Nov 212014
 

The Key to Marina

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The latest module by 4 Dollar Dungeons clocks in at 79 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 75 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. No. Seriously. You don’t want to spoil this one.

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Okay, only DMs left? Great!

Now DMs may wish to know the following – like all 4$D-modules, this one does provide some guidance beyond the usual synopsis in modifying the hook for the DM to fix issues with encounters that might come up, rendering this module easier to prepare than most comparable resources. This level of foresight by the way also extends to the copious maps provided for the module – DM and player maps are NOT identical in every case – two thumbs up. Scaling advice, handy lists of encounters, treasures etc. – all provided, rendering the running of this module as easy as one can possibly make it.

 

Now let’s dive into the plot, shall we? We begin this module in the coastal city of Morphoton – or any other coastal city. Here, a note on adaption should be made – the module delivers a handy list of criteria a city has to fulfill for the module to run smoothly and this advice, once again, renders running this module easier – 50+ years, predominantly stone buildings, districts for different classes, a strong mercantile presence and a council among the governing bodies are rather easy to fulfill.

 

So, how does this scenario begin? Well, it (probably) is autumn, when, by some relation or friend, the PCs are bequeathed a picture depicting the Gardens of Marina, a local park in a less than popular neighborhood, with a cryptic hint that there is some mystery to be found there. Depending on your players, their innate curiosity may even suffice – for mine it did! Checking out the park the PCs encounter a scene of neglect and decay – the gorgeous statue in the middle of the park has been vandalized and several of the decorative statues from the park are missing. However, between nostalgic old people and the occasional loner frequenting this abandoned, dilapidated park, they may also notice a ring of odd, symbols around the fountain and a discrepancy in the composure of the statues. There is obviously a mystery afoot and the missing statues are obviously tied to the task. Hence, the PCs will have to hunt down the park’s former statues – wherever they might be.

 

Thankfully, at least one man can help the PCs, the by now over 90-year old senile gardener Arbitan, who may very well be the park’s only frequent visitor – it is via the interaction with this man (a nice way to once again enforce a theme of decay and finality and the fleeting nature of life, btw.), the PCs can glean the first hints – and much like in a good mystery/adventure-movie, the detective work begins – from the unpleasantness of essentially forced labor weaving to the bureaucracy of the council, dealing with greedy art dealers and snobbish custodians, the trails lead towards a crab-merchant, a bell-tower, a crypta and even a maze – and we haven’t even started the deadly part yet! Still, the individual encounters collectively manage to set a tone that starts resonating as one plays, slowly developing the mood in an excellent example of indirect storytelling.

 

Now from the plinths of these statues and their signs, provided as hand-outs for the PCs, btw. – after all, visual puzzles sans visual aids are hard and a total of 9 jpgs make visualizing the puzzle exceedingly easy. Have I mentioned that all combat-relevant aforementioned locations sport player-friendly maps?

So finally, the secret is unearthed, the access route opens to perhaps one of the best examples of secret dungeons I’ve seen in ages – and we enter the dungeon below – which is highly uncommon. Why? Well, first of all, the place is essentially an example for a vertical, rather than a horizontal dungeon, with cross-section maps being provided as well (and secret rooms not included necessarily in the default map. Secondly, the module’s dungeon sports massive tanks that can be modified and accessed via special keys – and which require some thinking. Essentially, this whole level can be considered one gigantic logic puzzle – not every room, not every creature is relevant, but the system per se is concise and well-wrought…and it makes one thing pretty clear – If your PCs are dumb, they can die horribly here: Diving into a mix of water over-saturated with oxygen? In case you’ve never played Metal Gear Solid 2, let me enlighten you: No, you can’t swim in it, yes, it’s a bad idea to try. The same can be said about diving headfirst into a tank as a level 1 character that contains a massive giant zombie shark – of course, you can just empty the tank and then kill it at range, though it will take some arrows to put down…

 

Smart tactics and smart playing will be required to properly navigate this part of the dungeon indeed – but the challenge does not end there – in order to proceed further, at one point the PCs quite possibly will have to deal with a rather lethal demonic adversary…only to stumble upon an evil seamstress (who do you think makes all those cultist’s robes?) and a massive chapter of Asmodeans. Thankfully, if the PCs are not dumb, they’ll be disguised in Asmodean robes. Walking the floors of this place should send torrents of sweat down the PC’s backs – multiple high level clerics, high-level outsiders – the PCs are well in over their heads and with imps buzzing to and fro, unmasking is suicide. Thankfully, the cult has not taken one thing into account -the reservoir. They have not been visited for ages. No one bothers them. Why guard the ingress? And who would have thunk that a certain tank now is filled to the brim with 1.5 tons of water? Some crowbars, a little bit of force and a massive, crushing tsunami-like floods can be used to annihilate the opposition that is so far above them, they will just be cheering. At least my players were. Thankfully, the water drains and with the missing head of Marina’s statue, the park can be restored to its former glory, the PCs rewarded and blessed and the module brought to a satisfying conclusion.

 

As always with 4$D-modules, we receive handouts of the artworks for your PCs, properly detailed maps, stats for all creatures, hazards, spells and yes, even creature qualities as well, rendering this literally the only book you need to run this module.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I did not notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column full color standard sans backgrounds and the pdf comes extensively bookmarked for your convenience. As an additional benefit for people like yours truly, we receive two pdfs – one in A4-format and one in US-format, making the printing of this module easier and better looking for Europeans like yours truly. Cartography is provided in full color, of just about every combat-related environment, with player-friendly maps and even cross-sections galore. It should also be noted that, as always, each encounter features the respective DCs for skill-checks and results in a handy mini-table.

 

No 4$D-module is like the other – but ever since “Horn of Geryon“, all three have been superb in their own, distinct ways. They all sport a subdued, mature humor that makes reading them a joy and provide a level of detail and logical cohesiveness seldom seen in any other publication. Instead of resting on his laurels, after “Journey to Cathreay” became one of my favorite wilderness modules of all time, author Richard Develyn instead opted for something different – and made a module that is equal parts investigation and essentially the exploration of a vast, magical and logical dungeon. Suffused with a sense of decrepitude, the module’s theme is enhanced by just about every step building atmosphere along the way – and this is good. Why? Because this module requires respect to beat. I am not kidding when I’m saying that this module is difficult – in an uncommon, very rewarding way – from the beginning to the end, this whole module is all about BRAINS over brawn. If this were a GoT-character, it would probably be Tyrion Lannister.

 

What do I mean by that? Organically, the dungeon and its challenges prepare the PCs (and players!) mindset-wise towards a most uncommon finale that would not work with another mindset. It’s essentially like the glorious classic “Tomb of Abysthor” and the author does not kid when the CR-rating for a particular room is denoted as “infinite” – at their level, the PCs have simply no chance to prevail other than being smart -something that would come out of left field in any other module and result in unfair TPKs here works as the logical conclusion of the things that have come before.

 

All right, I’ll come out and say it – this is the brainiest module I’ve had the pleasure to run in quite a while – and I mean that as a compliment. Mind you, there are enough combats in here and a skeleton whose skull is inhabited by an undead octopus and similar weird creatures make for fantastic changes of pace throughout the module and the fights before furthermore enhance the emphasis on tactics, strategy and using your brain.

 

This module can be deemed a love-letter to all the glorious modules that could not be solved by rolling a 20 every time, an homage to the brainier of mystery/adventure movies and is just plain fun to run. That being said, DMs should carefully read (and understand) the full module before running it – its modular nature and complex dungeon are not something you can pull off on the fly. if your players and you are bored by roll-playing, if you want concise and logical puzzles that do not require trial and error to solve, then this will be a true blessing for you. The Key to Marina is a glorious module that once again shows what was once considered to be the best of old-school adventure-writing and puts it into a new, polished form. At this point, I am using 4 Dollar Dungeon-modules as a type of balm for my reviewer’s soul – after reading flawed math, the oompteenth supplement dealing with xyz, after being frustrated by a logical glitch or railroading – this is when I open one of these modules, read them, run them…and all is well. And no, that was no exaggeration. Add to that the exceedingly low price-point and I guarantee that you won’t find something similar around.

 

I am aware that I must be sounding like a fanboy at this point and honestly, I kind of am – but deservedly so. The level of quality provided is staggering for this price-point and the amount of superlatives I can heap on this module are rather impressive as well – but you’ve heard those before, I wager. Hence, let me just reiterate that this is a module for the advanced player, for the thinkers, a module steeped in glorious detail, one that could be easily transplanted into e.g. Ravenloft or any other setting. It is also yet another flavor of awesomeness from the penmanship of Richard Develyn and the fourth (!!!) module in a row I consider a candidate for my Top Ten of the given release-year.

Yeah. this level of mastery is getting creepy. still, once more, let me spell it out – final verdict: 5 stars + seal of approval, candidate for the Top Ten of 2014. Go buy this now – it’s cheaper than a pack of cigarettes or a proper meal, even in a fast food chain, and it will stay with you for much, much longer.

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

Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 212014
 

Psionic Bestiary

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This massive bestiary clocks in at 105 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with a massive 100 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

First of all – this is a massive bestiary and as such, I can’t go into the details of every creature herein without bloating it beyond belief. Additionally, I have reviewed the ongoing subscription (with the exception of ~2-3 installments, I think), so if in doubt, there are some reviews in the ether that are more detailed regarding the respective creatures. Finally, if you’re like me and have accompanied the evolution of PFRPG’s psionics, then you’ll notice that Ultimate Psionics no longer featured monsters – well, that’s why this book exists – handy player/DM separation by book – nice.

 

We begin this book with some explanations on how psionic creatures work, what to look out for etc., before 2 new feats that are used in this book are depicted – the aberration-only feat that nets you acidic blood, plus one 6-rank-prerequisite feat that allows the creature with it to avoid detection by e.g. blindsight etc. – while I get the intent behind the feat and applaud it, I do think that different abilities should add different bonuses to the perception-check for fairness’s sake – after all, quite a feat creatures are very much dependant on blindsight and more often than not fail to invest ranks in perception. Now rest assured that this is a VERY minor nitpick and will not influence the verdict, but I’d urge DMs allowing this feat to take a look at eligible creatures and potentially reassign skill-ranks.

 

All right, got that? Neato, then let’s dive head first into the array of psionic creatures presented herein – and, as per the tradition, we begin with the iconic astral constructs and all the table to customize them…but I assume you’re familiar with these guys. Much cooler would be the psionic inevitables, the automata – crystalline machinery, deadly tricks, a regeneration only foiled by sonic damage…these guys are nasty and the direct foes of aberrations and similar creatures!

 

Classics like the crysmal, caller in darkness, folugub, psion-killer or cerebrelith can be found in these pages as well, though more often than not, I have to admit to by now simply having a higher standard for monsters – when compared to quite a few critters herein, the “classics” feel a bit conventional at times.

 

Now if you’ve followed my reviews, Hellfire aura-bearing devils, cerebremorte undead, beetles with a truly disturbing life cycle and brain parasite worms may sound familiar – and if you haven’t encountered them, the phrenic hegemony, heirs to the illithids, may very well be the more disturbing (and complex) type of creature – they were awesome in the WiP-pdf and by now have more artworks – and these are simply awesome. Speaking of awesome – when I complained about the polearm masters of the Pyn-Gok race not getting any cool signature tricks via their plummage, I was heard – they now have quite a bunch of cool additional tricks! The T’artys have alas, not received a similar treatment – they still are ye’ old mischief-causing fey, only with psionics. *shrugs* Their artwork ahs been upgraded, though!

 

A nod to Forgotten Realms’ Saurians can be found in this pdf alongside some delightfully demented plant creatures -from the classic udoroot that now has some actually unique tricks to strange, mouth-studded trees, many of the artworks perfectly drive home the utter weirdness and partially alien flavor of psionics – take the humanoid plants with EYES, the Iniro. One look at their nightmareish artwork and you’ll know you want to use these fellows! The Mindseed Tree is no less disturbing to me and just a fun adversary as well!

 

Dreamborn, colossal magical beasts adrift in the ether, the last members of a dying race, a strange array of mutated creatures that have been driven insane by a cataclysm, only to endure…how? Upon death of one , another member of their race hideously splits in two… The crystalline shackle using Dedrakons and similar hunters make for iconic magical beasts as hunters that work well in a context of a given world requiring appropriate predators.

 

And speaking of predators – beyond the awesomeness that is the phrenic hegemony, we also receive examples of psionic apex predators – psionic dragons. A total of 5 dragon types are provided – all of which radically different from the gem-dragon tradition: We receive the Cypher, Imagos, Keris, Lorican and Scourge dragons. Cypher dragons are travelers of the planes and do have some rather cool, unique abilities – they can disrupt patterns just like the Cryptic-class and indeed, their age-category abilities gained fall in line with this concept and remain their uniqueness.

 

Imago dragons do not cause fear, instead using confusion and are the wilders among dragonkind, coupling wilder-style tricks with a theme of oneiromancy etc. – cool! Now if you’re like me, at one point, the color-coding of dragons annoyed you – while templates etc. by now allow for ways past that, simply introducing the energy-type changing Kerris dragons and their tricks might do the trick as well. Two thumbs up! Speaking of which – the Lorican dragon’s tricks are imaginative as well – these guys can wrap essentially a pocket astral plane around themselves and exert control over this area, modifying magic affinity, gravity etc. – innovative and just incredibly cool!

 

Finally, the Scourge Dragons would be the dread-equivalent to the cypher dragon’s cryptic-affinity -masters of fear with an affinity for the plane of shadows, they should be considered rather awesome as well. But this would not be all – beyond these trueborn dragons, there also are Ksarite dragons and drakes, partially composed of psionic force -compared to the true born dragons, though, these guys feel less impressive.

 

In case you’re looking for templates to apply to creatures, we also receive fodder in that regard beyond aforementioned brain worm hosts – take the Marked One (CR +3) template – studded with psionic tattoos they can spread, these guys are obsessed with order and there might very well be a global agenda behind the phenomenon… narrative gold hiding here. Speaking of which – by now, you can create your own deranged trepanner-constructs -cool to see the missing crafting information showing up herein. I just wished the psychotrope drugs of a shambler variant had received similar treatment.

A massive appendix of creatures by type, by CR and by terrain makes this bestiary easy to handle for the DM – kudos!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch: At this point a shout-out to Anguish on the Paizo boards who did a massive bunch of editing for this book, checking statblocks for even the most minute of errors. My hat’s off to you, sir (or madam)! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ two-column full color standard. The artworks provided for the creatures herein are universally full-color and belong to the more gorgeous, unique of artworks you’ll see. While not adhering to a uniform style, the artworks are great and the less than awesome ones from the WiP have been exchanged with higher quality pieces – neat! It should also be noted that the pdf of this book comes with an additional, more printer-friendly version – nice! I can’t comment on the print-version since I do not have it.

 

The team of designers Jeremy Smith, Andreas Rönnqvist, Michael McCarthy, Dale McCoy Jr., Michael Pixton, Jim Hunnicutt, Jade Ripley and Dean Siemsen have done a great job – the psionic bestiary offers quite an array of damn cool psionic creatures, studded with unique signature abilities, using the rules to their full extent, often significantly improving the less than superb examples among the WiP-files. Indeed, the majority of the creatures herein have something significantly cool going for them. Now if there is something to said against the pdf, it would be that there is no template to turn non-psionic creatures into psionic creatures and wilder in the class rules of the respective psionic classes. This is especially baffling to me due to the cover offering an aboleth, of which there is a distinct lack of in the book – why not provide some psionic versions of these iconic foes?

 

This would constitute the only thing truly missing from this book – a way to codify psionics in a massive choose-your-tricks template – other than that oversight, this book is a glorious bestiary, especially if you’re looking for far-out creatures…and for fans of psionics, there’s no way past this, anyways. My final verdict will hence clock in at a high recommendation of 5 stars, just shy by a tiny margin of my seal of approval.

 

You can get this awesome bestiary of deadly foes here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 202014
 

Rappan Athuk Expansions Volume I

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This massive book of expansion-levels for Rappan Athuk clocks in at 165 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page back cover, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 159 pages of content, so let’s take a look…

 

…but before, let me say one thing – this review is my Razor Coast. This review crashed and burned (!!!) times, with all data gone; Once on my laptop, once due to my mobile HD being stolen and once due to my desktop PC’s HD crashing. I’ve literally written this review 3 times, only to have it crash before I had the chance to back it up. So let’s get this posted before my desktop PC dies…again.

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. Got that?

 

Great!

 

So, after a brief introduction we receive the first of 4 new wilderness areas, Castle Calaelen. Situated west of Zelkor’s Ferry and north of the mouth of doom, this locale makes for a good starting adventure in case your players are not hardcore enough for the dangers that lurk below the surface – the base of operations for a few goblins and their gnoll mercenaries. The castle itself sports relatively meager defenses and breathes a sense of a world that has turned onwards, that has left its heyday behind – with grim traps like trapped goblin tea parties, an infernal raven and finally the option to save an innocent gentleman (of half-orc stock), the level did remind me of the starting modules of old and is probably as close as Frog God Games gets to providing an easy introductory module. Bits and pieces that can turn nasty are here, but overall, the castle probably is the easiest thing to have been released under the Lost Land-banner. And generally, I wouldn’t complain here – it’s a nice place. When compared to the challenge that Crucible of Freya (nowadays collected in the Stoneheart Valley-anthology) posed, the attention to detail with light sources, shifts etc., I can’t help but feel that this castle is meant to ease new players into the feel and playstyle. What I’m trying to say is – don’t expect this chapter to challenge your players too much.

 

The second new wilderness area would be Hell’s Hamlet – and scarcely has a moniker been so fitting. The town of Mitchrod is firmly in the hands of the forces infernal, with multiple examples of devils existing among the predominantly hobgoblin populace. Now here’s the catch – no one like apocalyptic demon cults, not even the devils. Hence, this village may be tackled in two ways – on the one hand, your players could well opt to scourge the opposition, rooting this taint from the land. On the other hand, less scrupulous characters may well opt to throw in their lot with the village – after all, legendary Demonbane was wrought in the smithies of hell… Personally, I consider non-hostile interaction to be the more rewarding option here, mainly because this city and its inhabitants and guardians are unique in all the right ways – from the delightfully odd tin-man guardian golem to the kyton that may very well resurrect your allies to hallucinogenic mushrooms, there is a lot cool stuff to discovered – and in the vast depths of Rappan Athuk, there are plainly enough creatures for your PCs to jab their pointy sticks into…a bit of social roleplaying won’t hurt them, especially if sprinkled with a healthy anxiety at the practices of their…hosts?

 

The third “encounter” is perhaps the oddest herein -assuming the PCs venture towards Rappan Athuk by sea, their vessel is attacked and they, by some means or another, are deployed into pirate captivity, only to be able to escape their bounds and into the wilderness. This may sound some alarm bells – and indeed, as the introduction acknowledges, this section may well seem contrived and forced if not handled properly. However, the good thing here would be that the main meat of this section is NOT about the somewhat railroady event, which imho can be potentially skipped, but rather about the survival action in the middle of a vast forest – from odd food to a variety of disturbing daemonic entities with unique tricks, guided by a malevolent will, the PCs will have quite a lot of exploration to do to toughen them up before they can return to the “safety” of civilization. That being said, while I do really, really like this survival aspect, the encounters, scavenging tables etc., I have to admit that I consider the tie-in to Rappan Athuk, both in theme and execution, to be almost non-existent. My advice is to run this as a stand-alone – it probably works better than beating PCs expecting a dungeon-campaign over the head with such a module. It’s a good module, though not a perfect one and the glaring tactical errors the evil entity executes, while explained and rationalized by the author, might come off as DM-fiat to some players – experienced DMs can pull this off and make it very memorable and awesome, though.

 

The 4th wilderness encounter/following dungeon levels would be the Tunnels of Terror, situated in a ruined keep and guarded by bandits – and believe me when I say, these levels are on par with what one would expect from Rappan Athuk – the first level’s map spans three whole pages. On its own. Level 2C and 3D would be the extensions of this massive dungeon. (Well…massive in relative terms when compared to other FGG-dungeons, but you get what I mean…) If you want to mince no words, make no false pretensions of Rappan Athuk being anything but deadly – well, here we’d have a neat example why a dungeon like this ought to be feared. Stone Ropers at CR 6, level 7 priests (yes, the channel energy WILL kill the party if they are not VERY careful…), death traps – while not as nasty as big ole’ RA itself and terrain-wise, relatively conventional, this place is a challenge. On the downside, at least in my opinion, it does not add that much to the overall myth of Rappan Athuk. Hidden very powerful demons? Tsathar, bandits? Yep – you know the drill and unlike other examples of the Tsathar being their awesome, froggy selves, they may be the lesser of the evils in this case…which somewhat detracts from and diminishes their antediluvian demon-god/great-old-one crossover flair…but that may be me just being a fanboy for them. The tie-in regarding actually working for them may make for a hideous twist of fate near the end-game…after all, FGG has a module called “Against Tsathogga…”

 

Level 2C, as mentioned, contains the second level of the tunnels, and is not smaller – the temple of Tsathogga, blind albino frogs, magic mirrors – a nice example of an evil temple underground, though honestly, I considered the temple to be somewhat disappointing regarding terrain – some more unique hazards, flooded passages, unique traps etc. would have helped setting this temple further apart from all the Orcus-temples in main RA: The level also contains the Rainbow Vault and its riddles – pity that a tie-in/synergy with the Hall of the Rainbow Mage has been omitted here. One note – while I do love the puzzles on this level, I’m not a fan of ROYGBIV being a part of a puzzle’s solution – that’s mostly meta-gaming convention and knowledge and furthermore makes me flash back to Sam & Max Season 1. (The game, not the animated series..) Note that this is me being nitpicky, though – after all, there are the prismatic spells…. Speaking of puzzles – the final section of this level sports multiple statues that can be turned. to turn them, though, certain pillars have to be unlocked and rotated, but there also are pillars that activate traps – THANKFULLY, a massive sidebox explains this puzzle. As much as love complex puzzles like this, I do not advocate the way it is presented – it’s a matter of taste, but I’m not a fan of Myst-style puzzles where you have a complex mechanism and then essentially guess what you’re supposed to be doing. While not absolutely required to progress in the overall scheme of things, a general, cryptic clue, a visual abstraction of the level, which then can be identified by the players if their mapping-skills are up to par – some clue where and how to tackle this one would have been appreciated by quite a lot of players. Now don’t get me wrong – in my book, we need challenges like this more often…but some hints to prevent trial and error would be more than welcome.

 

The final level of the tunnels contains another temple of Orcus (One more? So what does this one do if you deactivate it?), which generally feels a bit out of place. Oh well, at least the opposition, making ample use of Tome of Horrors 4, is pretty unique and the option to save a djinn is nice as well. Also a pity – this place is supposed to be created by an advance force from Tsar – so where’s the optional tie-in to that place? Lost chance here. And yes, I’m complaining at a high level here, I’m aware of that. Now the second section of this dungeon-level is once again up to grisly lethality – golems, vampires, uncommon undead – all you’d expect from Rappan Athuk, yet still in a fresh guise. Nice!

 

Level 6B would present the PCs with perhaps the most lethal of adversaries possible – adventurers. undead ones at that. In their home-turf, with plenty of servants. And unique puzzle-creatures that are smart…and a nice nod towards Silent Hill 4’s ghosts. Have I mentioned the friendly undead dragon wishing to chomp on your PCs? GLORIOUS.

 

We close this pdf with various encounters/NPCs to be inserted at your whim into your game, as well as an appendix that depicts the Disciple of Orcus PrC and the new monsters.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to FGG’s printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard, with plenty of neat cartography and high-quality original artworks, though there are no player-friendly versions of the maps, which constitutes a detriment in my book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. Inexplicably, an index listing at one convenient glance the danger levels and exits/entries of the respective individual levels has been omitted – a pity, since RA already requires a lot of book-keeping on the DM’s side and help like that would have been appreciated.

 

Bill Webb, Alex Clatworthy, James Redmon and Skeeter Green have woven more Rappan Athuk…but can it hold up to the original? Yes…and no. On the one hand, this tome is an example of excellent old-school adventure-craft – each and every piece of content breathes the spirit of what is great and awesome about old-school modules. On the other hand, though, the different voices show. I’ve been struggling quite a while with myself for this one. Why? Because I am honestly not sure whether it’s just me. It might be very much possible that I’m burned out on Orcus-priests and their undead minions after Slumbering TSar and Rappa Athuk. On bandits occupying a ruined fortress as well. I can’t be sure. It does feel like, at least partially and at least to me, though, as if I’ve seen some of the tricks herein done better before….in Rappan Athuk. Does every level herein have some part of that old-school magic? Yes! How could one NOT like gold-pooping, purring, fungus-shaped dwarf-affine pets that pose as rocks to avoid detection by certain races? How could one not like actual riddles that challenge one’s mind beyond just rolling dice? This compilation offers quite a few examples of what is awesome about old-school adventuring.

 

To give you an example, the wilderness-survival module, in spite of its problematic beginning, is modular enough, with all its cool daemonic critters, to incite one’s imagination. The puzzles are glorious, if not always perfect in their hint-distribution. Evil undead adventurers groups? Heck yeah! On the other hand, getting YET ANOTHER shrine of Orcus (sans bearing on the metaplot), getting a Tsathar domain that simply isn’t as alien or partially, as interesting, as it could be…feel disappointing on a very high level. This expansion is best in the cases it truly enhances Rappan Athuk – by providing social encounters, a whole hamlet to interact with, by its distinct challenges. Alas, not all of this expansion is devoted to that – there are examples I’d consider derivative of the main module. This may be intentional. Perhaps it’s just me after reading and purchasing 3 iterations of the dungeon + Slumbering Tsar…but it takes more to wow me than a couple of named NPCs, acolytes, undead and demons on a level devoted to Orcus to blow me away. Is it thematically coherent when it happens? Yes. Is it stellar? Alas, no.

 

Heart of the Razor – while not perfect, provided thematic, culturally relevant expansions to the main book. This one does so as well…in a couple of cases. In others, it fails to deliver them. In the superb wilderness module, for example, some kind of permanent boon would have most definitely been appropriate. Is this worth being purchased for Rappan Athuk? Yes. As a stand-alone? Yes. Is it required or perfect? No. This is a fun book, a good book, but falls short of the level of quality delivered in the new levels of PFRPG’s iteration of RA – the level of awesomeness of a certain level with planar awesomeness as an organic, fitting change of pace, is absent from the book.

 

I really like components of this book, ESPECIALLY the fact that it demands that your players use their brains. But it also has some components that left me underwhelmed at a very high level. In a context that was not Frog God Games, I’d probably be singing praises on how this module is almost on par with Frog God Games’ mastery of old-school modules. So what’s my final verdict? Honestly, I’ve been somewhat underwhelmed by a couple of levels, but at the same time, I’ve really, really liked several ideas herein – hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars – a good compilation to have, but not a must-have.

 

You can get this neat expansion to Rappan Athuk here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop – both in PFRPG and S&W!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 202014
 

Underworld Races: Gitwerc

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This supplement clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

As with the other installments of the Underworld races-series, this one kicks off with a massive mythology of the subterranean races, a collective origin history that can be potentially transplanted from Aventyr into other settings, should one choose to do so. From there on, the gitwerc are described – amidst the numerous dwarven races forged from the ancestry of the dvergr, the gitwerc could be called those most out of line with conventional dwarvenkind in other campaign settings – not even the mad derro feel like fitting analogues, mainly due to a completely different focus. What d I mean by that?

 

Well, they went into the earth’s molten depths and erected an empire, but Aventyr isn’t like other worlds – in the bowels of the earth, the devils are bound and the gitwerc have entered infernal pacts with the forces of HEL, rising to become emperors among emperors, realizing the coming of the Dracoprime before its impact was felt – the gitwerc are feared and notorious indeed – and their history is far more expansive and interesting than that of their other dwarven brethren, adding more to the overall race’s mythology. With distinct, disturbing eye and flesh-colors, a penchant for body modifications and unique racial traits, they also stand out in that department:

 

Gitwerc receive +2 Con, Cha and Int, -4 Dex and Wis, are slow and steady, receive 60 ft darkvision, are native outsiders that still need to eat, breathe etc., receive cold, electricity and fire resistance 5, +1 natural armor, always treat diplomacy and sense motive as class skills and sorcerors of the abyssal/infernal bloodlines treat their caster level as +1 for the purpose of bonus spells or bloodline powers. Additionally, they can see perfectly even in magical darkness and suffer from light blindness…oh, and they receive an alter self-like effect to pass as a dweorg as a supernatural ability. Yeah. And know what – while stronger than the core races, they are in line with aasimar and tieflings, so exactly 0 complaints on my end!

 

Speaking of 0 complaints – this extends to the copious favored class options the Gitwerc receive. A total of 6 racial feats allow Gitwerc to add oomph to their infernal flair – whether it’s being a devilishly sly negotiator, receiving a kind of natural armor spikes that damage those foolish enough to grapple you (upgradeable to a nasty carapace), making consumed alcohol flame-breathe or assuming the look of creatures whose skin you’ve worn…wait. What? Yes, Gitwerc enjoy wearing flayed skins, which are one of the new items. The other being the dread HEL bottles (think deadlier alchemist’s fie that is essentially a micro-lava-splash-weapon…and blood candles, which can be made via a new spell (and easier made via a feat) – these allow the victim’s souls to be ripped from their bodies and subsequently being siphoned to HEL. Even before the HEL contracts, this makes the Gitwerc capital “N”-level nasty. The other two new spells beyond the fashioning of blood candles allow you to counter grapplers as a swift action with impaling horns or conjuring forth spectral, flaying blades- ouch!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches, though a couple of bolding and similar minor glitches can be found herein. Layout adheres to a drop-dead-gorgeous two-column full-color standard with rocky borders and awesome graphic elements, making this a beautiful, if not very printer-friendly pdf. The plentiful original pieces of full color artwork throughout the pdf are nice. The pdf also comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

 

Julian Neale and Mike Myler’s Gitwerc are awesome – hardcore lawful kings of the Underworld, they resound with myths of the more nasty of dwarvenkind like Alberich, combining this with cool infernal tyrant and tieflingdom tropes, crafting a small window into a race’s culture that is greater than the sum of its parts and which still has its own identity – more fluff, concisely presented, unique items and a thoroughly disturbing array of items and we have a race that is distinct, appealing, and won’t be confused for anything else – unless the Gitwerc want to. This is by far the best of AAW Games’ dwarven races, with no issues to speak of and storytelling potential galore. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this cool, nasty race of evil dwarves here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 202014
 

The Barbarian Reforged

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The second of TPK Games’ redesigns of base classes clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

All right, so let’s dive into these guys – the reforged barbarian receives much the same stuff you know from the base class – but with some modifications. First of which would be the addition of survival and stealth to his class skill list, which makes sense to me – lore is rife with suspicious barbarians that prowl the less civilized lands. In an uncommon twist, ref-saves have been upgraded to a medium progression – while not standard for class design, that is not a paradigm I’d consider sacrosanct – so yes, interesting.

 

Now in a rather interesting take, TPK Games have eliminated the movement bonus the standard barbarian receives in favor of a bonus to movement when charging, including a further increase in str-mod by half when charging for devastating charges. While this makes low level charge-builds exceedingly lethal, per se not something I’d consider broken. It should also be noted that reforged barbarians receive mobility at 5th level. In an interesting take, rage now has a fortitude save to prevent the temporary fatigue at the end of the rage – per se another choice that may add a small bonus, but not one I’d consider problematic.

 

As a variant to rage, whirling frenzy is provided – this nets the barbarian +4 to str (untyped, should be morale analogue to rage), +2 dodge bonus to AC and ref-saves and essentially allows him to flurry – +1 optional attack in full attacks, but at -2 to all attacks, INCLUDING AoOs the bonuses sclae to +6/+3 and +8/+4. Additionally, the barbarian does not receive indomitable will, but does receive evasion while in a whirling frenzy. This variant provoked a knee-jerk “OMG, OP”-reaction from me that was only partially justified. While the flurry is extremely strong for a full BAB-class and the bonus-type glitch sucks,, the lack of con-bonus means that these barbarians are more fragile. In the end, testing did show that due to proficiencies etc., this does not break the game, though it is a pretty strong option that is not for every game. Still, apart from the bonus hick-up, not something I’d condemn.

 

Trap Sense is modified into danger sense, granting a bonus to perception as well as the minor bonus to ref-saves and AC versus traps. Damage reduction is moved down from 7th to 5th level, +1 every 4 levels thereafter (not an issue since DR is probably the most overrated rules-component in PFRPG) and instead, at 7th level, the reforged barbarian receives Diehard hard-coded into his frame-work. The higher levels remain untouched, ability-wise.

 

We also receive a host of FCOs, -which are pretty cool – reduction of AC-penalties for drow, more claw/bite damage for catfolk, better mobility AC-bonus in dim light for fetchlings -the FCOs tie into both race and class and make sense and rank among the best examples for them. The one for (half-) orcs deserves special mentioning – +1 round rage per level feels very strong to me. I would have gone at least +1/2. Thene again…half-orcs are one of the notoriously weaker races, hence the ability to excel at arguably their iconic class may be in the realm of what one might consider valid.

 

A new archetype is also included, the cannibal. Instead of charging strike, these guys receive a secondary bite attack. Additionally, they may eat the heart (or what passes for it) of a fallen foe slain in the past minute to regain hp or rage rounds equal to their HD – before you pull out the kitten-bag: Yes, they can eat kittens since the mechanic is tied to their own HD, not the one of the enemy, but a daily limit prevents the ability from being broken. It’s not as elegant as it could be, but it works.Imbibe Spirit uses a similar mechanic, but the actual bonus it grants has been lost to a formatting glitch – I have no idea what the ability does. Consume Vigor grants fast healing equal to the creature’s HD, but fails to specify how long it lasts – two unfortunately massive glitches that render a cool archetype unusable as written.

 

A total of 33 new feats are provided – they range from damn cool to broken as hell: Take Butcher’s Blade – whenever you hit a foe with power attack, you receive a swift action, AoE-intimidate check to all who see you within 30 ft. Usually, AoE-demoralization is a class feature, not something that can relatively cheaply be bought as a feat. Brotehrs of Steelwould be another example – while awesome, it simply is too strong – choose one ally at the begin of any combat – as long as one of you isn’t flat-footed or flanked, neither is the other – this is much more powerful than many a teamwork-feat option and probably should be remade as one – as soona s two characters require this feat, it would make more sense/feel more balanced. The Camel Punch-feat that increases the damage dice of unarmed strikes by +1 should also be kept out of the hands of monks – A default strategy to improve damage output for these guys is size-increase and stacking +1 size on that via a feat is just nasty. Especially since another feat allows you to be treated +1 size when charging – do you see the stacking insanity…yeah…not gonna happen anywhere near my game.

 

Interesting, though quite some work to track, would be “Deep Wounds” – the bonus damage from power attack has its recovery rate reduced to only 1 of these hp per day – while not feasible for every campaign, especially low magic campaigns will enjoy this one. Eyes of teh Jaguar would be weird – the feat nets you low-light vision 30 ft. Problem being – low-light vision has no range. You either have it, or you don’t. Darkvision has a range, though…so which is it?

 

Improved Diehard is a rather weak feat that could use a power-upgrade – not dying until you reach negative con + 1/2 level isn’t that impressive; Here, for once, I would have went full level. Improved Mobility is BROKEN – it eliminates AoOs from threatened squares. Flat-out. One caveat – if you lose dex-bonus, are slowed, staggered etc., you also lose the benefit. Still, this is weird – it invalidates mobility and its increased emphasis in the reforged barbarian – this feat needs to die a fiery death. I do like the feats that allow for a bonus to str and con-checks, since both usually receive no love whatsoever. A cohort-less variant of leadership with twice the number of followers, based on str, should be interesting for humanoid warlords and str-based weapon-hurling is also okay. I also like the counter-power attack-feat that negates the bonus granted by power attack, unlike the foes combined BAB+str-mod is 4 higher than yours – interesting mechanic to counter one of the most used feats. Savage Strike allows you to trade in AC for damage-boost, which si also an interesting option. Unquenchable Flame is another feat, which, while high in concept, needs nerfing – once you run out of rage, you may continue raging, but are shaken and receive 3 points of non-lethal damage per round. Infinite rage at level 5. When rage-rounds are quite often used as the resource for rage powers, feats etc. – so, does the barbarian still count as having rounds of rage left, or is only the rage maintained? If only the latter is the case -all right.

 

The pdf also provides a total of 15 new rage powers: +2 damage versus foes below 50% max HP smells of 4th edition’s bloodied condition to me and requires tracking, so not a fan of that one. On the other hand, Favor of the Forebearers is awesome – as a swift action, you may expend one round of rage to invoke the forefathers and add the ghost touch property to your weapon for one round. Using rage to temporarily boost ref-, will- or fort-saves, critical confirmation rolls, less duration of charms if your indomitable will doesn’t do the job. On the nitpicky side, 3 rounds of rage for turn undead may be a cool option, but the wording “as a cleric” is misleading – turning undead requires a feat that not every cleric has. conical AoE sonic damage for rage rounds also makes sense to me and the level cap prevents abuse and to explicit novas. Using immediate actions and rage to negate 5 points of damage received also is a neat one, as is the option to temporarily boost DR and even grant yourself fortification. Generally, these rage powers include some cool gems.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are this pdf’s weak points – while generally, there are not many glitches per se, the archetype is ruined (which is a damn pity) and quite a few feats should not have went even past a fleeting mechanical editing. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with nice b/w-stock art. The pdf comes fully hyperlinked and bookmarked for your convenience.

 

I did not look forward to this review. After the balance disaster of the Reforged Cleric, I did dread this one. This pdf is the labor of lead designer Brian Berg, with additional content from PJ Harn, Jason Linker, Ben Kent, Kevin Mickelson and David Miller and the pdf reflects that – quality, alas fluctuates from “glorious” to “awful.” First the good news: The reforged barbarian is actually a cool alternative. It may be a tad bit stronger than the standard barbarian, but not by much and all changes make sense to me – they enhance the fluff and feel of the class. So if you wnat this pdf for the variant class alone – go for it!

 

Alas, the supplemental content is a mixed bag – from the cool, but unusable archetype to feats that range from cool to “Does the designer know which system he’s designing for?” to the rage powers, this pdf’s issue can be summed up in one sentence: Lack of a developer. The disparate voices and wildly fluctuating quality of the writing means that this pdf does have some awesome, glorious pieces of crunch that will most definitely see use at my table, but also that it features some horribly broken bits and pieces that need to be plunged into the deepest pits of the abyss. With a bit more care, this pdf could have been a 5 star + seal of approval book; It has all the makings of one. Alas, the at times sloppy fine-tuning has taken that away. Try as I might, as much as I love the base class, the ideas herein – with this amount of flaws, I cannot go higher than 3 stars. As a grab-bag and for the base class, definitely worth the low asking price, though.

 

You can get this alternate take on the barbarian here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 182014
 

Mythic Monsters: Magical Beasts

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This installment of the Mythic Monsters-series clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction/how-to use, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So this time around, we’re taking a look at magical beasts – monsters in the truest form and some of the most iconic creatures of our beloved roleplaying game – but before we go into the meat of these beasts, we first receive mythic feats – a lot of them! 10 to be precise, and while some have been released before in Mythic Minis, their inclusion herein helps render the respective creatures more memorable. The Rending Fury tree and Pack Attack, as some of my favorite monster feats for bestial builds receive mythic versions herein.

 

From the first page of these beasts, you’ll notice something – layout has been streamlined – when possible, two creatures now fit on one page, making the pdf more printer-friendly and less blank-space-prone than previous installments of the series – kudos for that! The first page thus is shared by the mythic Basilisk at CR 7/MR 3 and the mythic Behir – the latter lacking the CR-entry in the header. Mythic basilisks receive a damn cool caveat for their petrification – the poisonous blood of the creature can revert it! Behir breath reducing you to 0 Hp now utterly evaporates the unfortunate victim and their constriction is particularly nasty – especially since it can essentially AoE-constrict – glorious. It should also be noted that many creatures herein, including the Behir, receive alternate versions with e.g. the giant template applied or without them, in cases where the template has already been applied in the main statblock.

 

The CR 9/MR 3 mythic Bulette also receives these two versions – as savage feeding machines, not even mind-influencing effects can calm these beasts and their crushing leaps and magic resistant plates make for a cool protection. CR 8/MR 3 Girallons also receive this dual treatment and are just superb at rending foes apart, being even capable of rending off the heads of creatures – nasty!

 

Also at CR 8/MR 3, but sans the second version, the Dragonne may induce fatigue with roars and exhale breaths of sleep-inducing gas. Speaking of bad breath – the CR 15/MR 6 mythic Catoblepas has a slay living gaze, a horrible stench AND poison breath.

 

On the lower ends of the CR-spectrum, we receive Jacklweres at Cr 3/MR 1 receive a sleep aura and more alternate forms – okay, but not on par with the CR 1/MR 1 mythic…stirge. Diseased, able to bloat themselves with negative HP and swarming, these are a great example for low level threats. CR 5/MR 2 Perytons may rip the hearts out of living foes for mythic power and buff itself by flying over the shadow of targets – iconic, cool – two thumbs up!

 

The CR 6/MR 2 Leucrotta receives a mass suggestion-inducing whisper and they also receive a CR 5/MR 2 Crocotta-servant and the option to easily destroy objects.

 

The CR 21/MR 9 Thrasfyr enhances the cool tricks they can accomplish with their chains and get in a telepathic bond with a chosen, willing master. Per se, a nice beast, but some slightly more far-out abilities would have been appropriate and nice here. The Ypotryll at CR 18/MR 7 is all about deadly charges that rock the ground, ignores object hardness etc.

 

This issue’s new creature would be the CR 5/MR 2 warpwolf – the nasty relatives of blink dogs, these creatures exist in a constant transplanar-flux that allows them to entangle foes with their innards, use teamwork feats solo and attack from different directions – and yes, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Once in a while, one stumbles over a design that is simply inspired and this is one of them – even among all those canine foes, the warpwolf stands out and puts to shame his hellhound, yeth hound etc. brethren – it’s glorious in so many ways, in spite of its relatively low CR – brilliant!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are better than in the giants book, though I noticed minor glitches here and there – nothing too serious, though. Layout adheres to legendary Games’ two-column full-color standard and is much more compact than usual – less blank space – more printer-friendly: Kudos! The pdf has no bookmarks, though, which constitutes a comfort-detriment.

 

Jason Nelson, Tom Philips and Alistair Rigg had an interesting task here – amp up these beasts without making them too flexible – that would contradict their bestial nature. Hence, while they do not sport as many unique abilities, those that are here have to count – and oh boy do they count: From the Peryton’s proper heartrend to the behir’s AoE-constriction (which finally makes this guy distinct) up to the superb and gloriously illustrated warpwolf, these beasts rock hard. The warpwolf in particular is just awesome, the type of critter that makes you light up, even after having read 2 bestiaries before that.

 

That being said, I still maintain that this time around, oddly, the high-CR-beasts feel a bit blander than usual for Mythic Monsters – when compared to their brethren in the book, their tricks feel more like linear progressions and don’t add that much to the critters. This is me complaining at a very high level, though and in conjunction with the missing bookmarks the only reason I’m omitting my seal of approval. My final verdict will be 5 stars – now excuse me, I have to replace a lot of canine, lame foes with warpwolves…

 

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

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Nov 182014
 

Village Backdrop: Fulhurst Moors

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This Village Backdrop clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

What once was a lush forest inhabited by brutal savages, is now a desolate windswept moor where the waters of Blackraven Creek burrow into the acidic, infertile soil. Haunted by will-o’-wisps attracted in times long gone by, the plain is now home to peat-diggers – a harsh folk that reflects the unpleasant environment they live in. Unbeknownst to them, one greedy individual has struck a pact with the dread will-o’-wisps and the resulting tragedies have fostered an atmosphere of almost palpable anxiety -and a high danger-value.

 

Beyond the diverse population that includes the best and worst of people, the usual amounts of rumors, events, items to purchase etc., we also receive the stats of the hidden BBeG of the village as well as, rather cool, rules for the special moonshine sold in town – I love little mechanical pieces of crunch like this supplementing the fluff of an awesome village.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s superb, streamlined and printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard. The pdf’s b/w-cartography (of which you can download player-friendly versions on Raging Swan’s homepage for free!) is just as awesome as I’ve come to expect from the series. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

 

Okay, my first impression was “Oh yeah, another swamp/moor”-village – but know what? This is VERY distinct from anything you’d expect in a SWAMP. While Jacob Trier’s village works with the tropes, it also subverts them -no degenerate fish-people, no voodoo cults, no looming lizard-men, instead painting a picture of a village of hard-working people that cover the broad experience of humanity and morality, suffering from a climate of fear invoked by some vile individuals. Fulhurst Moors may not be a nice place at first glance, but it can be the town where, once the loyalty of the populace is earned, the evil rooted out, PCs may find haven even if hunted by the king. Remote and believable, with a rich history to develop and hooks galore, Jacob Trier’s village is well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

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

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 172014
 

Village Backdrop: Vulcanbridge

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This Village Backdrop clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Vulcanbridge is perhaps one of the most interesting, unique settlements in the series so far – situated on a volcanic plain, the result of gnomish ingenuity and dwarven labor, Vulcanbridge is constructed as a hanging village on several stable pylons – which is rather neatly represented in the gorgeous map of the settlement.

 

It should be noted that the pylons of course suffer from tectonic issues and hence, the settlement, nowadays more dependent on delving below the liquid lava towards the gems and ores hidden within the bowels of the earth. The unique construction of the settlement and its frontier’s position are also represented in the items for sale, the rumors and unique tools that characterize the uncommon and dangerous, extremely unique conditions present in and around this village.

 

The rather unique construction and surroundings are also represented in the damn cool events and if these, at times, potentially high-stakes adventure seeds are not enough, the incognito gold dragon in the town may make for one rather intriguing complicating factor.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s superb, streamlined and printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard. The pdf’s b/w-cartography (of which you can download player-friendly versions on Raging Swan’s homepage for free!) is just as awesome as I’ve come to expect from the series. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

 

 

Mike Welham’s Vulcanbridge is, hands down, one of the most unique settlements I’ve seen in the whole series and ranks with its ingenuity and cool options that brim with adventure potential galore as a superb example how an extremely gifted writer can enrich one’s game in a scant few pages – the implications for cutting edge industry and the will of mortals to succeed against the odds of hostile terrain, even in a fantasy context, just makes for a surprisingly vivid and unique backdrop that grips one’s imagination – this is one of those settlements your PCs will come to love, one of the places they will want to save, no matter what. Final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this awesome settlement here on OBS or here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!
Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 172014
 

Underworld Races: Dweorg

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This supplement clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

As with the other installments of the Underworld races-series, this one kicks off with a massive mythology of the subterranean races, a collective origin history that can be potentially transplanted from Aventyr into other settings, should one choose to do so. From there on, the dweorg are described – amidst the numerous dwarven races forged from the ancestry of the dvergr, the dweorg could be called those most in line with conventional dwarvenkind in other campaign settings – apart from better craftmanship and gruff demeanor (penalizing social skills when interacting with upperdwellers), they adhere to the regular dwarven virtues and attributes. Not only are the dweorg the dwarves closest to surface dwellers, unlike many races of the underdark, they are not utterly evil and rather an unappreciated vanguard against the threats from below.

 

Now as has become the tradition with underworld races-pdfs, we do receive quite an array of new favored class options, which include faster extract preparation (which may be a bit situational), better fighting with bludgeoning weapons etc. and “dwarven” weapon specializations. On the very nitpicky side, reductions of arcane spell failure by 1.5% per point may be a bit wonky -while the default is to round down, I’d complain here, but the fact that sufficiently consequent investment in it nets a heavy armor proficiency might be considered a cool idea, so I’ll let that one slip.

 

Now we do get a racial archetype, the dwarven Smithkin fighter – endured against the elements (and non magically to boot), these guys are better craftsmen of things both mundane and magical, are limited to bludgeoning weapon groups regarding weapon training and may imbue weapons first with the flaiming, later with the flaming burst quality. An okay archetype, I guess, and one that receives a glorious full-page full-color artwork, but also an archetype that simply isn’t that interesting.

 

A total of 7 racial feats are provided and one in particular is BRUTAL – clanmind lets you share in all teamwork feats of any dwarf from your hometown for 1 round wis-mod+1/2 level times per day as a swift action and also improves aid another – this makes the dwarven phalanx of home defenders VERY dangerous. Conversely, gaining fire resistance 5, 10 and 20 and the same for cold just elicited yawns from me – not bad, per se, but also a far shot from being interesting.

 

Now item-wise, we are introduced to a new spice, fungal rope and the new material called liavous crystals, which mimics adamantine, but is cheaper – at the cost of losing all potency when exposed to sunlight. On the magic item side, we have this installment’s winners – the Pocket Anvil and the Instant Forge – with the anvil coming with full rules for being used as a missile (I sneak attack with an anvil!) and the forge making adventuring + crafting feasible. Two thumbs up for these! Finally, we are introduced to 3 (6 if you count the variants) new spells: One that grants the subject knowledge of dweorg history and variants of the cure x wounds spells that have greater effect on dweorg and a stew that greatly increases hit point recovery rate when resting.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches, though a couple of bolding and similar minor glitches can be found herein. Layout adheres to a drop-dead-gorgeous two-column full-color standard with rocky borders and awesome graphic elements, making this a beautiful, if not very printer-friendly pdf. The plentiful original pieces of full color artwork throughout the pdf are nice. The pdf also comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

All right, Mike Myler & Julian Neale’s Dweorg…I’ll come out and say it, when compared to other Underworld races-pdfs, this one feels a bit…bland. The FCOs, feats and the relatively lame archetype didn’t wow me (with one feat exception) and the spells didn’t either. The pdf is relatively brief beyond the general origin myth provided in all Underworld Races-pdfs and while the production values are great and awesome, the two magic items alone can’t really pull this one back up – it simply does not deliver that much inspired content for a brief pdf and falls slightly below even the book on drow – had we received more culture, more information on what makes dweorg unique, whether crunch or fluff, I would have felt otherwise, but as written, this one simply felt a bit flat. And yes, this may be rather harsh, but I actually considered it somewhat boring, especially when directly compared to the no way perfect, but inspired book on the dvergr and their great archetype. My final verdict will hence clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 because the items and great production values do not deserve a 2-star-rating.

 

You can get this supplement here on OBS.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Nov 142014
 

Dragon Tiger Ox

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This massive book by Little Red Goblin Games clocks in at 172 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 7 pages of SRD (with some pages duplicating text from the adventure at the end of the book), leaving us with 163 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Now if you’ve been following my reviews, you’ll know that I usually take apart crunch for races and classes in a pretty detailed manner. The problem with a book of this size and my approach is evident -were I to do that here, the review would bloat beyond compare. Hence, I’ll be somewhat less detailed than usual in this review, picking out the cherries and the less than awesome components and highlighting them. Got that? Great!

 

So after a short introduction to the topics and tropes of WuXia/Wushu and the implied setting of Dragon Tiger Ox, we delve into the basic supplemental pieces of information. A basic introduction to a third alignment axis in the guise of honor can be found here, as can be new uses for knowledge skills to identify styles. Unlike in a standard assumption of a setting, each character receives a favored style through which they progress, counting their class level as BAB-prerequisites for the purpose of taking these feats. A similar terminology is established for ki-level – that means it class levels in a ki pool gaining class.

Additionally, a new combat maneuver may be used to disrupt styles, canceling their benefits and allowing the maneuver’s executor to increase the amount of time entering a style takes. While not particularly effective in itself, the maneuver lends itself to a versatile array of possibilities to follow up on. What rather impressed me with its simplicity and yet, genius, would be the diversified martial arts – headbutts, kicks etc. all get their own damage-columns and bonuses – kicks tend to do more damage, but inflict the new off-balance condition on a character executing them. This system not only immediately makes flurry of blows actually interesting, it turned out to work in a rather balanced and cool manner when I tried it out. These alternate rules indeed are glorious and should be deemed a nigh must to make monks and martial artists in general a more interesting playing experience.

 

Now if you want to go for full-blown WireFu WuXia à la “Hero” and similar movies, an array of solid rules to achieve just that would be provided as well. On the downside, the suggestion to default gestalt as monks with other classes makes sense and fits the tone, but the lack of advice regarding power-levels of characters and adversaries when implementing these rules make them feel more like an afterthought. And yes, gestalting is explained in x guides online, but I maintain that introducing a suggestion like this should also be accompanied by a thorough examination of its ramifications.

 

Now for the more light-hearted among us, the bad dubbing rules that have you pantomime what your character means and another player say the words might not suit my tastes for a prolonged and serious campaign, mostly due to me trying to explore questions of ethics and psychology as well in my games, but for a fun evening with sake or beer, I can guarantee that the results can be utterly hilarious.

 

Now race-wise, aasimars and vanaras may choose new alternate racial traits (including a draconic breath weapon). The Guaiwu, one of the new races herein, would imho be just a tiny bit too strong with both darkvision and low light vision, though not by much – still a good example why the RP-rules from the ARG don’t work as smoothly as they ought to and by no means broken. That being said, one could nitpick a bit here and there. The second race, the Samebito can be rather overpowered in any aquatic campaign – gaining fast healing in saltwater, these guys are per se a cool race, but one DMs should be a bit wary of in the context of nautically-inclined campaigns. Shishi are awakened from statues of foo lions/dogs and are celestial guardians – and here, I have not even the slightest gripe. On another note – the Guaiwu remain the only race that specifies its RP-cost, in case you were wondering.

 

A total of 11 racial feats allow half-breeds to have two favored styles, Gaiwu to shoot elemental blasts (with a VERY high range), gain blindsense under water, wield larger weapons etc. -especially the Gaiwu gain the brunt of cool tricks here, with one-handing two-handed weapons and gaining regeneration temporarily for eating oni-flesh being two examples that skirt what is balanced and what is cool. Generally, I do like the feats on their own, but the concentration of awesome tricks for the Gaiwu and relative lack of coolness for other races bespeaks a kind of favoritism here. Seeing how the race already is powerful when compared to the base races, the damn cool and iconic toys might push them over the edge for *some* DMs, so please read this one carefully. The good news would be that the options provided by themselves are not broken.

 

A short primer on languages had the linguist in me excited, though the level of detail of e.g. Necropunk’s supplements is not reached herein. Beyond a new wildblooded draconic bloodline for sorcerors to represent the eastern dragon’s flavor and a new one for ki-centric sorcerors that helps them not suck at ki-tricks/unarmed tricks – at least not as much. The ki/metamagic synergy gained at higher levels also makes for an interesting design choice here. We also receive the ki domain, whose ki-powered channel and the potentially extreme increase of radius for it can easily break the balance when taken in combination with variant channeling or simply a powerful channeling specialist, so take that one with a grain of caution.

 

Next up would be the 3 new prestige classes – in all brevity, 2 are full BAB-progression classes, the third a ¾ BAB-progression. The Shifu would be a master of one style on the verge of developing his own style – hence, the PrC receives a secondary pool, so-called prowess points, to modify his strikes with. In an interesting take, some of the class abilities depend on the base-class used to class into this PrC. If you happen to know the movie tropes – these guys learn the hardcore martial arts – dealing the same damage as last round via mirror palm (explicitly working with vital strike!) and elemental blasts make for iconic techniques that are powerful, but limited by daily uses. Beyond these, the PrC also receives a disintegration-style killer strike and an insta-death attack – especially the latter is not something I’m generally a fan of in classes that are not the assassin. Yeah, it exists in the literature and movies, but still.

 

The second PrC herein would be the Jade Warrior, which can be summed up best as a kind of holy warrior that strives to become a balanced paragon of stoic virtues, a kind of anti-dishonor-paladin, if you will – though one powered by ki with quite a few more unique abilities than I would have expected – I particularly liked that their wounds inflicted on dishonorable targets resist magical healing and may leave jade green scars unless treated by restoration.

 

The third PrC herein would be the Wolong – a hardcore strategist martial artist that learns tactician and similar tricks. While I am not a fan of the general option of a mechanic that allows for counter-strikes and ties the mechanic to initiative (d20 vs. d20 minus 5 – too much variance), I do like the ability – for while I don’t enjoy this component of it, the option to pick their turn apart and e.g. take move actions at a different initiative than standard actions etc. makes for some very interesting changes in tactics. The ability to command allies pales in comparison and has been done in more interesting ways in other classes. However, with the very strong and iconic round-break-up, more would have been unbalancing. That being said – NOT a fan of adding int to damage, even with a max class level caveat – stacking up multiple attributes to base damage is too easy to game.

 

A couple of rage powers and rogue talents allow for the parrying of unarmed attacks via blades and even monk-style tricks for barbarians, just before we delve into the meat of the setting information with a general overview of the celestial bureaucracy under the emperor. An assortment of suggested deities and heroes is presented, alongside a massive chapter on the diverse sample of clans, orders and schools. If you have access to LRGG’s Heroes of the East-series, you’ll also notice some synergy with the styles established therein, allowing you to easier weave a tangled web of diverse martial traditions and ideologies competing for supremacy.

 

Of course, no such book would be complete without a new chapter on feats and Dragon Tiger Ox surely delivers in that regard with a massive chapter and MANY, many feats. Rather weirdly, the necessary index-table shows up after the first couple of feats, but that is admittedly a nitpick. The feats themselves, as befitting of the theme, make ample use of ki and allow non-ki-classes to wilder in this territory; It should also be mentioned that these feats have been built with regards to a kind of compatibility regarding the “Heroes of the East”-series, which generally is rather neat. The fact that the exceedingly cool upgrade to Ki Cannon does not feature the prereq-feat from the HotE-series may gall some people, though. Beyond a significant array of regular feats, we are also introduced to so-called Forbidden Feats – these feats come with significant benefits, usually in the guise of significant damage to the character, even attribute damage, but allow the respective character to regain ki-points. Surprisingly, I have found no easy way to cheese these feats – while it *is* possible, it would require some deep digging and uncommon race/ability combinations not usually available t PCs, so…well done. On another note – it is a bit weird that follow-up feats to Forbidden feats not necessarily are forbidden feats themselves – there seems o be some minor thematic inconsistency going on here, but once again, that’s a nitpick.

 

As a nice nod towards the glorious Ultimate Campaign supplement, we also receive some thematically appropriate story feats that let you prove that YOUR style is the best…or that your school should be considered supreme to your rivals. Another array of new feats would be introduced herein – qinggong-feats, which essentially represent spell-like abilities that are unlocked via taking the feats. These abilities, while powerful, are tied to ki and burn quite a lot of this resource. The dispelling strikes that allow you to counter magic via ki deserve special mentioning, though I consider the forbidden technique that allows you to convert incoming spells into ki a perpetuum mobile of a finite resource that does require careful oversight. And yes, THAT one can be cheesed, but only at high levels. So yeah, no significant issue.

 

A total of 5 new styles can also be found within these pages – from the elven Drambor that rewards tumbling through and over foes to the leg irons using Rattling Chain, the styles are one thing – unique. They breathe a kind of inspiration absent from quite a few published styles out there. Now personally, I consider the Sacred Lotus Style’s option to substitute caster level for BAB for the purpose of delivering touch spells to be rather nasty – while it allows for certain builds to actually work rather well, it also has the potential to go rather awry and become OP depending on the resources you allow as a DM – essentially, as soon as you have a touch attack based class like the warlock-variants (e.g. Interjection Games’ superb Ethermancer), you may wish to think VERY hard before allowing this style. It should be noted that this remains the exception in an array that is otherwise rather interesting – rope-darts, ki-draining – generally, this chapter deserves accolades!

 

Now the styles have been ample clue here – yes, there also is quite an array of new equipment herein, namely cool stuff like Bond-style throwing hats, flying guillotines etc. – the latter would constitute the one totally broken weapon herein – not only does it have an x5 multiplier (as if x4 wasn’t bad enough…), it also has a damage dice upgrade when used in conjunction with Throw Anything. And yes, it does require a swift action to retract, but still…I don’t see the fun in luck being rewarded this much. Other than that, Umbrella Spears etc. make for interesting options that even allow for some unique tactics.

 

Where there are mundane items, there are magical ones and this book does deliver in this regard as well – beyond jade and peach wood as materials, an array of ki-powered jade masks, fans with the powers of the wind, wooden oxen figurines, leadening weights, enchanted gourds – quite a diverse array, often with primary passive benefits and additional, active ones that require the expenditure of ki. New magical armor and weapon properties as well as advice on the pricing of these items can be found within this chapter as well.

 

Now remember those forbidden feats I mentioned? Well, there also are the immortal clans and styles – taught directly by the immortals, theses styles are very powerful, but have significant, story-based drawbacks that really have a massive oomph – from slowly turning into a tree to becoming utterly reckless, these styles work exceedingly well -why? Because they use the ROLEPLAYING aspect to codify drawbacks in rather unique ways that can enhance the game rather than only relying on sheer numbers. These are feats for mature groups, yes, but damn fine ones – powerful, narrative gold here!

 

Becoming immortals would also be a distinct possibility and perhaps, most appropriate when going Mythic anyways – yes, this also provides advice on mythic adventures in the cosmos of DTO – From Universal to path-specific abilities, a vast array of mythic versions of feats etc. mean that there indeed is *A LOT* of mythic content herein to use. That being said, the balance, even within the context of mythic rules, has been stretched very thin by some of these options – being treated as always having 1 ki point and adding yet another way of regaining ki can be combined with these abilities to make some truly fearsome combos – now don’t get me wrong; I don’t necessarily consider this inappropriate in the context of Mythic Adventures – but the options herein are powerful indeed and may be considered too much for some DMs not going balls to the wall-crazy with mythic adventures.

 

A total of 4 different mythic-exclusive styles further increase the fantasy-factor here – clad, for example, in righteous flames, delivering negative levels by the attack – the mythic styles are extremely lethal, but also risky – more so even than the regular immortal styles. Once again, the caveat that they’re intended for the higher power-levels of gaming applies, though these provide less potential for abuse than the vast assortment of path abilities due to story-based limitations of their accessibility.

 

The final pages of this book are devoted to different ready-made encounters, which, among others, feature the challenge of a 36-chamber pagoda – and generally, I do enjoy these encounters. Alas, the statblocks provided here are rather opaque and the one time the layout failed – no bolding, no clearly distinguished attack/defense-sections – mind you, the words are there, but presentation-wise, the statblocks feel jumbled when they’re not – a good example that layout *is* important.

 

Conclusion:

Editing can be considered very good; I noticed no significant glitches that would have impeded my ability to understand the content; formatting is less impressive, though – I did notice a bunch of glitches especially in the formatting department: From feat names at the bottom of the page, with the rest of the text on the next page to flawed paragraphs and the aforementioned statblock-presentation, this component is simply not that impressive. Which is especially surprising considering the layout – DTO features a beautiful, elegant full-color 2-column standard that manages to still be printer-friendly. However, the book also sports rather broad borders, which means there’s less text per page. Additionally, many a page sports quite a bit of blank space – some optimization there would have probably spared me quite a few pages when I printed this out. The artworks deserve special mentioning – especially the character art throughout the book is drop-dead gorgeous and on par with the awesome cover. The pdf comes with massive, nested bookmarks that allow for easy navigation.

 

 

Designers Dayton Johnson, Scott Gladstein, Caleb Alysworth, Jeremiah Zerby, Ian Sisson and Mike Myler have provided a massive, interesting book here – the love for the genre breathes from the pages and the fluff inherent in quite a few of these options remains compelling and cool. Now don’t expect a campaign setting here – this is a crunch-book with some setting-hints; If you’re looking for a setting, then this might not be for you. Continue reading, though.

 

Why? Because this massive book is essentially, for better and for worse, a huge grab-bag. Here and there, LRGG devises an alternate rule for something already codified by mainstream Pathfinder in another way, so an awareness and weariness of overlaps and stacking is required of prospective DMs. If you’re willing to approach Dragon Tiger Ox under this premise, though, you’ll be rewarded – unlike many books that feature complaints like the ones I fielded in the above paragraphs, Dragon Tiger Ox breathes the spirit of a true labor of love. In fact, rereading this review, it may even seem less positive than I intended it to be. Yes, there are potentially problematic options in here – but there is also a veritable treasure trove of options to scavenge, allow and use in your campaigns. From the iconic styles to the uncommon items, to the nice codification of ki that opens these tricks for a plethora of builds, Dragon Tiger Ox can be considered a great achievement and most importantly, a fun book.

 

Is it perfect? No. Do I consider all in this book good or balanced? No. Can I see myself using the vast majority of content herein? Heck yes! While not perfect, I do encourage any fan of WuXia or those wishing to run eastern campaigns to check this book out – it makes for a nice resource to have and its price is rather fair as well. Hence, in spite of some rough edges and the formatting glitches, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars with the caveat that a system-savvy DM should carefully contemplate the content herein prior to using it – some pieces might be inappropriate for some campaigns/rule-book combinations.

 

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

 

Endzeitgeist out.