Mar 302015
 

Advanced Races: Werelions

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This installment of the Advanced Races-series clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC/editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This installment kicks off with a short, general look at the race of werelions and does sport a short box of their role within the Midgard campaign setting, though you should be aware that the level of detail provided is far below what one has seen in similar installments of the series – which is somewhat a pity, since lion prides as a social union and their adaption to humanoid cultures would have made for an interesting playing ground, which the pdf only touches upon.

 

Rules-wise, natural werelions receive +2 Wis, -2 Cha. In shifted form, they utilize the stats that are higher – base or animal. In hybrid and animal shapes, they also receive +2 to Str and Con. Werelions are humanoids with the shapechanger subtype. They are medium and receive a 40 ft. base movement speed. Per default, they are not infectious and they receive a penalty to all social interactions when dealing with other lycanthropes. They can change shape as a move action, with equipment melding into animal, but not into hybrid form. For balance’s sake, only lesser lions are available for low level shapechanges – more on that later. In hybrid form, they receive a 1d6 bite attack and two 1d3 claw attacks – both fail to specify whether they are considered primary or secondary attacks. And yes, *I* am aware how such interaction is usually handled, but I maintain that the pdf should still list that for convenience’s sake. They also receive low-light vision.

 

Now the scaling of this rather strong race can be handled via two methods. First of which would be a kind of racial paragon class – any time after 5th level, they can gain a level in their racial class as a favored class, receiving +1 BAB, +2 Fort-saves, skill points equal to the character’s favored class 1d8 HP. The level also nets them the option to shapechange into full-blown lion form, +5 natural armor in lion shape, animal empathy with lions, DR 10/silver. They also can choose alternate favored class options for +1/2 increased AC or +1 DR/silver instead of their favored class bonus – both VERY powerful when compared to other FCOs.

The racial paragon-level, when compared to similar creature builds, feels pretty strong – especially since the base creature already is very strong. It also is exceedingly, terribly clunky. It’s essentially a single prestige paragon level, crammed into a character’s regular progression without rhyme or reason or a proper presentation – don’t get me wrong – it *is* functional. But from a design aesthetic perspective, there are A LOT ways to handle this more organically without introducing a make-believe mechanic that does not exist in regular PFRPG. This feels like a work-in-progress list of stuff the race ought to be able to do, crammed into a thoroughly inorganic way right into the heart of the class/race-progression – and that’s before the confusing, non-standard presentation comes into play. Urgh.

 

There is also the option to render a werelion as an infected lycanthrope via a CR +0 template that nets +10 ft. enhancement, shapechange (akin to the non-upgraded natural werelion’s, though it does require constitution checks) and the same attribute upgrades when changed. In a different take, the race receives a penalty to all die rolls on failed attempts to change. On nights of a full moon, the checks to assume human form become much harder, whereas those to change into animal/hybrid form receive a significant bonus. They also suffer from the curse of the hunting moon – 3 nights a month, they uncontrollably change (which somewhat contradicts the above assertions of implied control) they need to hunt down…something. Oddly, the ability references a reduction of penalties… which probably refer to the significant problems the race faces when living through full moon nights without kills, but a slightly crisper pointer towards that would have helped. Akin to natural werelions, at 6th level they can receive a similar upgrade to their power-level, increasing their template’s worth to CR+1 – which may be nice, but DOESN’T HELP PLAYING THEM.

 

Okay, let’s get this out of the way – this is 3.X design-philosophy in anything but name. The races are STRONG already – adding the respective paragon-levels, we receive what amounts to an ECL jammed in at higher levels to create a semblance of balance that is simply not there. Even when compared to the exceedingly strong lamia, the werelions remain too strong in my book. Worse, they don’t necessarily excel at what they set out to do – the penalties for failing to hunt ANYTHING are laughably lax and nigh impossible NOT to fulfill for just about any character – yes, this includes warriors et al. Unfortunately, this also renders the very notion of lycanthropy being a curse, of becoming a monster, essentially ad absurdum. This whole racial presentation is utterly baffling to me – it violates just about every way in which racial presentation is usually handled and does so without introducing a mechanical consistency/balance that would warrant it.

 

Werelions also get age, height and weight table and aforementioned lesser lion statblock is provided herein as well – which somewhat conflicts with the templated approach. As for rules-options, sorcerors may choose the new lion-blooded bloodline, including natural spell and the option to wildshape into scaling leonine form. The sorcerors may also spontaneously convert transmutation spells into a temporary bonus to atk and damage that do not multiply on crits – I just don’t get why it is SP. It think it should be Su or Ex since it explicitly states that it can’t be dispelled anyways. And becoming a huge lion as a capstone is pretty cool, but also not a reason to take the bloodline – for most sorcs, the melee focus will be a very, very bad idea.

Generally, a conceptually pretty nice, though not by any means perfect bloodline that had me flash back to one of my favorite Solomon Kane comics. Inquisitors may elect to become Ndau, or hunting lions. When these inquisitors slay a prey and consume part of the body (which they can either do slowly or rushed), the inquisitor receives a bonus depending on the organ consumed. The prey needs to be sentient and yes, the ability is kitten-proof! The higher the level, the more parallel benefits can be maintained – a total of 9 benefits are provided and yes, rushed and ongoing benefits are totally different – nice! (And it better be, since it replaces, spells, domains and judgments…) Ndau also receive woodland stride, quarry and a capstone that further enhances their tricks. Know what? I really, really like this archetype – it fits rather neatly with the concept and its bonuses make sense. That being said, the lack of spells also means that the class damn well could have used an additional power-gain – it is flavorful, yes…but it could use a power upgrade.

 

On the favored class options line, we receive one for barbarians, bards, druids, rangers, rogues, sorcerors, oracles (3 mystery-specific ones!), witch, battle scion, shaman and spell-less ranger. I really liked these, in spite of the formatting being obviously non-standard – special FCOs for archetypes/class features are a neat idea that ought to be explored further. Kudos for that, in spite of the presentation botch.

 

A total of 8 new racial feats allows you to improve your lion forms sans taking the racial level, gain (DM approval-based) infectious lycanthropy or faster transformation. Making your lycanthropy harder to remove will also be on the must-have list for quite a few characters. That being said, the AoE-demoralization roar and the +10 ft. when withdrawing/running/charging-feat can be considered a tad bit too strong in my book. I absolutely LOATHE the feat that lets you detect shapechangers per Perception – not due to mechanical issues, but rather due to the fixed DC that does not account for Disguise. Yes, it can be thwarted by certain spells, but still – why not take disguise into account? Seems only fair, doesn’t it? As far as overly specific detects go, still not a bad one, in spite of my personal antipathy towards the concept.

 

A total of 5 different traits (all specifying their proper trait-type!) can be found herein – and are universally just oozing fluff. Two spells would be next: Predator’s Gaze nets you a gaze attack that renders a target flat-footed AND cannot move from their current square. Rather powerful, but also extremely interesting – but it suffers from confused mechanic – the spell has a duration of 1 round +1 round/level. It can be activated as a swift action, whereupon the target of the gaze has to save – got that. The target can’t move from the square and is flatfooted on a failed save for one round, got that. But how long does the “no movement”-part last? Also one round? For the full spell’s duration? Is the gaze discharged upon use? Can multiple creatures be rendered unmoving by the same spell? Depending on the answers to these questions, the spell may be either strong or utterly overpowered.

 

The second spell would be Hunter’s Discerning Sight, which allows you to determine alignment components, falsehoods etc. – essentially a combo-detect spell. Okay, I guess. The pdf also sports 2 new magic items – one that enhances claws and one that allows the wielder to activate rings, wands, potions, staves and wondrous items melded into your form – which is very powerful, though thankfully the pdf mentions that the items still provoke AoOs etc. – but can they still be disarmed? Stolen? If not, then this needs fixing… If a character owns both items, the former allows claws to utilize the enhancements of weapons.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are generally pretty good – there are almost no formal, true glitches; rather than that, we receive a couple of non-standard formatting instances that may catch you slightly off guard and make the content more difficult to grasp than it ought to be. Layout adheres to Kobold Press’ beautiful two-column full color standard and the pdf does sport downright gorgeous full-color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Ben McFarland and Brian Suskind are obviously talented designers and Ben in particular was the reason I did not cringe at the thought of reviewing this pdf – he has proven time and again his ability to handle complex concepts. Ben, my man, I’m sorry. I love your other designs, I really do. But what has happened here?

This pdf feels very much like a half-baked work-in-progress book. The solutions for the scaling of the race, while well-intentioned, just don’t work within the frame of the Pathfinder-rules. The callback to what amounts to templated ECL-races directly contradicts how races are handled in EVERY other publication.

Now don’t get me wrong – while too powerful to fit into every campaign, the werelions generally can be considered a powerful race that can enrich a given campaign – of that I have no doubt. However, there are a couple of instances in the base racial traits, wherein the power of the werelions could have easily been scaled in easier and more versatile ways – specifically, in the upgrades for the natural and infected werelions. First, racial paragon levels would have benefited from coming with a proper table – as a kind of racial paragon PrC…or alternatively, as something that spans multiple levels…or as feats. (Eric Morton’s Animal Races-series uses racial feats pretty well to grant otherwise powerful abilities with a concise scaling mechanism…) The amount of benefits gained is more than significant and stretching them over more levels, feats, fcos…whatever… would have made for a slightly smoother experience in my book.

 

Yes, that can be chalked down, at least halfway, to a matter of design-aesthetics. The new content provided beyond the imho broken base racial presentations ranges from downright brilliant/innovative (class ability-/Archetype-specific FCOs? Cool idea!) to problematic (spells…) and the minor formatting issues would be another strike against the pdf.

And then, there would also be the missed chance with the relative lack of fluff – information on individual takes on classes, relationships with other races etc. The like can’t be found herein, rendering this pdf more crunch-centric than previous ARs. This constitutes a missed opportunity in my book, especially knowing how good Ben McFarland is at crafting awesome cultures/fluff and considering the tabula rasa nature of werelions, who have not yet been covered by similar publications.

Some of you might not care about the wonky level-insert. About the relative lack of fluff. About the exceeding power-level of the race. For you, this may be a 3 stars-file. But as a reviewer, I can’t let this pdf stand at that point – for people emphasizing fluff, for those looking for elegant fluff that seamlessly works, for those shaking their heads at the thought of the crammed-in racial level… this pdf simply does NOT deliver what it easily could. For you, this is a 2-star-file. My final verdict will clock in in-between, at 2.5 stars, rounded up by a teeny, tiny margin to 3, but only since a capable DM can properly make what is in here work smoothly.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Mar 272015
 

Hej everybody!

 

Thank you for all the nice wishes for a speedy recovery. On the plus-side, I’ve been reading like crazy and have a vast amount of material, ready to be turned into reviews. On the downside, typing still huts and is S…L…O…W. That being said, I do have some reviews finished for you, but until my pain subsides, I may not be able to maintain my usual 2-3 reviews a week-day schedule. We’ll see.

 

I wanted to come back from my injury with a high-note, so I hope you enjoy the Onmyoji-review. There are quite a few pending that did not fare half as well as this one.

 

Without further ado: Expect to see a semblance of a schedule next week and have a great week-end!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 272015
 

The Onmyoji – A Japanese Occult Diviner

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This new base-class clocks in at 23 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

So what is the Onmyōji? Mechanically, we receive a 20-level base-class with 1/2 BAB-progression, good will-saves, d6, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, kukri, double chicken saber, tonfa, monk’s spade and naginata as well as proficiency with shields. When wearing armor or shields the onmyōji is not proficient with, petitions increase their cost by +1 and talismans are reduced to 1/2 duration. Onmyōji begin play with a spirit pool equal to cha-mod, which grows to 12+cha-mod (+2 every 3 levels). They also start with 2 prayers known and scale that up to 11. At 2nd level, they have the first petition and scale that up by +1 every even level thereafter. It should also be noted that an onmyōji receives access to two cantrips/orisons that cna be changed as a new sequence of abilities added via the most recent update.

 

An onmyōji begins play with a shikigami, a kami bound to the onmyōji’s service in an origami paper vessel. If said shikigami dies, it can be replaced after 1 week for 200 gp per onmyōji level in an 8-hour ceremony. Shikigami are tiny constructs with d10 HD (and 1/2 HD-progression), a fixed Str of 6, 10 Int, Wis and Cha and a Dex-score that begins at 14 and sclaes up to 15 at 7th level and 16 at 15th level. The shikigami has 1/2 BAB-progression and no good save. It begins play with 2 skills (and has its own skill-list of class skills) and begins play with a feat, receiving another one at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter. Sounds fragile? Well, while within 20 feet of the onmyōji that is its master, it receives the master’s Wisdom modifier as hardness. Additionally, while within this range, it grants the onmyōji bonuses as if a familiar. Its origami-form determines its natural attacks. It may also place talismans the master knows while within this range, drawing on the onmyōji’s resource, but using the shikigami’s HD rather than the class level to determine talisman duration. A shikigami can communicate with the master onmyōji and it has a spirit pool equal to its HD, but may only use these points to influence talismans it has placed itself. This short-range benefits increase by +5 ft at 2nd level further for every HD the shikigami has. At 5th level, the shikigami receives improved evasion. At 9th and 15th level, the shikigami receives more bonus hit points, counting as a larger-sized construct – which btw. are provided in a handy table. It should also be noted that the shikigami may now participate in the added cantrip/orison ability.

 

Now I mentioned the spirit pool – this can be utilized in a variety of ways: The onmyōji can extend the reach by 5 ft. per onmyōji level for the purposes of placing talismans for 1 round or extend the duration of an active talisman within 60 ft. by 5 rounds. He may extend the duration of ALL such talismans at 13th level. At 5th level, the onmyōji may increase the hardness of all active talismans within 60 ft. by wis-mod for 1 round and at 7th level, an o-fuda talisman’s radius within 60 ft. may be expanded by 5 ft (2 o-fuda talismans at 14th level). 11th level onmyōji may pay 2 spirit points for a +10 ft. radius-extension. (2 at 16th level)

All of these can be activated as swift actions. As an immediate action, the onmyōji of 11th level or higher may temporarily increase a talisman’s HP by wis-mod times 3. At 17th level, a spirit pool point can be used to make the next talisman not count against the daily allotment and 20th level onmyōji may treat o-fuda talismans as onamori talismans for the purpose of its prayer. Sounds confusing? Well wait a second and read on, it’s actually pretty simple and concisely presented in the pdf.

 

First, let me explain those talismans: Talismans are small tokens usually made of paper, cloth or wood, decorated with glyphs. An onmyōji begins play with 2 prayers and learns an additional one at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. When placing a talisman, an onmyōji can choose a prayer that is compatible with the talisman-type and the onmyōji has to have a wis-score of at least 10 +1/2 the minimum level of the prayer’s level requirement. Talismans do not allow for saving throws and have a limited hardness equal to wis-mod, hp equal to class levels times 3. Destroying a talisman ends its effects; otherwise, it lasts for 3 rounds, +1 round for each class level. An onmyōji may deploy class level + wis-mod talismans per day. There are two types of talisman, first of which would be o-fuda. These generate their warding effects in a 10 ft.-radius upon being placed and canot be moved while placed, only destroyed. The second type would be the onamori – these are attached to creatures the onmyōji threatens, either voluntarily or via a touch attack. These only affect the creature to which they are attached. Failing to hit does NOT expend talisman-uses – nice!

 

Onmyōji of 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter also learn a petition to the spirits. These are governed by Charisma, with a 10 +1/2 min level minimum requirement in the ability score analogue to the Wis-based talismans. Petitions have a DC of 10 + 1/2 class level + cha-mod.

 

The class comes with favored class options for the core-races, aasimar, drow, hobgoblins, kobolds, orcs, puddlings and tieflings – and they are interesting, actually – e.g. adding bleed damage to onamori is pretty interesting and fitting for half-orcs/orcs… Now, we also receive a significant array of onmyōji-feats – increased spirit pool-size, more petitions, reduced costs of a petition, gaining temporary spirit points when executing an ability chosen from the spirit pool’s options. Granting shikigami a bonus feat, granting shikigami the option to wear an item in the neck slot or increasing attributes of your shikigami/sharing an petition with your paper pet or increasing the size of a shikigami’s spirit pool/sharing the master’s level for onamori when close by…interesting. It should also be noted that the most recent update has introduced multiple limited-use spell-like ability-granting feats to add to the fray. Some of these new feats also are assigned as prerequisites for new petitions and the gifting of tricks, but more on petitions later.

 

Speaking of interesting – I love the idea of friendship-feats. These special feats are aligned with the 7 lucky gods of Japanese mythology, significantly increasing the potency of the petition aligned with said god. However, an onmyōji may only have ONE friendship-feat at a given time…so choose wisely your allies among the gods! Really like the fluff of these feats. Petitions essentially constitute the spells of the class, all coming with required levels (instead of petition-levels) and drawing from the same spirit pool resource. Conjuring force-damage dealing phantom legions, petitioning the scarecrow god Kuebiko for a divination – but one that only extends half an hour. Shields of temporary hit points, or a status-like effect based on heavenly bureaucrats – the petitions themselves are not only mechanically interesting, they also evoke a ridiculously awesome imagery and often come with quite an awesome narrative potential. Daikoku-ten, for example, may create mundane goods for you, but they do vanish upon executing the petition the next time… Raising the dead can also be achieved by petitioning Fukorokuju. Or perhaps you want to conjure forth a kami of the morning dew, which may explode upon the target receiving damage to douse the unfortunate in healing spray?

 

These petitions stand out due to two facts – for one, they provide Interjection games’ interesting knack for cool mechanics and nifty combo-potential. however, more so than in almost all IG-releases, these petitions also BREATHE the awesomeness of the extensive Japanese mythology and supplement the great rules with an imagery that is ridiculously evocative and steeped in lore. Everyone even remotely into Japanese mythology will have a field day here, grinning from ear to ear. Ever wanted to fly on ethereal cherry blossoms? Yeah. You read these and can immediately picture them – even in the cases where the mechanics are interesting, but not too special, it is the imagery that makes the petition awesome. For less romantic imagery, what about emitting a dread shriek of the dishonored and perished souls or unleashing Raijin’s thunderclap on foes? On the mechanical side, the most interesting petition herein essentially takes all the 1/day spell-like abilities granted and turns them into a pool, for more flexibility – nice!

 

Talismans should also not be neglected in my enumeration of options herein – they also come with minimum level restrictions and most prayers (but not all) can be used on either o-fuda or onamori. The onamori’s can be considered single-target effects, while the o-fuda, if used wisely, can make the onmyōji’s area-buffing absolutely unique and rewarding, allowing you to finally lure foes into your cleverly laid-out o-fuda traps. Guiding attacks, increasing the potency of the elements, increasing the healing of allies – all pretty cool and sporting mechanics that deviate enough from spellcasting to maintain the unique flavor of the class – what about e.g. granting allies the option to spit weaponized energy-based saliva? Temporary negating age-based penalties for the image of the venerable monk standing up and kicking badass butt? Yeah, I love these.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games’ printer-friendly 2-column standard and the pdf comes with a solid array of bookmarks. Artwork is a blend of traditional illustrations from mythology and even photographs for a surprisingly concise presentation that original artwork probably couldn’t have surpassed.

 

I’ve read and analyzed *A LOT* of Interjection games classes – and whenever I think I’ve seen all the tricks Bradley Crouch can come up, his creativity bubbles forth like a hot spring, creating something I did not expect. The onmyōji combines being a unique pet-class with a unique, yet easy to grasp spellcasting system and excellent enabler-capabilities for a class that is utterly, completely inspired. Not only is the crunch creative and unique, the class also breathes a rich mythology that adds the fluff-icing on the crunchy, perfect bacon of this class. I *adore* the onmyōji – it may be one of the best classes Bradley’s done so far and I sincerely hope we’ll see future expansions (the class has SO MUCH untapped potential beyond its glorious incarnation herein!) for the onmyōji. It is utterly unique and a must-buy addition to each campaign even remotely wildering in Japanese or Eastern mythology. This is one of the best 3pp-classes currently out there and well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and is a candidate for my Top ten of 2014.

 

You can get this awesome class here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Do you like Brad’s designs? There currently is a KS running – VERY close to funding. Check out Bradley’s take on making bloodlines infinitely more interesting here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Mar 192015
 

To all my dear readers,

 

apologies are in order. I’m currently at the hospital with a fractured elbow and much to my chagrin, I do not have my review-folder with me since the injury happened on what was supposed to be a 1.5-day trip. Until I’m released and back home, I won’t be able to post new reviews  – this should happen around the end of the week. I’m quite busy reading, though, so once I’m back home, I’ll provide new ones.

 

Apologies for the inconvenience caused.

Yours,

EZG

Mar 172015
 

The Genius Guide to Bravery Feats

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This Genius Guide clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Bravery effing sucks. It’s a good idea, but in a class as relatively straightforward and boring as the fighter, it simply doesn’t do its job well. Hence, a LOT of archetypes trade it in, rendering the maintenance of the class feature a subpar option in many cases. Enter this pdf – all the feats herein do require this neglected class feature – but can they make bravery actually relevant? Okay, let’s take a look at Battlefield Commander – this one allows you, as a swift action, to share bravery with all allies in range of your voice for 3+ 1/2 class level rounds, adding one bravery feat to the things shared One can also see author Michael Sayre’s design for Dreamscarred Press in that the feat can be used 1/bravery feat, using a scaling mechanism similar to one that can be found in psionics.

 

Now no, not all of these feats boil down to tactician-ish options – fighters who have undaunted assault can smash foes to the ground, causing bleed damage and rendering the terrain difficult for the target to stand up from – damn cool imagery! What does undaunted assault do? Well, it allows you to take a penalty to AC equal to your bravery bonus and gain the same to melee attacks, also counting as having an Int of 13 and as Power Attack for prereq-purposes. Now this feat, quite unabashedly, wilders in expertse/power attack-terrain and usually, I’d be crying foul right now. However, the tie-in with class features makes for an interesting array of build-options, especially for low point-buy, gritty campaigns I *really* like. So yeah, powerful, but also damn cool and provides a slight edge re feat-economy for fighters.

 

Adding minor damage to bull rush/overruns while using undaunted assault (or an analogue bonus for grapples or for drag/repositions or dirty tricks) also makes for interesting choices – especially since e.g. max size-movable and similar small variables render the feats distinct beyond being just clones of one another – nice to see that the author went the extra mile! The feats also allow you to reduce the duration of fear-effects, enhance defenses versus disarms, power feints with bravery…pretty varied. What about adding bravery to item saves and hardness while you wear them? Adding bravery to demoralize effect-DCs as well? Adding bravery to skills can help the fighter excel in non-combat situations and then, there is eldritch parry.

 

When you or an adjacent creature is targeted by an instantaneous spell, spell-like ability or supernatural ability, you may, as an immediate action identify the ability (via Spellcraft/Knowledge) against 10+Cl or 10+HD (latter for supernatural abilities) – you cancel this out on a successful roll. The ability may be used once per day, +1 per bravery feat. Powerful, yes…but I really like it for fighters and being staggered for one round thereafter is a great pay-off! For once, they *CAN* do something against that caster/dragon’s breath/petrifying gaze. Using this ability for spell sunder-like tricks via a follow-up feat also should be considered nice! Counting as a fighter at -4 levels for the purpose of bravery…not a fan of that one, since it once again takes away from these unique options. EDIT: I probably should have mentioned that this option is pretty much for bravery-less fighters only, but still – it allows for a transparency I personally, in this instance, didn’t like.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games’ printer-friendly 2-column full-color standard with solid full-color artworks, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and hyperlinked for your convenience.

 

When I reviewed Michael Sayre’s Vizier, I became excited about the Akashic Mysteries-line. But is he a one-trick pony? Well, if the review was no indicator so far:

*ehem*

Bravery no longer sucks!! I can’t believe it! In fact, this pdf ranks among the best “Let’s make the fighter not suck so much”-books I’ve ever read. Each feat has some awesomeness going for it and sports concise, well-phrased rules-language, marrying that with awesome, evocative concepts. One good book is an incident, 2 are a trend. I adore this book, with my only gripe remaining that I don’t have more such feats at my finger-tips. So, when do we get book II? Seriously, I ADORE this little, humble pdf – while powerful, the feats ooze flair and went over REALLY well even in a 15-point-buy Conan-esque playtest sans PC-casters. In fact, while working great in standard fantasy, these feats work just as well in low/non-magic/gritty settings and campaigns, allowing for some of the truly iconic tricks versus the supernatural one always wanted fighters to sport. This book is NOT about damage-escalation, it’s about making martials more interesting by expansion in breadth, allowing for much more options and cool ways to excel and be relevant, even when not in combat.

This book is so good, I found myself often contemplating how Path of War would have ended up with Michael at the lead-design. These options are powerful, yet superbly balanced and have excited me beyond ANY feat-book I’ve read in the last couple of MONTHS. Yes, this inspired, this cool – final verdict: Must-have recommendation, 5 stars + seal of approval…and, because it is a VERY elegant system AND survived not only the regular, but also the extremely specific playtest scenarios superbly and made my players ask for more, I’ll also nominate it as a candidate for my Top ten of 2014. Fighters need to get this.

 

You can get this great little book here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 172015
 

101 Swamp Spells

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This installment of Rite Publishing’s classic 101-series clocks in at a massive 44 ages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 39 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

Unlike most spells, these are tied to the very environment – a rules-decision I like. After all, fiction brims with monsters and casters drawing strength from their domain (and yes, that happens to be one of the rules-concepts I pretty much love in D&D 5th edition), so seeing spells like this added makes for a good thing in my book. The pdf sports the swamp patron-spell list and spell-lists for ALL casting classes. So, essentially – these spells are potent, but when executed in a swamp (a term defined e.g. by virtue of ranger’s favored terrain et al., rendering the concept not alien to PFRPG’s rules and thus safe from my nitpickery), their potency increases beyond the otherwise existing combo-potential.

 

Okay, I can babble on for all eternity, but you’re interested in what I actually mean by that, aren’t you? well, let’s take a look at Acid and Poison, an 8th level spell that lets you target an object or point in space – said object thereafter becomes the origin of an emanation that transforms environmental liquids into acid that also poisons targets. Now if you’re familiar with making spells, this will render ALL alarm-bells a-ringin': First, we have a complex area of effect, since it does provide the option for movement of the emanation origin. Well, the wording covers that. Secondly, the save-sequence versus acid/poison is less linear than one would expect. Once again, the pdf manages to handle that. Thirdly, the spell relies on environmental liquids – a term that is open to wide interpretation…until the concise, well-written definition gets rid of all ambiguity. Additional swamp effect? Ruin and affect magical and attended liquids on a successful caster-level check. And there I was looking forward to tearing the spell apart…

 

Kidding aside, this is pretty impressive, since it takes just about all variables of a spell and does something unique and interesting with them, elevating this spell far above the default “yet another damage-spells” crops. This spell also renders one sample of the aforementioned terrain-based enhancements these spells receive. Other spells utilize a slight escalation of the potency of their effects, while others are indeed, completely dependent on the terrain – flying through foggy air saturated with high degrees of ambient moisture only works for as far as there’s enough of that around – upon leaving such a swampy area, it’s literally all downhill for the airswim spell – love btw. the imagery the name alone evokes. This, however, is NOT where this pdf is content to stop – Kin of the Moor deserves, nay, needs to acknowledged for its interesting mechanics. A ritual in anything but name, it requires the recipients to provide hair as a fetish for a specific bonding to a vast area. Now the most intriguing part of this base spell would be that the text actually renders a highly complex mechanic for area of effect extension possible, allowing for the slow, but gradual extension of one’s domain. All creatures thus bound not only see a significant increase in potency (and yes, this increases proper wording that manages to capture numerical escalation beyond the bonds of usual level-caps) while in their chosen terrain, they also can be returned from the dead much easier.This is NOT where the spell’s appeal ends, though.

Let me confess something. I’m pretty much bored with many types of vanilla spellcasting. I’ve simply read too many default deal xyz/conjure forth bla-spells to be impressed by them anymore. I shrug, move on and hope for some glimmer of the new. Now, aforementioned spell serves as the basis for other spells, allowing you to teleport established kin to your side via another spell. This may sound pretty bland, but one look at the level and the entwined mechanic unveils this as a) actually pretty innovative and b) interesting also regarding the inherent logic of conflict-resolution in a magical world. I am dead serious when I’m saying that a couple of brief reflections made me come up with pretty interesting stalemate situations and adventure-seeds. And these days, not too many spells or themes evoke that from me.

 

Speaking of interesting synergy and terrain control – if you read a spell-title like chill fog, you pretty much expect a bland numerical damage, perhaps some obscuring mist/fog cloud-duplicate, but, at least I, did NOT expect the supercooled fog to quickly escalate its damage potential, potentially even duplicating full-blown the effects of encase in ice. More straight-forward, yes, but even if you refrain from utilizing this spell in its regular way, the base mechanics can make one glorious hazard – just think about it: The PCs open portal X, crash cooling tube of super-golem Y and suddenly, they have to flee the dungeon from the spreading, deadly cold – and taking too long to clear the doors and debris will see them slowly freeze, the escalation providing ample hints at the unpleasant fate to come. Yes, I may like this a bit – why? Because it COULD be bland. It could be boring. It could be reductive and simple. It’s nothing of these, instead electing to be evocative, uncommon and inspiring.

 

Now the terrain-control spells via control fog and e.g. control bog remain in no way behind these interesting options in the rather versatile and interesting benefits they put at the behest of their casters. Yes, not all spells reach this level of coolness (pardon the pun) – summoning nightmares 8and later, cauchemars) would be thematically fitting, but also pretty bland. However, what about the protection from swamps-spell? It sounds like everything I HATE about environmental spells – I mean, what good is a cool locale if the PCs can easily negate all effects? Well, this one instead makes hiding in swamps easier as well as providing bonuses versus poisons and diseases. Bonuses, not immunities, mind you. While a humble spell, it once again could have run afoul of quite a few bad design-choices and instead opted for a story-enabler: It doesn’t negate the threats of swamps, it tips the scales in the PC’s favor. And it’s better hiding component can be used by a good Dm to send an experienced group into swamps beyond their capacity. “Yeah, you only have to save the townsfolk from the swamp’s inbred cannibal – be sure to not run into the black dragon while crossing his terrain…”

 

Hey, remember those nifty shock lizards? Those cute buggers with the arcing electricity that got TPK-level nasty in groups? Well, what about spells that make you and your allies shockingly good team-members, providing essentially a teamwork-spell? Yeah, neat! There would also be a spell that is very powerful called Spirit Naga Soul. This allows the caster to cast cleric spells of 3rd level or lower at the cost of a reduction of 6th level spells…and very exotic material components. Now this spell could be considered very powerful and indeed, thankfully, the pdf acknowledges this. So what it does to balance this is the requirement for nasty and costly material components. Is this spell for every group? No. But instead of leaving the DM in the dark about its potency, it instead finds a way to balance this and thus puts control firmly in DM hands. What about a spell that lodges a stirge-proboscis in the target, draining blood and potentially attracting living stirges in swamps…Yeah, these spells take quite a lot work off the hands of a DM seeking to portray a concise environments – where usually, one would have to remember the like or create synergy-effects on the fly, these spells increase the immersion by helping the DM with generating the illusion of a concise terrain and spell/world-interaction. Yes, the spells may at times be variants of already existing options – but they are NOT boring. They are not bland. They are superior, more concise and creative iterations. They are, essentially, closer to my own ideal of how magic ought to be.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a greenish variant of Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard. Artwork ranges from mind-boggling original to thematically-fitting stock-art and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

 

I did not expect to like this book one bit. It has ALL the strikes going against it. Yet another spell-book? Yawn. First time author? Urgh. Terrain-centric spell-book? Noes. I mean, think about 3.X terrain-books – cool hazards, cool effects, challenging ideas – and a bunch of classes and spells to negate all of that coolness. Not fun. Plus, I’ve read more than 4K spells for Pathfinder alone. On the plus-side, the book had Rite Publishing (with a nigh unparalleled track-record of decidedly non-boring, original and most of the time, superb pdfs) as a publisher. And I happen to be aware that author David Paul has academic teaching experience. Why is that good? Because academic writing (or software coding) isn’t that different from writing good crunch – you have a very specific set of rules-language, a syntax and semantics you have to work with, while at the same time being required to create new and innovative results without violating said parameters. And if the parameters hit their borders, expand them in a way that fits as seamlessly as possible within the frame of the presentation of the established rules-set.

 

I haven’t seen such a good spellbook from a novice-designer in ages. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I’m saying that I consider the spells herein innovative and inspiring. I am also not exaggerating when I’m saying that I was rather impressed by the willingness to tackle difficult concepts and putting them into a tight, fitting rules-language without compromising the vision behind these spells. This pdf was inspiring to read to an extent I very, very rarely encounter with spell-themed books. Better yet, this pdf’s crunch is not only inspiring, it displays the required mastery of craftsmanship to back up the artfully depicted effects of these astonishing spells.

 

To my complete surprise, this pdf’s pages blew too fast by while I was reading the pages and actually left me craving more such supplements for other terrain types. David, if you’re reading this, please keep writing. I really want to see where you can take your designs -we need more pdf like this that make spells interesting again. Final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get these damn cool spells here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Mar 162015
 

Age of Electrotech

134569

This book clocks in at 100 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 94 (!!!) pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

So what is this book? Well, it can be thought of as a huge campaign-template akin to LPJr Design’s Obsidian Apocalypse – the age of electrotech has dawned and now, super-science and magic exist side by side, with electricity-based gadgets and the like influencing how everything is run. A fitting analogy would be a kind of Tesla-Punk – how to integrate this (e.g. just one country – à la Golarion’s Numeria or Ravenloft’s Lamordia) to the full world – all depending on the DM’s whim.

 

The book kicks off with the Technician base class, which receives d8, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with light armor, simple weapons and shields, 3/4 BAB-progression, good ref-and will-saves and a so-called maximum tinker-level scaling from 1st up to 6th. The class also receives 1 battery point, scaling up to 105 at 20th level…but what does all of that mean?

 

Well, first of all, obviously, technicians receive Electrotech Proficiency as a bonus feat as first level and they also receive + class level to Craft (electrotech)-checks analogue to alchemist et al. High intelligence increases the battery points the class has and battery points recharge after 8 hours. They are essentially the technician’s resource, which powers his gadgets, tinkers and similar devices. hooking up a device to the battery pack requires 1 minute. Technicians may construct so-called gadgets – these can be used by paying their base cost, upgraded by allocating additional battery points. At 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the technician can craft progressively better upgrades from +1 battery point cost to +5 at 13th level. Gadgets take up one of the item-slots – chest, hands, head or feet and equipping/removing them requires 10 rounds, with the option to hasten it at the chance of rendering the gadget broken. Effect generated by gadgets are extraordinary effects, but unlike most such abilities, they are subject to SR and can potentially be counterspelled/dispelled – we have full system-transparency here.

 

Tinkers on the other hand are devices that can be wielded like wands to duplicate effects, functioning pretty much like spellcasting. Unlike spells, though, a tinker may be charged with battery points to increase the daily amount the tinker can be used. The formula for their creation are marked in a tinker manual, somewhat akin to a spellbook. Now beyond this exceedingly flexible base system, the class ALSO sports so-called innovations – gained at 2nd level, +1 every 2 levels thereafter, these constitute the talents of the class and allow for even more options – for example combining multiple gadgets into one, on-the-fly reassignment of battery points etc. Better driving-skills (more on that later), weaponized tinkers, better weakness analysis of foes – this is very much a scientist-class – but the technician does NOT stop there – at 1st level, the class also decides on a trade (though, again, this can be modified by innovations!) – trades work somewhat akin to oracle mysteries or bloodlines in that they provide a trade skill as class skill, a bonus-feat selection and a linear progression of special abilities gained at 1st, 3rd, 9th and 15th level. Sounds like a bloodline, not a mystery? Yeah, but I also evoked mysteries due to one fact – each trade add certain, exclusive innovations to the array the technician can choose from. The trade provide for a focus on crafting, firearms (including grit), junker’s jury-rigging, vehicle/driver-specialization, soldier, tinker, trap and symbiont specialization – more on that later. And yes, were I to go into details regarding these options, this review would bloat beyond belief. More than one page of favored class options can be found herein. It admittedly took some time to properly analyze this complex class…and know what? It WORKS. Superbly so. One note – if you’re using Interjection Games’ Tinker or Gadgeteer-classes, I’d suggest renaming the technician’s tinkers and gadgets. ;)

 

The technician’s flexibility does NOT end here, though – beyond the absolutely astounding flexibility provided by the base class, we also receive archetypes for the class – beyond providing more than superb crunch, these guys cover quite literally everything cool I would have wanted from technician archetypes – Cyborg? Check. Electromedics (who needs clerics?) – check. Pact Magic-crossover occult esotechnicians? Check. Grenadiers? Check. Holotechnicians? Check. Necrotechnicians creating techno-undead? Friggin’ yeah and check! Transmogriphiers that specialize in transmuting and mutagens? Check! At this point, picture me drooling wide-eyed and grinning at the screen.

 

Now a complete subsystem of items and a class should render it no surprise that the pdf also sports quite a significant array of different feats. These include metatech feats (guess what these do…) and the usual improvements for additional uses of limited daily use-abilities etc.

 

At this point, the 32-page mark, we enter the electrotech gear chapter – yes. I’m not kidding. So, the weapons. The table covers a whole page. And yes, modifications like double barrels can be added to e.g. nucleonic rifles, while sawridge shields and splinterhail grenades as well as stock prods breathe the spirit of scifi, super-tech, tesla-punk…however you want to call it, the chapter is glorious. Beyond these implements of death, several defensive items and household items can be found herein as well – chamber lamps, air stabilizers, heaters, iconographs, phonographs – it may seem like nothing special, but without these, the book would be missing vital pieces that really help get into the mood of the material Specialized tool and skill kits also elp portraying a society that has moved beyond the traditional confines of medieval society.

 

And then, there would be madnesses. These truly go off the deep-end and constitute technical wonders beyond what is readily available in a default society – what about e.g. a pod that can modify your age, pigmentation and even gender or race? Stasis pods? Helms that can be used to stimulate or hamper a character’s performance? Hypnotist’s helmets? Color-coded mind-influence? The equivalent of an atomic bomb? A machine to purge foreign subjects from a target? Pleasure-hazes creating orbs, with truly nefarious extensions? A chair that allows you to extend the reach of your magic to miles? Röntgen booths? Machines for forced alignment changes? Yes, these essentially artifact-level wonders run the gamut of traditional scifi and weird fiction, making me constantly envisioning my favorites of the classics – I am not engaging in hyperbole when I’m saying that EACH of these items can change a campaign, nay can even power a whole campaign. They’re this iconic, this interesting.

 

Of course, classic science-fiction is, more often than not, also defined by the fantastic vehicles sported within – especially Jules Verne has become pretty much the default association just about anyone would have in that regard. And yes – from flying saucers to hover-vehicles to jetcrafts and tanks – vehicles upon vehicles, all ready for your perusal…oh so AWESOME!

 

Now I mentioned gadgets – these do not simply pop up, as one could have expected – instead, concise and easy to grasp rules for research and crafting them can be found within these pages alongside comprehensive tables of gadgets – from ant-inspired better carrying/less armor issues (and even wielding oversized weapons) to blasters, jetpack-like vastly improved jumps, the gadgets are surprisingly versatile – and, more often than not, do something utterly, completely UNIQUE. The gadgets alone would be cool – but combine their neat basic premises with aforementioned, rather interesting special tricks AND the 5-step upgrade system for maximum customization options and we have a system that ends up as not only flexible, but downright brilliant. And yes, we get grappling hooks, bionic commando style, scanners, magnifiers…even personal translators! Beyond these, there are symbionts – and,a s an old Venom fanboy, I was pretty much looking forward to them, their concise rules and implementation. And yes, these symbionts are rather interesting – though surprisingly, and somewhat disappointingly mundane though they turned out to be. What do I mean by this? Well, first of all, there is nothing wrong with the symbionts – there rules are concise, their benefits unique and they make for a very cool way to reward players even in campaigns that sport no electrotech – just explain it via aberrant stuff etc. and you#re good to go. That being said, they are pretty much one note-augmentations – no detrimental effects, no symbiont-highjacks – nothing. Again, this does not make them bad and their acquisition, recovery and death-rules are concise, but especially when compared to the rest of the book, they feel very static and ironically, inorganic when compared to the vast panorama of options provided by gadgets et al. One deserves special mention, though – the animan symbiont can transform normal humans into an animal-like race called mutamorphs, one of two new races.

 

The base mutamorph race receives +2 Con, -2 Cha, count as both mutamorphs and humans, receive -4 to all cha-based check and get low-light-vision. Additionally, they may select one of 8 basic sets, which align them with e.g. bears, wolves etc. and influence thus their movement rate, a further +2 bonus to an attribute etc. Here, the rules-language could be a) slightly more precise and b) balancing is off. Natural weapons fails to specify whether they’re primary or secondary and bite attacks, for example do not adhere to the standard damage for medium creatures. Additionally, we have unassisted personal flight at 1st level for e.g. Bat mutamorphs, which can be a problem in quite a few campaigns. The second new race, the raccoon-folk Nashi receive +2 Con, -2 Int, are small, slow, receive +1 to diplomacy and Knowledge, low-light vision, +2 to Disable Device and Knowledge (engineering), Appraise, Perception and Spellcraft as well as early firearm proficiency. Okay race. Both races receive full arrays of favored class options. Nashi can also select a bunch of alternate racial traits, some of which are pretty strong and replace bland +2 bonuses to skills – which renders them pretty much a no-brainer. Not a particular fan of this decision.

 

Character traits, new skill uses for old (and new skills) etc. also make an appearance

After the rather sobering racial write-ups, we’re back to form – with technician background generators akin to those found in Ultimate Campaign as well as *drum-roll* KIMGDOM-BUILDING SUPPOORT! Electroplants, hydroworks, MONORAIL TRACKS (!!!), radiation sickness, airfields, broadcasting towers – even in completely unrelated settings, the content provided here is gold. Better yet, new rooms and buildings for my beloved downtime system are also provided for – including airfields, factories etc. – and there it is again, the manic, stupid grin that was on my face for most of the time while I was reading this book.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed next to no glitches – quite a feat for a book of this size. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read, printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf has copious amounts of awesome, original pieces of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

 

Radiance House does not publish books often, but when they do, they tend to rank in the upper echelon – indeed, so far, I have yet to be truly disappointed by a given book. Dario Nardi and Alexander Augunas did not break this trend. Instead, they deliver something special: I expected this to be a PFRPG-book of the Electrotech-world detailed in other supplements – instead, I received a thoroughly concise campaign-overlay. With the content herein, you can easily introduce electrotech in any doses you deem appropriate into your campaign – from full-blown all-out scifi to fantasy with fallen spacecrafts to anything in-between. Whether you’re playing Rhûne or Pure Steam, Iron Gods or any other even remotely steampunky/science-fiction-style setting, this delivers. In fact, if you’re aiming for a magic-less system sans deities etc., this answers the healing question. From hardcore scifi to teslapunk, in small doses or in buckets – the Age of Electrotech is an absolute must-own publication. The technician is one of the coolest classes currently available and its massive customization options are downright beautiful to behold. After some tinkering, I am proud to say that I could not flaws with this exceedingly versatile class – which is quite a feat. Indeed, this is quite probably the best gadgeteering class currently out there – and one for which I really hope I’ll see more material. Making a technician is simply an immensely rewarding experience and the playtesting does show – even more impressive then, that a class of this complexity is so utterly easy to grasp. Kudos indeed!

 

My criticism towards the symbionts should be considered nagging at a high level, and thus, we only remain with the racial write-ups not being on par with the otherwise exceedingly high quality of this book. But that also pales before the VAST array of utterly inspiring options contained within these pages – from the Ultimate Campaign-support to the vehicles, this book is a joy and one I definitely will get in print as soon as my finances permit it.

 

Before I gush even more and start to sound like a complete fanboy – the Age of Electrotech should be considered a must-have addition to any game that likes to introduce a bit of the uncommon into their fantasy – the content’s rules alone, heck, the class alone maybe worth the asking price. Add to that the fact that you can easily reskin the fluff to treat this as magic, steam or whatever, and we have a massive book of glorious crunch, with inspiring fluff sprinkled in that can easily be summed up with the words “must have”. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and I nominate this as a candidate for my top ten of 2014 – this book deserves your attention and delivers excellence for its price.

 

You can get this super tome here on OBS!

Or, you can get it for a discounted price as an add-on for the Pact Magic Kickstarter currently running!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 162015
 

Alternate Dungeons: Mystic Ruins

142856

This installment of Raging Swan Press’ Alternate Dungeon-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So this time around, Alexander Augunas guides us through the process of making strange Mystic Ruins an alternate dungeon-area – but what exactly does that entail? Well, first of all, we receive what amounts to incremental degrees of 5 (anti-) magic levels -from dead to wild magic to ruins that enhance certain types of magic, these modifications instantly change the dynamics of your dungeon-ruins – pretty cool! But beyond magic levels, we also receive effects that see locomotive modifications become unstable, hypnotic sounds and yes, grasping vines.

 

The general suggested features provided, including dizzying haze, multi-level design that allows for the scouting (and potentially skipping) between vertically aligned levels and mutagenic properties (in the form of a simple penalty, but you can always make that one more complex) -these make for interesting and unique modification-suggestions.

 

So far, so good – what about sacking the place? Well, from living steel t power cmponents and alchemical and arcane reagents, we receive a bunch of cool, thematically-fitting loot suggestions, some even with nice in-game bonuses.

 

Dressing of the ruins is also provided for, with considerations of different sample functions and the harvesting of dressings-section features some nice scaling suggestions of the modifications provided. The pdf does include a massive table with 37 entries (plus toll twice/thrice) – and once again, the table is pretty damn glorious: What about having everything in the ruins slowly shrink? A nice coat of nasty mold or slime? Nascent magical auras? Or the fact that unattended woo immediately bursts into flames? A couple of the entries here are downright inspired and should suffice to create a ruin that has its function and history develop organically from its dressing outwards – and if this table does not suffice, just add wilderness/dungeon dressing and you’re good to go!

 

The next page would be devoted to suggested monsters to encounter within the ruins and while useful for novice DMs, so far in every installment of the series this chapter has tended to bore me, the selection this time around is more interesting and diverse, so kudos! Speaking of kudos – I love what follows next – from mundane collapses and hazards to magical ones and even planar thinning with chaotic surges from limbo/maelstrom, this chapter really is nice and a great cheat sheet to make exploration more memorable.

 

Speaking of prior issues of the series – whereas so far the adventure hooks were functional, but not particularly inspired, we may not receive less, only 2, but the two that we get actually are pretty awesome -from leaks in the planar fabric to goblinifying devices, the hooks are inspired and cool – two thumbs up!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, but not as flawless as I’ve come to expect from Raging Swan Press. Layout adheres to RSP’s elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with nice b/w-artworks as well as fully bookmarked. Additionally, you receive two versions, one optimized for screen-use, one optimized for the printer.

 

Alexander Augunas’ latest Alternate Dungeon-installment is inspired in all the right places. When I read “Mystic Ruins”, I was expecting a generic train-ride of blandness and “been there, done that”- tricks. Well, I am happy to report that even experienced DMs can find quite a bunch of cool stuff herein! Best of all, while generic enough for newbie DMs to use, this still manages to maintain the balance between generic and specific, generating its very own identity. A fun, cool little pdf that should definitely help keep boredom away. Surprisingly fun and very inexpensive, this pdf is well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this useful toolbox here on OBS!

 

Also, the designer Alexander Augunas is currently running a kickstarter for a massive Pact Magic-book – check it out here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Mar 132015
 

Ultimate Composition

142403

The second massive sourcebook in Interjection games’ Strange Magic-series of massive books clocks in at 95 pages of content, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 92 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

FULL DISCLOSURE: As the credits tell you, I acted as editor for this book. I worked on other parts of Strange Magic and was compensated for my work. That being said, I reviewed the Maestro and its expansions and thus the system this is based on long before I was involved in any way with this project. I did not contribute material to this book. I do not consider my judgment compromised and have rated projects I was involved with less than stellar before. I consider my integrity top priority and hence wanted to let you know about my involvement.

 

So the first class herein is already an interesting one that could be considered rather gonzo – the breakdancer. Sponsored by backer Sasha Hall, the breakdancer receives 3/4 BAB-progression, d8, 4+Int skills per level, 3/4 composer-level progression, good fort- and ref-saves and proficiency with simple weapons, light martial weapons, whip, meteor hammer and light armor. He also begins the game with 2 scores and learns up to 5. Each score can have a1 melody at first level, scaling up to 4. At 5th level, the class receives the first so-called drop and these scale up to 5, but more on them later.

 

If the terminology hasn’t been ample clue so far, composition magic is a special kind of magic (including a caster-like level) that has its own terminology. First would be so-called scores – these consist of an intro, an outro and a number of melodies. Each score must contain a single intro, outro and melody. Scores are prepared and require a caster-attribute (usually Intelligence) of 12 + number of melodies in a score. The DC, if applicable, is 10 + 1/2 class level + governing attribute. Since compositions are prepared, changing them requires access to a composition book, which is, however, only required to change the composition. A breakdancer, for example, begins play with 1 intro, 1 outro and 1+Int-mod (min 1) melodies known. Gaining more intros/outros/melodies requires the gaining of levels or the access to composition book, mirroring the way in which wizards can learn spells from other sources. The collective term for intros, outros and melodies would be composition.

 

Each score can be conducted for rounds equal to the character’s Perform (conducting)-skill + the character’s Intelligence modifier. Starting to conduct a score is a standard action that provokes AoOs, but can be maintained as a free action. The intro-effect triggers immediately, as do all melody effects – the latter persist for as long as the score remains in effect. A score can be ended in two ways – first, the character may simply stop conducting as a free action. He can, however, also execute a standard action that provokes AoOs to end a composition with a flourish – this triggers an outro. After ending a score as a free action, the character may not reactivate it in the same round. Conducting a score per se cannot be disrupted, but paralysis, killing/knocking the character unconscious etc. all end a given composition – whenever the character can’t spend the required free action, the magic collapses. Unless otherwise noted, composition magic relies on audible components. Faithful readers of mine may now have a slight déjà-vu – and indeed, this book essentially takes the unique way of casting the Maestro-class introduced and amps it up, generating a whole array of material for it. And yes, I’ll return to that class as well.

 

For now, let me explain the breakdancer’s two signature tricks – number one would be Rhythm. A breakdancer can accumulate up to Dex-mod points of rhythm, minimum 1. These can be considered thesholds/points. 1 point of Rhythm is gained when the breakdancer is conducting a score. If within the effect of a score or a bardic performance and not conducting a score, the breakdancer does not modify the points of Rhythm he has. When not conducting a score and not within the effect of a score or bardic performance, the breakdancer loses one point of Rhythm. What do these points power? Well, remember the Dance moves I mentioned? Yup. These have either a Rhythm cost or a minimum Rhythm and, if applicable, a save of 10 + 1/2 class level + Dex-mod. Finally, there would be drops – gained at 5th level, these are special kinds of scores that have an intro, but neither melody nor outro. Drops do not require the conducting class feature and instead can be executed while conducting a score as a standard action, superseding the effects of the score for 1 round. Utilizing a drop eats 2 rounds of the duration of the composition currently conducted, but also generates 1 rhythm – this means it can’t be used if a given composition does not have at least 2 rounds left. At 7th level, drops can be executed as a move action, at 13th level even as a swift action (or a move action, depending on the breakdancer’s whims) – note, however, that only one drop can be executed per round.

 

Okay, so what do the rhythm-powered dance-moves? Well, a lot. The moves, beyond aforementioned restrictions based on rhythm and minimum rhythm also tend to have minimum levels assigned and most are supernatural abilities. If the above explanation of rhythm wasn’t enough to cue you in – these can be used during a given composition or after it, for as long as the necessary rhythm is there. The effects, thus, tend to be good in a rather subtle way. Short-range fire damage versus targets on failed save, healing equal to one’s own rhythm, or generating a non-illusionary mirror image based on quick movement may take a bit of thought, but as supplemental tricks, these actually help the class remain pretty much fluid. The dance moves also include so-called stances – a breakdancer can only be in one stance at a given time and entering a new stance immediately end the previous stance. It should also be noted that the level-restriction means that capstone breakdancers can select some utterly awesome, powerful spell-like effects – like nigh-infinite automatic haste whenever the breakdancer receives rhythm. What about moonwalking through threatened areas? What about expending rhythm to kill foes with pelvic thrusts? At range? Yeah. This is epic.

 

And yes, there are dance moves for temporary rhythm as well as a capstone for the maintenance of two stances at the same time. The dance moves also provide, unsurprisingly, deadly headspins of death and some nasty combat maneuver-combos, based mostly on dex and granting the benefits of Improved Unarmed Strikes, allowing for breakdancing martial arts. Neato! The favored class options herein deserve special mention, often providing thoroughly unique benefits and interesting scaling mechanisms – take the one for Drow: First, you penalize creatures affected by a drop with a -1 penalty to Fort-saves. After taking it 5 times, the drow may select whom to penalize. After 10 times, creatures are also fatigued temporarily. A Fort-save negates, with the DC scaling with the FCO. Cool indeed!

 

Now as for the compositions, we’ll check that later – first, let’s take a look at the second class, which would be Jason Linker’s Cantor. The cantor receives d6, 1/2 BAB-progression, good will-saves, begins with 2 scores (scaling up to 5), one melody per score (scaling up to 5 as well) and maximum spell levels scaling up to 6th. The class receives 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and light armors and shields. Cantors follow the same rules for compositions, but use Wis as a governing attribute. Unlike other composing classes, cantors also receive access to a limited number of spells, which they need not prepare ahead of time. This divine spellcasting is governed by Charisma…and unlike most classes, each spell can be cast exactly ONCE per day. Instead of bonus spells per day, cantors learn additional spells. Cantors learn the cure/inflict spells automatically at certain levels and has to determine which to use for spontaneous casting etc. (with the usual alignment restrictions) -so in fact, their spellcasting is extremely limited, even more so than most spontaneous casters. At 2nd level the cantor receives channel energy as per alignment/energy type chosen and every even level thereafter, this ability increases, essentially granting the class full healing capabilities. Beyond these, MAD-alleviating abilities and social skill bonuses increase the potency of cantors when dealing with members of the same faith. They also receive their choice from alignment-related domains.

 

Now so far, this sounds pretty divine, but Musicae Sacrae enter the fray – these follow standard score rules with a couple of notable exceptions. These, unlike regular scores, can only be used once per day and one is gained at 5th level and every 4 class levels thereafter. They can be selected multiple times, each time increasing their daily uses by +1. Thus, you should not be surprised to note that these special scores (akin to the opus of the maestro) are very powerful and come with sample real life pieces to provide the proper mood, should you be so inclined. Veterans of the system will recall this system – and indeed, there is overlap between musica sacra and the maestro’s opus class features and they utilize the same system.

 

These powerful pieces allow you to declare cubes of pure fire, forcing foes to run, immediately resurrect allies fallen even to death magic or grow your allies to juggernaut-size, including significant boosts to their capabilities. Or what about Gustav Holst’s Op.32’s representation’s superb power, which even replenishes e.g. rounds of rage, bardic performances and the like? Yeah, damn awesome and epic, especially since the pdf manages to get the complex crunch-wording required right! The class may also select a capstone, a so-called Deus Ex Musica at 20th level, which include treating the first failed save each day that would result in the cantor’s death as a natural 20, point-based domain-spellcasting and special “super”-melodies to add to their arsenal. Once again, we receive extensive favored class options for the class and concise spell-lists (including sources) and score-lists.

 

Paul Fijma has sponsored the 3rd base class herein, Bradley Crouch’s Harmonicist- The Harmonicist receives d6, proficiency with simple weapons, 1/2 BAB-progression, good will- and fort-saves, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and shields, but not any armor. Harmonicists treat their composer level as their class level and their compositions are governed by Intelligence. Harmonicists may conduct a score for Perform (conducting) ranks + Int-mod rounds, min 1. Unlike other composers, though, the music is not ethereal, instead resonating within a target within 25 ft + 5 ft./2 composer levels range. Intro and outro-effects are centered on said target rather than the composer, whereas melodies only effect the one subject targeted, also e.g. granting limited-use abilities to the subject, if applicable. All compositions a harmonicist can know thus have a slightly altered alternate rules-language, but more on that later. Additionally, it should be noted that harmonicists increase the number of scores they can have in effect at a given time by +1 at 6th level and an additional +1 every 6 levels beyond that. It should also be noted that harmonicists may expend swift actions to move their compositions from eligible target to eligible target. They learn up to 8 scores and can apply ups to 5 melodies per score.

 

At 2nd level, a harmonicist learns a so-called counterpoint, a non-conducting-requiring single melody sans intro or outro that can be executed as a standard action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity. This can be woven into an ongoing score, stacking with it. Only one counterpoint can be maintained at a given time and they can prepare one at 2nd level, +1 every 3 levels thereafter. This is called “weaving” a counterpoint. Starting at 4th level, however, harmonicists may also conduct counterspoints, adding woven regular counterpoints to those they conduct – sounds a bit complicated, but really isn’t once you’ve understood the principle: The harmonicist may treat counterpoints as scores and thus modify them. The number of counterpoint scores a harmonicist may conduct at a given time increases to 2 at 10th level and to 3 at 16th level. Now here’s the interesting tidbit -counterpoint scores can be initiated as a swift action and do not provoke AoOs. Yes, this class is complex, but the combo-tinkering one may engage in…

 

The capstone btw. provides further options to modify the scores and counterpoints in various ways, adding yet another vast array of potential…and truly NASTY combos. The class also sports an array of favored class options.

 

The final class herein is an old acquaintance – the maestro. Since I’ve reviewed that class in detail back in the day when it was a single pdf, I’ll be brief – you can always check out my review of the original maestro-pdf for a more in-depth breakdown of the class. The maestro is a full composer, with Int governing compositions, while his spellcasting (which adheres to similar restrictions as that of the cantor) is based on Charisma. As mentioned before, the maestro also receives an array of special scores that are not modified by melodies etc. – these would be the opuses. Additionally, the maestro may insert melody-based refrains into his compositions for an increased flexibility and the diverse, awesome capstones deserve special mention as well. Advice for granted bonus compositions and diverse favored class options round out this class – and the maestro and his base-system were superbly glorious even before the streamlining of the composition-system seen in this book.

 

This is not where the pdf ends, though – we also are introduced to composition-class-based archetypes, with each archetype coming with a list of compatible classes. The first would be the arranger for the maestro and cantor. This archetype replaces worshipful/insightful performance and modifies musica sacra/opus – the arranger receives a masterpiece pool equal to the amount of musicae sacrae/opuses the character knows – this pool can be used to start any opus/musica sacra, allowing for increased flexibility regarding these nasty pieces of musical destruction. Instead of channel energy/refrain, the arranger may conduct so-called arrangements during the conducting of opuses or musicae sacrae.

 

Backer Sasha Hall sponsored the songweaver, who is compatible with all composition classes. Songweavers receive no intros or outros, but they learn to conduct bridges containing outro-effects after a certain minimum number of score, fluently gliding over to another score. On a design perspective, the exceedingly complex wording here is damn impressive. Additionally, the songweaver may weave so-called verses into their ongoing compositions – complex and interesting. Brandon F. has sponsored the Starlet, compatible with cantor and maestro – starlets never learn outros, but make up for that by learning to forego learning compositions in order to learn spells and add them to their metronom list – instead of triggering an outro, spells on that list may be executed as a kind of outro-substitution. Breakdancers and Harmonicists may opt to become street musicians – these guys come not only with one of the most badass artworks in the book, they can also generate so-called songbombs – these can be activated via commands, proximity or triggers and they can essentially be used to generate a musical minefield. The street musician receives one point for the pool, +1 for every 2 class levels.

 

Cantors and Maestros may also opt for the vituoso archetype, who may start bardic performances -and the interesting component here being that the class replaces spells with exactly that, rendering the virtuoso a truly unique combo of the composition system and the potential of the bardic performance-modifications introduced in ample 3pp-supplements. A total of 2 pages of feats can used to modify the tricks at the disposal of the classes further – for example, you can cast cantrips faster, add the effects of a melody to those affected by your channel energy, conducting both melodies and refrains at once – these feats add yet another layer of flexibility and trickery to the classes provided herein, including e.g. means for the breakdancer to bypass spell focus-requirements for compositions. Of course, more rhythm, longer composition and all the variable extensions you’d expect can also be enhanced with feats.

 

Now after massive lists of compositions, it’s time to check them out – and there are *a lot* in here. As mentioned above, harmonicists often receive their own effects and handy compatible classes-lines help you navigate the respective compositions. The compositions…well, they are overall exceedingly awesome – from mass mirror image-like duplicates that sport a more concise wording than the spell (and have specific, distinct rules) to destructive dissonances that break foes apart to dodge bonuses called “Can’t Touch this!”, there are a LOT of cool tools that demand experimentation/stacking/recombination. What about melodies that can actually stave off starvation? Or the option to potentially modify the range of a composition by means of a chorale? Especially the latter, if used wisely, can be utilized to pull off some damn impressive stunts. Providing flanking immunity for all allies within a short-range unless all are flanked also makes for a neat option for higher level composers. Now the very interesting component that renders the compositions interesting would be that the crunch very much duplicates the notion of composing music – the system requires the players to take the compositions and combine them, re-align them, change them up – and thus create deadly combos. When a certain effect deals sonic damage depending on how long a composition has run and similar interesting efficiency-optimization-tricks allow and reward the experimentation and planning of one’s musical magic, immersion increases and one truly feels like a magical composer. So yes, this is one of the few installments wherein the crunch actually helps the immersion, one of the rare, truly artfully crafted books.

Want to know what I mean by unique benefits? What about an ode that turns all alcoholic beverages of a certain power healing potions, but only while within a bar frequented by locals? Yes, this composition actually comes with a built-in reason why your players should open an extradimensional planar bar! I love it! What about hijacking mind-influencing effects? Have I mentioned the spectral literally fat lady? Yeah. Awesome. And I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what can be done with these…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games’ 2-column b/w-standard with melody/music-themed, thematic fonts. The pdf remains printer-friendly and it sports a mix of neat original b/w-artworks and some stock art/graphics. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience – with nested bookmarks etc.

 

Composition magic is one complex system that is easy to grasp and, much like the music it mirror, hard to master. Unlike many classes out there, the magic herein may not look too impressive at first glance – the components, like single notes, look fun, but remain that – single notes. Until you tie them together – then, suddenly, a player can fist-pump and intone the symphony of destruction, so to speak. The massive array of modification options of the simple 3-part base system should constitute the very dream of a player seeking to compose his/her own magic -the way in which the single elements come together can be extremely gratifying. Yes, composition magic is different. It is weird. It is also the music-system the bard should have had in the first place – it’s simply more interesting, less linear and puts player-agenda very high on the table. If there is one thing one could complain about here, then that would be that even more combo-elements would have been awesome to see. Some players of the old Maestro-class may also feel slightly vexed by certain compositions now being class-exclusive for other classes: If you liked killing foes with “End with a Whimper” – well, that’s now cantor-exclusive, much to the chagrin of one of my players.

 

It should be noted, though, that Bradley Crouch and Jason Linker have simply crafted the superb incarnation of the system, with the cantor in particular being a true masterpiece – a full healer on par with the cleric, but with a completely different tone and ability set. While the breakdancer may strike some as a weird anachronism, I encourage all groups to check out how it plays, for in that regard, it is an absolutely unique experience as well. This is, let me emphasize that, NOT a joke-class. And if you don’t like the fluff, do yourself a favor and reskin it. Seriously, the experience is interesting enough to warrant it.

Ultimate Composition is a superb book, a glorious magic-system and has become a permanent fixture in my games – one that I hope will one day receive even more fodder. Its crowning achievement, to me, remains in its ability to make the mastery of the system mimic the process it seeks to emulate – a feat rarely seen in any supplement and one that must be considered superbly rewarding. Hence, Ultimate Composition receives a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and becomes a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.

 

You can get this awesome tome and compose your own magic here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Want the whole Strange Magic-subscription? You can get it here on OBS!

 

It should also be noted that lead designer Bradley Crouch currently has a kickstarter running that seeks to redefine bloodlines and what they can do – you can get the Strange Magic-subscription at a lower, discounted price as an add-on for this interesting KS! Check it out here!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Mar 132015
 

Urban Dressing: Slum Town

141371

This installment of what I’d tentatively call the “new” Urban Dressing-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Ah, the seedy underbelly of a town, the slums…where the reader is definitely glad that the 100 entries of sights and sounds can’t be transported via smell-o-vision: Cesspools, shady characters and examples of misery paint a vivid picture for DMs to utilize in their games…but of course, one should probably hire a guide from the 50 sample businesses when entering the slums…unless one wants to try one’s luck with the charlatans…or is down on one’s luck and in need of a moneylender.

 

Drug pits, sweat shops – in these squalid surroundings, it should come as no surprise that the 50 sample NPCs include a couple of individuals you definitely don’t want to meet…though net dancers with hearts of gold can be found amidst the dark and less than savory individuals. If this rich panorama of misery and people down on their luck is not enough, 20 adventure hooks, from escorting noble daughters slumming (perhaps to meet with a paramour from the lower class?) to tracking down escaped slaves provides fodder for any enterprising DM to develop into a cool, compelling story.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ 2-column b/w-standard and the artwork is thematically fitting b/w-stock. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions – one optimized for the printer and one optimized for screen-use.

 

I can’t emphasize enough how much this series has prospered under Josh Vogt’s guidance – whereas the first “season” of Urban Dressing was hit and miss, this evocative pdf provides more than a bit of great flavor – it is captivating, compelling, immersive. It breathes the grand flavor of dark fantasy novels and the muddy streets, the labyrinthine alleys and crannies seem to jump from these pages, rendering this installment, even among the more recent UDs, as a stand-out, brilliant example, one I will, without any hesitation or doubt, award 5 stars + seal of approval -if your PCs like the seedier parts of town, this is a must-have supplement!

 

You can get this awesome little dressing-file here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.