Aug 272015
 

Into the Breach: The Alchemist

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The latest installment of the “Into the Breach”-series clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 29 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This review was moved up my queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

 

As always, we begin this pdf with an array of archetypes, the first of which would be the Academician. These guys get all Knowledge-skills as class skills and Skill Focus for one of their choice at first level instead of Throw Anything. Instead of making regular bombs, academicians can create explosive traps they can place as standard actions that provokes AoOs – such traps can be triggered either via a timer, proximity or a remote detonation, the former requiring a swift action to be executed while within 10 ft. per class level. If a given trap is not detonated within 10 minutes per class level you have, it harmlessly expires. Perception and Disable Device-checks made to notice/disarm the traps scale at DC 10 + academician class level + Int-modifier. At 1st level, an academician can have one trap placed at a given time, +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter, with no possibility of overlap in placed squares -i.e., there cannot be more than one bomb per square placed, though splash damage can overlap.

Essentially, this takes the immediacy of bombs and replaces it with a potential for more control via planning – including interaction with bomb-related discoveries. Additionally, instead of more mainstream mutagens, the academician receives a kind-of-cheesily named “Insightogen” that can have one of 3 effects: Make a single knowledge skill check at +10 insight bonus that can be made untrained. Gain a discovery for 10 minutes per level for which the academician meets the prerequisites or finally, create an extract, even if he usually does not know it, with the same limited duration. All restrictions of mutagens apply – only one can be active at a given time and the concoction becomes inert if it leaves the alchemist’s possession, etc. However, it should be noted, that these do not qualify as mutagens per RAW, meaning that the academician is locked out of a significant array of options as payment for the wildcard-based flexibility. At 14th level, these alchemists can choose two of aforementioned insightogen-benefits at once and as a capstone, a single activation can trigger 5 placed traps, including contingency-style complex triggers, and no, they do not become inert, allowing for deadly mad bomber hideouts… So, what do we have here? A complex archetype that requires a thoroughly complex rewiring of wording that manages to get it right – while I noticed 2 sentences where some slight rewiring would have made things a tad bit more concise, this archetype is interesting – in both instances, it takes the immediacy of the effects and replaces it with a very flexible alternative that pay for this flexibility by requiring planning. Running into a set-up by an academician is nasty, with their wildcard-discoveries and extracts adding a dash of flexibility, but catching them unaware renders them weaker in de facto adventuring – this archetype demanded playtest and it ended up working rather well. Kudos!

 

The Botanist receives proficiency with thorn bow and bracer and gets +1/2 class level to all Knowledge (nature) and all Profession-checks related to plants, while also gaining +1 to AC and damage versus foes he and his plant companion are flanking or that have been hit by both via ranged attacks. Bombs of botanists are grown from fungi and deal piercing damage instead of fire damage, making them less useful versus supernatural creatures with DR, but at the same time more potent due to no resistance applying. The botanist also receives a so-called Verdant Mutagen, which nets a +2 natural AC-bonus and a slam attack at 1d6 for Medium botanists – I assume, at 1d4 for Small botanists, though that is not explicitly stated. While I get the default assumption for slam attacks, I still would have preferred the book to note that the attack is a primary natural attack. One mental stat incurs a -2 penalty, though it can be freely chosen. Interestingly, this one halves movement rate of the imbibing botanist while in effect; for plant companions, it instead acts as a regular mutagen and yes, it can potentially grant the mindless quality to the plant companion. Speaking of which – beyond the ones introduced in the ARG, this pdf does provide 8 more plant companion options in the appendix.

Among these, the companions do have some balance concerns – phlogiston companions can e.g. at 4th level launch 2d6 fire damage rays every 1d4 rounds, which provides, especially at low levels, an efficient infinite source of fire damage I am not comfortable with, though this does even out at higher levels. Another companion adds 1d6 bleed to all melee attacks, which seems a bit much at 4th level. But back to the basic plant companion-rules – once awakened, the creature receives at least a 5 ft. base speed if it had none and an Intelligence of 1. The effective druid level is equal to the class level, with full stacking of companion-granting abilities. This replaces all the poison-related shenanigans and the 2nd level discovery, which does feel a bit like a slightly too good deal – companions are powerful. Now one issue here would be that RAW, companions require Handle Animal to be taught tricks and the alchemist does not have this skill as a class skill – I assume the intention was for the Profession or Knowledge (nature) skill to take that role, but if so, the pdf lost this component at one point. It should also be noted that botanists can pretty freely and easily change plant companions, adding a level of flexibility to the class feature that further emphasizes the power of this archetype. At 10th level, the enhanced verdant mutagens created can be used to further enhance the plants – and yes, this allows for an extraction of healing balms that can heal 3d8+HD, while only inflicting 1d8+HD damage to the plant, losing its potency once the mutagen ceases to work. Disease/poison curing and better thorns/growing thorns constitute further options available for the companion.

The healing itself is interesting in that it per se provides more powerful healing than you’d expect to see – the lack of a limit means that, by healing the plant, you can, on average, get a significantly increased healing capacity out of it -with some means of fast healing/regeneration, too much. Additionally, it should be noted that the ability fails to specify what type of action the harvesting of fruit or balm constitutes – and whether a plant can be taught to produce the balm itself etc. Finally, the archetype does sport some minor modifications of the spell-list, with some druid-spells added. The botanist is a strong archetype and imho, the plant companions doe require some retooling in the details. Over all, I do like the concepts evoked here, but as written, both the potentially infinite healing factor and the minor balance-concerns of companions among themselves as well as their flexibility makes me believe that the archetype does get a bit of a sweet deal, in spite of the companion’s limited movement rate, which was almost always magically enhanced in my games.

 

The Humoralist is obviously themed around the now-defunct, but rather captivating theme of the humors, with each associated with an elemental place. This allows the humoralist to brew 3+Int-mod infusions per day, granting access to a given cleric domain, while also providing stacking penalties that grow worse, thus rewarding actively an alteration between the different options provided. The spells granted by the temporary domain access are treated as SP, which is pretty nasty, with one use each available and alchemist level being treated as full-blown cleric level. To offset this powerful option, the humoralist does lose mutagens and decreases bomb-damage progression to +1d6 every 4 levels. An issue here would be that I am not sure which attribute governs the DCs of these SPs – I assume the default, but that does render the archetype slightly more MAD than the base alchemist, which would constitute a further balancing factor I’d consider appropriate. Poison resistance is replaces with scaling saves versus damage incurred from a type of elemental damage associated with the current infusion. 3rd level humoralists may also apply the benefits of more than one infusion, with a scaling save. Failure sickens the humoralist for 2d4 rounds – but does he still get the effects from both infusions? Does the current infusion end upon a failed save? I’m not sure and ultimately, in an ability like this, that’s not good – in any case, one can get a vast slew of extra spells per day out of this archetype, as SPs to boot. Compared to that, non-magic healing at 6th level is nice, though not particularly impressive. The ability also has a slight wording glitch, though not one that impedes the capacity to understand its intent. All in all, an okay archetype in concept that has serious balance issues in the execution.

 

The next archetype would be the Kiln Crafter, who can craft fragile items that would usually be made from wood or steel, but which weigh only half as much as their regular counterparts, substituting Craft (Pottery) for the usual associated skills. In the case of weapons, the items do increase their threat range by 1, though – thankfully non-stacking with keen and similar effects. Ceramic armor provides fire resistance 5 against non-magical fire and DR/bludgeoning equal to the armor bonus of the armor. The low cost here can be considered somewhat problematic, especially at low levels when DR still matters more and is considered to be rare. Having run several rare magic campaigns that utilized different variants of the Armor-as-DR-rules, I’m not sold on the math and its impact on low-level gaming in a traditional default setting here, as much as I like it. At mid-levels, the practical effect of DR mellow out, though. Kiln Crafters also receive Disposable Weapon instead of Throw Anything and may further modify the effects of their ceramic weapons and armor via specific glazes that add spikes or remove the fragile quality. Another ability that lets them make weapons that weep acid and crafting terracotta soldiers complement this archetype. I really love the kiln-crafter’s imagery and flair, but it does not feel like a regular archetype – instead, it feels like it belongs into a savage, bronze age sword and sorcery environment, a specific campaign setting that adheres to other equipment/magic-availability rules and one that has a different array of rules for non-magical crafting, since the mundane crafting of these items takes *LONG.* This is not bad, nor is it per se broken, but it does look light it instead ought to have had a slightly different rules-cosmos to work in than default Pathfinder’s high magic/fantasy.

 

Natural Transmuters can be summed up as anti-magic counter-specialists: They create extractors that can capture targeted spells aimed at them and release them back upon their foes, with multi-target spells being only negated for the natural transmuter. This replaces extracts and its pretty much very odd and very awesome – characters essentially can not only be the bane to spellcasters, they can, theoretically, store up on them before encounters. This renders them flexible, but also potentially a drain on allied resources when stocking up – still, a very interesting playing experience that actually gets drawing etc. right. Beyond this ability, instead of mutagens, they can create liquids that change elements and yes, even light to darkness, and yes, they may command material to form structures. Now granted, while the ability does define the changing of materials and energies regarding size, the application could have imho been clearer – as written, this ability partially hinges upon you being able to imagine that you can actually pour something into darkness or sonic and change it thus into another material. This may sound odd, but the concept as such is sound and in fact firmly rooted in by now debunked ideas on how the world works, so as far as I’m concerned, I can perfectly imagine this working in game, with an alchemist commanding thunderous sound into a weapon or armor. I really liked this one, as it is a simplified take on the concept of transient forms that was a basic principle of real-world alchemy and inclusion of this tradition may make sense and fit in even otherwise rare magic worlds where casters a nigh-unknown/banned. Due to potency being directly correlated to magic frequency and availability, while still having unique tricks to modify energy and matter, this one actually also works well in such contexts. Yes, I actually tried that out and it works in both high-fantasy and rare-magic contexts, though in different ways -while not perfect, it is this component that renders this archetype a little masterpiece in my book.

 

The Pyrotician may draw and light fireworks as a standard action, faster even with Quick Draw/Quick Light, getting the rules-interaction right – and yes, allowing potentially for the set-p of multiple fireworks-attacks. Fireworks utilize splash weapon rules, even though they need to be aimed as a standard action (something APART from pulling and lighting them) and on a direct hit, they inflict an addition Int-mod +1d6 damage in addition to their listed price. Fireworks not aimed at a given area that inflict AoE-damage, deal minimum damage and damage-progression mimics that of bombs. Obviously, this replaces bombs and throwing anything. If the above discrepancy between drawing and firing fireworks was no indicator, 2nd level pyroticians indeed do learn to make the fuses of their fireworks longer, with up to a level of delay being possible. Additionally, the pyrotician may tie multiple fireworks together to prep them for simultaneous ignition – up to 1/2 class level ones, to be precise. 6th level allows for the placing of a bundle as a move action and quicker alchemy creation of fireworks is part of the deal. Over all, the pyrotician is an interesting concept that works pretty well – it manages to take a complex array of rules-interactions and make them pretty feasible. At the same time, the damage-escalation of fireworks as opposed to bombs is a bit higher – however, this also is limited, especially at lower levels, by the sheer cost of fireworks – essentially, they are more expensive and thus, a drain on the character’s resources. Especially at first level, this means that pyroticians will struggle hard to get their tools with their meager funding, whereas, the more money you give the character, the more oomph he’ll have. The latter is a component GMs should certainly be aware of, though – if you do not explicitly take heed regarding the awarding of money, these guys will break your game.

 

The next one would be the Supplementum. Instead of mutagens, these alchemists learn to create enhancers. These can be mixed with alchemical items, extracts, bombs, etc. and only one can be in effect at a given time. The effects of an enhancer last 10 minutes per class level. Alas, the respective entries for the enhancer’s application are not always clear: When applied to alchemical items, for example, one of the applications can “increase a bonus from an alchemical item by 1/2” – while I *know* what’s meant here, I do think this could have been phrased better. While I’m engaging in pedantry, doubling listed durations of items should have a non-instantaneous caveat. The bomb enhancements are broken: Considering all splashed targets direct hits? OUCH. I’d be extremely cautious when allowing these… Methods of application for potions and oils and metamagic added to extracts can be found, though we do not get the information whether the supplementum needs to know the metamagic feats in question. Using enhancers to double one bomb, extract etc. can also be accomplished and while the respective wording remains pretty concise, I could pick apart each component, though in all cases, they can be fixed by a capable GM. The supplementum also allows for poison-combination, but fails to specify which save or if both apply upon being subjected to the combined poison.

 

Speaking of poisons – next up would be the Venom Bomber – these guys deal 1d6 +Int mod “poison damage” – not a big fan of that term here, but at the same time, the mechanics for frequency etc. of the poison works pretty well. Now you may be aware that a lot of creatures are immune to poisons -well, here the point-based modification of the archetype comes into play – whether oozes or plants and yes, even undead and golems – the right tool’s here and even nonlethal damage, delayed onsets and more consecutive saves required to end it can be found here. Converting venom bomb poison into regular poison can also be achieved (thankfully with a caveat that prevents infinite money from selling poisons) – a well-crafted, cool archetype. Like it!

 

The Viscous Arcanist is interesting – they create tiny oozes that move and follow a specific programming – allowing for a kind of oozy mine-field of strange creatures that can trigger effects – granted, the arcanist, with a slightly expanded spell-list, can also consume the gels, but seriously, oozes are so much cuter! And yes, they have limited lifespans and the same goes for the explosive oozes the viscous arcanist can generate. While here and there, I could nitpick about a minor component of wording not being perfect, the overall concept and execution are pretty awesome – love it!

 

Banechemists would be the first PrC -at 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 Fort and Ref-saves, d8, 7(/10th extract-progression and 4+Int skills per level and 1/2 bomb-progression, this one is a combo-PrC for alchemists and rangers, including hunter’s bond and 2 favored enemies. Favored enemy-bonuses are also applied to bomb damage and at every 2v2n level, the PrC receives an adaption that helps synergy between ranger and alchemist components. Partially ignoring resistances, sharing mutagens with companions, increased damage output versus the specific creatures all are nice and the exceedingly powerful capstones are nasty – what about ignoring all resistances and immunities of favored enemies with your bombs, for example? Why plural? Because you can choose which to take.

 

The Exochymist PrC gets 4+Int skills per level, 1/2 BAB-progression, 1/2 Fort and Will-progression, 9 levels of extract-progression, 3 levels of bomb-damage progression and lacks information on which HD it’s supposed to use – a glaring glitch. This one can be considered a theurge between summoner and alchemist, stacking PrC levels for purposes of discovery requirements, bomb uses per day, DC and mutagen-duration as well as for eidolon evolutions. Additionally, eidolons may use mutagens and extracts. The added extracts also mirror this theme, though, like the table, it does show a typo. Eidolons consuming a mutagen can get more evolution points, which can become pretty nasty. The linking and hit point exchange between eidolon and exochymist is also strengthened by the PrC. Per se solid, though the glitches render it more opaque than it should be.

 

The pdf also provides new discoveries and are interesting – using e.g. alchemical ooze companions (yup, also found herein – and the ooze can be swallowed by the alchemist, granting immunity to poisons while it’s in there…) to reanimate corpses is rather…gross, but also awesome. Making some offensive contaminants selected from limited lists and combining bomb-modifying discoveries make for unique tricks, though the latter needs to be handled carefully. Thankfully, it does specify e.g. the effects of multiple damage-type modifications and the like. Curing conditions and granting temporary immunity to them also falls into this range – since some abilities use them as a downside, this could potentially cause a bit of havoc. What about making tiny wasps to deliver poisons instead of making bombs? The latter is awesome, though it ought to specify the wasp’s stats if it’s supposed to be a creature and whether it requires a means to reach the target/whether it requires line of sight/effect -as written, it is implied the wasp executes a melee attack, which obviously means that one could ready a means of shooting it down. Making potions of higher level spells and adding flexibility to poison bombs (not to be confused with venom bombs!) can be found herein -and yes, there are plenty of new tricks here, including ones for the new archetypes. It should be noted that with some of the tricks herein, viscous arcanists may become a bit strong for my tastes.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal level. On a rules-level, there are some instances where the wording would have needed a tighter frame. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with solid, thematically-fitting stock-art. The pdf comes bookmarked for your convenience, though not with nested bookmarks.

 

Frank Gori, Jeff Harris, Taylor Hubbler, Jacob Michaels, Dylan Brooks, Kiel Howell, Richard Litzkow, Mikko Kallio, Mark Nordheim – dear authors, you have probably created the most ambitious Into the Breach-book so far. This one is much, much more complex than the others I’ve read so far – there imho is no cookie-cutter design within these pages and even simple modifications end up being significantly more complex in their interactions than one would assume at first glance.

 

Now this installment is bound to be more divisive than most reviews for the series I’ve written. The positive first: The rules-language herein is pretty precise when tackling even the rather complex concepts that the respective pieces of crunch touch upon. Going literally where no book has gone before, I consider this one of the most interesting archetype-collections I’ve read in a while, with not one archetype falling to the cardinal sin of design – being boring. Instead, just about all options herein are definitely on the high concept side of things both in theme and execution and I love that. At the same time, there are quite a few balance-screws that need a bit of adjustment, quite a few options that can turn out to be problematic.

At the same time, though, often exactly said options can end up being utterly evocative, perfect fits for certain groups. I do consider some of the options and combinations thereof problematic and in need of fixing, yes; but at the same time, I found myself really enjoying a lot of the options herein for their respective niches and concepts. In fact, surprisingly, there are concepts herein that go beyond what anything has done before – the natural transmuter, with the odd non-definition of transmutations that is supplemented by just about the right level of details and definition to avoid abuse, can probably be considered to be one of the most interesting archetypes I’ve seen in quite a while. The modular poison-crafting of the venom bomber also should indeed be pointed out as positive and while I will slightly nerf the viscous arcanist, I damn sure will use it in my games.

 

This installment of “Into the Breach” is not the most precise one in the series regarding mechanics. But it *is* the one that inspired me the most. With a plethora of options I will use in certain campaigns, this book has been fun to read. Would I allow it flat-out? No. The Kiln-Crafter imho requires a situative context to work properly; the humoralist is pretty broken and the botanist can use a nerfing; but the frames are solid. You can tinker with these and the results will be awesome and have the potential to be defining components for characters and even potentially the mechanics on how a world works. This pdf may not be perfect, but it does qualify as being inspired, as being innovative. And honestly, I’d rather take that over something perfect, but bland or boring. While ultimately, I *should* rate this down to 3 stars due to its glitches, partially massive balance-concerns etc., I can’t bring myself to doing so, since the devil here, unanimously, is in the details and there alone…and in most cases, you can modify the pieces and turn those nerfing screws yourself.

 

You should consider it a testament to how much I like several of the options herein that I instead will settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. If you like high-concepts and are willing to tinker with them, go for it. If you want a fire-and-forget “I allow everything herein”-experience, though, I’d advise you to steer clear – the concepts herein require a case-by-case examination for a given group and its conventions, campaign settings and assumptions.

 

You can get this eclectic collection of unusual alchemist-tricks here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Aug 272015
 

Mini-Dungeon: Sepulchre of the Witching Hour’s Sage

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This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map (alas, sans player-friendly version) and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked to d20pfsrd.com’s shop and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM.

 

Since this product line’s goal is providing short diversions, side-quest dungeons etc., I will not expect mind-shattering revelations, massive plots or particularly smart or detailed depictions, instead tackling the line for what it is. Got that? Great!

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

 

Still here?

All right!

 

Sometimes, the PCs need answers at any cost. Thus, they enter a two-way portal in a cemetery near the ruins of an ancient civilization and enter the sepulchre – where they will soon notice that entering specific rooms may deal small amounts of negative energy damage on saves. Indeed, several undead and shadowy books continue to perpetuate this theme, while an illusion-supplemented trap is a) interesting and b) devious. The little dungeon also sports minor item-scavenging and a terrible final revelation of a horrid price to pay for the information and a unique, interesting showdown.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art – kudos!

 

Stefanos Patelis delivers an excellent mini-dungeon here – we receive a glorious dungeon with diverse challenges, unique fluff, cool adversaries and quite frankly more roleplaying potential and a more evocative set-up than what one can see in many longer modules. This is a great mini-dungeon that manages to provide a fun, memorable experience in spite of its brevity – well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

You can get this damn fine mini-dungeon here on OBS!
Endzeitgeist out.

Aug 272015
 

Mythic Minis: Feats of Toughness

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All right, you know the deal – 3 pages – 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page content, let’s go!

 

-Bludgeoner: No penalty when using melee weapons to deal non-lethal damage. +1/2 tier damage when inflicting nonlethal damage with a bludgeoning weapon. On a crit, expend one mythic power to add the effects of Staggering Critical; at 6th tier, Stunning Critical. Nice one.

 

-Bolstered Resilience: DR applies to mythic tier attacks When it’s increased, it treats DR as DR/epic in addition to the normal requirements to overcome it. Spend mythic power to deal your DR as damage to the weapon that hit you, ignoring DR and hardness equal to your tier.

 

-Deathless Initiate: When in combat while at -1 hp, you do not take damage for taking move, standard or full-round actions and the bonus to atk and damage increases by 1, +1 for every 10 negative hit points. Pretty weak.

 

-Deathless Master: Immunity to ability drain, damage, bleed and death effects while in negative HP while also gaining +1 to natural armor, +1 for every 5 negative ht points you have. The AC-bonus stacks with itself. Better!

 

-Deathless Zealot: Attackers receive 1/2 tier as penalty to crit confirmation rolls against you. If a crit is confirmed against you, spend mythic power to mitigate it to a normal hit. If the foe’s CR exceeds twice your mythic tier or if the foe’s tier exceeds your own, you need to spend 2 uses of mythic power instead.

 

-Disposable Weapon: Apply the benefits to all weapons, not just fragile weapons. When confirming a crit, expend mythic power to destroy the weapon and increase the critical multiplier by 1. Not a fan of further multiplier escalation. This should also have an artifact caveat and some other sort of scaling. Not sold that this is powerful? Oh, there are builds with this one…ouch.

 

-Fortified Armor Training: When negating a crit via Fortified Armor Training, damage the weapon equal to the damage you receive. Unarmed or natural weapons cause the damage to the attacker. Damage dealt this way ignores hardness and DR of non-mythic foes. Nice one!

 

-Stalwart: Expend 1 use of mythic power as an immediate action to add tier to the DR granted by Stalwart. Pretty weak. On a nomenclature nitpick, this feat refers to ” a point of mythic power” when one usually speaks of “one use of mythic power.”

 

-Improved Stalwart: Expend 1 mythic power as an immediate action to gain stalwart’s ability to one ally within reach. I assume this refers to the character’s reach since no numerical value is given. On a nomenclature nitpick, this feat refers to ” a point of mythic power” when one usually speaks of “one use of mythic power.”

 

-Nightmare Fist: Add free demoralize to attacks you execute in magical darkness; provides condition-escalation and panicked characters are flat-footed to you. Does the condition scale up to cowering or not?

 

-Nightmare Striker: Adds +1 round of paralysis (+1 per 4 tiers) to foes that fail to resist Stunning Fist while subject to your faerie fire. Too circumstantial for my tastes.

 

-Rebuffing Reduction: When successfully using the defensive bull rush, damage foes equal to the damage that failed to bypass your DR + 2 x tier. Okay one.

 

-Splintering Weapon: + tier to bleed damage provided; Add tier to DC to staunch the bleeding. Okay.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, I noticed no glitches on a significant, rules-impeding level. Layout adheres to Legendary Games’ 2-column full color standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Robert Brookes and Jonathan H. Keith deliver a solid array of feats herein -and in quite a few instances, I enjoyed seeing increased defense capacities herein. At the same time, I often felt like the feats did not go far enough – further increased defenses would be feasible in my book, especially seeing how the significant increase in offense Mythic Adventures provides. So yeah, while not bad per se, this pdf does have a few minor hiccups and somewhat disappointed me, due to not going far enough. However, it should be noted that this still is a nice buy. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4, though GMs looking for more staying power should instead check out the Mythic Paths-books on dragons and villains.

 

One more note – the editorial mentions Jason Nelson, Jonathan H. Keith and Jeff Lee as the authors, so in case I got that wrong, I apologize: I went with the author names specified on the cover.

 

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

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Aug 262015
 

Eldritch Roleplaying System (Revised Edition)

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This massive book clocks in at 201 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front-cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC,1 blank page at the end, leaving us with 195 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

This massive core-book for the revised edition of Eldritch Roleplaying (ERP) begins with an introduction that sums up several of the virtues of this system – adequately so, I should mention. At the same time, though, personally, I felt this component to be somewhat overblown, much like a sales-pitch when the very presence of the book clearly does not necessitate this component – this may be a personal pet-peeve of mine, but I do not think games should try to tell their readers how awesome they are and instead stand on the virtue of their own merits – but let’s see whether this works, shall we?

 

The default assumption of this system is a world of fantasy, obviously. We begin with a glossary of terms and what they mean – since the following review will make excessive use of them, I’ll give you the brief run-down:

 

-Ability: This specifies a skill or innate capacity.

-Ability Branch: A single component of an ability tree, specifying Specialties and Masteries. An ability check is made via such a branch, with no more than one roll of the basic tier, plus one specialty, plus one mastery.

-Ability Check: Each such check involves one ability branch, rolling up to 3 dice to beat the target number.

-Ability Tree: Base ability + all branches. Tier 1 denotes base abilities, tier 2 denotes specialties and each specialty further branches off into different masteries, which constitute tier 3.

-Base Tier: First tier, always has a single die (from d4 to d12)

-Branch Rank: Term used to establish general competence in an ability branch. Just add max values and check the table.

-Character Points: Point-buy for abilities.

-Damage Reduction: Reduce threat points before the active defense pool.

-Defense Pool: Number of points used to mitigate or cancel threats

-Defense, Active: Using active DP to mitigate one attack via the corresponding ability.

-Defense, Passive: One passive defense pool or fortitude.

-Die-rank: Value of any creature’s single die of an ability tree tier; ranges from d3 to d20 and includes d14, d16 and d18.

-Max Value (MV): Highest die-result possible with a given die or die combination.

-Needed Number (NN): Measure for spellcasting difficulty.

-Restricted/unrestricted Ability: Restricted abilities can’t be used without having at least a certain die-rank, most of the time, a d4. Consider this the ability to only use certain abilities when “trained” in them.

-Special maneuvers: Combat maneuvers, essentially.

-Threat Points: Measurement of the potential harm from a specific ability branch – the damage potential from which active defenses etc. are detracted to determine the actually inflicted harm.

 

So, to sum it up – we have a system that is very much skill-based, using a combination of dice over specializations and pitting rolls vs. rolls, with minor fixed value modifications, kind of like a variant of Shadowrun that utilizes more die-types over increasing numbers of d6s.

 

Character creation is simple: You have 30 character points. Assigning age and sex is free and you can modify the value by taking advantages (at cost) or disadvantages (increasing your character points). It should be noted that adolescence is considered to take for all races to reach – while I get the streamlining rationale, such a factor inherently makes me wonder how the “better” races have not yet developed a more stable population

 

Each race MUST buy the minimum ranks in certain abilities associated with them, which range from 15 (dwarves) to 4 (humans) and racial advantages, if appropriate – all dwarves must expend the 3 character points for night vision, for example. While the individual abilities and costs are provided, a quick glance also shows you the total value, including the modifications of the compulsory advantages/disadvantages hard-coded into the race. Over all, the ability-package as presented makes the races work pretty well and choosing them rather simple – at the same time, the restrictions imposed here by a lack of racial customization directly contradicts the assertion of supreme control over character concepts claimed in the slightly overblown introduction, but that just as a snarky side-note to emphasize why I consider intros like that undue.

 

The advantages and disadvantages provided run a pretty broad gamut of abilities, again, bringing Shadowrun to mind, just instead of the modification of dice-pool sizes, we have the die-step improvements. This allows for e.g. magical defense that allows a caster to extend it to physical attacks in two steps, with the more costly version also applying to ranged attacks. Subtle casting, attractiveness and similar benefits can be gained as well. Personally, I really enjoyed and loathed one particular advantage at the same time: Literacy. It always galls me in any fantasy setting, when the default assumption is that people can read – it’s an obvious anachronism not supported by the infrastructure in most areas. So yes, kudos for including that.

 

Being able to read and write ALL languages for one meager character point more, though, actually sabotages quite a few narratives – from strange languages to deciphering ancient tongues, this advantage counters quite a few potential plots, thus rendering its upgrade problematic. Now here would be as good a place as any to mention the easy customization capacities of this system – are you like me and utterly loathe this concept? Just modify the advantage to instead apply on a point per language basis. Want discrepancies in fluency and capacity? Build your own ability-tree. The system is ridiculously easy to modify in these finer components without breaking it, a huge plus when it comes to modifying it to apply to different settings, something you will want to do -but more on that later.

 

From darkvision (here called Night Vision) to underworld contacts, the advantages are generally solid. Among the disadvantages, one can find addictions, compulsions, missing limbs – you get the idea.

 

Abilities, as mentioned above, are governed by the size of the die: Unrestricted abilities begin at d4 and cost a cumulative +2 character points to increase. Restricted abilities cost 2 character points to get to d4-size and subsequent costs of die-size minus two for the respective rank. (D12 costs 10 character points, for example.)

 

On a didactic side, the presentation of the values of character points it takes to rank up is pretty much more opaque than it should be: As presented, one can read the process as the cost depicted representing the total cost of character points or as the cost to increase from the previous rank – while one can deduce the correct way from the examples provided in the book, I had exactly that issue come up during character generation for playtesting, with different players having different opinions. Abilities are noted as P (Primary), S (Support), R (Restricted) and U (Unrestricted). While we get a short list, I can’t help but feel that a proper table would have been preferable here.

 

Magic items, buffs etc. that sport a +1 to a given ability increase the die-size by +1. In a nice idea, characters can also pursue occupations as an optional general orientation that codifies the character as being, more or less aligned with the role of a given “class.” It should be noted that this is more of a cosmetic accumulation of traditional nomenclature than a description of the capabilities of the character as a whole deal package.

 

Next up would be the calculation of the character’s defense pools, of which there are two: Active Defense and Passive Defense. Active Defense includes parrying, dodging, agility and unarmed combat and can incorporate static DR via shields. Passive Defense is determined by Fortitude and includes DR via armor, if applicable. The Defense Pool calculations are dead simple – add up the maximum values of the ability tree, including all specialties and masteries. Once again, the basic explanation of the features, alas, could have been more concise – as presented, the basic step leaves you wondering whether active defense accumulates and adds parrying etc. or not – only by delving deeper into the grit of the system does this opacity become resolved, which, once again, presents a thoroughly unnecessary confusion-barrier for novices to the rules that could have been rectified by one simple sentence providing clearer rules language.

 

Starting equipment and character concept are determined in conjunction with the GM, with suggestions for general, broad roles provided for the individual character roles – melee types for example receive a weapon, armor, shield and steed, whereas rogues get thieves’ tools, light armor and a weapon. Currency substitutes “crowns” for “Dollars” or “Euros.” Equipment, especially mundane equipment, is pretty much glossed over by the system, claiming it does not require the level of detail etc. – we will return to this claim later.

 

First, we’ll now take a look at the action resolution system: This is actually as simple as opposing rolls get – you roll the dice and if there is active opponent, both applicable rolls are compared, with specialties and masteries adding their die-sizes to the fray if applicable: Let’s say you have someone specialized in Stealth, a subcategory of Skullduggery, with a Mastery in Urban environments – he’d add all 3 to an ability check when sneaking around in an urban environment, but as soon as the character would seek to apply his skillset in the wilderness, he’d only receive the dice from basic Skullduggery and Stealth, but not the bonus for Urban Mastery.

 

On a downside, I do believe the example provided, which I have here consciously quoted, would have benefited from actually stating that it is opposed by Perception – while pretty much self-evident, clear opposition-structures, especially when explaining the base system, do help. At the same time, the way in which whether a specialty or mastery applies is explained can be considered exceedingly concise, so kudos there. Challenges imposed by the GM follow a similar structure – the GM selects a set of dice to describe the general difficulty, rolls them and compares them to the player’s roll. Here, I have a slight issue with the game – the good-roll-makes-possible-syndrome. it is a matter of taste, but the most difficult tasks are set at 3d12 -and yes, these can be nigh impossible. At the same time, though, a character who is lucky can achieve things the GM considered beyond him.

 

While, once again, easily modifiable via static DCs or GM-fiat, the general inclination of this swingy assumption of dice vs. dice means that you’ll have a relatively pronounced luck-factor when tackling such challenges – theoretically, you may beat the set-up with a paltry d4. Yes, the chance of this happening is pretty paltry (as anyone with even a cursory understanding of math should know, but I *have* seen rolls like that – more than one…) – so ultimately, whether you consider this a bug or a feature ultimately depends on your personal inclinations. The undeniable benefit of this would obviously be something that works its way through the whole system – namely that you never become truly invincible to paltry/low-level threats. Yes, it becomes increasingly unlikely that you fall to them, but the chance still exists, which is a component that personally appeals as much to me as the swingy distribution does not.

 

What very much appeals to me and tends to find its way into all of my games in one way or another, would be the pretty concise and easy to use degrees of success and failure that further enhance the randomness factor and reward/punish the respective rolls. Oh, since I failed to mention this – if in doubt, resolutions tend to favor the defender, which is an interesting component that makes generally defensively-inclined characters work better than in similar systems of e.g. the d20-basis.

 

In case you wondered, btw. – weapons and equipment and fighting also follow all of these rules, with the ability melee weapons leading into very broad weapon groups specialties and particular weapon type masteries, which, in practice, makes surprising amounts of sense. Speaking of combat, let’s take a closer look, all right?

 

I already mentioned the different defense pools available (and should note that this system makes shields actually relevant and mechanically distinct, which I do enjoy immensely!), so how does initiative work? A round is 15 second long, with a descending order of battle phases, scaling via Agility’s ability down from d12 to d4 in 5 phases, with each phase taking 3 seconds. Creatures with an even higher or lower Agility take their corresponding place in the initiative order and act before (or after, in the latter case) the others. A creature gets exactly one action per round, which can be used to take actions, cast spells, activate magic items or use special abilities. Initiative is governed by the ability tree of Agility, Reflexes and Reaction Time, with equipment further potentially modifying this value. But what if creatures act in the same phase? Here, envision my smile evaporating – fixed order: PC, exceptional creatures, standard creatures, minor creatures. This suggestion allows you to metagame the “named” NPCs out of a crowd and makes no sense within the world – and as such, I loathe it, in spite of the inclusion of NPCs/special creatures having the option to be treated as PCs. Ties between foes and PCs are always won by the PC, another component I’d personally switch on its head, but that ultimately remains my forte because I’m a mean, mean GM Thankfully, a GM can easily, once again, devise a modification of the suggested system to remedy just about every component of the system as presented herein.

 

But what about surprise? There is a distinction between simple and total surprise, with the latter locking the defending characters out of their active pool defense pools -OUCH. Simple surprise only takes away your action in the surprise round. A character may move 18 yards + MV Agility per round, more if the character incurs a penalty, with masteries further enhancing this. Oddly, the penalty incurred by faster movement makes surprising sense in in-game dramaturgy. Interesting here – the actual feasibility of defensive characters. The D-pools a character has deplete over the course of a combat and simulate fatigue, much like the ones in the classic German old-school RPG Midgard – once they are depleted, you take damage to fortitude, so there’s a difference to Midgard here. At 0 fortitude you drop unconscious, at minus MV fortitude, you die. So that’s how you die. But how do you make creatures die?

 

I already mentioned the threat pool: This is weapon/magic pillar + weapon group (and bonuses)/spell type + specific weapon/spell mastery. Note that some spells may bypass specific defenses fielded against them, increasing the required roll. It should be noted that no two defense pools can be combined – you either try to dodge or parry, for example – not both. Willpower is used to resist non-physical threats. Dual-wielding characters incur a battle phase penalty and yes, there are simple rules for attacks of opportunity, here called opportune attacks. Interesting here: A character may sacrifice a specialty or mastery to add its MV to the associated defense pool. While not engaged in hand-to-hand or melee, a character may revitalize, regaining 20% of all D-pools. D-pools are tied to encounters, which I LOATHE – you’re all by now aware of why “per-encounter” anything ultimate lands on my “oh why”-list; they make no sense. At the same time, though, the system presented here does have the easy option for the GM to customize this limit away and replace it with a fixed duration of rest etc. – in fact, I’d suggest such a system for pretty much any strenuous activity beyond combat, but again – that’s my preference and not something that impacts the review.

 

Magic in the system is separated into 7 so-called pillars: Alteration, Arcanum, Conjuration, Elementalism, Illusion, Invocation and Psychogenics. Failure to roll the needed number of the spell to be cast may incur unpleasant effects for the caster, so there is a certain sense of unpredictability inherent in the system, one further enhanced by the basic set-up of swinging distribution of the dice-results inherent in the system. Saving throws are either based directly on willpower and its follow-ups or directly on fortitude. It should also be noted that quite a few spells have essentially built-in metamagic, with modifications to the NN. It should also be noted that aforementioned degrees of failure-philosophy also applies to the general rules of spellcasting. In order to allow for a broad array of customization and homebrewing, what amounts to a DIY-spell-building kit with sample effects and NNs provide a surprisingly concise amount of guidance for the GM and trigger summonings, casting spells as rituals etc. all can be found among the options presented here. It should be noted that, while each pillar receives its array of spells, the focus here lies on the toolkit.

 

I’ve been talking quite a bit about “GM this and GM that” -well, instead of XP as another resource to track, ERP directly awards character points, cutting out the middleman, so to speak. An elegant solution within the confines of this system. Traps and creature development are also covered with concise rules and plenty of examples for the GM to choose from, alongside tables of generic treasure. Much like 13th Age, monsters are provided in a plentiful array and sport very simple statblocks that do not feature much beyond type, threat dice, extra attacks, DR, HP, Saves and Agility ranks – a minimalistic approach, though at the other side of things. Where monsters in 13th Age derived their rules-symmetry from the lack of swinging dice, the beasts in ERP derive their rules-symmetry from the fact that they swing just as much as PCs do. From classic horses to Lilith herself, the section covers quite some ground, though ultimately, you should not expect too much from the variety of the monsters themselves – vampires may have vampiric bite or hypnotic gaze, yes, but that is all that remains codified – the rest is left to the GM.

 

Also, much like 13th Age, ERP does feature a kind of primer of a sample campaign setting, with the default world of Ainerêve, whose morphological nomenclature I enjoyed as much as the Tennyson-reference leading into the chapter. And indeed, the somewhat linguistically-versed GM will not be surprised by a rather interesting component of this setting: For one, the world coexists undetectably with ours, as a kind of shadow. More importantly, the dream-connotation is further enhanced by a presumed mutability of lands – folk beliefs, convictions and ideologies transform the world and have significant power, with proximity in establishment being governed by conceptual and ideological nearness. This is at once brilliant, but at the same time also somewhat reductive in that it organizes the world in a fashion that is easier to structure – over all, the world still manages to feel pretty concise in its make-up and depiction, with sample NPCs, information on local law etc. being sported for many in ample details, going so far as to produce a pronunciation guide, nomenclature etc., with ample random name-generators. As awesome as the world is as a conception and as strongly as it might resonate with me and the themes of real world mythology, I still felt myself slogging through the campaign world’s information – this is not a bad world and its premise is utterly AWESOME – but what was crafted from the premise pretty much disappointed me as a rather vanilla fantasy world – hence my assertion in the beginning that you’ll want to apply your own modifications regarding the campaign setting.

 

The book also sports handy GM two-page cheat-sheets and 2 page character-sheets, which are horizontally aligned.

 

Now before I jump to the conclusion, what is missing here? 1) Encumbrance. The stance here is “encumbrance is not fun”, meaning you can carry tons of stuff around/potentially generating the Christmas Tree syndrome. Sample poisons/diseases – while provided as hazards, some examples would have been nice and virulence tec. does not feature – the two components exist pretty much in a half-defined limbo that leaves much in the GM’s hands, in spite of plenty of interaction with spells and abilities. I also think the system does require non-battle fatigue systems for weather/exposure etc. – once again, yes, they can be devised by the GM, but I still feel they deserve more focus.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay, though not perfect – I noticed a couple of glitches herein. Especially formatting, quite honestly, annoyed me. Obvious bullet-point lists are simple lists, which detracts from the readability. And personally, my eyes glaze over when I read the statblocks. Why? Because of the overabundance of “>.” You see, “Ability > Specialty > Mastery” is the format and whenever I looked at such a sign, I felt the layout-need to actually insert an arrow-graphic. It may just be me, though. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard that still retains a pretty printer-friendly basis, so that’s nice. The artwork…well. It exists. It neither adheres to a uniform standard or style, nor did I consider the pieces particularly nice. It doesn’t get better than the cover, so art-fanatics may not want to get this for the aesthetic values.

 

Dan Cross and Randall Petras have crafted an interesting system here – one that is governed by chaos and swinging results, yes, but also one that is pretty transparent in its rules. In fact, ERP is ridiculously easy to learn once you have someone explain it to you – or are an experienced roleplayer. The book, alas, is pretty much as “eldritch” in the beginning as its name implies – the first explanations and sequence of rules-presentations is NOT simple, nor didactically well-chosen in all occasions, which made running this more frustrating that it really should be – for it’s actually easy! When I read the book for the first time, I saw the claim of “easy character generation” and thought “Yeah right! I have no idea what’s going on!” – the key-word here is patience. The sequence of rules-presentation is not particularly well-chosen, so if you don’t let that frustrate you, ERP actually *IS* so easy to grasp and run – you just have to get past the annoying introduction and to the point where all the pools are actually concisely explained.

 

Now if the above review wasn’t ample clue – I intensely dislike a plethora of design-decisions, not from a reviewer’s perspective, but from a personal one, so no, I am not going to bash the system for it. This dislike never extends to the base mechanics, mind you, but rather to many of the details – and here, the genius component of this roleplaying system shine: This is perhaps one of the most easily customizable systems I’ve seen in quite a while. Don’t like terrain-rules being swingy? Replace with fixed values. Don’t enjoy the tilting of the scales in favor of the PCs to give them a slight mathematical edge in the game of swinging dice vs. swinging dice? Eliminate it in favor of more lethality. This system is extremely customizable and makes defense worthwhile while providing a combat that is streamlined. In my experience, it is NOT necessarily faster than other systems, though – why? Because rolling competing throws of the dice does take up time that cannot be reduced. (Ask anyone who’s ever played a game featuring them…) Yes, you will not be flipping rule-books much and look for obscure rule xyz, but still – obscure rules can be learned, whereas the rolling of the dice versus another always takes the same time.

 

In fact, this is my second attempt at writing a conclusion, since my first was focused on demolishing the introductory text – and the game does not deserve this. As much as many design decisions rub me the wrong way, as much as I consider the setting’s potential unrealized and as much as I dislike the simple monsters, all of that ultimately does not matter that much. Why? Because anyone halfway versed in crunch-design or houseruling material can customize the hell out of this system, which ultimately is the huge strength of what is presented here – the mathematical elegance of chance and the simplicity of the system’s swinging numbers translate to a game that transcends the limitations of its imho subpar presentation and slight didactic hiccups.

 

Know what I honestly did not expect, especially considering how much I do not like the setting? I actually found myself enjoying this system – it feels like a great framework. one that can use expansions, polish and a nicer “coat” (layout + art), one that can use expansions to deal with detailed alchemy, necromancy etc. While not absent from this book, the traditions of the like imho can certainly use a more refined and explicit depiction in future publications. Now I won’t use this all the time – the swinginess of results, while endearing for some narratives and stories, ends up annoying me as much as permanently running the cruise-control monsters of 13th Age. But I will return to ERP in the future. It is an interesting system and, if what I wrote, if the customization, is what you’re looking for, then be sure to take a look at this. My final verdict, in spite of gripes and some opacity in the presentation, will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. Why? Because to me, l good content and basic structure trumps a nice polish and because I thoroughly appreciate the versatility of this system.

 

You can get this roleplaying system here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Aug 252015
 

Call to Arms: Fantastic Technology

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This installment of Fat Goblin Games’ Call to Arms-series clocks in at a massive 46 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 39 pages of content so let’s take a look!

 

Now this book, obviously, expands on the content of the Technology Guide, so I expect familiarity with that material in this review.

 

This supplement begins with a piece of adept prose and recap on the significant influence technology has had on the development of our very society and there is a reason for that: Before we can take a look at how technology works in game, we have to imho consider the implications of the addition of technology – namely why and how it found its way into a given game world. If you are like me and consider the internal consistency of a given game world to be of tantamount importance, you probably have sneered at quite a few explanations for the existence of technology in a given fantasy context – and thus, this book presents us with a plethora of options that explain the rise or prevalence of technology, including rationalizations for the potential of a limited prominence amid cultures. The intriguing component of these basic concepts that range from divine inspiration (see Zobeck’s gear goddess) to the gifts of the precursors, would be that the respective rules by which technology operates in a fantastic context necessarily ought to change – and the results should not be ignored. If technology is, for example, granted by a divine mandate, it should come as no surprise that adversaries of the doctrine will have a more nature-bound, savage mindset – and vice versa. The inclusion of such ideas and adventure hooks renders this section a useful tool for most DMs who do not want to provide a static backdrop for technology that is relegated to a limited area.

 

Now here, things become pretty intriguing, at least to me: One of the basic and utterly jarring components of the basic Kingdom-building rules, even when supplemented by Legendary Games’ superb expansions, would be the absence of a true means of properly advancing your kingdom. Sure, you can improve infrastructure etc., but you won’t be able to create a bastion of enlightened scholars amid the savages, a kind of Neo-Atlantis/Azlant/Ankheshel. Indeed, the kingdom-building rules, by virtue of their origin, assume a medieval backdrop. If your campaign has a different scope, perhaps even spanning the lifetimes of multiple characters, then this will be a full-blown example in awesomeness: What am I talking about? Technology-levels for kingdom-building with concise definitions of which goods and buildings become available, which sciences are taught, etc. And yes, the respective technology tiers do sport rules-relevant benefits for the kingdoms that achieve them and bonuses for researching all technologies. I absolutely adore this chapter since, to me, it completely came out of left field – and yes, there is a huge array of new buildings to create, including android factories and orbital space stations. That’s awesome. i mean, who wouldn’t want to go all JLA on the bad guys? At the same time, there is one tiny component the system imho ought to have covered in a slightly different manner: Tier-advancement. As provided, the guidelines assume essentially a list of prerequisites that must be met regarding buildings and technology, but personally, I would have enjoyed a cost to upgrade once all the prerequisites are met – essentially a conscious push to move into the next age. It should be noted, however, that this very much represents a personal preference and thus does not negatively influence my verdict – plus, one can always include such an obstacle.

 

Okay, after this not only extremely useful, but also surprisingly inspired chapter, we finally move to what I thought this book was all about when I first laid eyes on it: Technological items. Though, once again, this claim just now would be ultimately just as reductive as my previous conception of what this contains. Let me elaborate: The very inclusion of the material plastic with concise stats is pretty much a “Why has no one done this before?” facepalm-moment – and I mean that in the most flattering way: With decreased weight and electricity resistance, plastic is an interesting material indeed. At the same time, though, it does receive vulnerability to fire, which results in a somewhat wonky interaction: Energy damage to objects is usually halved and ignores hardness – so am I correct in the assumption that this halving does not occur for fire damage? It would only make sense, but ultimately, this constitutes a pretty minor issue.

 

Beyond plastics, there is a further component that has galled me about the implementation of technology in most given rules-contexts: The assumption of total functionality vs. being broken – the totality of both conditions is a component, wherein not only the internal game world’s consistency slightly suffers, but also a crucial deviation from the super-science/pulp/science-fantasy tropes the very rules are supposed to provide for. Ultimately, I can get behind class-specific technology that only works for one type of character the same way I can accept psionics and magic, but once you render this an item-class, this assumption fell away and the exclusivity-clause was removed. Enter this book.

 

The basic concept is absolutely iconic and genius and perfectly encapsulated in the term “augmentations” – these can be added to a given piece of equipment by characters sporting the Craft Technological Arms and Armor feat akin to how magic works, with a base price of magnitude squared times an amount of gold and magnitude also governing the Craft DC. Now annoyingly, formatting has botched in the bullet point-list that contains these rules – while not rendering the rules opaque in any way, the glitch is so obvious that even casual glimpses should have caught it. But I’ll set that aside to talk about what can be done: From radioactive to monofilament enhancements in different degrees of efficiency, the augmentations are awesome and pretty much represent the fulfillment of my craving for orcs that tack barely understood chainsaws to their axes. And yes, I came to roleplaying games over Warhammer. From graviton hammers to chainsaw swords to plasma-axe muskets, the items herein, some of which receive lavish full-color artworks, uniformly deserve praise on a conceptual level. Interesting here would be that, while there are very minor hiccups here and there, the rules-language, traditionally not exactly the strongest forte of Fat Goblin Games, is up to a pretty high standard and supplements the logical consistency of the items provided – chain-blades, once activated, for example penalize Stealth heavily.

 

When technology becomes more relevant in warfare, it’ll be only a matter of time before espionage and sabotage become a threat – and thus, the new cause for glitches gremlinite should be considered a further and potentially narratively rewarding addition to the glitch-rules. Beyond these, there is a pretty basic and wide-spread trope of certain items with an ingrained personality – whether it’s a quantum processor-powered AI, a ghost in the shell or a HAL 9000 – AIs are inextricably linked to scifi and fantastic technology. Thus, the rules for actually creating AIs is simple – and the sample item “possessed” by this AI is also rather interesting. Now if that were not enough, what about adding a slew of mythic into the fray, providing new legendary item abilities that most certainly will see use by the Genius, Futurist and Stranger paths, should they feature in your game -what about e.g. overclocking beams to make them AoE? Yeah, ouch! What about an absolutely inspired and unwieldy artifact that can make a high-level dungeon indeed rather strategic? New vehicle propulsion options, from combustion engines to fusion?

 

The pdf closes with 4 feats that allow you to create Robots, scavenge parts of technological items for your crafting or make AIs. And there is a feat that lets you unarmed punch empty items to get one final charge out of them – thankfully with a cap to prevent abuse.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are a mixed bag – on the one hand, the rules-language is much more precise than I expected it to be, to the point where actually, I don’t have any proper complaints that would truly detract from this book -so kudos to editor Lucus Palosaari! On the other hand, there are some obviously rushed glitches regarding formatting that annoyed me to no end -though it should be noted, that for most people out there, the amount of glitches will not be within annoyance parameters. The pdf does sport a beautiful 2-column full-color standard with quite a few nice, original full-color pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, though the bookmarks do sport a couple of wonderful names like”h.izabluogbq3a” before providing the proper (and correctly named) bookmarks – so yes, existent, but you should scroll down – and another example of the avoidable glitches that haunt this pdf.

 

When this landed on my pile to review, I was admittedly less than excited – Fat Goblin Games has a track record with me of having interesting concepts (and since John Bennett took the reins as line-developer, an actually great horror setting!), but issues with the finer rules-interactions. So analyzing a 40+ page book of rules was not exactly my definition of a good time. At this point, I wish to sincerely apologize for this obviously less than flattering preconception. Fat Goblin Games and author Garrett Guillotte have delivered a massive supplemental book that is so much better than I ever anticipated it would be. I expected a somewhat reductive and repetitive accumulation of Technological items herein – what I instead got can be considered the massive appendix for the Technology rules.

 

In some of my previous reviews pertaining subsystems generated by Paizo, I lamented the lack of synergy and further support for systems once established, while at the same time pointing out that this is pretty much where 3pps can take control and deliver. This book makes perfect use of this thesis – not only do we get some material for mythic fans, the kingdom-building component essentially provides the backdrop for campaigns to take a whole new scope: Instead of just focusing on one age or dynasty, one can utilize these to essentially make kingdom-building, Sid Meier’s Civilization-edition. Indeed, a capable GM can just slot more tiers in between for a finer gradient between tiers and expand the concept further, allowing you to potentially tell stories of truly epic scope and breadth. If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ll note that this simple fact is something I value over almost anything else – beyond the mechanics of augmentations, the new items and AI-rules, it is the rules-framework to tell a *NEW* type of story that was previously not supported by a given system that ultimately makes me grin, makes me happy, makes me cherish a product.

 

And sometimes, I get lucky – first Alexander Augunas’ Microsized Adventures, now this book – and two whole new inspiring ideas take form: When combining the two, you could conceivably play characters shrunken to enter an organism and fight diseases with their nanite “subjects” while kingdom-building the immune system. Yes, I’m actually going to run this for my group.

 

What I’m trying to say here is: This book ranks among the few truly inspired crunch book that manage to be innovative. At the same time, I do have a criticism of this book and that ultimately boils down to scope: Whether it’s AIs, augmentations, tiers – I found myself ultimately wishing each of the cool components herein had seen more support and yes, I’d definitely would be very interested in a sequel – the ideas featured herein are so good, I actually would have loved to see them expanded beyond their page-count. Now for the amount of content provided, this is an inexpensive pdf and I wholeheartedly encourage you all to check this out – I don’t mention books of the superb quality of Microsized Adventures lightly in the context of other books.

 

At the same time, though, the (kind of) professional reviewer has to grit his teeth and point out that this pdf is not perfect; it does have flaws and I wished the glitches I noted weren’t there. If this were either more focused or longer or had no glitches, we’d have a definite candidate for my Top ten of 2015 here. It’s that good. Alas, there are some hiccups in presentation and some concepts that could imho have benefited from more space to render them clearer. So no, I can’t rate this the full 5 stars – I should probably round down. But know what? that would be a disservice to the book and ultimately, you, my readers. This book is inspiring and I always have and always will prefer innovation and inspiration over bland mechanical perfection – and here, this book delivers in spades. hence my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5, and yes, this book gets my seal of approval – it is simply too much fun, too inspired to be bogged down by the glitches, though the more nitpicky among you should remember that they’re here and probably rather round down.

 

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

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Aug 252015
 

Mini-Dungeon: The Goblin Warren

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This pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map (alas, sans player-friendly version) and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked to d20pfsrd.com’s shop and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM.

 

Since this product line’s goal is providing short diversions, side-quest dungeons etc., I will not expect mind-shattering revelations, massive plots or particularly smart or detailed depictions, instead tackling the line for what it is. Got that? Great!

 

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

 

Still here?

All right!

 

Situated amidst a barrow thought to be curse, the quasit Viletongue has had a good run – what demon doesn’t delight in driving mortal priests mad and have them kill one another? Alack and alas, today, he is still imprisoned, though he has found new ears to whisper in – those of goblins. Bilemaw the Impaler and his warparty, complete with goblin dogs, has since moved in and followed the quasit. The PCs, sent to eradicate the goblins, may actually do the crafty outsider a favor by re-consecrating a desecrated shrine that ironically makes it harder for the demon to escape. So yeah, the PCs may unintentionally unleash a pretty nasty beast…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art – kudos!

 

I wasn’t looking forward to Jonathan Ely’s Goblin Warrens, mainly due to hating the exceedingly generic hobgoblin lair. With an interesting shape and set-up, traps thrown in the mix and a background story as well as things to do beyond “kill everything”, this one is a proof of an author who is coming into his game – seeing how limited the space allotted is, I was pretty impressed by the level of detail provided and implied and firmly believe that a capable GM can make this warren rather memorable, in spite of the classic themes. Now, sure, this does not reinvent the wheel, but is has fun ideas and deserves a rating as a good mini-dungeon, scoring a final verdict of 4 stars.

 

You can get this nice mini-dungeon here on OBS!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Aug 252015
 

Mythic Minis: Goblin Feats

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All right, you know the deal – 3 pages – 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page content, let’s go!

 

-Burn! Burn! Burn!: +1d4+tier fire damage when attacking with mundane and alchemical fire; also greatly increases saves vs. catching fire AND allowing you to expend mythic power to negate fire resistance or hardness. Nice one!

 

-Deafening Explosion: Adds deafening effect to your bombs, with splash damage deafening for shorter durations.

 

-Demoralizing Lash: It you hit a creature that is shaken, increase condition severity to frightened, with shaken following. Also increases the demoralize effect on adversaries witnessing your assault. Nice combo-potential.

 

-Fire Hand: Makes non-mythic foes always have to check versus catching fire; also allows you to use surge die to increase the DC. Cool!

 

-Fire Tamer: Increase save bonus to +4 and apply it to all fire effects; Also, at-will spark and mythic-power-based quench. CL = tier.

 

-Flame Heart: Fire resistance increases to 10; use mythic power for 5 times tier fire resistance without needing to expend an action. Also: “When casting fire spells with the fire descriptor or throwing alchemist bombs that deal fire damage, treat your caster level or alchemist level as though it was.” I think something is missing here – I have no idea what this sentence is supposed to mean.

 

-Focusing Blow: Help allies shake off mind-control; non-hobgoblins need to take at least 10 points of damage and get +1 to the save per 10 points inflicted. Use mythic power to crit your allies and render 1/2 the damage nonlethal, while still treating it as full damage for the purpose of this feat.

 

-Goblin Gunslinger: Bull rush or trip foes at range via medium-sized firearms, using Dex instead of Str for CMB. On a critical hit, this behaves as Awesome Blow. The maneuver is penalized by -5, with non-mythic targets sporting less pronounced penalties. On the nitpicky side, awesome blow may behave like a maneuver, but it technically is not one, though the pdf’s wording implies just that.

 

-Hobgoblin Discipline: +1/3 tier bonus to the effects of the base feat; double that versus fear-based effects; expend a mythic power to share the benefits with all hobgoblins within 30 ft. increasing the bonus if there are enough hobgoblins around. Okay one.

 

-Tangle Feet: Uses of +1/2 mythic tier versus larger creatures per round; when only using it against one target, increase the Acrobatics DC by tier, by 1/2 tier when affecting multiple creatures. Interesting one!

 

-Taskmaster: Use it as swift or move action, with cap being creatures not exceeding your HD and tier. If used as a standard action, +2 atk, damage and Will saves vs. mind-influencing effects. Use mythic power to negate the AC-penalty and skill-penalty or retain the penalty and extend the effects to tier round.

 

There also is a feat on the SRD-page:

 

-Terrorizing Display: Use Dazzling Display as a standard action; as a move at -5; as a swift action at -10. Allies within 30 ft get +2 atk, damage and Will saves vs. mind-influencing effects; allies between 30 and 60 ft away get +1; affected allies get -2 to AC and skill checks; Use mythic power to negate the penalty or extend the duration.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though there are some glitches here. Layout adheres to Legendary Games’ 2-column full color standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Jason Nelson and Robert Brookes deliver an interesting array of (Hob-)Goblin-themed feats herein and more often than not, the rules-decisions made feel concise and sensible, providing more than just a boring mechanical escalation. That being said, though I do enjoy this pdf, it also has minor wording hiccups and some of the feats herein feel like they are a tad bit less awesome than others. In the end, I will settle on a final verdict of 4 stars.

 

You can get these gobbo-feats here on OBS!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Aug 242015
 

Monster Advancement: Enhanced Fey

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The second installment of the Monster Advancement-series clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages SRD, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

In case you haven’t read my review of the previous Monster Advancement-installment – the basic premise of this series is simple: provide a concise, template-based toolkit to customize your creatures and make them more interesting than slapping a bland simple template on it – instead, the goal of these book and their achievement lies within the construction of a concise, big toolkit for GMs to use when crafting the respective monsters.

 

As in the previous installment, novice GMs do receive some advice on properly codified DR-stacking and researching the unique abilities sported by the modified fey featured herein and yes, there are obviously some thematic overlaps with the previous installment on undead – you will find breath weapons herein (again, with 3 damage-entries per CR), abilities that allow you to create fey with elemental themes and obviously, basic monster abilities like regeneration et al. are mong the tools a GM can add to fey via this toolkit.

 

Now if you think that this constitutes a carbon copy of the previous installment, you’d be wrong – obviously, the divine holy/unholy component is less pronounced here and mastery of animals and plants can be found in a multitude of cases herein. The general theme of luck/misfortune and curses also suffuses the modifications available within these pages. Intoxicating frolicking, commanding confused characters and euphoria-inducing abilities complement the themes of the fey further, while evasion and scavenging in bardic trickery, poison kisses and the like also feature herein. If, like me, you enjoy supplements and publishers actually cross-promoting, psioncis and pact magic-support will most certainly bring a smile to your face.

 

In the case of the optional flaws that reward PCs doing their legwork and the option for fey to go into dormancy, further options enhance the respective creature types further. Now if you’ve been designing monsters, you’ll run into one issue: Fey traits pretty much suck. Not as bad as giants, but oh boy. Thus I pretty much enjoyed the fact that fey may scavenge in the properties and immunities of other creature types. Thankfully and unlike just about every monster book I’ve read, general suggestions to improve fey without changing the component of fragility and trickery can be found herein – though personally, I consider it a pity that no rules for super-illusion fey-glamers are provided.

 

The pdf also provides advice on properly using the template and 6 sample creatures made with the rules herein.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no artworks beyond the cover art, but needs none. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Julian Neale had a tough task in this pdf – I’ma huge fan of fey and loathe how much they tend to suck in PFRPG and how the basic fey fail to convey the component of alien psychology that ultimately renders fey distinct and memorable. Well, the former is not fixed, but that is not the task of a crunch book; what is fixed, though, would be an array of problems regarding predictability when exactly that concept should be anathema to fey. The toolkit presented within these pages is fun, concise, easy to use and over all, a good addition to a GM’s arsenal. At the same time, though, I found myself wishing more than once that there was slightly less overlap with the undead and, more importantly, that this sported a means for fey to expand their penchant for illusions beyond the capabilities and providence of mortals. It should also be noted that this toolkit does not cover the abilities traditionally associated with the unseelie – shadowtheft and changeling-making, undead mastery and time-control would not be aspects found herein, rendering the toolkit very much in tradition with the depiction of mainstream fey by necessity of design-assignment.

 

At the same time, though, I felt as though exactly this rendered the overall toolkit feeling slightly less encompassing than the previous one, even though it is longer. However, at the same time, this pdf actually tries to do what few pdfs try – fix something that is not working as it should. This is a pretty big deal for me, for especially novice GMs should certainly find some sound advice herein to make their fey last longer and feel more efficient…and magical. Hence, I can still award this 5 stars + seal of approval, for what is here, is rather great.

 

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

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Aug 242015
 

Mythic Minis: Sorceror Feats

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All right, you know the deal – 3 pages – 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page content, let’s go!

 

-Create Sanguine Elixir: You do not lose access to a bloodline power when making a sanguine elixir whose minimum level is less than tier; less than 2 x tier when expending mythic power. Imbibers may also delay the onset of the elixir’s effects by tier rounds; the drinker’s effective level would be your sorceror level or HD + 1/2 tier, whichever is lower. Damn cool one!

 

-Destructive Dispel: +1/2 tier to DC versus the stun; non-mythic creatures extend the stun/sickened duration to 1/2 tier rounds. When using an area dispel, expend mythic power stagger and sicken targets until your next turn, with fort to negate for mythic creatures, partially negates for non-mythic foes. Nice!

 

-Dispel Synergy: Penalty of the opponent extends to all spells, not just your own, for 1/2 mythic tier rounds.

 

-Evolved Familiar: Adds either 2 1-point or a 2-point evolution. Solid, though I think the evolved familiars should lose the evolutions upon leaving your service.

 

-Extra Cantrips or Orisons: Add +1 cantrip or orison each tier; alternatively add a mythic version of a cantrip or orison you know.

 

-Improved Eldritch Heritage: +1 bloodline bonus feat (or mythic variant); also, you’re treated as having full character level for the purpose of 3rd and 9th level bloodline abilities.

 

-Greater Eldritch Heritage: Gain bloodline powers at your full level and use full level to determine effects.

 

-Spell Specialization: Add the communal, greater, lesser, mass versions of the spell or even alternate versions designated by Roman numerals to your list of spells known. Adding metamagic to the specialized spell does not increase the casting duration. Use mythic power to cast the mythic or mythic augmented versions of the spell, at tier-2 for the purpose of qualifying for augments. Mechanically interesting tie-in with the tier.

 

 

-Greater Spell Specialization: Cast spontaneously the communal, greater, lesser, mass versions of the spell or even alternate versions designated by Roman numerals. Adding metamagic to the specialized spell does not increase the casting duration. Mythic Spell Focus allows you to change your specialized spell to one of the same school via a long meditation and the expenditure of mythic power. Damn cool – this not only makes the concept viable, but it also makes the character more flexible.

 

-Sorcerous Bloodstrike: +1/2 mythic tier uses per day; also activate it whenever you reduce a creature to 0 or less HP with a spell/spell-like/supernatural abilities. Additionally, 1/day, regain 1 mythic power when defeating a mythic foe via a spell, but only if the target’s tier is at least 1/2 yours.

 

-Sorcerous Strike: Add a mythic power-powered effect as a free action when delivering bloodline powers through an unarmed strike. The ability may only have a swift action or less to activate.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Legendary Games’ 2-column full color standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Jason Nelson, Jonathan H. Keith, Robert Brookes – gentlemen, this one is fine indeed: With several new tricks and combos facilitated by these feats and several interesting mechanical design-decisions, this is a great example for what the series can do with feats. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

 

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

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Aug 212015
 

B23: Ruins of Gilead

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This module clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This being an adventure-review, the following does contain SPOILERS. Potential players will want to jump to the conclusion.

..

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All right, still here? Great! There is nothing good on jungle islands. EVER. Alas, this crucial piece of wisdom was not imparted upon the hapless treasure hunting team sent by the Northern Pass Trading Company under the command of Henry Beckett and the experienced hunter Bethany Tirsbury. Rule #2 when finding a ruined city and unearthing a gilded idol: Destroy it ASAP, with extreme prejudice, but only after determining that destroying it does not set the unavoidable, evil entity trapped inside free. If it would pursue other methods. The expedition has not heard about this one either, unearthing the idol containing the demon Aravax, who happily subsequently drove the expedition into cheerful slaughter and hatred. All of this is history – and now, the PCs have been sent to the island to succeed where the first expedition failed and preferably, return with valuable artifacts that do not kill everyone.

 

So, whether you elect to include a proper mission briefing or not, this module’s meat begins upon the PCs finding the first corpse…and then more. A trail of grisly breadcrumbs leads them right towards the former camp of the expedition (fully mapped, btw.), where they happen upon the grisly remains of a massacre and, once dramaturgy dictates it’s time to enhance the mood of dilapidation further, a GM can spring Bethany upon the players – the clearly disheveled and insane woman makes for a complex social scene with plentiful read-aloud-text for GMs less adept at improvising text. Oddly, the madwoman demands at the threat of violence that the PCs read the journal of Henry (depicted as a kind of hand-out in its own font, should you elect to simply print out and cut out that section of the page) – Bethany is obviously illiterate and while the barbarian-class to which she belongs no longer prescribes this drawback, I consider it sensible as an assumption for any quasi-medieval setting -at least in my home-game, peasants do not read.

 

Actually reading the text sets Bethany on a deadly course that may be exploited by the PCs – driven into a paranoid obsession, she seeks to find and kill Henry, drive Aravax from the idol and kill it and then claim her prize – obviously, PCs should realize that she is just another unwitting pawn of this corruptive influence – but still, when played right, they may use the confused woman… After this odd visitor and plundering the camp (potentially finding a weird item), the PCs will probably be on their way towards the eponymous ruins of Gilead. Haunted by swarms of deadly hornets and hostile guardian spirits, the PCs make their way to the obelisk at the center of the city – where an intriguing puzzle-combat begins: Essentially, activating the magical mechanism isn’t easy and more and more guardian spirits arrive, though their relatively straight-forward and dumb programming means that they can be outfoxed by smart PCs, thus allowing them to have brains trump brawns in an encounter that plays in a surprisingly fun manner. However, this is only the beginning – with the map thus in hand, the PCs are off to the mapped and remote temple that contains Aravax’ idol – which btw. includes a nasty trap that may drown you in wall of force-like blood. Beyond this ominous threshold, the vile idol and Henry await – the chosen of the demonic spirit sporting unique, strange abilities that render him a more formidable foe than the sum of his class levels. Once again, communication with the obsessed man is lavishly detailed – and defeating him does not end the threat, which only ends once the PCs deal with the idol in a permanent manner and defeat the evil within once and for all. Oh, and yes – the PCs better not dawdle, for Henry’s ritual is a ticking clock…

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to AAW Games’ beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a blend of stock and original art, the latter of which is pretty awesome. Cartography is solid and in full color and comes with player-friendly versions. The adventure comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

By all means, I should hate Jeffrey Gomez’ Ruins of Gilead. The paranoia-expedition and its tropes are almost by-the-book pulp tropes and indeed, if you subtract the rules, you could arguably play this in ANY setting, even a real world one à la CoC. This module does not reinvent the wheel – but it does sport something I thoroughly enjoy about it – an excellent pacing. Never is an investigation lagging, no dearth of clues – the module runs like a pretty smooth and well-oiled machine and quickly delivers what it sets out to do. Add to that the nice tidbits, from the ability to use the terrain to negate the threat of foes to some iconic imagery and variants and I, surprisingly, actually enjoyed this module far more than I anticipated. It also ran smoothly in an easy 6-hours playtest, though slower groups can probably take up to 4 sessions, depending on the pace set by the GM.

 

In the end, this is clearly a nice little love-letter to the pulp-genre’s classic tropes and showcases a promising author from whom I most certainly would like to read more. My final verdict clocks in at 4 stars, with an explicit recommendation for less experienced GMs who have an issue with improvising NPC-interactions.

 

You can get this nice, pulpy module here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.