a thing as caster level in 5e. There is not. The formatting and verbiage employed also showcase the designer’s inexperience with adherence to the verbiage – which is a bit of a bummer, for the feats conceptually are nice. This being a bit of a bummer even more so applies to the magic items and non-magic items present within; we have an armor sans small table; “automatically deals counts as…” and glitches like that. On the plus-side, you won’t need to flip books – e.g. potions of healing and the like have their effects noted within. Close reading these, we can see another rookie mistake here – item references in text are not properly formatted – they should be in italics. Speaking of italics – this module hits a formatting pet-peeve of mine that really hurt me.

 

You see, the adventure features something I really adore: Magic items that grow in power with the characters. I’ve time and again spoken out in favor of this, and the book contains not 1, not 2, but 8 (!!) such weapons, the gifts of the originals. Before you start sweating – only one may be attained in the module. Why include stats for all 8? There is an excellent reason for that, to which I will come in the SPOILER-section below. We also get 4 shards of creation and a unique armor that feature the same type of progression. In case you were wondering: Level 5, 7, 11, 17 and 20 unlock new benefits. Now, this is an aesthetic peculiarity, but on a design-level, these items tend to provide a lot of fixed bonuses to checks, damage and saving throws. We’ll have to see how that progresses over the course of the series, as these boosts could negatively impact the bounded accuracy paradigm of 5e-design, but I have a pretty strong suspicion that the bonuses are actually intentionally included here. Why? Once more, I’ll get to that in the SPOILER-section.

 

All of the artifacts come with their own, stunning artworks in full-color, and they have in common that I really, you know, want to wield them in battle. What does this have to do with aforementioned pet-peeve? The rules-text of the items is, out of some god-forsaken reason, all in italics, and gets formatting consequently all wrong. When your regular text, out of some unfathomable reason (don’t get why) is already in italics, how do you designate spells? Well, the book doesn’t – at least not consistently. Sometimes, the spell references in the tables are capitalized instead, but not always, the rules language to indicate the spell-slot used of spells with variable levels is consistently ODD – functional, but wrong in a way that really irked me. Hit Die/Dice are not properly capitalized either – in short, the formatting/editing here is, alas, not as good as in the module section.

 

This unfortunately does compromise the integrity of a couple of components somewhat; not badly, mind you, but it’s there. Alas, this is not the only time that the rules-consistency/editing check was botched here – and here, the botch is more severe than formatting. The per se impressive bestiary section deviates in a formal criteria from the standards, in that it lists all saving throws, which is cosmetic, granted. What’s not cosmetic, however, would be the Call to the Past or Crippling Touch features that two creatures have – one is the BBEG, the other is a challenge 5 rank and file adversary to face. Alas, the rank-and-file dude? He has the boss’ version of the features! This nets the rank and file dude two regular forms of attack – and one that is vastly superior in damage output, saving throw DC required to resist it, and so one. How bad is this?

 

RAW, the challenge 5 dude can target a creature it can see within 30 ft. to take 12d6 psychic damage and become frightened, with a DC 20 saving throw to resist the condition and halve damage. Heck, it’s so obvious, the ability even refers to the BBEG by NAME. Additionally, references to the “Dodge” action and similar action types are not properly capitalized. A swarm has two identical actions that state “swarm has more than half HP” – pretty sure one of these should have had different effects and state “swarm has less than half HP.” These glitches are particularly jarring, for, apart from them, I genuinely loved the bestiary section – each creature comes with well-written lore, and the statblocks generally tend to offer a rules-integrity that was refreshing to see – math checks out, etc. This renders the nasty cut-copy-paste glitches and formatting hiccups even more jarring; without these major blunders, this’d be a neat reference for how it’s done. As provided, though, these do mar the module, particularly because this is a hard module.

 

Nominally, this is intended for 5th level characters, and it works as written – however, there will not be much long resting going on, as the adventure takes place over the course of a single day. Conserving resources is crucial. Moreover, aforementioned heroes I mentioned? The party will need their aid; as such, it is important for the GM to try not to gloryhound; the heroes are powerful, yes – more potent than the party, but the module actually succeeds in making the party’s decision matter. As for the genre, I’d consider this to be a refreshingly difficult survival scenario that is thoroughly invested with aesthetics of high fantasy.

 

To elaborate further on the adventure, I will need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

 

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So, high fantasy? How can a high fantasy module fit into a grittier context? Well, the book’s central hook to get the party involved would be that they meet a dwarven storyteller in-game, who proceeds to tell them about fabled Mith – and thus, the party suddenly finds themselves in strange shores, in front of a manor, where they’re expected. The reactions of the NPCs, referring to them by strange names for cultures should drive home that they are part of a story or fallen through time. Unique: It is implied that e.g. dwarves eschew material wealth and the like – some nice lore hints here.

 

This hook also allows you to retain full control over the module’s impact on your campaign – the results could change the past, items could be retained in the real world or not (if you e.g. want to strip away the artifact attained), and if your party gets TPK’d, they may just awake from the story – or, you know, die. The GM retains full control here.

 

This notion also is reflected in something you might have missed – nomenclature! “Mith” does sound remarkably like “myth”, right? There’s a reason for that. Know how fantasy lore is littered with enlightened, once-potent cultures that have since then fallen? Well, Mith is one such culture, and this module depicts the initial stage of the myth, the one that initiates the fall of this proud cultures. This is also where the (pseudo-) Edwardian aesthetics blend well with the notion of experiencing such a culture first hand, where the visuals enhance the content – it makes sense to us to consider a “superior” culture as featuring aesthetics that are more “advanced” to our frame of reference. A big plus that sets the adventure apart is that it does not rely on technology or science-technology tropes to denote its advanced state. The nigh-utopian layout of the very manor, the enlightened reception of non-Mithians – they all tell the players that this is an enlightened, advanced culture without shoving it in their faces. This also allows the GM to portray the Mithians as worth saving and marveling at – while more conservative than even contemporary dwarves, the Mithians are a very good people, a vista of what an enlightened and kind humanity could be. Larger than life HEROES. It’s a small thing, but with the abundance of cynicism and inversion of tropes, this actually felt refreshing to me. And all of that without glorifying them as flawless – it’s an impressive feat of indirect storytelling and conveying the adventure’s lore.

 

This is also enhanced by the PCs meeting the grand heroes of the age: From the ruler Jasper Mithos (challenge 20, fyi) to his right-hand man and bodyguard Aramus Drake and the mighty mage Windle Glass, getting to know these legends is a great initial setting of the stage. Indeed, even if the PCs snoop around, they are at best, rebuked in a civil manner. The manor’s daytime scenes at banquet generate a honest appreciation for the Mithians – and perhaps some greed/envy, for even the regular guards have baton-like sticks of adamantine as weapons! These people are used to combat – and it soon will become apparent why such exceedingly potent weaponry is required, and why I believe that the massive power-boosts implied by the weaponry and items may be intentional for the overall saga.

 

You see, after the celebration, the PCs will retreat to their rooms – and night falls. On a thematic level and figuratively: The night turns the module into a harsh mistress – Mith manor is assaulted in the night, and by overwhelming force – shade ravens smash against the windows, evoking visuals of Hitchcock’s classic, and beyond that, the shades have attacked. These are not shadows – they are a threat more severe. For one, Mithians distrust anyone who has their back turned to them. Why? Shades may assume the forms of regular people, copying them perfectly. Well, almost – their eyes remain a stark, soulless, black.  Rank and file enemies include a take on wendigo-like things that can infect targets with their cursed appetite and more potent shade infantry – which suffers from aforementioned glitch. Over the course of the assault on the massive manor, the characters are rewarded for exploration by meeting (and saving!) the heroes – the goal is to find Jasper Mith and evacuate what can be evacuated, which is actually harder than it sounds. Aramus and Windle, if found and helped, can aid the Gm in pointing the party towards components of the module, and a GM may also use them well to help save the characters.

 

Also: I kinda lied – there is a means to rest in the manor – if the PCs are smart, they can find a magic set-up that has time progress at regular speed, while slowing down the outside, basically a means to work/study more efficiently – this can be used to sneak in a limited one long rest – the party should better make it count! Speaking of making things count: The manor also contains a mighty crystal golem that the party can finish to help fight off the shade invasion – this golem is sentient and deadly, and its completed version can really help turn the tide of battle in the finale. (As an aside – a variant of the BBEG being attacked from behind by the finished golem is provided as a gorgeous full-page spread.) Also, in contrast to regular Mithian golems, it can learn from its mistakes – the inability to do so that besets the standard Mithian constructs is a pretty darn cool angle that can lead to seriously cool roleplaying, and that also makes the constructs feel more like, you know, constructs. It also mirrors and reinforces the conservative to a fault leitmotif.

 

Once the party finds jasper, he states that the shades are after one of the legendary gifts of the originals, aforementioned scaling items – and here’s the reason why there are so many included herein – while the book has a standard choice, the precise nature of the item can be switched to one of the other gifts. Clever! In the end, the party will hopefully get to escape, but there is one entity standing between them and victory – the drei. (Not, not the German word for “three.”) being the ruling-caste of the shades, and they are basically immortal and only risk death by their ilk when restoring their physical forms. No, really. You can temporarily beat them, but that’s it. Oh, and that drei? Challenge 20.Did your players help the heroes? Did they finish the golem? Well, it is here that all those modular things are taken into account. The drei is epic. There is one thing that is problematic here, though – the drei nets a metric ton of XP – and I am pretty sure that the PCs should not get its full 20K XP; advice on how much XP the PCs should get for beating the drei with their epic allies would have been appreciated. That being said, there is a pretty big chance of the PCs not managing to beat this fellow, perishing, or escaping by the skin of their teeth – and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. 5e needs harder modules and adversaries. Also: the drei? It’s actually conglomerate thing fused out of (auto-)cannibalizing lesser shadelings with its own sentience, and thus has a feature, Cull the Weak, which lets it consume its underlings and heal up for phase two. Better yet: The module actually helps the GM run this complex encounter: The module lists damage inflicted by level, as well as a likely progression for combat by round. Oh, and if the party botched? Well, if for example only Windle Glass makes it to the finale, she’ll turn to the PCs, stating but one word: “Run!”

 

This is easily one of the most epic boss fights I’ve seen in 5e so far, and it’s executed with panache aplomb. Oh, and all those legends? They can die. The party literally is the factor that shapes the legends of Mith here, that determines whether these legendary heroes live through the assault on Mith manor. I love this. The module then concludes with the characters finding themselves back in the tavern, the dwarven storyteller gone – though XP and items that the GM deems proper retained – once more, maximum control for the GM over the campaign’s power-level. (As an aside – if you gravitate to lower-powered play, this module represents a great way to use high fantasy for a change of pace and then revert to your usual playstyle…just sayin’…)

 

Conclusion:

Editing on a formal level in the module section is good; I noticed a few typo-level glitches, but not many. On a rules-language level, the book almost feels like the work of two people – there are some seriously nasty glitches in a key monster of the module, and the crunch-components like feats and the like tend to be somewhat awkward at least, and/or could have used some streamlining. The formatting is easily the worst part of the module – particularly in the rules-section, we have plenty of instances where spells, Hit Dice, etc. are not properly formatted. On the plus-side, this is a drop-dead gorgeous book – the layout is amazing, and the sheer density of original artworks is exceedingly impressive, much more so for adhering to its own unique style, and for establishing a genuinely unique visual identity. The 2-column layout further enhances this with use of 5e’s trade-dress, splotches and the like enhancing the feel of the book. Finally, the cartography is absolutely phenomenal; the fact that this goes the extra step for high-res jpgs and truly player-friendly maps is a huge plus and offsets some of the rookie-mistakes made in the formatting department. That being said, I strongly suggest getting this in print – for one, it is a beautiful book – and the pdf, in a decision I absolutely don’t get, has no bookmarks, making navigation of the electronic iteration a chore.

 

Tim Peterson and Jared Runyon have provided a more than positive surprise here for me. I expected yet another haunted manor and got so much more – a battle for survival, an escape, a brutal high-fantasy yarn. When I realized the light/dark-angle, I expected to be bored, and yet, the drei and their minions have managed to instill genuine curiosity and excitement in me. In fact, this gets a ton of things right from the get-go that even established publisher fail to properly get right after numerous tries.  The unique lore interspersed throughout the module helps generate a sense of anticipation and excitement for more – I found myself very much wanting to know how the saga about the Fall of Mith continues, and I’m a jaded bastard. So yeah, particularly in light of this being a freshman offering, it is a remarkable achievement in its detail, in its map-support, lore and numerous other categories.

 

Alas, and that has to be stated explicitly, the module also suffers from a couple of severe glitches that impact its integrity. The XP-value of the BBEG, the monster statblock glitches, the wonky verbiage in the rules, the inconsistent and less than impressive formatting – there is a lot you can dislike, and some of these may be deal-breakers for you. Were I to rate this on the strength of its rules-integrity, it’d clock in at 3 stars at best; however, this is not just a rules book; it is an adventure, and in that aspect, it is an impressive achievement for an opening salvo. The module understands how to provide exposition without boring players in long text-dumps, preferring to show them, and by using notions such as dichotomous thinking, tropes and language itself to convey meaning, a notion employed too consistently herein to be mere coincidence. In short: This does the aspect of modular storytelling ridiculously well, and the various components gel together incredibly well. Moreover, the number of modular things that can happen make this one of the modules that has serious replay value. Indeed, you could, courtesy of the primary hook, play this module again after a TPK – just interject “that’s not how it happened” and rewind – it may be a cop out and not something either I or the module endorse, but it’s an interesting angle you can use to salvage the characters, should you choose to.

 

Let me make that abundantly clear – this would be a 5 star + seal of approval adventure, were it not for its issues and hiccups; with them, I just can’t go higher than 4 stars. If you are not comfortable with dealing with aforementioned rough patches in the mechanics, then I have to advise you to steer clear; if you, however, have the system mastery (and it doesn’t take too much of that) to clear up the gameplay-influencing bugs, you’ll be rewarded with one epic adventure – provided the formatting snafus don’t irk you. For me, as a person, this would receive my seal of approval because I have no problem tweaking/fixing the snafus, but as written, as an official reviewer’s perspective, I just can’t award that here. I seriously hope I’ll get to see a sequel soon; I want to see more about the Fall of Mith; I also hope that the Tim P. GMing team will take this criticism to heart and further enhance their rules-fu in the future to the point where it matches the quality of lore, concepts and aesthetic presentation – this has the chance to become one of those really amazing gems. If you’re an experienced GM and the above seems even remotely appealing, check this out – you will not be disappointed.

 

You can get this beautiful module here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 192019
 

Star Log.EM: Malborgoroth (SFRPG)

This Star Log.EM-installment 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!

 

The pdf begins with a cool little query that makes clear that these entities are Tier-S threats to civilization, accounting for the massive slaughter two malborgoroths committed within mere hours – and it makes sense in SFRPG – where filtration systems and limited air supplies are the norm, an inability to deal with the superbly noxious gas these things emit…well, let’s say it doesn’t help survival. There is a small glitch, an “all” missing here, but other than this cosmetic hiccup, I couldn’t have asked for a cooler setting of the stage.

 

Malborgoroths, in case you missed the original Pathfinder iteration, are basically Final Fantasy’s Morbols…but how have they been implemented in SFRPG? Well, they have a CR of 13 and are Huge aberrations with a stench aura that sickens targets on a failed DC 20 Fortitude-save for 3d4 rounds. (The DC has been increased 1 above the default of the combat array employed as part of the balancing of the creature.) They are unflankable, have regeneration 13 (bypassed by good weapons) and a pretty solid condition immunity list, plus neither poison, acid, nor death will affect them. And no, if you’ve been dealing with them the cheesy way in Final Fantasy, I’ll have to disappoint you – petrification won’t work either. (Nice Easter egg nod, I assume!)

 

On the plus-side, they’re slow – 20 ft. extraordinary flight with clumsy maneuverability will mean that it’s possible to outmaneuver them. I mentioned conscious balancing decisions, and the malborgoroth ahs another one – they have tentacles and stingers, and stingers deal 1d12 less damage, but inject their poison. Okay, tentacles let them swallow whole (properly formatted, lacking a bite attack, they use tentacle damage to determine swallow whole damage), but the poison…oh boy. Let’s just say that reducing base damage size here was smart. They also can multiattack with both natural attacks, at the usual -6 to atk penalty.

 

The signature breath weapon is a 30-ft. cone, Fort DC), and it’s brutal: It can be used every 1d4 rounds. On a failed save, the creature rolls 1 + the number failed the save by d8s and gains the associated effect – which lasts 13 rounds unless noted otherwise. A table covers these effects – if you’re lucky, you only end up deafened, but poison, confusion, being flat-footed and off-target, baleful polymorph’d or flesh to stone’d is possible. Worse, if already affected, the breath builds! Baleful polymorph penalties increase and can become permanent (!!); similarly, the conditions can become permanent; those flat-footed can fall asleep and may be awoken, but here’s the catch – not by the malborgoroth’s attacks! Oh boy, this is evil. I love it. The poison, by the way? Track Constitution, 2 consecutive saves and 5d6 acid damage for 6 rounds. OUCH.

 

On a lore side, the pdf also does something clever – it makes these things agents of the Great Old Ones, and implies that flumphs were corrupted into becoming, well, these horrors! 4 variant malborgoroth types are also included – frigid ones get DR, can encase targets in ice and their poison deals cold damage; mindscream malborgoroths get command and feeblemind breath attack stuff, and synaptic pulse or mind thrust IV via poison. Plasmic malborgoroths cause burning 5d6 E& F, but are vulnerable to cold damage and good weapons to pay for the superior damage type. Finally, the temporal malborgoroth can use baleful alter age (6th level version, see Star Log.EM: Temporal Things), are constantly under haste and slow those that fail the save versus their aura.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re very good on a rules language level, and almost as good on a formal level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf has a neat artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Alexander Augunas’ SFRPG-version of these critters is not just a conversion – it is a reimagination of the great creature, and the malborgorths presented herein are pretty damn cool. There is one thing that these deadly beings lack that render them more manageable for players, one huge Achilles heel – no ranged attacks. In SFRPG in particular, this, paired with their slow and clumsy movement, makes them sitting ducks if the PCs play their cards right. In open areas, they are simply less potent. A less powerful ranged attack would have been nice to see – perhaps one a couple of CRs below the usual damage value? Don’t get me wrong, I totally get the design decision – there’s no ranged attack to balance the potency of the breath and poison, but it makes them less frightening. That being said, I still wholeheartedly recommend these deadly threats! My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

 

You can get these brutal adversaries here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 192019
 

Verdant Bonds (5e)

This interlude for 5e covers 2 pages, and is intended for level 1 – 3 characters, though I’d personally recommend it for level 2 characters at the highest – level 3 characters will curbstomp through this one. The little adventure does feature read-aloud text for most locales, and also has an okay full-color map. No unlabeled, player-friendly version is provided for VTT or printing out. The map has no scale noted.

 

As always when I review mini-modules, it should be noted that I rate them for what they are – brief sidetreks. I don’t expect epic stories from them.

 

All righty, in order to discuss the adventure, I need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should skip ahead to the conclusion.

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Only GMs around? Great! While the PCs are traveling through the Verdant Wood, they happen upon a game trail that leads to a clearing, where a pool and a massive oak tree greets them – alongside Seriana the dryad. Structurally, the dryad does something…dumb. She attempts to charm the PCs into helping her. As a nitpick – the ability is called “fey charm”, not “charm.” Also: Such an action is usually taken as a hostile act by all player groups I know, when asking will usually do the trick usually…but I digress.

 

Her request doesn’t require magic for most groups – her husband’s been kidnapped and held hostage by goblins, and she wants the PCs to save the fellow. The module offers an optional encounter, where the PCs happen upon a shrine and twig blights. Investigation of the shrine is covered…but…the pdf doesn’t properly italicize the spell reference, and doesn’t know how detect magic operates: There is no means to use the spell to detect “restoration magic”, as that’s no school of magic. En route, there is also a hunter’s trap (not telegraphed, obviously), and PCs may happen upon a goblin patrol. Problematic: The approach to the goblin lair notes a “+4 circumstance bonus to Stealth checks”, due to the lack of goblin vigilance, which is admirably precise rules-language…for PFRPG. Not for 5e.

 

The goblin boss has a magic dagger coated in paralytic poison (magic weapon not properly formatted), but otherwise, that’s kinda it – kill the boss, free the hostage…no stand-off, no hostage threat, no unique complication…that was a missed chance. On a nitpicky side of things, the dagger should probably make use of how poison works in 5e.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a rules language level are okay – ability/skill checks are, for the most part, properly presented. On a formal level, the same, alas, can’t be claimed, and we have a couple of deviations from the standard. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard. The piece of full-color artwork is amazing. The map, as noted, lacks a player-friendly version.

 

Ric Marten’s Verdant Bonds, oddly, is better than the second interlude “The Crypt on Keeper Hill” – this one has better rules, more flavor text, and doesn’t suffer from the glaring issues of the crypt keeper trip. It’s still not exactly impressive, though, and while a per se okay offering, it also leaves me without much reason to recommend it. It’s a sidetrek any GM can make, and probably has made, at one point. Granted, it’s inexpensive, but still – there is nothing here that would set this apart in a positive manner.

As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded down.

 

You can get this inexpensive side-trek here on OBS.

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jul 182019
 

Privateers: A Shared Storytelling Game Of Piracy & Plunder (Difference)

This game clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 27 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

 

So, a rules lite swashbuckling/pirate game? Why not! But before we start, let it be known that this game can be used in pretty much any context – I could see it work for a scifi-game, for example, pretty well. The game requires 2 six-sided dice and begins with the character generation.

 

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

 

After this, you choose one talent and one flaw; talents generally tend to provide a +2 bonus to one type of challenge, while flaws either provide a -2 penalty to all challenges pertaining some broader aspect, or -3 to challenges pertaining a more limited component – enough of those are provided to get a sense of the intended balance and make the notion of designing more of them yourself simple.

 

Talents and flaws may also influence your Health – the default starting value is 8.

 

After this, you choose your gear – gear doesn’t give you bonuses (at least usually!), but does allow you to perform certain tasks. All privateers begin with proper clothes, a knife, a blunderbuss and a letter of marquee, and the group shares a ship. Beyond that, you name items, such as a parrot or the like, and perform a simple challenge – if you win, you get the item; if not, then you don’t get it. You get to roll until you lose or have 5 items. A simple challenge is a binary roll of 2d6– you roll against the opponent, and if you win, you win, if you lose, you lose. Ties are rerolled. This is the most simple resolution method herein, but not the only one – I will get to others later.

 

Finally, you can act traits like age, weight, etc. and other non-.mechanical game data –and bingo. Character creation is very much possible in less than a minute – if you roll for items all at once and use colored dice, you can definitely resolve character creation in even less time.

 

Progression is wholly in the GM’s hand – Health is the combination of all Attributes; other than health-increases, gaining talents or removing flaws are the suggested means to depict character growth.

 

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

 

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

 

But why is the engine called “Difference Engine”? Well, to determine your success in a challenge, you can have different successes – there are actually 7 degrees of success; by barely making a challenge with a tied roll of +0, you achieve minimal success, while a Difference of 11+ means an incredible success – fighting and jumping examples allow the GM to easily determine effects for a given result.

 

Teamwork is very potent – the player with the highest attribute rolls 2d6, and adds +1d6 per additional privateer involved. Only the highest two dice results are calculated.

 

Examples on how to interpret the rolls and how to make the eponymous Difference matter are provided, with several simple suggestions illustrating e.g. what happens if both player and GM roll poorly. The system knows critical successes (double 6s) and failures (double 1s), and the pdf even explains what happens on a double 6 opposed by a double 1, walking you through the entire process of using this.

 

There is one more factor to consider – luck. Each character begins play with 1 point of Luck, and more points are gained whenever a Double is rolled ( i.e. two 2s. two 3s, etc.); if the players use Luck, the GM gains one Luck, mirroring a system I have used with some success for hero points and similar mechanics in more complex systems. Using Luck BEFORE the roll lets you add +1d6 per Luck used, but only the highest two results are used to calculate results; OR, you can add +2 per Luck used. If used AFTER the roll, you get to add +1 per Luck used OR you may reroll one die rolled, but must take the new result.

 

Combat is classified in turns, which correspond to no set amount of time, allowing you to categorize them anew per frame (so that naval combat might have longer turns); initiative is stacked greatly in the PCs’ favor – you begin left of the GM, round the table, with NPCs etc. acting last. Akin to how VsM-games work, difficult movement may require Mental or Physical tests. Attacking may be resolved by rolling Physical vs. Physical, Physical vs. Mental, mental vs. Mental – it depends on the context. Damage is contingent on the weapon employed and the Difference– simple weapons cause 1 base damage, improved weapons (this includes btw. the starting blunderbuss) 2 damage and advanced weapons cause 3 damage. PCs reaching 0 Health take their negative Health as a penalty to all challenges If negative Health exceeds one of the PC’s attributes, they can’t use challenges in that attribute any more. At -6 Health, a character falls unconscious, at -10, the privateer is dead.

 

Healing is handled easily: Roll a Mental challenge, and add Health value of target, whether positive or negative, to the result. On a success, the target regains half the Difference (rounded down) Health. On a failure, though, the Difference is taken as damage! So no, Health-scumming is not wise.

 

Ship to ship combat knows 6 general roles, which all have so-called techniques – specialized challenges that e.g. allow a surgeon to heal the crew, potentially reviving crew; master gunners may initiate broadsides – you get the idea. Creation of new roles and techniques is a simple process as well. Ship to ship combat is structured in three stages – sighting distance, shooting distance and boarding distance, with all three stages properly explained.

 

Ships have simple stats – they have a base damage for cannons, a maximum Hull (the corresponding term for a ship’s Health), a maximum and minimum crew rating – the crew rating is an abstraction and may be jury-rigged for your purposes.

 

The GM section provides advice and also sample bonuses that may be applied to roles to simulate 6 different difficulties – an easy task may only have a +1 bonus, a nigh impossible one +11. We also get a couple of sample stats and a nice little character sheet.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a rules-language and formal level. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard with red highlights, and the pdf features thematically-fitting and modified public domain art. The pdf features bookmarks for easy navigation.

 

Lucus Palosaari’s work on VsM-engine products has informed a few of the components herein, but personally, I was also reminded of Into the Odd – both good things, since these are two of my favorite rules lite roleplaying game systems. With a focus on narratives, the system has one task it needs to handle well: The storytelling should not amount wholly to competitive BSing, and it is my pleasure to report that, simple though the game may be, it has a surprising depth to it. The techniques and how they work, the weapons – this book presents a great chassis and explains it in a way that is supremely easy to expand upon. I could e.g. see myself grafting the excellent VsM-magic system or a kind of arcana-system or starting packages from into the Odd onto this one. The one weakness of this game would be the lack of options regarding gear – sample options and prices and guidelines on how much loot to award would make sense and have further added value to this neat book.

That being said, do you know how much this is? $1.95. I kid you not. You can’t even get a cup of joe for that around here, and I consider this to be, frankly, a steal – the system is so easy to adapt and graft that a good GM can create complex tales, devise progression reward mechanics (another aspect that could use some expansion) – but more importantly, the system, as presented, can be arguably run without the pdf. The beauty of the system lies in the fact that, once understood (which will take a maximum of reading the pdf and playing perhaps twice), it can be run spontaneously. This is a pretty big deal.

 

Now, for the future, I’d love to see books that expand talents, present gear, perhaps magic, more ship-options and the like – but right now, for the purpose of this review, I’ll remain with a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down by a margin. This is a great system with promise galore and the potential for staying power, but right now, the pdf presents the core and relies on the Gm to expand upon that. Consider me excited to see more, and if you’re looking for a great game to teach new players the joys of roleplaying, you’ll find very few as beginner-friendly as this one!! (As an aside – The Difference engine also can help kids improve their math and hone their sensibilities regarding stochastics, but that as an aside.)

 

You can get this rules-lite, easy to grasp game here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 182019
 

Starfarer Adversaries Deluxe: Drider (SFRPG)

This extra-large installment of the Starfarer Adversaries-series clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, so let’s take a look!

 

So, this supplement begins with giving us a basic rundown of drider tactics, which also introduces us to a cool notion, the FiendWebs, a kind of horrific industrial spider-themed hellscape that acts as a hub for the dread empire of Akkanar – like it!

 

The supplement contains two different types of gear – the shock glaives (S & E) powered weapons with the block and reach special property and scaling Arc critical effects, and Fire damage microwave pistols – the beamer pistols – iterations for levels 5, 10, 15 and 20 are provided. The pdf does explicitly state that it uses the damage values of array and CR, and not the one based on the weapon – this is in contrast to how NPCs are handled in the Alien Archive, but is no oversight here, but a conscious deviation. Whether or not you like that is a question of personal taste and will not feature in my final verdict.

 

The drider statblocks within range in CRs from 5 to 20, with one statblock for each of the 15 levels provided, and are aberrations with the elf subtype. Slightly odd – while the immunity to sleep is retained, the +2 racial bonus to saves against enchantment spells and effects that would usually be bestowed by an application of the elf subtype graft has been left out of the statblocks. Also odd: The elf subtype graft notes that most creatures should get Perception as a master skill, another component that the driders do not receive. In spite of being made of drow stock, driders as presented herein also lack the light blindness weakness, which struck me as odd. Personally, I think that all those things would have made the statblocks more interesting, but that may be me. While we’re on the subject of some oddities: Initiative lines in the first 3 statblocks tend to read “+X mod.” instead of the proper “+x.”

 

On the plus side, the benefits of the aberration graft have been consistently applied. Driders use underized weapons for their Large size, but may use 2-handed Medium-sized weapons in one hand due to their mass and legs. All driders also can smoothly and swiftly move through webbing and generate titanium ally cable-strength webbing, which they may use to have their ranged weapons behave as though they had a grappler, which is a pretty cool angle. That is, I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be “taking an action”, not “talking an action” – funniest typo I’ve seen all day. Drider poison uses Strength as progression track, with CR 9 being the first that requires two consecutive saves to cure. Frequency remains locked as 1/round for 6 rounds, and driders have climb speed equal to land speed, with the Cr 12 one being the first with supernatural flight, courtesy of equipment.

Driders get SR of 11 + CR, have the create darkness offensive supernatural ability, and all builds use the high attack value for melee, the low one for ranged attacks. The builds do not gain multiattack, but do benefit from an array of different SPs. The damage type indicator of the bite attacks is consistently missing from all of the statblocks – probably should be P. All of the builds herein are based on each other, so don’t expect to see serious variation in the base chassis – all use the combatant array as a foundation and build from there. This is a bit of a lost chance.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level and the statblock integrity is high, if not perfect. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, with a nice artwork by Jacob Blackmon. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, which is a nice plus.

 

Owen K.C. Stephens’ driders are nifty and potent – these fellows can be dangerous, but I ultimately couldn’t help but feel that they could have offered a bit more in the sense of diversity. Sure, it’s nice to get this many driders, but personally, I’d have preferred less of them and instead ones that are more different. I’d also have enjoyed a more stringent application of drow traits, but this is a matter of taste – do you picture them as more drow-y or as more strongly defined by their aberrant side?

 

As a whole, I consider this a solid, if not mind-blowing supplement – pretty much the definition of a solid offering, slightly on the positive side of things. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, though I don’t feel I can round up here.

 

You can get these driders here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 172019
 

Star Log.EM: Uramae (SFRPG)

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

 

So, on the introductory page, we get a proper uramae subtype graft, as well as mummy rot as a special disease codified within SFRPG’s system – and a feat: Uramae of 5th level and a certain heritage can take that feat and sped 1 Resolve point to infect foes hit with unarmed strikes with mummy rot; this is balanced by a single opponent succeeding on the save being immune to this for 24 hours. This is relevant, because the mummy rot DC scales based on half class level and key ability modifier.

 

Uramae in the Xa-Osoro system hail from the dead world of Uramesh, and actually are the deoxyian’s progenitor race. They get 4 Hit Points, +2 Con and Int, -2 Dex, are Medium, and have a touch of Spock in them – 1/day, an uramae can take 10 on a d20 roll or “chekc”[sic!], except ones that automatically fail on a natural 1; additionally, they get a +1 racial bonus to a check when taking 11 – essentially, they take 11 instead, which is clever. Uramae are fast – they have a speed of 40 feet and get an extraordinary fly speed with average maneuverability – however, this is thankfully balanced by needing to end movement on ground or fall – they basically can hover-jump short distances. Cool! Additionally, uramae belong to one of two ethnic groups.

 

The first of these would be the mumiyah – these count as both humanoids and undead, whichever is worse, but are immune to negative energy and get +1 to Fortitude saving throws vs. disease, exhaustion, fatigue, mind-affecting effects, paralysis, sleep effects, and stunning. They count as living for what can affect them, and this ethnicity can take aforementioned feat. They may also be brought back to life.

 

The second caste, the wsjr, gains Great Fortitude, iron Will, or Lightning Reflexes or Toughness at 1st level, and may take these feats as replacement class features at 4th, 6th, 12th and 18th level. Wsjr also gain +1 skill rank at first level and every level thereafter. Really cool: We do get full racial notes that include “If you’re an Uaramae…” and “Others probably…”-sections – kudos for their inclusion!

 

Uramae lay eggs, as the notes on their life cycle make clear, and speaking of which – we get proper tables for their life cycle, codifying age categories, height and weight – here, the races goes one step beyond SFRPG’s standard, which I wholeheartedly approve of.  The Uramae are a race defined in part by calamity – after the schism that split their race into the uramae and the deoxyians, the planet basically slew their home world – and now, in domes cities, the forces of necromancy and means to maintain the scarce resources are all that keeps the race from extinction. Suffice to say, uramae are not particularly fond of their genetic-engineering brethren.

 

The living wsjr, as a consequence, are actually today the minority of the species, which can be a very interesting twist for the society. Furthermore, there is an interesting further schism – while some could argue that the deoxyians are mutating, evolving at the cost of everything around them, the same can’t be said for the uramae, who believe that their society, a concept they think of as a living entity, reached its pinnacle thousands of years ago. This streak of conservative ideology, paired with a focus on logic, has been thought through in an interesting manner – essentially, the wsjr are a valuable commodity for the mumiyah; treasured and yet, as the wsjr contend, treated as children, as pets. Combined with the unchanging nature of undead, we have a great mirror-image of the sprawling, mutating evolution of deoxyians – a society defined in a way by unchanging stagnation, and yet one that requires the living beings that desire change to maintain its very existence. This is a great basic conundrum and offers plenty of roleplaying potential, particularly if more than one PC is an uramae – one mumiyah and one wsjr certainly make for a great dynamic all on their own.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level, .and good on a formal level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and we get artworks for both ethnicities of uramae, which is cool. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Alexander Augunas and John Laffan paint a compelling picture of a race split it twain twice – once in the distant past, and, ironically, once by the very structure on which their conservative society is based. I really loved the unique psychological angles explored here, and the clash of themes and how they are explored – the uramae are an interesting race that features sufficient intriguing flavor to make them unique and compelling to play. My one complaint here would be that more information on the cataclysms that wrecked the race, and how it influenced their social order, would have been awesome. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this interesting race here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

 

 

Jul 172019
 

The Level 1 Creature Generator (OSR)

This pdf clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

We begin with instructions, which are simple enough – you see, each of the tables here contains a matrix of 4 columns and 10 rows – these generally span 2 pages per table. You roll a d4 to determine the column, a d10 to determine the row. Simple, nice. With the entries differing in density and complexity, the respective font-size varies from what looks like regular sized 10 or 11pt (not good at differentiating those) to pretty large letters, so if you’ve got issues with your eyes, this still renders the pdf pretty usable.

 

Nice: In spite of not per se subscribing to a particular old-school rules-system, the pdf does take its time to properly explain its terminology – that means a couple of things: “Being” refers to an entity with a modicum of intelligence (so not oozes and the like); several entries make use of ability score checks, which are suggested to be resolved with a roll-under mechanic; in absence of the like, quickly rolling 3d6 to determine a value or fixing one is suggested. Alternatively, saves vs. death, breath, etc. are mentioned as a different means to resolve abilities.

 

Shapes are deemed to warrant a HD-rating, and bonuses stack; basic shape determines modes of movement; birds can fly, spiders climb – you get the idea. Distance references are handled via two abstract approximations – “Close” refers to 0 – 5 feet, “Nearby” to 5 – 60 feet. Several entries reference “roll with advantage/disadvantage”, so if you’re one of the hardcore grognards or Lamentations of the Flame Princess purists that dislike this rule, that’s something to bear in mind, as the modification to chances of critical success and failures mathematically is a bit more complex to replicate – an alternative would have been nice. AC is assumed to have a base AC of 11, and is presented in an ascending AC convention.

 

In case you were wondering – you can get a regular creature in 4 or 6 throws of the dice: The first table determines the basic shape, which can range from man to frog etc. – this entry determines AC, HD and damage dice caused by the attacks. Poison is noted here as well, and worm-monsters at half health split in two; butterfly monsters can cause AoE damage with poisondust (no save/text RAW – ouch!).

 

Table number two determines the form, which may be almost impossibly flat, incredibly cute, surrounded by a windstorm, have free-floating body components, etc. – there are some serious gems here, and quite a few of these shapes may have additional rules effects. Carapaces grant more AC, hypnotic eyes, being a thing of Hellraiser-ish pain etc. – a nice selection here.

 

Beyond these, the third, and arguably optional table, contains abilities – singing targets to sleep, exhaling a noxious cloud of poison gar, absorbing nearby gold, generate biological trap mechanisms – some pretty evocative ones here!

 

As an aside, if you don’t want to roll the dice, the tables are big enough to act as die-drop charts, if you choose to employ them as such.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, with a b/w-image of some ruins acting as a border, over which the tables are situated. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length – indeed, I’d recommend just printing the 6 pages of tables, laying them on the table and throw the dice on them. Monster generation done in seconds.

 

Michael Raston’s level 1 critter generator was a pleasant surprise – which not as potent as some other monster-generator engines out there, it is ridiculously comfortable to use and fast. If you’re time-starved as a referee/GM, you will love how smoothly and quickly you can make unique critters here; and as an aside, the results are very likely more sensible than the ones in e.g. “Isle of the Unknown” – there is more correlation between shape and function here, and while the respective entries are brief, they still manage to retain a surprising sense of cohesion.

 

The pdf does have a few weak points – not explicitly subscribing to a particular old-school system would be one of them. In an ideal world, there’d be an iteration for B/X, one OSRIC, one for LotFP, etc. – adapting the content herein truly to your game in question may require a bit of thinking first. (Do that when first reading the generator – the beauty of OSR-games is that they’re so rules-lite and simple that, after contemplating that, you won’t have to do so again.) Still, that is the one aspect of this super-nifty little tool that I consider to be less than ideal. Did I mention that this pdf costs a grand total of a single buck? Heck, you can purchase next to nothing for that nowadays, and this pdf is certainly worth leaving this symbolic obolus. It’s not perfect, but it’s a fine little tool to have. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down.

 

You can get this nice little generator here for a single buck on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 172019
 

Spheres Apocrypha: The Apex Shifter

This installment of the Spheres Apocrypha-series clocks in at 4 pages,1  page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue because I had been tasked to cover the other Spheres of power-supplements, and I’m kind of OCD and can’t stand having something not covered yet when the rest’s done.

 

Okay, so this contains, obviously, the apex shifter, an archetype for the sphere shifter. A minor nitpick from the get-go – the rules verbiage tends to state “At level XYZ”, when PFRPG usually phrases that “At 3rd level…” – it’s a minor thing and won’t influence the verdict, but it bugs me as a person. Instead of endurance, we get a talent from the Alteration sphere, which may be chosen anew after resting for 8 hours. This should specify that such a talent cannot be sued for the purposes of prerequisites. It also establishes the notion that this archetype doesn’t attempt to balance its content with either the original shifter, or internally.

 

Extended transformation is moved to 4th level, which is a good call, since the spheres druid getting that before the shifter was a bit grating; 5th level allows for the use of shapeshift (not properly formatted) to the apex shifter as a swift action, with concentration-maintenance as a swift action. 9th level yields greater transformation – which is oddly listed before the 8th level ability, which upgrades the use of shapeshift (again, not formatted properly) as an immediate action. These abilities btw. replace the communication abilities and immunity to diseases and poisons. The capstone eliminates the need t make concentration checks for shapeshifts (bingo, not formatted – ever), and the need to pay for spell points. Additionally, 1/turn free action shapeshift.

 

5 bestial forms are provided: Accommodating form chooses one Alteration sphere talent (including Blank Form) granting traits; When using shapeshift, for +1 spell point one trait from the chosen form may be applied, and this does not count towards trait maximum. The bestial trait may be taken once per 4 class levels. Resistant Shift nets Stalwart (urgh) when increasing size, evasion when decreasing size. For a limited amount of rounds. This is very potent and should have a minimum level and be relegated to the mid-to high-level tiers of gameplay. Defensive shift lets you combine personal shapeshift and total defense, but makes the character staggered on the next turn. How is that in the same category as the option to gaining both stalwart or evasion? Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but it almost looks like it’s been written by someone else. Feint as part of shapeshift? Okay, can get behind that. Shifting Style requires Spheres of Might and requires one talent from Alchemy, Equipment, Tech or Trap sphere as well as Knowledge of Many Shapes (the apex shifter’s wildcard talent ability gained at 3rd level), and nets a freely chosen combat talent from a sphere that is NOT among the 4 listed in the prerequisites, getting that for 1 minute or until a new shapeshift applies. Why would you ever not take this one??

 

The second page contains an alternate version of the “Elementalt[sic!] Transformation” talent – Dedicated Elemental Transformation. Okay, should this one be treated as Elemental transformation for the purpose of ability interactions and prerequisites? No idea. That being said, the presentation of this one is nice: It has mutable limbs, allows for speech 30 ft. speed, 2 slams (properly codified as primary), scaling AC bonus and darkvision 60 ft. Also features scaling chances to ignore critical hits and precision damage (25% to start with, scales every 5 levels by +25%) , and the talent nets you one package corresponding to the 4 primary elements – the cool thing here would be that knowledge of an element (the talent may be taken multiple times) unlocks elemental corresponding traits for use with other forms. Minor nitpick: “Burn” in the context of the fire elemental ability should be capitalized, as lower-case “burn” does not denote the extraordinary ability, and instead evokes ideas of kineticists..That notwithstanding, I liked this one.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not good –on a formal level, the content failure to put shapeshift properly in italics makes the rules-language harder to grasp; syntax sometimes deviates in a weird way from the standard, etc. – more hiccups here than I’d expect to see in two pages. Rules language is generally functional, but internal balance of the archetype’s options are weird, and the wild-card talent stacking? Not a fan.

 

David Spektorov’s apex shifter is an expansion I wanted to see – I wanted to see a shifter who gets to shift as soon as the druid. The internal balancing of the bestial traits isn’t ideal and oscillates quite a bit, and as a whole, the apex shifter is a stronger option than the regular shifter, and not always ina  good way. That being said, the notion of dedicated elemental transformations is neat, and the pdf has something to offer – it’s just rough in a couple of instances, probably won’t bow you away, and with stricter editing/development, could have been amazing. My final verdict, alas, can’t exceed 3 stars, in spite of the low price point.

 

You can get this pdf for just $0.99 here on OBS.

 

You can support Drop Dead Studios directly here on patreon.

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 152019
 

The Sea-Queen Escapes! (DCC)

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

 

This module was designed for 6 third level characters, with the suggestion, as always, of a well-rounded party as an ideal means to tackle this one. Fighters will particularly appreciate the numerous occasions where they may execute special, environment-specific mighty deeds of arms – at least I did. As always with Goodman Games’ DCC-modules, we do receive pretty darn impressive b/w-maps, but alas, as always, we do not get player-friendly iterations of the respective maps. On the plus-side, two massive one-page handouts that you can give your players does make up a bit for this shortcoming.

 

As always, we do receive well-written read-aloud prose to set the stage for each room.

 

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

 

..

.

 

All right, only judges around? Great, so first thing: Never show the cover and title to the players – the combination of cover and title are actually a big SPOILER, and can really wreck one of the key-scenes of the adventure.

 

Second thing: Even though this adventure has a serious marine/water-theme, it actually isn’t focused on underwater adventuring, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t find it here. (As a plus: Unlike the horrible “Shadow under Devil’s Reef”, it tackles water and the chances to drown with rules that make sense and are fun, so that’s a plus, even if it’s not the core component of the adventure.

 

Now, the damsel in distress is nowadays a cliché, to the point where the subversion of the cliché has become its own cliché, which, arguably, these days is seen more often than the original angle. The primary hook of this adventure is just that – the PCs manage to get their hands on a magical token, and are thereafter sent strange dream-missives from a gorgeous queen beneath the waves, imprisoned by a vile wizard, who beseeches them to free her. Interesting here: In contrast to many other systems, DCC actually does have its share of “rescue lady”-angles that have not been perverted/inverted, and as such, paired with DCC’s patron-engine powered propensity for spellcasters to be (even more) corrupt (than usual), the angle, if sold properly to the PCs, may actually work, when in mainstream D&D-iterations, the Ackbar-memes wouldn’t stop – ever.

 

This module pits the PCs against the defensive measures left by the grand sea-wizard Shadankin, who mysteriously vanished ages ago. Cealheewhalool, the sea queen in question, directs the PCs towards the first of the small dungeons herein – Shadankin’s Sanctum, where jumping from levitating turtle-shell to turtle-shell and grotesque lamprey-men, this is a cool start – I was particularly enjoying the notion of finding jelly-fish diving suits – for the PCs will have to dive into a lake that doubles as a giant hammer-head’s hunting ground to extract a mythic horn from a giant clam shell.

 

And yes, fighting underwater rules are provided. Indeed, this is one aspect of the module that deserves applause: None of the encounters throughout the locations within are boring or even mediocre – there’s something special going on in each of the rooms, with unique chests, terrain features and hazards providing, as a whole, a sense of a neatly-structured, thoroughly detailed and creative adventure. In a way, it is the inverse of the author’s Stonehell mega-dungeon, which I love for its own merits: If you’re familiar with that one, picture this module as featuring unique terrain features and treasure for pretty much everything.

 

The sanctum deserves another shout-out for a practice I really loved: You see, the adventure, as noted, has two handouts, right? Well, on each, we can see strange drawings and scenes, which can provide cryptic clues – and make sure that the story starts making sense in hindsight. The scenes do not act as spoilers per se, but cautious players may well derive information from them. Getting the balancing act between too cryptic and exposition dump by another means right is one of the impressive aspects of this adventure.

 

Speaking of impressive: Turns out that Shadankin had a compact with an entity most potent – blowing the horn summons mighty Tudines, a colossal turtle of island-plus-size, but only once every 3 years – so the PCs better make sure their sojourn into the second of the dungeon locales, which is a sealed complex within the inside of the turtle’s shell, matters. The vault of the turtle is the most linear of the dungeons contained in this adventure, and it makes sense – after all, this place is intended as one o safe-keeping. Giant anemones and box jellyfish acting as deadly treasure chests of sorts may be encountered here – and a warning spells doom for the PCs. Indeed, pillaging the vault will incur the sea curse – a switching of minds that is represented in real life by character sheets being cycled. (And if only one PC fails, an alternative is provided.) I really enjoyed this, as, much like a lot in this module, it is systematically designed to generate an experience that emphasizes player skill over that of the character.

 

Anyhow, with the key from the turtle’s vault in hand, the PCs make off towards the final small dungeon herein, which is situated upon the isle of Lone Ait – a forlorn place, trapezoidal, and wrecked by the forces of nature; the water surrounding the place tainted with oil and tar-like slick. Indeed, in a nice twist on the traditional elemental oppositions, we have an earth-themed dungeon here, with glowing amber spheres, tether balls that may be used by mighty fighter and the like awaiting – the guardians left here, from living tar to special, strange lizards, are not to be trifled with, and a final warning also is left – but in that final room, the sea queen and her handmaidens, gorgeous and in stasis, await. Freeing them, alas, will have them attack as soon as they’re out of immediate danger – turning into the monsters so aptly-depicted on the gorgeous cover. You see, Shadankin and Cealheewhalool once were lovers, and both adepts to the dark and unreliable arts of sorcery; Cealheewhalool was corrupted through and through, while Shadankin was not – thus, he imprisoned his lover, looking for a means to undo the calamity that had befallen his sea-queen. He never returned.

 

Thus, the queen of sunken Ru languished, until the wards started to fail, initiating the sequence of events depicted in this adventure. Defeating her will make the PCs friends of the sunken nation of Ru, which is depicted in an appendix of sorts, including hex map and currents – while I adore the depiction of the latter on the hex-map, this section also made me cognizant of a few shortcomings – for one, the currents should have strong mechanical repercussions, and the module could have been so much cooler with a bit more underwater action, particularly one enhanced by such cool ideas.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Goodman Games’ two-column b/w-standard, with the b/w-artworks as fantastic pieces throughout; the handouts in particular are great, and the maps are awesome; alas, no player-friendly versions are provided for the maps.

 

I am a pretty big fan of Michael Curtis’ writing – from his Stonehell mega-dungeon to his more well-known work for Goodman games, he knows what he is doing. In this adventure, I was particularly enraptured by the strength of each of the dungeon-complexes – they all make sense from an in-game point of view, they all have distinct, yet linked themes, and there is not a single boring room to be found herein. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed by the adventure. It took me a long time to properly enunciate why that is. I loved pretty much everything, so why didn’t this click in the same way as “Blades Against Death”, for example? In the end, my response has to boil down to one word: Scope. While more actual underwater action would have been nice, I did not expect that, and the module doesn’t need it to be a great experience.

 

At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that all of the 3 complexes would have simply deserved more room to shine. All complexes are strong and jam-packed with ideas, generating a sense of a highlight-reel; however, they are done very quickly. They don’t have much time to fully develop their themes and atmosphere, teach the PCs and players their unique traits – they happen, awe your players, and then they’re already over. This is nothing bad per se, and for e.g. a convention, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better modules to drive home the weird/metal-fantasy aspect of DCC. This notwithstanding, with a few more pages, a few more rooms per complex, this could have been a milestone for the ages. As presented, we “only” have a pretty darn good module, bordering on excellence, but not wholly reaching it. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

 

You can get this cool adventure here on OBS!

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 152019
 

Thunderscape Vistas: Beseiged Village

The second Thunderscape Vista clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

All righty, we once more begin this supplement with a brief in-character flavor-text before diving into the background, which is a bit simpler this time around: The Darkfall happened, which changed the requirements and realities of village life and what it takes to stay alive. They are fortified by necessity. If you’re familiar with the first Thunderscape Vista, you’ll notice a flip of the amount of text that is provided for general descriptions and those that depict the realities of the sample village within, which would be Syldan. This is a VERY smart move, as villages obviously are much more familiar to GMs. It should btw. be noted that yes, the generalization notes do actually provide some useful advice when introducing such a village and making sure that they make sense in Aden’s context.

 

As in the first installment, a big draw for the pdf would be the inclusion of a full-color map, and much to my elation, I found a player-friendly version sans annoying, immersion breaking numbers included: Minor complaint: Quarters are named on the map, and in this instance, going wholly description-less would have made the map more useful. As provided, the “Merchant’s Quarter” will now forevermore be that, as it’s written in bold letters on the map. The pond is also clearly labeled as “Syldan’s Pond”, which limits the use of the map essentially to only working as intended for the sample village within.

 

The pdf does something smart as it proceeds, though: Instead of providing lame, generic sample villager stats, of which most GMs will have an abundance at this point anyways, the pdf instead features a total of 6 different, named NPCs with full statblocks, including two rather awesome full-color artworks. The first of these would be Hannah Arroven, a female ferran panda ranger 7 adopted by the folks in the village at an early, she grew to become the champion of the people. On the plus-side, I never thought I’d say this, but the lean panda-lady looks extremely badass. Her artwork is genuinely amazing. Her statblock, however, is not – she lacks spells and sports a couple of minor formatting snafus. Harril Arroven would be a level 4 half-elven arbiter, and while he had a bitter childhood, he remains a steadfast fighter. Weird: His wife is noted in the header, but no stats are provided. From the context, I assume her to be a noncombatant, but I’m not sure, since the adoptive kinda-dad of Harril, Claudius, is actually fully statted as a human enchanter 9. Alas, as before, the formatting here isn’t as tight as it should be.

 

Speaking of formatting gone horribly awry: Typhon, once a scholar of forbidden lore now turned into a CR 9 monster, has change shape and similar abilities jammed into his SQs, notes “Pick 23” for languages and, you guessed it, spells or magic items aren’t italicized, but at least properly chosen. This massive formatting snafu really drags down what would otherwise be an impressive BBEG, for his sabertooth tiger shapechanging is as cool and twisted as his per se nice baseline…I just wished the statblock had received a bit of refinement to make it shine properly. Leona, his erstwhile wife, is btw. one of the reasons Typhon has not achieved his goal – the bard 5 is also fully stated. It should be noted that CMD values incorrectly feature a plus before their values. The final NPC would be a wildcard of sorts, with the level 6 rogue Sergei, who is keen to leave the region.

 

The pdf has a new trait, home guard, which does not specify its trait type, though background seems likely. This one nets you a massive, erroneously untyped +3 bonus to AC while fighting defensively. The pdf also sports a new feat, One of the Pack; this unlocks pack mentality for non-ferrans and nets you a +1 morale bonus to atk and damage when flanking.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not particularly good, particularly on a formal level. You can run this, but it’s not as smooth as it should be. The full-color artworks are original pieces and GORGEOUS, and layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard. The cartography is full color and pretty damn neat, and the presence of the player-friendly version is a big plus. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Shawn Carman’s besieged village would per se be an instant recommendation – I liked the NPCs, the map’s cool – what’s not to like? The formatting. It’s really, really bad. To the point where it seriously detracted from my enjoyment of this pdf, where it really hurt this file. My final verdict can’t exceed 3 stars.

 

You can get this supplement here on OBS.

 

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Endzeitgeist out.