Jul 172018

Haunting of Hastur #3: The City of Talos (5e)

This combined settlement supplement/ecology and adventure clocks in at two times 32 pages – 28 pages each for the adventure and gazetteer booklets, if you take away cover/editorial/etc. My review is based primarily on the kickstarter premium print version of this adventure/supplement. The sturdy wrap-around cover has a massive, gorgeous full-color map of the eponymous city of Talos on the inside – and Justin Andrew Mason’s map is player-friendly! That’s a huge plus for the print version right there.


As you can glean from the above, I have received a print copy of the module/setting supplement for the purpose of a fair and unbiased review. The books have thus been moved up in my reviewing queue.


So, at the end of the last adventure in the series, the intriguing “The Buried Zikurat”, which could be solved sans a single combat (amazing!), we this time take a sojourn into a sandboxy scenario in the truest form; but in order to talk about the adventure, we have to acknowledge the unique two-book approach. You see, one book is an extensive gazetteer of the massive City of Talos as the PCs encounter it, while the second book depicts the changes that will now befall this unique area.


Before we dive into the SPOILERS themselves, let me comment a bit on the formal components: The gazetteer is VERY rules-lite and can be of use in pretty much any roleplaying game. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a plus for the type of scenario presented here. Anyhow, the gazetteer also reprints the destroy stone spell that justifies the presence of the underdark as presented here, reprinted from the previous adventure. Similarly, the three formene items that granted the PCs access to this otherwise shrouded part of the realms below have been reproduced here. The minor hiccups present in them in the former adventure are still here, though. The prose, an important component of such a book, for the most part, is really tight and engrossing, though a few paragraphs feel slightly rougher than others. Still, atmosphere-wise, this does achieve something – more on that in the conclusion of the review, below. One aspect that I sincerely hope will be remedied at one point, would pertain nomenclature: The books use “Formene” to refer to both the reagion after which the unique elven culture herein is named, and to the elves. While this shorthand makes perfect sense to me, it can act as a minor detractor regarding reading flow. You won’t stumble over these, and context makes getting what’s meant easy, but it’s something I felt obliged to mention.


It should also be noted that the adventure-booklet includes an alternate segue into the module that does not require the PCs to have finished “The Buried Zikurat” – including an encounter map by Dyson Logos! It’s a pretty detailed alternate introduction and goes above what one usually gets to see. Skill references are usually bolded and in all-caps, making it easy for the GM to determine rules-relevant text on the fly. I noticed an exception, where the skills were only in Allcaps, but since it’s still easily discernible, I chalk this up to negligible aesthetic nitpickery.


The adventure book does come with a brief bestiary-appendix that includes short-hand monster stats that do not note all attributes; I know this is probably due to page-count issues, but it’s an aspect that slightly detracts from the otherwise nice chapter. As before, alas, formatting here also deviates in the statblocks from 5e’s standards: Colons instead of full stops, “Hit:” not italicized…you get the drift. The material is, as a whole, functional, but these deviations make it feel less refined than it otherwise would be. We do get a brief random encounter table for the Formene, should you require one.


We do begin the gazetteer-booklet with a detailed history of the Formene Elves, their trade nexus network and self-imposed isolation…but those were components we could piece together before. The two books go much farther than that. But in order to discuss the content, I need to go into SPOILERS.



All right, only GMs around? Great! So, beyond discussing the connections with Hastur, placing Trade Nexuses in the campaign world (SUPER useful when playing this in e.g. Golarion, Faerûn, Oerth, etc.), we get something I haven’t read in about 20 years; the discussion of Formene Elves goes beyond just throwing stats at you. In fact, that’s probably one of the best things about this book. Instead, we are told about the Dehava. These beings are basically elemental-like, rocky creatures that were afraid of the other Formene denizens for their propensity to steal their eggs as trinkets or decoration. In a surprisingly sensible twist, the dehava did not really consider cohabitation or true sentience possible prior to making magical contact with the Formene Elves. Considering how alien they are, this rang plausible to me – and their unique metabolism, which can excrete ingots of precious rock, has led to a surprisingly smart and unique form of cultural symbiosis. The Formene Elves can guard dehava young while the parents hibernate, and the dehava can provide a truly “elven” form of mining that feels both distinctly magical AND plausible.


The Formene Elves, hence, also have the ability to fabricate weaponry of mithril, adamant and similar materials, generating a type of resonance with the old concept of the “riddle of steel” from our own history, one often quoted in sword &sorcery contexts, but without requiring copious rewiring of your game-world. Indeed, the adventure book does note the type of weaponry that may be available. The culture of Talos’ Formene Elves and their first gaze upon surface-dwellers in ages, can yield an interesting roleplaying potential.


And more so than in pretty much any book I have read in a long time, culture is emphasized as a roleplaying catalyst and as a means to generate immersion and wonder. The culture of Formene Elves is focused on the 5 virtues of Efficiency, Grace, Knowledge, Harmony and Privacy. Notice something? While many of us may subscribe to these values being important, we do not place the same value upon them. The consequences of this clash of cultures between PCs (and players!) and Formene Elves is amazing to experience and see. Anyhow, the different quarters are assigned special things of note: For example, the focus on Knowledge means that the quarter houses transcriptions of books deemed long lost on the surface, while new books are cherished. Opinions of the locals regarding the reopening of trade relations with the surface, as well as potential problems, can yield here a treasure trove of intrigue, side-quests and unique encounters – probably enough to last you a whole campaign, should you choose to really dive into this section. I should also mention that we get a sample farm area map and discuss other humanoids living in the Lower Formene.


This gazetteer fits seamlessly with the adventure booklet; you see, the module takes a defiant stand in favor of capital letters ROLEPLAYING. If you disregard the alternate introduction to the adventure, we get a total of 12 side-quests of sorts that form the very sandboxy and open plot of this adventure. The PCs are basically ambassadors for the whole world above! The PCs will have to negotiate reopening the trade network with the surface, with key aspects of the surface and the Formene Elves provided in bullet points. No, there is no simple “roll to solve.” I love the adventure for that. ROLEPLAYING, not ROLLplaying. Discovering the archive of the Formene Elves, negotiating trade of mithril weapons (and whether or not to teach the skills to make them…) – this is utterly inspired!


If your players get antsy and want to do some exploring, we also get a deserted, similarly alien city of the Ryba-Wiek fish-people, rendered abandoned by a strange statue that still remains, with explorers haunted by flashbacks. The PCs may have to contend with a temporarily insane Dehava, look for the lost caravan, deal with potentially hostile human encroachment upon Formene Elf territory, explore an abandoned duergar temple, deal with a black dragon…and there is a mushroom cave, which can have really chaotic psychedelic spore-effects – in case you needed an angle to insert a Narcosa-module, there you go! Defeating a pair of medusas can allow the PCs to free no less than 23 beings! (Ages since petrified, looks and names provided…)


Well, all of that, plus any underworld sidetreks you may want to throw at your players! Each of these little sidequests on their own would not be more remarkable than e.g. a solid Mini-Dungeon or OSR-one-page dungeon sidetrek; but their contextualization and detail does elevate them. The whole is here, for once, truly greater than the sum of its parts. Oh, and if the like doesn’t fit the tastes of your PCs, you can easily run this as a series of combat-related issues and make the whole module go by quicker…whether or how you tie these scenario-components together lies within your purview as a GM – this is, in the truest sense of the word, a modular module.



Editing and formatting, on a formal level and rules-language level, are good, but remain the one aspect of the module where I can see some folks being less enamored by what’s presented. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard with copious amounts of high-quality cartography provided. Artworks range from compelling, original b/w-pieces to a few less amazing stock art pieces. As a whole, this is an aesthetically-pleasing module/supplement, though.


Okay, I have rarely been this glad to have been proven wrong. When I read the first adventure of this series, I filed the whole under “solid, but forgettable dark fantasy with obligatory Mythos reference”; I was dead wrong. “The Buried Zikurat” had a distinct voice, and so does this one. You see, L. Kevin Watson’s “The City of Talos” is an adventure unlike any you have probably read since the advent of d20. What do I mean by this?


Well, 3rd edition brought a focus on crunch, i.e. rules-relevant material. We’d get a gazillion of different elves with minor modification in racial stats. Fire elves, air elves…yeah, you’re probably as sick of them by now as I am. Rules-relevant material, from racial stats to archetypes, subtypes, weaponry and spells, began replacing what was once considered to be, you know, what made a race distinct. While the OSR-movement has somewhat flipped this, here, we often see an almost fetishized emphasis on *really* old-school dungeon-crawling and/or on immediate “gameability” – immediate hooks that affect the PCs on the personal level, that immediately segue into adventure.


This has cost us dearly, at least in my opinion. It took me a long time to formulate *what* exactly I loved so much about these two booklets; it’s not the presentation; neither the bite-sized quests/mini-adventures. It’s also not the emphasis on roleplaying over rollplaying, though I do like that. Still, we have seen all of these in recent years – not often, but we’ve seen them. Similarly, I have read and designed more races over the years that I could count, and the Formene Elves, while certainly distinct, also could not account for my fascination with these two booklets.


Then, it suddenly dawned on me. You know, when I started playing the game, and had NO IDEA what the difference between “gnomes” and “haflings” was, I read the books released in the boxed sets here in Germany. I read about gnomish ruby wine, and how it could render other races comatose, in strange psychedelic dreams; I read about elven poetry so haunting, it could break the hearts of mortals that witnessed it. I read about dwarven ales and bread. I learned why haflings wouldn’t usually want to go adventuring, about their agricultural (and pipe-weed growing) prowess, about the marriage customs of these races…and they came alive for me. Not because of rules, stats or immediate adventure hooks – but by virtue of their CULTURES.


Know what these things have in common? They are not immediately “gameable” and they are, what the low-attention-span, lowest common denominator demographics would consider “boring.” Now, it is my observation, that there, in some books, is merit to this observation. I know that plenty of racial books have bored me to tears with being uninspired twists/inversions on tired tropes. If I had to review one more “element + humanoid”-race (ice dwarf, fire elf, air halfling…blergh), I may smash my head against the table. I very much get how this type of writing got a bad reputation.


If anything “The City of Talos” represents a resounding rebuttal to the claims that only rules and immediate gameability matter; neither do you have to be weird to be interesting. Don’t get me wrong – there is PLENTY of material within this adventure that does offer immediate gaming; there are splices of things herein that can become atmospheric, weird, etc.


But that’s not where the soul of these booklets lies. The beauty, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word, was that this made me see elves, perhaps the most tired and exploited by various forms of media of the humanoid races, tarnished by a flood of good scimitar-wielding wanna-be Gary Stu drow Drizzt-clones and shield-surfing Legolases, in a fresh light. It showed me a magical culture that feels distinctly elven and yet, distinctly unique.


In a way, this module is an heir to an aspect of old-school gaming and aesthetics that is almost lost, that no one seems to give the proper due; an aspect that may, without folks realizing it, be responsible for a significant part of the fondness felt for those days long past. I couldn’t name a single adventure, or supplement for that matter, that takes this approach. This is very much conservative fantasy; it’s not weird, psychedelic or defiantly different – and yet, it proves in structure and presentation, in imaginative potential, that culture does not have to be boring; that it can engender, even nowadays, even among jaded veteran roleplayers, once more the sense of wonder that we all once felt upon exploring the first dwarven mine, the first elven town. Combined with the unconventional focus of the adventure and its open structure, we thus get an adventure that is wholly, utterly distinct in a surprisingly subtle way.


Is it perfect? No, as noted before, there are complaints regarding formatting to be fielded here, and when scavenged and divorced from the phenomenal flavor, this feels less compelling; the rules-components are simply not where the focus lies here. If these aspects truly irk you (they do irk me, don’t get me wrong), then detract a star from the rating. If you only want to murder-hobo everything, then this will not be for you.


However, otherwise, I can only wholeheartedly recommend you checking this out. L. Kevin Watson has found a distinct narrative voice and provides something within that is unlike anything you’re bound to find out there. This humble book has inspired me beyond anything I expected, even after module number #2– hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo…and this does get my seal of approval for managing the rare and tough feat of depicting a traditional fantasy culture that is wholly new. Highly recommended.


You can get this inspired supplement/module package here on OBS!


Prefer OSR-rules? You can get the old-school version here on OBS!


Missed the cool puzzle-dungeon that preceded this one? You can find it here!


Endzeitgeist out.


Jul 172018

Hybrid Classes Vol. III – Heroes of Wonder

The third compilation of hybrid classes by Wayward Rogues Publishing clocks in at 69 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 64 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


This review was requested by my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.


Now, as before, this represents a compilation of previously released hybrid classes, with new content added. I have previously discussed most of these in excessive detail, so I’m going to point you towards my reviews of the individual classes, should you be interested in them. Otherwise, I’m going to focus on whether or not they have improved, and new content, if any.


All right, so the Empath still suffers from formatting glitches and aesthetic rules-language hiccups galore, but e.g. the issue of the courage sensitivity for flying charges for allies has been resolved – it now sports the proper activation action. On the downside, the desire sensitivity still doesn’t work properly. Layout also has cut the letters of a sentence almost in half. The horror sensitivity’s capstone now also has a proper range. The OP 1st-level ability of euphoria hasn’t been nerfed, though. The central mind’s collective-style mental communication is still problematic. The emotive master is not included in the pdf. All in all, a very minor improvement of the class; not nearly as much change as I’d have loved to see, though, and the pdf, alas, has not improved the formatting hiccups or the often wobbly rules-language.


The orphic’s table seems to indicate that the class gets a fifth attack, which is not how PFRPG handles iterative attacks. Dark Half’s verbiage still is somewhat ambiguous. The utterly broken first level ability of the Dream orphic discipline is still here. Similarly, faith is still wobbly. Lore is still broken due to being too dippable. The pain discipline’s 16th level ability is still broken and doesn’t work as written. The drow FCO is still broken. The class has, unfortunately, not improved at all – the orphic could have been a 5-star class with proper fine-tuning. Oh well.


The prodigy’s base spellcasting still references spells that RAW don’t exist. Knacks still fail to specify from which class. Obvious missed bolding, the problematic wunderkind ability. Dead levels are still here. Formatting hasn’t improved…you get the idea. Once more, a per se promising concept could have been elevated to being good or even great with a bit of work and care.


The wonderworker still does not gain Handle Animal, a required skill to teach her pet. Bonded object plus domain, or pet are the options for the base class feature. Not even the heritage references to previous spells included in the one sample combo-spell have been cleaned up. The meddlesome magician in the archetype chamber fails to note that it is an archetype for the wonderworker – it’s not the only archetype that does not note the like. The spells of the wonderworker include a horribly broken, limitless item-recharger. There is a spell that, flavorwise, makes animals erupt in a dizzying cascade from an object, drawing upon cartoon-visuals. The rules for escaping the predicament suffer from false formatting and from deviating how the like works in PFRPG. Good indicator of how sloppy this pdf is at times: The spell is called miracle object. Like the completely different spell on the very next page. Which allows you to duplicate a magic item. Sans limit on CL and power. That should scale. Sequester Ribbon is nice, making a magic item temporarily a suppressed, harmless ribbon that may be drawn and placed on slots, etc. Temporary Wand generates a temporary receptacle wand. There is a spell that makes a token that prevents creatures from being aggressive. Pretty sure I’ve seen it before.

Cool: There is a spell that provides a badge with charges to a target: The target may, as an immediate action, expend charges when targeted by an attack, gaining a 10% miss chance per charge. This is pretty cool; seems familiar, though.


All right, so far, we have covered the previously-released classes – unfortunately, these do not come with sufficient improvements, which is particularly for orphic and prodigy, a pity.


The pdf also contains two new classes, the first of which would be the Comedian, a combo of bard and witch who gains d8 HD, 6 + Int skills, proficiency with simple weapons plus longsword, rapier, sap, shortsword, shortbow and whip as well as light armor and shields (excluding tower shields). Comedians may cast their class spells, which scale up to 6th level, unimpeded in light armor and with shields. Comedian spells must have verbal components, and spellcasting is spontaneous and governed by Charisma. The class gets ¾ BAB-progression, as well as good Ref- and Will-saves. The comedian may use Perform (act, comedy, etc.) in conjunction with countersong (Nice!). He gets +1/2 class level to Spellcraft checks made to identify spells when targeted by them. (I assume this extends to being one target among an area of effect.) The comedian gets an untyped +1 bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, Linguistics and Sense Motive, which further increases at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. This bonus also represents the number of edges at the begin of a verbal duel that the comedian receives. Considering how hard edges are usually to come by (requiring roleplaying etc.), this is most definitely overkill.


The class gets a variant of bardic performance, comedic performance, which may have audible or visual components. These include a scaling penalty on saves versus charm and fear effects as well as on attack and damage rolls. Fascinate and short-range nonlethal damage that scales (with negative conditions added) can also be found: The latter deserves being mentioned, for it does get rules-interaction right and prevents abuse of the high-level dazing. Kudos! Temporary condition alleviation, scaling Cha-based penalty and a sonic touch attack can also be found – and the latter is actually genuinely interesting, as it builds on previous performances, being more potent when targeting an opponent that has previously suffered from the comedian’s rhetoric barbs. There even is a high-level flurry or single target trick here that renders this one rather interesting. Gather crowd, making targets flat-footed (with an anti-abuse caveat), suggestion (italicization missing from spell-reference), soothing performance, inspire heroics…cool. Lame and rather disappointing: Song of discord has been rebranded “scandal” – without purging all references to the original ability. That’s just sloppy.


At 1st level, 2nd level, and every 2 levels thereafter, the comedian gains a heckle – basically, the witch hex-analogues of the class, which are governed by Charisma. Good news here: E.g. the charm heckle and the charm hex and cross-class interaction have been accounted for – kudos for catching that one! Indeed, in a positive, pleasant surprise, the heckles prevent abuse by combo’d comedian/witches, with such caveats included for every overlap. The heckles include fortune and misfortune, a rebranded cackle, using the nonlethal damage during the surprise round at the cost of a performance use, adding witch spells, a variant rebrand of the witch’s gas-negating trick…some nice ones. Problematic: “eating” spells on successful Will or Fort-saves show their origin as a cut-copy-pasted class ability, with the three heckles implying a linear ability-progression, when they should note each other as prerequisites. The major heckles are similar/identical to witch options as well.


Starting at 2nd level, the comedian may always act in a surprise round. At 5th level, the comedian may treat initiative as a natural 10 1/day, +1/day for every 6 levels thereafter. 20th level upgrades this to a natural 20. At 10th level, the comedian does not lose edges for being at an extreme disadvantage in verbal duels and may ask for +1 bias when using Sense Motive or automatically seed a bias discovered. 1/verbal duel, he may reassign one verbal duel skill to another tactic in which he didn’t assign skills. The original tactic becomes unprepared. The ventriloquist archetype replace comedic performance with puppet-based summoning. The spells at the back include cantrips for background soundtracks and canned laughter. Catchphrase nets you Signature Skill in “(Perform/comedy)” *sigh* and if you already have it, both Celebrity Discount AND Celebrity Perks, but only for one advantage in the next 24 hours. Not a fan – that’s two class exclusives for a paltry 2nd-level spell. Comic duo nets you a shadowy sidekick, which provides a +2 competence bonus to Perform and to saves to resist performances, masterpieces etc. – at 3rd level. Yeah, balance is a bit odd. Final punchline wants to do something cool: Affect targets of a performance with hideous laughter – I like such combos, simple though it may be.


You know, while certainly not perfect and rather redundant regarding heckles, this class does have a couple of nice angles. The minor combo-mechanic is something that could have been expanded further, and the verbal duel angle, while somewhat over the top, has also been executed in decent manner. Not a genius class, but one that I can see being fun for some.


The second new class herein would be the poacher. The poacher is a hybrid of unchained summoner and ranger and gets d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and all ranged martial weapons + bolas, nets, lassos, mancatcher, whips and light armor. No spell failure in light armor. The class gets its own custom, pretty potent 6-level spell-list and spontaneous, Charisma-based spellcasting. Chassis-wise, we get ¾ BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves. The class gets the “Draw Monster” extraordinary ability, which should be Sp, or at least, Su to account for level variables of the duplicated summon monster/nature’s ally spells, which btw. do scale. Fail. Poachers may study monsters for 10 minutes, getting an untyped +2 bonus on the type studied. To do so, they need to have a copy of a specific, mundane book ready. Speaking of items: There is a magic or technological item that can deploy traps, which is a good idea, but the rules presented for it make it opaque. There is a magical tripping bola, a mundane write-up for generic monster bait (which I did not like) and the +1 equivalent pelt-pelting special weapon quality, which allows for the sundering of natural armor, but also notes how such damage can be healed.


But back to the poacher: We also get track at first level, and the trap-lamp. This lamp can be used an infinite amount of times per day and may be used as a standard action with a “range increment” of 30 ft., but no maximum range noted. The lamp fires a ray, and a creature hit must make a Fort save versus DC 10 + ½ class level + poacher’s Charisma modifier – on a failure, they are sucked into the trap lamp. They can escape, and successful saves net a +2 bonus, but boy, the DC is WAY OP for a save-or-suck first level ability. Sure, the critters have a chance to escape and need to be negotiated/handled with, but the pdf fails to acknowledge the intricacies of these interactions. Oh, and guess what: Captured creatures can be KILLED INSTANTLY at the poacher’s choice when trapped. RAW NO SAVE. W-T-F. Sure, it can only carry creatures with HD equal to or less than the poacher, and only two times poacher level critters, but still. INFINITE INSTA-KILL RAYS. That are not even conjuration (teleportation) or the like.


Wanna hear something lulzy? At 2nd level, any creature summoned (not only those drawn!) get ¼ class level, minimum 1 evolution points! This is broken on so many levels, I am not going to dignify it but bothering to explain it. Oh, and 2nd level, we get basically a poacher’s pride creature that respawns in the trap lamp. You know, like a yellow…okay, I’m going to drop the pretense right now. This attempts to be a Pokémon class. 3rd level, 8th and every 5 levels thereafter yield favored terrains. 4th level makes creatures on the summon list not count towards the maximum. 4th level yields shield ally (12th the greater version), 5th and ever 5 thereafter a bonus feat. 6th, 12th and 19th level add more captured monsters (with evolutions), 8th level nets swift tracker, 9th evasion (16th improved evasion). 14th lets the lamp act as 1/day magnificent mansion. 20th level nets a variant of master hunter with a 1/day swift action draw monster added on top. No, the list of evolutions does not provide anything interesting/new. There are archetypes that replace the signature monster and evolution pool with an animal companion with a baked-in evolution pool, but retrained monsters gain no evolutions. Arcane Enslavers apply the chassis of the class to humanoids and are evil. Hellholders are basically the Hellraiser twist on that concept. Trophy Hunters grant themselves evolutions via fetishes, which is a cool idea; said fetishes take up item body slots, but lack cincise rules and fail to take into account that different evolutions have different values, which should be reflected in slots and costs.


The feats allow you to choose what you draw when using your own bags of tricks (let me waste a feat on that…), +1 evolution point to ALL summoned monsters drawn with draw monster; electricity damage added to the lamp, +1 to CMB versus quadruped creatures (Yay?), +1 DC for spells targeting studied monster (double yay?), a ranger spell (verbiage super-confusing) and using a weaponized trap lamp.


…Oh dear…the poacher is horrible. Unbalanced, top-heavy, opaque. You know, you can say what you want about Kevin Glusing’s Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters; it’s not a perfect book. But oh boy does it blow this fellow to smithereens. The poacher is an overpowered mess. If you want Pokémon-PFRPG, get Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters.



Editing and formatting…haven’t improved much on a formal or rules-language level. The compilation inherits most of the issues of the previous files. That being said, the rules-language pertaining quite a few of the comedian’s more complex components actually intrigued me. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with great, original full-color artworks, as well as a few stock pieces thrown in. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, though only to chapter/subchapter headers, not to individual feats, spells or archetypes. The book also sports a HUGE comfort detriment. You can’t highlight (or search) text within. Yep. Wanna play these? Well, you better like copying the content, for that’s the only way you’ll have the shorthand ready. Considering the vast amount of copied or slightly modified content within, which often barely manage to change the name of the ability of which they’re reskinned, I find this to be distasteful, to say the least.


Jarret Sigler, Robert Gresham, Aaron Hollingsowrth, Beth Breitmaier, Dave Breitmaier, and Margherita Tramontano, these authors have created hybrids within this tome that often deserved better than what they got in this compilation. Unlike the previous compilations in this series, the majority of the material herein has the spark of something unique and truly promising; particularly the Orphic and Prodigy, with a capable rules-developer, could have been 5-star hybrid classes. If you can live with formatting hiccups, the asinine inability to copy text and are willing to modify the rules along the lines I noted in my individual reviews of the classes, you’ll have fun with them. Empath and wonderworker are more problematic and less unique. The comedian has the glimmer of being on the cusp of becoming something unique; it has its issues, but with a bit more daring design and less scavenging from the parent classes, it could have been great. I mean it! It has potential and is my third favorite class in the book. The poacher just plain sucks and is the worst thing in the whole book.


Sooo, do you want this? Honestly? Probably no. Orphic and Prodigy may be worth checking out, and if the idea of the Comedian intrigues you and you don’t have these two already, then this may be worth a look. However, the lack of refinement since the original releases, the abundant verbiage and formatting hiccups, and the atrocious poacher, make it impossible for me to round up from my final verdict of 2.5 stars.


You can get this pdf here on OBS.


Want a Pokémon-class? You can find Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters here on OBS!


Endzeitgeist out.


Jul 162018

Hero’s Blood

This adventure clocks in at 57 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 1/3 pages of SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 46 2/3 pages of content – all of which sport a surprising amount of material, as Legendary Games books have a pretty high word-per-page-density.


Okay, first things first: This adventure is intended for characters of 10th level and can thus fit pretty easily behind the 3rd adventure in the Curse of the Crimson Throne module, and before the 5th – the module provides a thematic continuation of the leitmotifs of colonial corruption that the first 3 modules sported, which are curiously absent from the otherwise intriguing and evocative 4th adventure. As such, theme-wise, this indeed enhances the AP. It should also be noted that this supplement includes a new corruption, making use of Horror Adventures’ rules. However, you do not necessarily need to have the Horror Adventure supplement to use this adventure.


Really cool: There are two new, properly codified occult rituals that feature in the plot of the adventure, both of which employ the themes and leitmotifs established in the adventure path. As always for supplements in the series, we have an adventure that seamlessly integrate with the AP, employing filed off serial numbers that still allow you to easily note what is going on. A huge plus would btw. be that the amazing full-color maps do come with player-friendly versions for your convenience. Big comfort-plus here! Inexperienced GMs will enjoy the fact that we have extensive read-aloud texts accompanying the module.


All right, as always, the following discussion contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.



All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the chaos in Korvosa has generated opportunity: The Shoanti (Sklar-Quah), have attacked a remote fort: Fort Hiraksos. When the PCs venture towards the fort, they find a massacre – the battlefield is littered with fallen Shoanti and members of the erstwhile garrison. All of the corpses show a specific pattern: Gaping chest-wounds. As the PCs explore the remnants of the fortress, they will have to contend with lethal undead, ranging from wights to callers in darkness and juvenile rukhs; there are deadly corpse flies and Hiraksos itself is a rather grim – the exploration of the grim keep is fantastic – even beyond the confines of the AP, the depiction of a haunted place of a true massacre is intriguing and flavorful, in both diverse enemy selection: We get unique haunts that add to the sense of decrepitude and metaphysical corruption – and the them of blood/flesh engendering fear is reinforced via, for example, ectoplasmic hungry flesh or a particularly nasty, unique wight.


Speaking of which: Said sub-boss ties in with the Onochtu, the ravenous ones, deadly and vile spirits of shoanti myth, adding some intriguing myth-weaving to the proceedings; said spirits and their dark powers are what fuels the corruption of the culprit and the potent powers of foes faced here. The sub-boss can inflict the corruption of these spirits on victims…


You see, Austan Mileswood, decorated Korvosan hero, driven insane, is working on a ritual to transcend his form, as an invisible timer is ticking away in the background, and dawdling may see him improve his darkened powers – and we btw. get a CR 10 and CR 11 statblock for this big boss as well as an extensive and well-written background story for this rather tragically flawed individual, who exemplifies so well that one people’s hero may be another people’s villain. Anyways, he has learned from the darksome shoanti spirits – that there lies strength in the hearts of the living, stealing the courage, metaphysically seated in the heart, from his victims. An addiction had formed, and what the PCs now witness, is the sad culmination of, what could be considered to be a fantastic take on a form of PTSD.


Thus, in order to truly “win” in this adventure, the PCs will have to venture down into the ancient Well of Bloody Hearts, sanctified to the wicked cannibal spirits of old, where mummified clerics and warriors loom…but beyond these, brimstone oozes and a unique creature dubbed “The Tongue” await – the latter btw. is a unique aberration with a  twisted artwork, and a cool, superbly depicted athach is here as well – and stopping Austan’s ritual is NO trifle. With aether elementals and his own, significant combat prowess, the charismatic “hero” makes for a formidable foe – and yes, he is multiclass’d and has a cool mechanical angle. Here, I should definitely mention that the timeline noted before is not just cosmetic: throughout the adventure, the time elapsed always matters. Kudos for being consequent!



Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious guffaws on either a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to the “Curse of the Crimson Throne”-plugins series’ elegant 2-column full-color standard. Huge plus: We get quite a lot fantastic full-color artworks that I haven’t seen before, and the cartography is similarly impressive and full-color. As noted before, getting player-friendly maps is a big plus. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Tom Phillips does horror and dark fantasy really well; if you’ve been following his works, this will be no surprise to you. He is one of the authors whose adventures tend to offer meaningful challenges for the PCs, while still retaining a dense and evocative atmosphere. “Hero’s Blood” exemplifies these virtues. The adventure manages a feat that is impressive indeed: On one hand, it actually manages to carry a leitmotif that isn’t present in the otherwise fun “A History of Ashes” and thus strengthen the overall plot of Curse of the Crimson Throne – the emphasis on Korvosa affecting these lands adds to the plot.


In addition to that, though, this adventure manages to transcend the status as an adventure path plug-in: Its plot and ideas are sufficiently distinct to carry the adventure as a stand-alone supplement – if you like horror or dark fantasy, particularly themes that feature blood/vampiric elements in a cultural context that is a breath of fresh air, then consider this to be a success and well worth getting beyond the confines of the AP.


So yeah, regardless of within or without the associated AP, this is a success, no matter how you look at it. 5 stars + seal of approval – excellent job!


You can get this inspired dark fantasy yarn here on OBS!


Endzeitgeist out.


Jul 162018

Dear readers,


Fat Goblin Games has, in the hardest month for publishers, a special offering for you:


25 supplements I absolutely adored, for $25!

No, I don’t get anything from the bundle, and I don’t want anything – it’s just a fantastic offering for a price that can’t be beaten and I wanted to point it out, since it’s a honor for me, and a formidable deal for you!


Want to get into the Fat Goblin’s fantastic Castle Falkenstein supplements? You’ll find the best within!


Want to gate the criminally-underrated Vathak supplements? (Seriously, if you like Ravenloft et al., get these!) You won’t get them for a lower price!


Want to check out the Call to Arms-series? Some of the best ones are within this bundle!


Oh, and VsM-engine based GAMES (yes, full games!) are also included!


You can check out the bundle here!


Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 162018

Advanced Adventures: The Chasm of the Damned (OSR)

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my leisure.


As always with this series, we use OSRIC-rules as the default old-school system, with minor formal deviations from standard formatting, encompassing bolded spells and magic items, for example. The supplemental material includes a properly codified hand of glory magic item, and the pdf comes with 4 different, rival adventure groups that can be inserted as wild-cards into the game, particularly if the PCs have too easy a time. These groups are presented with basic stats noting magic items and spells, but no detailed write-ups of individual equipment. The module features three new monsters: A gargoyle variant that can, in groups, cause maddening winds that prevent actions of those affected; there would downy, small flying mammals with bat-like wings, poison and the ability to strangle targets on excellent hits. Finally, there would be the faceless ones, whom I will discuss below. Cartography is b/w, does its job, and the module sports 7 maps. Player-friendly maps, alas, are not included.


The following discussion contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.



All right, only GMs around? Great!


So, this adventure is a sandbox of sorts – a unique one! The number of competing groups noted before can also be determined randomly by the GM, and arrival sequence is similarly a kind of aspect that can be simulated with the help of the adventure. The adventure is intended for a well-rounded group of levels 6 – 10, though it should be noted that “winning” the adventure is probably left up to the higher levels. 12 rumors surrounding the chasm are provided for your convenience. The eponymous chasm is a “wandering” canyon of sorts – it magically pops up once every 37 years, for exactly 108 hours, before it vanishes once more. Its depths hold wonders, lost adventurers and stranger things – and as per the angle, the GM can easily integrate the module into pretty much any surrounding area. The predictability of the phenomenon also means that the “rush” for the chasm is very much justified. You could, in theory, even postulate a kind of chasm-micro-economy.


As you can determine from this unique set-up, the harsh and hard time limit of the chasm’s appearance and subsequent disappearance means that the PCs will have to hustle throughout the adventure. This, more so than anything, may be a limiting factor for the PCs exploring the chasm – in order to brave the trip, the PCs will have to conserve their resources, and there are two complexes, including the final one, which are linked caverns. The last one contains the potent secret at the heart of the strange behavior of the chasm – one that only PCs closer to the higher power-level will be capable of resolving.


As such, no two expeditions into the chasm will truly be alike: Lower level PCs will probably be exploring/looting, but not get to the bottom of the mystery; “Clearing” the location, though, will be an extremely difficult challenge. Anyhow, the chasm includes a total of 7 different mini-dungeons (as noted, caverns 5 and 6, and 7 and 8, are linked) spread out over three levels, and wandering monsters are provided for the dungeons. These range in themes: There is a cavern that contains orcs, one that houses svirfneblin (which may be allies of sorts); there is a cavern highlighting the aforementioned bogwings and one that houses deadly basilisks, petrified adventurers…and a frog that serves as a unique kind of oracle! Yeah, there is some nice weirdness herein, which never feels wrong or out of place, courtesy of the unique background of the chasm.


The faceless ones I mentioned before represent a healthy dose of weirdness, featuring the aforementioned variant gargoyles, with a birthing vat providing the respawning critters, and a weird mural can have unpleasant repercussions. There also would be the Gray Sultan, one of the fabled bosses here: A F12, Hp 90 monstrous bastard of a unique killer, whose attacks may instantly strangle targets…he can be one of the high-level bosses within: similarly, the entrapped godling within, Ar’Q-Ess, well-concealed, makes for one truly deadly final adversary – but to even get to the godling, the PCs will have to get past deadly demons and similarly potent foes.



Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are very good, provided you get past the formatting deviations. On a prose level, the module sports unique and interesting, concisely-written prose. Layout adheres to a classic, two-column b/w-standard, including artworks. Down to the fonts employed, this is pretty classic. The cartography, as noted, is b/w and functional, though we do not get player-friendly maps. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


James C. Boney’s “Chasm of the Damned” is a delight in the premise and idea underlying the complex. There are quite a few clever components here – the unconventional oracle is delightful, and similarly, some of the adversaries rock. The blend of the weird and “normal” makes sense and the strange microcosm presented is cool. That being said, compared to previous adventures the author has penned, e.g. looting a statue that may animate is basically a guessing game – no chance regarding magic or the like to discern a means to bypass the animation.


This could be taken as symptomatic for the whole adventure: While the location and narrative angle are absolutely inspired, while the ideas featured for the respective mini-dungeons contained in the chasms are intriguing, the module does suffer from its page-count and brevity – in a way, the adventure is too ambitious for the scant few pages available. The chasm connecting the mini-dungeons, interactions between the locales, remain afterthoughts and somewhat sketch-like. The potential interaction between groups, the potential, unique economy of the chasm, could have provided a thoroughly distinct, fun environment – one that the adventure, per se, does not manage to realize fully.

Don’t get me wrong. This module is still a very fun and distinct adventure that has plenty of replay-value; suffice to say, the module can be scavenged easily – you could hack this apart without any problems. At the same time, this could have been a true masterpiece with a couple more pages to develop the ideas. I found myself wishing that we’d got more weirdness for e.g. the Iron Sultan’s complex, for the faceless ones, etc. – the compressed nature of the presentation of these dungeon-vignettes acts as a major downside regarding the level of detail and imaginative depths the author can provide. In short: “Chasm of the Damned” is a good module; depending on what you’re looking for, a very good module, even; but it did have the chance to be something special and doesn’t realize this chance. I found myself wishing that this had received the page-count of the atrocious “Prison of Menptah” instead – with 32 pages, this could have been a masterpiece.


Oh well, as provided, this is certainly worth getting. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.


You can get this adventure here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.


Jul 132018

Dear readers!


It has happened – the Occult Secrets of the Underworld are finally revealed!

When AAW Games released Underworld Races & Classes, the Kickstarter narrowly missed the stretchgoal to make this book…but Jonathan G. Nelson listened to the fans, and commissioned this book, which, for me, is a passion project.


Why? Well, I was brought on board regarding the Underworld Races & Classes project relatively late…and this time around, I had full creative control; Jonathan allowed me full reign to unleash my imagination.The ideas, once I started designing, kept flowing…and like a good freelancer, I delivered what was promised, on time.


Here’s the thing…I fell in love with my own designs and really wanted to do more…and at this point, I figured I’d just go ahead and design what I’d love to see, what I’d deliver, unfettered by anything like page count. I wrote this version for myself…and I showed it to Jonathan. He was stoked.


That is how this project became the massive supplement it is now – over 60 pages of crunch, created from the ground up for 5e and PFRPG, far more coolness than was initially envisioned!


Yes, designed from the ground up. The two books have the same *ideas* and *concepts*, but they have been designed individually. There is no conversion here; from warlocks and distinctly 5e-centric rules to Pathfinder options, using, obviously, Occult Adventures, and ones that retain compatibility with some of the finest books the 3pp-circuit has to offer, the two versions are truly unique books.


Why “occult”? When Occult Adventures for PFRPG was released, it represented a paradigm-shift for the game; instead of new combinations of previously released material and narrow focuses that escalated the math, Occult Adventures focused on emphasizing player agenda and hardcoded unobtrusive flavor back into the options. This flavor could be easily reskinned or ignored, but it provided a first hook for the players and GMs to work with. This book tries to adhere to a similar design paradigm, and this extends to 5e. There is no standard, bland option within, no variant – each option is designed to be unique.


And yes, for those so inclined, the class options also all have underlying philosophical questions and themes that can enhance your roleplaying experience!

Emphasis on ROLEplaiyng – while the crunch is rock solid, I really wanted to make sure that this book is more than just rules – that it inspires GMs and players alike.


Beyond that, the books feature the best artworks I’ve seen Mates Laurentiu produce – just check out the kickstarter!


(As an aside – you can also get the limited edition hardcovers of Underworld Races & Classes for a great price!)


Oh, and guess what? Editing, layout, writing, art – this is completely done and ready to go! I have the print proofs right with me, and final edits are done as well. The book, literally, is finished and ready to go!


Anyways, thank you for checking out my work!


Endzeitgeist out.

Jul 132018

Dear readers,


this series of articles was made possible by the following list of amazing people:

-Jason Nelson

-BJ Hensley

-Chad Middleton

-Randy Price

-Christen Sowards

-Rick Hershey

-Chris Meacham

-Paco Garcia Jaen

-Justin Andrew Mason

-Stephen Rowe

-Jonathan Figliomeni

-Paul Fields

-Lucus Palosaari



Now: I don’t have PF Playtest yet; analysis will commence once it arrives, but I figured I’d talk a bit about my hopes!



So yeah, I will start from the ground up, and talk about my hopes for the system – hopefully also highlighting some design-niches that may make sense filling!


My first subject matter would be skills. In Pathfinder, skill-use has been kinda awkward, considering how ridiculously easy it was to “game” a skill – the right spell and/or item, and you could plow well past any DCs that would have made sense for the level; for some skills, like Perception or Disable Device, this meant that one had to constantly keep them at the maximum or at least, very high, to retain their usefulness. Similarly, this disqualified skills as a means to reliably supplement attack rolls and similar rolls that adhere to a more tightly-controlled scaling.


So yeah, my first hope for skills is:

  • Hopefully, skills scale more organically and are not as gameable as they were.


The second big hope I have here pertains ROLEplaying. You know, the thing between combats? 😉 Just kidding, I think Pathfinder has taken some good steps with Ultimate Intrigue towards making noncombat encounters exciting; skill challenges and the like, particularly regarding forms of social combat, would be a huge plus for me. From interrogations to negotiations, I think a smoothly-integrated social combat system would benefit the game immensely, particularly when it can be used while engaged in combat – you know, talking foes down, etc. Pathfinder’s fast Diplomacy, for example, is not exactly exciting, so yeah…Seamless integration of social combat would be a big plus.


While we’re on the subject matter: Research and Crafting and Ritual Magic à la incantations could make use of analogue rules-structures and greatly diversify the stories told, the encounters, and the way in which Pathfinder runs. If this aspect is integrated properly, it could enhance the game in a ridiculous amount of ways. Just think about it: Rhetoric duels in front of the senate, facing down the equivalent of Cato; crafting a mighty weapon in the fires of the volcano, while dark forces attempt to crush you; researching a doomed family’s family tree to remove a curse, all while beset by hordes of the living dead – you can already pull off many of these, but having these types of challenges integrated into the base system would be pretty amazing. This would also tie into vehicle rules…

  • More diversified skill uses in combat.
  • Smooth integration of combat and skill challenges.
  • Engaging vehicle rules.


A more streamlined system in that regard would also allow the system to get rid of some of the most maligned components of the game. Traps and, to a degree, haunts. I love both traps and haunts; they can tell tales, are interesting, etc. – only, in most cases, they aren’t. There’s a room for a pit trap or a scything blade, sure. There are spaces where simple traps make sense. But for most of the time, they boil down to 2 rolls the rogue (or analogue class) makes while everyone’s bored. Failure means save or atk and then, damage on a, sometimes literally, stick. Looking for traps takes too long, and the consequences of success and failure are BORING.


So here’s what I hope for:

  • Quick disabling and Perception of non-too-cleverly-hidden traps.

Basically, I hope for two categories of traps: The simple ones (ranger lets a bear trap fall behind him to hamper pursuers) and the complex ones. 3rd party publishers have gravitated towards the latter, much to my joy: You know, the room, where the floor starts flipping, and the fighter can attempt to jam the hinge, the wizard slow down the mechanism, the rogue actually disabling the thing…the situation where gas or sand or water starts filling the room and the whole group is engaged. These types of traps, the complex ones, should have a more prominent part – and if the skill system potential noted above is properly implemented, they’d be yet another application of exactly this type of encounter-paradigm.

  • Complex traps that engage the whole party in meaningful ways.

Appraise is bland. Spellcraft and Knowledge (Arcana) could be consolidated.

Considering the quasi-archaeological angle of the Pathfinder Society, it would imho also make sense to think about Languages. They work in a binary manner that feels, to me, profoundly wrong. There should be degrees of fluency, and not every rank should be assigned a language. Even as a polyglot who has an easy time with new languages, I find Pathfinder’s wealth of languages known and how they are presented, frustrating. In my homegame, I have houseruled this away, and we had a GLORIOUS time when my players attempted to learn a lost language, looking for frescoes, inscriptions, etc., puzzling together the pieces. This doesn’t have to be complex, but it would tie in with the proposed increase in skill value, allowing for checks to e.g. find a faulty clause in a devil’s contract, thus allowing the outsider to break off an altercation in combat. Once more, seamless integration of skill-based systems would work wonders here.

  • A more “realistic” Linguistics that has, at least, niche value in some encounters.

Now, both Linguistics and aforementioned social combat ideas, have one downside – skill-wise, 3 “offensive” skills (Bluff, Diplomacy and Intimidate) are faced by but one “defensive” skill (Sense Motive); this never really made sense to me. Sense Motive to notice secret messages? Yeah, sure. Still, as a whole, I think the system could benefit from more in that regard. Stubbornness, Valor etc. can all be factors, so personally, I’d love to see this aspect diversified.

  • More diverse “defensive” social tricks.

Finally, and this may be controversial: I’d very much welcome guidelines for fixed benefits for good roleplaying. When skills can’t be cheesed as easily, good roleplaying and ideas and the bonuses they grant, should matter more. They shouldn’t be the *only* thing that matters (PCs can and will have better capabilities than players), but they should be an important factor. Nothing kills off immersion faster than having an eloquently roleplayed and concise plea to the judge/crown/deities/whatever devalued by a bad roll of the dice. Sure, GMs can handle this, but I do think that, feeling-wise, the game would benefit greatly from putting more value on this aspect. Pathfinder players, in my experience, love the complexity of the system and engines, but they also enjoy actual roleplaying, not just watching their optimized engines of destruction brutalize the opposition.

  • More meaningful effects of Roleplaying on success and failure.

This also taps into my final point for today’s list – namely how traps often make no sense. Since they often are depicted as damage on a stick the disabling process is similarly abstract. This is slightly more jarring, but also less generic, regarding haunts. A few modules do this right: They tell the GM *how* the trap works; thus, the rogue can find a hinge, a trigger, etc. and work with that. Picture it: The rogue opens a panel and sees that the floor sports a pit trap that closes after being triggered. It works via a counterweight – thankfully, your burly barbarian buddy can easily hold it in place, allowing the group to cross. It’s a simple thing. It doesn’t take up a lot of words…and it allows more than one character to engage meaningfully in the game. Heck, even skill-challenged (pardon the pun) characters could engage with such encounters! That’s just one example, but you could come up with more – supplemental muscle for the rogue’s sly intimidation, arcane gobbledygook to impress decadent nobles at a séance, added gravitas provided by the divine mandate exemplified by paladins or clerics, etc. What I’m trying to say here, is that the min-maxing requirements of the old system forced specialization, devaluing the contributions other characters could make. Similarly, this meant that one character would be the “face” for social skills, one for research, etc. – once more, with a less gameable skill system, it’d be much easier to retain the viability of cross-character contributions to a problem…and thus, once more, facilitate meaningful roleplaying.

  • More meaningful “everyone (or at least, more than the designated specialist) matters” type of group interactions when it comes to encounter design.


Now, it should be noted that I don’t expect PF 2/Playtest to address all of these; considering the amazing 3pps out there, I think we have a good chance of seeing some or most of these happen in one way or another. Even if the system disregards all of these points, I’m still excited for it!


All right, that’s it for today! Do you agree with my sentiments? Do you think I’m dead wrong? What do you think of as important for PF2? Let me know in the comments below, on facebook, or patreon!


See you next week!


If you enjoy what I’m doing, please consider supporting my patreon!


Endzeitgeist out.


Jul 132018

Deep Carbon Observatory (OSR)

This adventure clocks in at 90 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page blank, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 85 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (or A5), meaning that you can fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper.


So, this adventure assumes LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules and statblocks are provided – minimal ones for monsters (armor noted as analogue for armors, HD, HP, move and damage noted), and detailed ones for the Crows. Who or what are the Crows? Well, for that, I need to get into SPOILERS so please indulge me and wait a second.


Really cool: The adventure sports a timeline that spans multiple pages from 10.000 years in the past, up to the future – accounting for the horrific, surprisingly cataclysmic consequences that await, should the PCs fail herein. The module is intended for a low or mid level party – however, I’d strongly suggest running this with a group of approximately 3 – 4th level at the very least; 5 would also work; level 7 would probably make the module too easy. Anything below 5th level will result in copious amounts of PC deaths. A well-rounded party is pretty much required – this is NOT an easy module.


There is one component about the book, which, much like the prose, will be truly polarizing. This component would be the artwork. See that cover? I stumbled over it, and it haunted me. It basically demanded I buy this, creating a strange resonance. Scrap Princess has a unique aesthetic, and what some may consider doodles, I consider to be frantic and somewhat genius, vibrant and alive. The same goes for the isometric and sideview maps provided…which may also constitute one of the few detriments here.


I adore the maps, I really do – but they are hard to use at the table. While there are really cool fan maps (link at the bottom of my review on my site) provided, I cannot take these into account for my final verdict. This is not a module that you can run spontaneously. It requires careful deliberation and some map-drawing from the referee – unfortunately, we also get no key-less, player-friendly versions of the maps. In light of the unique style of these, this is a pity – I’d have loved to hand out progressively these as my PCs explore. Anyhow, if you’d need an analogue – where most LotFP-books, in aesthetics, hearken to Metal subcultures, this book, to me, reminded me of avant-garde, dark music – Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Thorofon and the like, before Industrial aesthetics were subsumed into mainstream; it’s a bit like one of Joel Lane’s (R.I.P.) more frantic slipstream weird fiction short stories turned to a module.


The artwork, btw., is so important here, for I have rarely seen an example where artworks and prose engage in such a suitable fusion; Scrap Princess’ artwork feels like a perfect externalized visualization of Patrick Stuart’s prose. One final note on the artwork: While suffused with color, the PoD print version, alas, is b/w – I did not consider this to be a detriment, as I focused on the print version.


The prose herein, for once, is worthy of the moniker. To give you an example: “Rainbow coloured weeds droop rotting from the littoral zone. They overhang rich bandings of many-shaded stone, making a psychedelic halo of the valley like a veil. Sunlight gleams oddly in the steep valley-sides. Snatches of bright reflection. The floor looks like blue-grey mud. The sight is without sound and stinks like an airless tomb burning in the light of an unwanted sun. But, in the silence, movement worms. The whole place has the feel of a terrible revealing. Like a black sheet pulled back from a naked corpse.” One can see why some readers consider this adventure to be “grimdark” – a palpable sense of finality, of decay and endings, suffuses this book; but at the same time, there is beauty, and even humor, to be found within. I have scarcely seen prose used this well in an adventure – even the brief, staccato-like interludes of sentences like those employed here in the example, are chosen deliberately.


The adventure indeed manages to generate utterly unique images, visuals and moods – it has been a long, long time since I was this engaged when reading anything regarding modules – in fact, I found myself compartmentalizing the reading experience, slowly digesting the visuals evoked. This is dark, but it is a resplendent, ephemeral darkness that stands, wholly, on its own.


All right, this much regarding formal categories. However, one should also note that this adventure is also pretty diverse regarding the challenges faced. We begin with a catastrophe of vast proportions….and to discuss it, we have to go into the SPOILERS.


Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion – you do NOT want to SPOIL this one.



All right, only referees around? We begin this module with a crash. Literally. The dam has burst. Carrowmere lies submerged, and a 1-page flow-chart of things that happen, that can happen…and they are a panopticon of the myriad tragedies that can accompany within the context of such a catastrophe. 18 diverse encounters set the stage for things that range from the tragic to the wondrous. Food and theft, covert cannibals – some of these come with read-aloud text, traumatized folks that can only speak in denial and third person…there is, indeed, darkness and despair here – but there is also a wealthy man, who offer a fortune for the one thing he doesn’t have – a narrative that provides closure for the catastrophe.


However, PCs can’t truly dawdle; they only ever get to see a slice of the true dimension of the catastrophe (which means that this module does have a replay value!) – unbeknown to the PCs, at least for a while, there are the Crows. The Crows are a truly wicked group of psychotic adventurers; these rivals come fully stated, with excessively discussed and unique background stories and magic items, make for fantastic foils and also can act as a kind of timer. Per default, their progress is swift and methodical, though referees can adjust this factor, somewhat akin to “Better than Any Man,” without much issues. Echo By Frosen, for example, believes she can smell distrust; a nasty dwarf who stole a bow from a soul of a traumatized thief, whose body he trapped in a box beneath a glacier…oh, and he has no less than 6 different signature poisons…including liquid dyslexia. Zolushika Von Der Linth, the groups magic-user, has a unique snakewood staff and a displacement doll…oh, and the group gets detailed notes on tactics and “principles,” with nasty tactics noted. One of the best rival adventuring groups I have ever read.


Beyond Carrowmere lie the Drowned Lands – a wilderness trek up the stream, where gigantic pikes, a cow-sized killer platypus, house-sized horseshoe crabs and worse loom – including the turbine golems, once in charge of the dam, with polyhedral dice-shaped heads. These guards are doomed to fall, though – sooner or later… Beyond the diverse encounters available and the small stories and surreal components that are introduced here, we move to the first dungeon – the damn. As the PCs make their way past the remnants of a culture long gone, they can meet things in jars, berserker library-golems and strange beings…and then, the PCs witness the glory of the profundal zone, the second wilderness area.


Once flooded by the watermasses kept in check by the dam, we enter a land of wonder, of sub-aqueous landscapes, wondrous and dying under the glare of the light and exposure to air, where semi-intelligent, child-sized newts roam and fiendish-black bogmen, carapace’d in crystallized gold await confrontation. Ultimately, a huge, manufactured wound in the earth looms – the eponymous Deep Carbon Observatory.


Now, I did note before that doom looms if the PCs dawdle – the item that will threaten to break asunder the nations is not the primary “treasure” – it’s but one item left here, which, in the wrong hands (read: Those of the Crows) can result in tremendous ills…but there is more to be found within: Shriveled, desiccated myconids, spells of use for slaves (not statted – but reduce scars, hide sorrow, ease grief…speak a specific language…), hydraulic ooze-prisons, weighting stations with impossible weights (souls, innocence years, minutes of fear…), ray-reflecting materials, chambers housing tox-men that can create toxins lethal to anything or everyone, salt dryads, a hall of shells…there is so much wonder within this dungeon, it exceeds the amount of unique rooms and ideas found in some series (!!) of adventures! There is so much creativity here, a simple description of a geological sample made me smile with glee…and come up with a whole campaign-angle. “Ultra-compressed and tectonically warped bones of billions of vampires. The space between vampires is actually more vampires.“ (Yes, these little flourishes, weird and humorous, are intentional. Told you that this has a sense of humor!)


How could they be sustained? How did they meet their doom? It’s just a throwaway line, but much like the majority of this book, it is inspired. But how does this observatory work? Azimoths (kudos for the pun!) – moths that use infinite fractal compressions that annihilate awareness of space around them, creating a blind spot – the direction in which the moth flaps, ceases to exist for the observer, as the mind simply edits out that slice of space. The observatory uses these moths to look through the infinity of rocks, focusing the perspective of the user on the space between the edited components. This concept is amazing. Strange structures that change your position in relation to reality, clocks of geological time and a 3-page “you see”-table for spontaneous weirdness, 10 odd books…and there is the Giant. Immortal, white, creepy – caked in dust, capable of compressing into smallest regions, this thing is horrid, extremely powerful, and adds a great survival-horror angle to the exploration of the observatory itself.



Editing and formatting are pretty good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, it is a bit basic, but does unique and creative things with these components. Layout adheres to a smooth one-column b/w-standard. The artwork, as noted before, is amazing and just as polarizing as the prose. I love it. Do you like the cover? Then you’ll like the interior artwork. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I do own the PoD-version, which, while more grey than black, is a nice softcover…and this one is definitely worth owning in print. The maps, while aesthetically pleasing, are pretty tough on the GM – the excellent fan-made maps are highly-recommended for the final dungeon; still, as noted, I can’t include them in my rating. We do not get a proper player-friendly version of the maps, which is a tragedy of sorts as far as I’m concerned.


So, here’s the thing. To my knowledge, this is Patrick Stuart’s first book. Seriously, for this book alone, I’ll be eternally grateful to Zzarchov Kowolski, who btw. commissioned this module.


Let me spell it out, with abundant clarity:


Deep Carbon Observatory is a masterpiece. It is raw; it is not easy to run. It’s not convenient. I wouldn’t recommend this for novice referees. It’s also no happy-go-lucky fantasy, so if that’s your cup of tea, you probably won’t like it. The map support is absolutely not up to the ideal, aesthetics notwithstanding. This, alone, should cost this adventure a star.


Deep Carbon Observatory is, however, one of the best and most inspiring instances of incredibly concise, filler-less adventure-writing I have ever seen. There is more inspiration in some of the non-sequitur lines within than in a lot of whole adventure-series, heck, in whole mega-adventures. It is raw, but its unbridled creativity, its vast ambition, its, at the same time, nightmarish and gorgeous, funny and sad vistas stuck with me. They remain with me beyond reading, beyond playing. It delivers, in spades, a sense of jamais-vu, a distinct authorial (meant in the truest and most well-intentioned sense of the word), uncompromising vision of something that is wondrous, weird…alien, even…that is strange and UNIQUE. Much like the eponymous observatory, one almost feels like this book is a lens, like its pages are suffused with Azimoths, blending out the surroundings while allowing us a glimpse at a world that had me craving more.


There is no adventure like this in my vast collection of roleplaying modules.

If you haven’t already, get it. This is ART, yes, but it is also a MODULE; and these components, for once, are not in conflict with one another. Yes, this can polarize; perhaps you’ll hate it for its clunky rawness…but you won’t be left shrugging your shoulders. This demands being engaged, it can’t *not* elicit a response.


Deep Carbon Observatory belongs into the library of every ardent fan of RPGs; if you even remotely enjoy the unconventional and weird, if you even remotely like dark material, then consider this to be a top priority indeed. This module was released 2014, and had I known about it back then, it would have made my personal Top Ten list. I consider this to be one of the best adventures I have read in the last 10 years. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in old-school gaming, this is well worth getting for the incredible density of truly creative ideas – which, ultimately, no reviewer would be able to replicate and convey. I, at least, can’t – I have merely scratched the surface of what makes this fantastic in the truest sense of the word.


So yeah, 5 stars + seal of approval, in spite of the map-issue. I’d give it 6 if I could.


You can get this masterpiece here!


The top-down fan-maps of the final dungeon can be found here!

Endzeitgeist out.


Jul 132018

Castle Falkenstein: Variations of the Great Game (Castle Falkenstein)

Ladies and gentlemen, I bid you once more welcome in my lounge! Please, do take a seat, as I want to show you a thing most intriguing; surely, you recall the little pieces of intangible ephemera that we tend to conjure to diversify the experience of engaging in the Great Game?


Well, this little booklet now, for the first time, compiles these ephemera, while, as I was told by my servants, also getting rid of some of the minor imperfections previously noted by astute dignitaries, personas and individuals of staunch character and stellar pedigree. At 48 pages, 4 less once you subtract covers and similar components, we have a rather hefty little tome.


Oh yes, I wholeheartedly concur, my dearest. As you can see after reading Tom Olam’s introductory text (which is situated, mind you, on the page denoting the contents), the entrepreneurs that so charmingly self-depreciatingly style themselves “Fat Goblins” have not simply stitched magically the contents of our beloved ephemera together; nay, I say! They, as befitting of the care and respect due our pastime, elected to redesign the formal presentation of materials within, employing a wide cornucopia of artistry, ranging from the thematically-suitable artworks (which, it should be added, could be at home in a proper salon such as this!) to the presentation of the pages themselves: Unobtrusive, yet gorgeous aesthetics render the book a balm for sore eyes, not unlike all those looking upon me and/or reading these lines right now.


But I digress; we begin our discussions within with a further look regarding specializations and their interactions with abilities; particularly useful for debutantes in the Great game would be the explanation of the lexicon employed by our most civilized of pastimes. It should also be explicitly mentioned that a previously slightly ambiguous component accompanying the implementations of specializations in the Great Game has been done away with: The booklet now explicitly notes that extraordinary abilities are exempt from specializations – a decision that rings as sensible to me, considering that they are already designated as extraordinary, n’est-ce pas?


A table of the most useful kind indeed is provided here, providing the tools to implement these in conjunction with all of our favorite elaborations and expansions of the Great game – criminally few though there may be.


Now, as all of you may well be aware, I am a staunch proponent of the notion that all ladies and gentlemen should be able to employ and use the specific implementation of the Great Game that best suits their respective taste, and as such, I am not opposed to seeing the notion of the Divorce Variation, a modification that removes the direct tie between suits and abilities – though I do have to say that the resulting potential bickering strikes me as unbecoming of a proper environment and something more suited to those newfangled, class-less new-money people babbling about FATE, as though shouting (most uncouth…)


More steeped in tradition, though not necessarily *our* tradition, but tradition nonetheless, would be the suggestion to employ “improvement points” to determine the growth of a dramatic character; as you all are well aware, this steeps the progress gained very much in a literary tradition regarding the journey and growth of a dramatic character. As the profane rabble would call it, “experience points” or some such nonsense, though they are still kept very much in service to the demands of proper etiquette and narrative sensibilities. As such, I have no qualms about recommending these to hosts to so inclined – there even are suggestions presented for various growth velocities.


Awareness of the, at times, almost incredulous feats accomplished in our Great Game, is expected at this point; but, as well all know, when paraphrasing an adage by Hardy, “there ought to be sympathy for the less fortunate.” Or at least, that’s what my maid used to tell me the other day. Anyways, as you are well aware, the experience of those less fortunate than ours, who are living a life less characterized by adventure and great deeds as providence foresaw for us, might well be intrigued to play when given the chance; heck, we might well want to step back ourselves and be immersed in a scenario or two where we are not as…impeccably extraordinary. As such, imposing a hard limit on cards played serves as a truly fantastic way to envision a world that is, at least slightly, more mundane than the at times tiringly wondrous lives we lead. What’s that, James? Ugh, tell the faerie I want the yard clean for the late afternoon tea.


Pardonnez-moi, mesdames et messieurs – good help is so hard to find these days. Now, when recalling, as individuals of such astute faculties undoubtedly can, the Half-Off variant is pretty self-explanatory, focusing on providing half the benefits when cards do not align…like that of my fate and that splendorous debutante last year…And yes, at this point, I should not be remiss to note that the variations presented within actually can be modified and tinkered with further. Think of them like the intricate wheels of a proper clock – they run just fine on their own, but depending on your joyous curiosity regarding experimentation, you’ll have different experiences.


Perhaps one of the most vital variations ever devised upon this wondrous world, though, would be the finer differentiation between Feats difficulties that one of these provides; this one, all on its own, should easily make the truly paltry price, respectfully asked, truly worth it, and it frees the host from the requirement to play cards to enhance difficulties – in short, it enhances the fair play at a table by taking a needlessly divisive burden off the host’s back, while also enhancing the gravity of the decisions made by dramatic characters.


Now…I’d ask those of faint dispositions, those of weak hearts, to leave the room. The fairer among us may want to take out there fans, for yes…it is my outraged duty to report that the most scandalous dice-based variation, devised by the mischievous, malignant Moriarty, is also included within this booklet! The criminal mastermind’s attempted subversion of our proper world order seems to be alive and kicking, and while obviously despicable and dastardly, one cannot help but find a sick genius in the implementation of these rules. While obviously worthy of shunning and prosecution, one must be able to look into the eye of savagery, even in the variations, imposed in this case, upon the Great Game. Now, unflinchingly, I have to concede that there is a well-based foundation underlying this, but now that I have determined this, none of you will have to. If I may, ladies and gentlemen – keep this variation out of the hands of savages, staff and similar beings of less firmly-grounded morals. We don’t want them to feel entitled to play in our grand pastime now, do we?


As you may know, this series of ephemera started with a humble little offering, highlighting how one of these decks, these Tarot cards, that are all the rage right now, may be employed with the Great Game; success bred…more success. Like our family trees, correct? We did, hence, get more than one of these ephemera, which have since been properly fitted with a more evocative nomenclature, namely that of the Fortunate and that of the Sorcerous Tarot Variation. If you, like me, love to regale your astute audiences as a host, then the following happenstance may well have occurred in your game as well: You have the Major Arcana…and its effects simply would not fit properly. Quel dommage!


Now, it seems like some distinguished individuals, who shall not be named for now, have observed this as well, and thus proceeded to alter the tables of the effects of these types of cards, making them more widely applicable. While it is my firm assertion that a host of the proper caliber would not require this modification, I couldn’t help but marvel at the simplicity of the modifications added to the material at hand. Speaking of which, this book does also note an option that can combine our classic deck with major arcana, and one that would allow for the discarding of a major arcana card to redraw – this one, ladies and gentlemen, obviously does vastly enhance the power and versatility of dramatic characters. If you want to weave a truly outlandish yarn, this may well be the way to go!


Now, as noted before, the aesthetics of this booklet do not leave anything to be desired; there are these little bookmarks included for ease of navigation in the ephemeral iteration of this booklet. The compilation and refinement exerted throughout combine to make sure that these variations, transcribed by the esteemed Mister J Gray, is a masterpiece, pure and simple; had it not been for the fact that I have already bestowed my highest accolades upon the components, this would have been a candidate for my list of best offerings of the year. Since this already has reached these heights, I am in the unfortunate position of not being able to bestow these honors once more.


This, however, should not be taken to mean that this is anything but a truly required purchase – this humble offering should be considered to be an EZG Essential, a required reading for any host of distinguished character and skill, a 5 star + seal of approval supplement.


You can get this inspired compilation here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.


Jul 122018

Letters from the Flaming Crab: Imaginary Friends

The, for now, final installment of the amazing „Letters from the Flaming Crab“-series clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


The pdf, as always, begins with a nice in-character narrative of the exploits of the planes/world-hopping vessel that grants the series the in-prose name, as well as a brief commentary by the faithful scribe J Gray, who transcribes these letters. I still consider this framing device charming and hope that it will be retained once/if the series returns.


Anyway, the supplement’s base framework and idea is pretty cool: We have kids describing imaginary friends, which are then codified as proper entities. Rules-wise, the imaginary friends can be player-relevant, with a feat allowing you to take imaginary friends as familiars in a variant upgrade feat, with minimum level range spanning 7th to 11th level – yes, these are not exactly weak. The second feat, Wonder nets you one class skill chosen from a list of 4, 1/day see invisibility as a SP and +2 to Will-saves versus illusions, but also imposes a -1 penalty to saves vs. enchantment spells and effects.


So, this is one way to get in on the mechanics herein; the imaginary friends gained are built on a NB CR 2 base form. They defy detection and their presence bestows a bonus to saves versus fear effects to their ward – the ward, obviously, being the entity the imaginary friend guards. Unique: The younger the kid, the more potent the friend can be. Depending on the highest unaugmented/buffed attribute of the ward, they also gain a specific ability suite – as a minor nitpick, the pdf does not specify what happens when two attributes are equally high. Imaginary friends can’t truly be slain and rejuvenate a few hours after being vanquished, and they may 1/day manifest physically, but at great risk – when slain while manifested, they may permanently die!


Now, manifested forms can sometimes great deviate from the regular, incorporeal ones, which also means that we get separate stats if applicable (nice), and that these may even have a different CR! So, here is the adorable thing about this pdf: We get artworks either drawn by kids, or emulating kid-drawings at the very least pitch-perfectly for the imaginary friends!


So, what kind of imaginary friends do we get? Well, there would be CR 2 Animay, a sweet, Tiny girl that has limited bardic abilities and carries an oversized pencil as a “weapon” of sorts. Caloon Ready Freddy was a bit heart-rending, as the red creature has a frog-like head and red skin – it is truly good and, as the book notes, quoting, “When daddy died, he became Caloon Ready Freddy…” – I kinda gulped there. With jumpy legs, hypnotic eyes and a tentacle arm that can be turned into a sensory net, the CR 8 creature is inspiring.


Crocodile B, a CR 5 yellow crocodile that doesn’t like being touched due to a nasty scar, can change shapes and may grab targets regardless of size. Deaths, is CR 7, and came from a fear of dying. Creepy-looking and armed with an adamantine pitchfork, the drawing could have been taken from my own notepads when I was young. Rules-wise, this one is slightly less interesting, with a fear aura and suitable SPs, though. Ella is a Cr 3 classic: An under-stuffed, oversized Medium blue elephant, with an aura of friendship.


Lady Cimini, a motherly mini CR 5 imaginary friend, is vulnerable to air, and gets volcano mystery-based ability. She also is a shapeshifter that prefers hamster form – and while in hamster-form, she can’t cast, but she can assume the shape of a mini volcano! Cool! Magicus is slightly more conservative in rules, as the CN CR 4 floating ghost-like entity in tuxedo and top hat is primarily defined by spellcasting. Mister Bora, at CR 5, wields a massive sword of air and may assume panther form and use abilities in conjunction with this form. Rules-wise, this imaginary friend employs kineticist options, making the character feel different from many comparable creatures. Nice job.


Pat’chin (CR 4) is great regarding the imaginative potential the creature shows: A smiling, benevolent spider-pumpkin-looking thing with arms and a warm smile, capable of carrying immense loads. The pistol squidshark (CR 3) is a tiny shark’s body with a squid’s tentacles and head – they can only jet when moving backward, fly and swim, get the ink cloud – and the ward may grab them and use them as a nonlethal weapon! That is amazing! Damn, as someone who loves squid and octopodes, I wished I had one of these…


Secorit, a rather shy friend, carries a pink, heart-shaped bottle with liquid inside, and sports an aura of honestly. In combat, this CR 5 imaginary friend may use Diplomacy to buff versus foes. Minor nitpick: The rules here are not perfect, assuming (or at least looking like it) an opposed roll, which is not how this works in PFRPG. Shaper is a robot with a friendly face and triangular pieces stacked to form arms of sort , which can btw. be fired! Spotty reminded me of my own two imaginary friend when I was 3 – it’s a CR 3 Dalmatian, only 6 feet long, with spots that oscillate like the rainbow. For me, it was a spotted stallion, but yeah – I can relate. The spots change color, depending on Spotty’s mood, and spotty actually has a calming touch.


Trobot Espenzale, at CR 4, is a dancing robot whose arms extend and contract, represented in the SPs this fellow has, as well as the ability to become quicker. Waterwave, at CR 4, can short-range quasi-teleport and fire concussive blasts. Finally, there’d be Wobinar, swirling light manifesting in a chaotic, hovering mass – easily the most abstract of the friends, an interesting, since kids don’t often gravitate to abstract concepts: Composed of living light, this one has a really interesting angle, with color spray touch. Yes, CLs and DCs are properly noted!



Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level – I noticed no grievous snafus. Layout adheres to the relatively printer-friendly 2-column full-color standard of the series, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artworks, as noted, are kid’s drawings, and I really like this here – they emphasize the theme rather well.


The creative minds and sense of innocent wonder of the kids that contributed these friends, Charlie, Clara, Giorgio, Isaac, Kennedy, London, Lumi, Michele, and Oliver, are to be applauded – I bet few kids ever got a writing credit this soon! Anyways, developer J Gray and publisher Alex Shanks-Abel deliver a wonderful little tome that really oozes joy and warm-heartedness. It’s not something most adults could have come up with. I know I couldn’t have.


You see, I can do exciting, epic, dark, horrific, etc. – I’m a pretty adept and versatile designer and GM…but I can’t, for the life of me, do innocent wonder. Perhaps it’s all the cynicism of the age, perhaps it’s me…but true wonder is hard to convey, to replicate, to emulate. This pdf does manage to do just that. The material herein is wholesome, heartwarming, and a pleasure to read. Now, not all of the imaginary friends herein are necessarily, from a pure design-perspective, genius, but they had to conform to the visions of the authors, i.e. the kids…and, as a whole, they do so admirably.


As a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed this book – particularly in conjunction with Everyman Gaming’s excellent Childhood Adventures toolkit, it can make for an inspiring little offering and add some serious fun to a campaign featuring or for, children. As an aside: I could see e.g. a storyline centering on adult PCs researching missing imaginary friends as a unique and rewarding storyline to pursue.


As far as rating is concerned, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform. This pdf may not reinvent the wheel, but it is a great little supplement to read once you’re tired of darkness, grit, etc.


You can get this heart-warming, inspiring file here on OBS!


Endzeitgeist out.